Mèo Mun is an anarchist collective working to make anarchist materials and ideas more accessible to a Vietnamese audience, together with providing an analysis of social struggles from a Vietnamese anarchist lens. Over the next hour you’ll hear three collective members, Mai, Will and tùng share their critiques of leftist misrepresentations of the Vietnamese State as Socialist, lasting impacts of imperialism and war on populations of Vietnam, the centering US imaginaries of Vietnam, the struggles of working class people in general (and queer folks and sex workers in particular) in Vietnam, nationalism promoted by the government and other topics.
TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves with any names, preferred gender pronouns, affiliations or political identities as make sense for this conversation? Can you tell us a little about… is it pronounced Mèo Mun?
Mai: Yes, it’s pronounced Mèo Mun. I’m Mai, I use any/all pronouns. I don’t particularly use any political label, but I adhere to many anarchist principles.
Will: My name is Will. I use they/them pronouns. I’m an anarcho-communist.
tùng: Hi, I am tùng. I use any/all pronouns, I am an anarchist against the state and capitalism.
TFSR: Thanks for being here!
So, I am excited to have this conversation with you, thanks for making time and effort to chat! As anarchists from Vietnam, could you give us some highlights of the history of libertarian anti-capitalist and anarchist ideas and movements in Vietnam and what the milieu looks like today? And what sorts of topics and engagement drive those groups?
Will: As a preface, we are quite cut off from our roots. Many of us had lived for decades until we even heard of the word that encompasses our ideas and ways of life. The elaborate and complex history of the struggle for liberation in 20th century Vietnam is painted with a single stroke: you were either a patriotic Stalinist or a reactionary traitor, a colonial, fascist collaborator. The Marxist-Leninists who now rule the country only came into power by systemically eradicating all the other oppositional currents, labeling them traitors, and so yeah, of course they’d like to have a clear black and white narrative, of course they’d like for there to be no nuances; they’d look kind of bad otherwise and that’d weaken their grip on power. So, documents about anarchism or general radicalism in Vietnam, that divert from the State’s narrative are usually inaccessible in Vietnamese, either as hard copies, or scattered around obscure corners of the internet. That’s why we are on our very own bumpy road to learn and reconnect with our roots.
Historically, anarchism in Vietnam never grew into a wide-spread political movement. However, the struggle against the state, particularly states of the most populous ethnic group—the Kinh / Viet—can be traced all the way back to feudal times. Ethnic minorities living in upland Vietnam have been resisting the Kinh / Viet state’s expansionism for a very long time. James C Scott remarks in the book The Art of not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia that many aspects of their cultures and ways of living can be read as anti-state and anti-authoritarian, meaning that they have, in a way, long practiced the tradition of keeping the state at arm’s length, out of their affairs. Their struggles continue until this very day, and we have much to learn from them. We must stress, though, that we should not retroactively apply the label “anarchist” to these groups and their practices, nor should we call what they do “anarchism.” As Simoun Magsalin, our Filipino comrade, observes about the anarchist milieu in the archipelago: we should be critical of the anarchist equivalents of a “noble savage” trope, and the search for a “pure” indigeneity unspoiled by the State that decolonization can return to. In the same vein, we have before criticized the idea popular amongst many Marxist-Leninists, that homophobia in Vietnam is solely a product of Western colonialism, and pre-French colonial Vietnam was a haven for queer people. Oof.
Anarchists, as well as radicals influenced by anarchist principles, also participated in the struggle against colonialism and imperialism of the 20th century. For example, under the yoke of French colonialism, the radical Nguyen An Ninh called for the youth of Vietnam to “reinvent itself and take control of its own destiny.” He critiqued the Confucian family values of parental authority, gender inequality and traditional morality, encouraging people to “break with the past and free themselves from tyranny of all kinds.” He fought side by side with other anarchists and libertarian communists such as Trịnh Hưng Ngẫu and Ngô Văn (a former Trotskyist), in the labor movement. But as we’ve mentioned before, the Stalinists came into power by systematically eradicating all the radicals from oppositional currents like the anarchists, and indeed the Trotskyists who were brutally slaughtered. Ngo Van, the former-Trotskyist-turned-council-communist who we mentioned earlier, went on to produce many materials critical of the authoritarian, counter-revolutionary nature of the Stalinists after fleeing their persecution to France.
Mai: As for the contemporary anarchist milieu in Vietnam, it is extremely vulnerable and atomised. We simply don’t have contact with other groups, even though there might be quite a few out there. Those groups might wisely want to keep more to themselves rather than reaching out, since state repression is quite severe. This is a challenge for us, as one of our goals is to find a way for Viet anarchist groups to safely connect, communicate, and exchange experiences, if they so wish. Another reason is that our milieu has been chronically isolated from the milieus in other countries. There are many reasons for this lack of international interaction, such as language barriers and, again, state repression, but also a relative lack of support, solidarity and understanding from the Western left and anarchist community. We believe that anarchism, as a method of revolution, cannot be applied successfully by an isolated group, in other words, without international solidarity. The exchange of information and ideas, as well as the interlinking of our struggles are absolutely essential for the mutual strengthening of anarchist communities. And so, at the moment, building coalition with other milieus in South East Asia is one of the tasks that we prioritize. It’s also why we really appreciate the opportunity you have given us here on the podcast today!
Having said that, we are aghast that in many leftist circles in the West, Vietnam is painted as this Socialist haven where people think and act like a hive-mind, and the only ones speaking against the state are reactionary traitors, or CIA agents. So-called anarchists are paying to be fed those lies; so-called anarchists are capitalizing on those lies. We’ve lost count of how many times we have been fed-jacketed without any evidence whatsoever, and the people exposing us to harassment and doxxing got away scott-free. This stems from how the struggles in Vietnam and other over-exploited countries have been ignored by the majority of Western leftists for decades, especially when we can’t be used as ammunition in their own political discourse. This makes talking about our experience in Vietnam all the more dangerous, and it actively discourages anyone who might start speaking out.
As we touched on a bit before, organizing outside of the state framework in Vietnam, whether online or on the ground, is dangerous: the threats of police violence and incarceration are always looming over us and our loved ones. Many leftists seem to think of Vietnamese police as heroic defenders of the working class. It really shouldn’t need to be stated, but no, they’re not. Vietnamese police exists to protect the State and capitalist property in Vietnam. Police violence and deaths in custody in Vietnam are a well-documented reality. In Vietnam, the ruling party holds all executive, legislative and judiciary power. Cops don’t even need a court subpoena to enter our houses. Commoners like us grow up being taught to stay away from cops and everyone is used to bribing them. As for the law, there is a clause against the making, storage and spreading of material for the purpose of opposing the state and you could be sentenced to 5 or 12 years, if you’re caught.
Speaking from personal experience, many Viet anarchists seek out anarchism because we are marginalised in other ways on top of being exploited by capitalists as workers. Within Mèo Mun, many of our members are queer, disabled, and/or young. Some were radicalised while trying to organize rather unfruitfully within the liberal framework. Some have cited the horrible abuse they have suffered under the education and medical system. Some used to organize as Marxist-Leninists, simply because Marxism-Leninism is synonymous with Communism in Vietnam, but then can’t reconcile their reality with such an ideology anymore. So queer liberation, youth liberation, as well as disability justice and care are some of the passions that keep us going.
And also, I think I forgot to introduce a bit about Mèo Mun as a collective. Would it be possible for me to do that now?
TFSR: Of course!
Mai: Ok, so Mèo Mun is an anarchist collective working to make anarchist materials and ideas more accessible to a Vietnamese audience, together with providing an analysis of social struggles from a Vietnamese anarchist lens. Specifically, we do the work of archiving, translating, and disseminating anarchist texts, which can be found on the online Southeast Asian Anarchist library. There is also a very gradual translation of English Wikipedia pages related to anarchism into Vietnamese. You know, because Wikipedia tends to be the first place people come to for a basic understanding of new concepts. We try to reach a wider audience on social media as well, and we write and speak to educate people on what our experiences in Vietnam are like. The anarchist milieu in Vietnam is very atomized, so one of our goals is to connect Viet anarchists together, and provide a safer space for them to express themselves and exchange ideas, without fear of state repression, or mass harassment from statists and nationalists. Naturally, we make an active effort to include Viet anarchists in the diaspora in our organizing.
Individually, our members also participate in feminist, queer liberation, youth liberation and prisoners solidarity organizing.
TFSR: Awesome, thank you so much for the really thoughtful answers you’ve been giving, very clear.
So, you’ve already spoken on the pervasiveness of the police state and mentioned capitalist property and some other things in Vietnam. I would love to hear your perspectives on the political and economic direction of the State of Vietnam. An essay of yours that caught my attention is entitled “The Broken Promises of Vietnam” in which you argue that the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam” is not actually socialist. You describe similar instances of neo-liberal national economic infrastructure development taking precedence over preserving ecosystems and leaving intact indigenous communities, let alone general public health. You also describe a government wielding a Nationalistic vision of citizens that excludes ethnic and sexual minorities and that allows for billionaires to rise while the working classes and peasants are displaced. Can you talk about this, about those broken promises and who are some communities most imperiled by the Nationalistic tenor of the CPV?
Will: So, in terms of politics, Vietnam is a crony Capitalist country. The success of a business depends entirely on how well they could navigate the unofficial channels of the state, on their relationships with the government or Party members and how much money they are willing to spend on bribery. Officially, Vietnam is dubbed a Socialist country, but the class stratification can be observed in our everyday life. We have a so-called “People’s” billionaire, Pham Nhat Vuong, who, allegedly, built his empire from shaking hands with government officials to hoard land at a dirt-cheap price. He owns a total of $7.3 billion in assets, equivalent to the total assets of about 800,000 Vietnamese (on average). Very Socialist! Not to mention that Vietnam also has many other billionaires, enough to have a Shark Tank show right on national television. The very first promise, that the commoners who sacrificed everything for Vietnam’s liberation would be directly in charge of it, was shattered the very moment the Vietnamese government came into being.
The current Secretary of the Communist Party also openly praises capitalism, spicing it up with some superficial lukewarm critiques of capital! He said, and I quote: “We acknowledge that Capitalism has never been as global as it is today and has achieved many great achievements, especially in the utilization and development of productive capabilities and scientific-technological progress.” So, we’re just supposed to ignore all the toils the working class has historically and currently endured under capitalist Vietnam, for a Communism that may never even come! The end justifies the inhumane means, apparently.
As for nationalism, we mentioned it in the article “The Broken Promises of Vietnam,” but if you speak up and criticise the State, no matter how valid your points, how copious your evidences, you will be seen as going against the Vietnamese people, the Vietnamese nation, because the government has a vested interest in confusing party loyalty with the very natural and precious love that we have for our culture and fellow Vietnamese.
And as you know, nationalism sells the lie of a trans-class solidarity, that we Viet workers have more in common with Viet capitalists like Pham Nhat Vuong, rather than with fellow workers from China, Cambodia, Myanmar, or indeed the US. While in reality, Vietnamese capitalists and government go hand in hand with capitalists the world over to brutally exploit Vietnam’s cheap labor and natural resources. This can be observed in the outsourced manufacturing of electronic components and textile products to Vietnam, in the many Special Economic Zones that are mushrooming all over the country. There can’t ever exist any meaningful solidarity between us, between the capitalists and the working class, and the people in power are understandably frightened that the workers in Vietnam would one day see through this gross lie.
Consequently, they are dead-set on stoking the nationalist flame in Vietnam. That’s why career communists based in Vietnam spew absolute nonsense like “nationalism is crucial to communism in Vietnam.” Actually, Vietnamese nationalism is crucial to Vietnamese capitalism and authoritarianism. And the indoctrination process starts young.
Let’s examine the 5 commandments that Uncle Ho, Ho Chi Minh, taught Vietnamese youth:
1. Love your Fatherland, love your compatriots.
2. Learn well, work well.
3. Good unity, good discipline.
4. Good hygiene.
5. Be modest, honest, and brave.
These are hung in almost every classroom in Vietnam (usually with a photo of Uncle Ho). Many students are forced to learn them by heart. What comes first in these teachings? “Love your Fatherland.” Your fatherland comes before your compatriots. Children, who have not yet understood the concept of a “Fatherland,” let alone fully grasping what loving a Nation-state implies, are taught to put their “Fatherland” before themselves, before their family and friends. The next commandment: “Learn well” and “Work well.” For whom? In our opinion, also for your Fatherland, which is to say, for the state and the capitalists.
If you dare to question any of that, you’d likely be branded a traitor, a reactionary, a fake Vietnamese. If you dare to be “lazy” and not “work well,” you are a burden on society (disabled veterans in Vietnam are literally called “invalids;” we have “The Ministry of labor – War Invalids and Social Affairs”). The purpose of Vietnam’s education system, in our opinion, is to shape students into obedient workers or cogs in its capitalist machine, similar in essence to any other capitalist education system.
Also, many well-known authors whose works are featured in Vietnamese textbooks also incessantly preach nationalism and the idolatry of political figures like Uncle Ho, Lenin, and yes, Stalin. A 1993 poem by Tố Hữu, famed Vietnamese poet, reads:
Alas, do the earth and sky mourn Your departure
If I’m to love my father, my mother, my husband
and myself one, then I love You ten.”
So, “I love you three thousands, Stalin.” Ouch! That’s not very good…
Consuming products from Viet brands and Viet media is widely considered “patriotic.” Which makes non-consumption unpatriotic. How convenient for the market economy! Oh and, not only Viet media, but also foreign media which uses Vietnamese labor. In 2018, a Hollywood blockbuster was filmed in HaLong Bay, Vietnam. The film set was then utilized by the authority as a tourist attraction. The whole issue of how that movie depicts US soldiers in Vietnam and local people asides, as we read about and cheer for the ongoing IATSE strike, we can’t help but wonder if Vietnamese actors, extras and crew hired in film productions outsourced to Vietnam are compensated fairly and equally compared to their US counterparts. Fun fact: there hasn’t been a legal strike in more than 25 years in Vietnam. The General Confederation of labor, which is supposed to represent the interests of the workers, hasn’t been organizing strikes, and so all the strikes that did take place were illegal. It’s apparently unacceptable for the workers to organize and demand better conditions for themselves; a workers’ struggle is only legitimate in the eye of the state if the state can control its direction.
Mai: A field where nationalist sentiments are particularly intense is sport, mainly soccer. There was this photo of a person holding a portrait of Uncle Ho at a soccer match, which went viral a while back. That photo was said to be the evidence that Viet people love Uncle Ho. What was conveniently not mentioned is how the sport scene in Vietnam is one of the best showcases for how poisonous Vietnamese nationalism is.
Rampant on Vietnamese Social Media is the xenophobic attitude when our national football team have a match, especially with other Southeast Asian teams. If the referee makes a decision that’s unfavorable for the Vietnamese team, their Facebook or other social media accounts will be flooded with tons of vitriol and death threats. The same thing will happen to the opposing team’s players if they were deemed “too aggressive” or simply scored the decisive goal. It’s even worse with women teams, where there’ll be slews of misogynist, transphobic and degrading language. Many Viet sport fans like to joke that all Thai women are transgender women, with the heavy implication that they are not “real” women. To the nationalist sport fans, all the other teams are inferior, mixed-blooded, full of unnatural citizens, and hence has an unfair advantage. To them, the Vietnamese team is simply the best; any losses are only due to these unfair advantages.
As you may also know, nationalism seeks to create an in-group, out-group mentality, and Vietnamese nationalism constantly and violently excludes Viet ethnic minorities. A stark example is how the education-indoctrination system strips them of their culture and language. There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, with more than 100 Vietnamese dialects, yet there is only one official language taught in school and used in exams, the language of the dominant Viet Kinh group. This naturally puts people from other ethnic groups at a huge disadvantage. Many schools force their students to wear áo dài as uniform, regardless of their ethnicity, even though áo dài is a Kinh garment. Attempts to even out the ground for ethnic minorities face vicious backlash from Viet Kinh people, such as when the government tried to give bonus points in the national university entrance exam for ethnic minority students. Instead of getting rightfully angry at an education system which dehumanizes its students, forcing them to brutally compete with their peers for a chance to be exploited by capitalists, many Kinh people blamed and unleashed their wrath on ethnic minorities.
Those are our observations about the political and economic situation in Vietnam. Based on those symptoms, and dare we also draw some parallels with certain formerly “Communist” countries, we could tentatively share our guess on the direction of the Vietnamese state and its so-called Socialism-oriented market strategy, should it continue to fester unchallenged. However, we are not prophets speaking gospel, nor scientists playing with solid statistics here; we will not invoke some sacred words like “science” and “materialism” and from that claim absolute truth. What we will say is this: without mass mobilization and resistance of the working class, the Vietnamese state will strengthen its grip on the populace, through law, nationalism or hierarchical social conditioning. And capitalism, hand in hand with the state, will dig its claws further into the exploited classes, drawing out from them all they can offer. The working class of Vietnam will be further fragmented as capitalism consolidates its influence together with its exploitation, delegitimizing worker struggles against it. This would ingrain a sense of resignation and self-absorbed struggle in individual workers and prevent the building of solidarity amongst them.
TFSR: Some proponents of what’s called “Socialism” in Vietnam will argue that, in fact, the work that the Communist Party has brought forth has improved the quality of life of people in Vietnam. Have you heard of this claim, does that ring true in your experience that there has been development in the quality of individuals’ lives economically or educationally that could be attributed specifically either to so-called Socialism in Vietnam or through improvements from market society?
Mai: Why yes, we’ve heard this argument before, and our eyes roll every time. First, it is undeniably true that the qualify of life has been raised. And so what? That doesn’t prove that the same couldn’t have been achieved under another political system; life everywhere has been improving. Where is the evidence to pin this development on the so-called Socialism of Vietnam? It’s a wishy-washy way to justify the authoritarianism of the Vietnamese state and deflect from valid criticisms.
Will: And to add on to that, a suitable analogy would probably be prisoners not having to work as much. Sure, it’s an improvement to before, that still doesn’t change the fact that they’re still prisoners, still robbed of freedom and forced to toil under the same old master. Same thing here. Great, now we have internet; we also have no union to defend us against exploitation by the capitalists. Great, we get fastfood; we also have a state that’s just free of any control mechanism and can do what it wants (that’s how’s hierarchies of power work!). Great, we have iphones, ipads and gucci. The workers manufacturing for those corporates certainly can’t afford iphones, ipads and the newest gucci bag! But, whatever. So, okay, nice, quality of life has gone up. We’re not gonna say that’s bad, that’d be kind of stupid. But at what cost, in what context? The growth of quality of life is a good thing, but you can’t just ignore everything else surrounding it. A pizza party is nice, but you know what is nicer? Being in charge of our own life, our fruit of labor, and not being exploited and robbed of freedom. Partially because it includes a pizza party in it.
Mai: This line of argument also exposes a double standard casually applied for us people in over-exploited countries by many leftists and anarchists. Would you say the same to, say, queer people in more prosperous countries. “Hey you can get married now, you can even adopt children now. Why don’t you praise and be grateful to your capitalist government?” I’m sure there are people saying this to marginalised groups in more prosperous countries, but any anarchists worth their dime would vehemently and rightfully refute it. Yet everyone seems to be fine when this argument is casually thrown at people in so-called Third World countries. As if we’re supposed to be grateful for more crumbles! No, we want a seat at the table. We want everyone to have a seat at the table!
TFSR: Yeah, and when you’re referring to industrialists in Vietnam having an income level equal to, I think you said, 80,000 other people.. At what cost and how is that distributed?
Will: Yeah, also it’s 800,000 people.
TFSR: Excuse me, factor of ten… Thanks for being willing to tackle that question
What might be visions of libertarian communist approaches to some of the questions of raising the quality of life for people in Vietnam? Is that the sort of framing that you would use for a positive anarchistic vision forward? It seems like, just to add on, I’ve heard that in some countries that are ostensibly Communist or Socialist that people who are critical of the government sometimes have an allergy to those terms, to a positive turn of those turns, because it’s been shoved down their throats in such a negative way.
Will: Yeah, well…
Mai: Definitely, yeah [laughs]
Will: To me, it’s about representation. The State, this grand old thing, imposed all of those things on them, so I mean what choice do they have?
First and foremost, it must be said before any libertarian communist or anarchist vision can be realised, the people in Vietnam have to recognise that there exists deep problems with the current political system, and that there are solutions to those problems. The sad reality is this: the majority of Vietnamese people are alienated from politics (as authoritarian states tend to do to the people they oppress). So, politics is something done to them, rather than by them.
The state has built up for itself a shining image of legitimacy. And so even though many will say that there are problems with Vietnam as a whole, they are unlikely to be able to pin that to the political system. Maybe they can say that corruption is a severe problem of Vietnamese society. Maybe they can connect it to individual politicians and their supposed moral failing. But they won’t be able to say that corruption is only a symptom of the system and that, more specifically, hierarchies of power are simply incompatible with the interests of those at the bottom of the hierarchy, of the majority. Maybe they would even say that the one-party system is clearly not working, but mistake the illusion of choice of multi-party system for total liberation, for freedom. The root of the problems just eludes many.
There is also a sense of apathy and learnt helplessness that has been ingrained into the population, and so, as of now, the potential of political action and change is not great. This exacerbates the previous problem, in the sense that, even if a majority of people recognize the root of the problem, they do not think that they themselves and, only themselves, have the power solve it. Or they think that the alternatives would only be even worse: either U.S. capitalism/liberalism or the kind of “Communism” with severe scarcity and corruption before the Đổi Mới reform — which mind you many Vietnamese still remember and are understandably frightened of. This is what we mean when we say Vietnamese people are alienated in politics.
We also recognise that historically in Vietnam, the traditional labor movement has alienated many groups, such as ethnic minorities, sex workers, people of marginalized genders and sexuality, disabled people, unemployed people, criminalized people, and young people. Moving forwards, it is important to make our movements inclusive enough for the many fronts against various forms of oppressions, not just class struggles. Of course, the working class is the only class capable of toppling capitalism, but our definition of “work” and “workers” needs to change radically.
So… a vision—a hope even—is that, through putting their predicament under the capitalist society of Vietnam into perspective and laying bare the fact that no one but themselves have the power to change it all for the better, people will gradually be free of the mental limitations and have the want to take control of their lives instead of putting it at the mercy of “the powers that be.” And when the recognition, the will and the want, happens, we trust that they will go only one short step further and come to adopt libertarian communist approaches for their struggles, even if they don’t declare themselves to be affiliated with any specific ideology. Again though, we are not prophets and to prophesize on a strict revolutionary form is an unwise and pointless endeavor.
But if we can say one thing about our approaches and our visions for a better quality of life in the future, we may call attention to community building. Given what we mentioned earlier regarding the alienation of the worker and the fragmentation of the working class, there is merit in considering a parallel process: of healing the wounds of alienation that capitalism left on all of us; and of educating each other on essential political knowledge, examples being food sovereignty, pre-figurative social organizing, and independent union building. And in an age where technology has become an integral part of our lives, it is short-sighted to overlook or undermine the importance of online organizing. The social relations produced and reproduced through online organizing is every bit as pre-figurative as the social relations of on-the-ground organizing. Certain aspects are different, sure, but the essence of it is the same: the building and maintaining of structures capable of facilitating our interactions as equals. Through our own organizing, we’ve also found online archiving and dissemination of anarchist materials to be critical in the context of our milieu in Vietnam, where severe censorship and state repression have proven to be highly effective in weeding out dissenting voices, and isolating those who would otherwise band together to collectively speak out against the state narrative.
And as to the framing… Yes! I think this is the framing that we will proceed with. Unlike the previous revolution in our history, ours won’t be one where the people are pushed into a so-called revolution by some self-righteous vanguard party. That kind of revolution has proven itself to be undeniably disastrous. And we would love to not repeat that. The true revolution should be a continuous process, in which everyone can partake right here, right now, on their own volition.
TFSR: Would you speak about the situation in Vietnam for people of marginalized genders, queer folks in Vietnam as well as folks criminalized for sex work?
Mai: Sure. The situation for queer folks is not great, though getting better. Same-sex marriage was criminalized until 2015. Then, the law prohibiting same-sex marriage was abolished, but it is still not legalized. So, since marriage comes with certain privileges in our current society, many queer people in Vietnam are stigmatized and barred from the medical, financial and other material privileges that their non-queer counterparts couples enjoy. Marriage equality is the front in which liberal organizations working within the state framework seem to pour a lot of effort.
For transgender people, as far as we know, there isn’t a single hospital in Vietnam that is allowed to perform gender-affirming surgeries for so-called “normal” people, only for people who were in an accident or have “birth defects.” At the same time, non-consensual, non-medically necessary medical interventions are still performed on intersex children, as they are permitted by law.
Transgender people who wish to undergo gender-affirming surgery often have to go through an intermediate center, and the whole process (examination, papers and surgery) is usually done in Thailand. Hormone therapies are not easily accessible through mainstream methods, but through the black market. They really have to bet their lives if they want to use hormones. Not only that, because of low supply and having to do surgery abroad, the amount of money one needs to spend to undergo gender-affirming surgeries can be approximately $20,000, even more if you account for long-term hormone treatments. To put this into perspective, the average yearly household income of a Vietnamese person is $2,235, before food and rent/mortgage and such. And remember, the $20,000 is only for the surgery. So, the cost is an absurdly high amount for the majority of Vietnamese people, who have to work hard just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.
About sex work in Vietnam, we will speak not from personal experience, but from a place of legality and personal observation. Legally, sex work and even pornography are criminalized; sex workers used to face incarceration in so-called “rehabilitation centers” and still are charged with hefty fines if caught in raids, they are subjects of systemic stigmatization and discrimination as well, especially sex workers living with HIV. It was not until 2013 that detention center number 05 was shut down; it’s the rehabilitation center in which sex workers and drug users were detained and regularly subjected to forced labor disguised as “career training.” Supposedly, the closing of this detention center happened under the pressure from, as far as we know, an organization by and for sex workers in Vietnam called Vietnam Network for Sex Workers, amongst others. We could not find other sources to corroborate this, however, so we can’t say for certain this is what happened. Although, we certainly hope so! We suspect the reason for the scare sources has to do with the media not wanting to acknowledge sex workers’ existence since sex workers in Vietnam exist in this limbo wherein they’re criminalized, stigmatized, but also hyper-visible.
As for major queer, feminist, and sex worker organizations outside of the State framework, we are not aware of any, unfortunately. Yes, organizations that do not directly associate with the government exist; NGOs are by no means illegal. But that doesn’t mean they’re outside of the State framework. To truly be outside of the State framework, an organization must have the aim to work outside of that framework in the first place, hence giving a reason for organizing that doesn’t involve the State and doesn’t subject itself to the bounds the State establishes. There is no such thing as being accidentally outside of the State framework. And indeed, the organization we mentioned above express quite a bit of friendliness towards the state, which they view as well-intentioned but incompetent in execution with regards to programs for sex workers. We by no means wish to undermine or devalue their achievements; we applaud them for their efforts and are glad to know that there exists an organization standing for the interests of sex workers in Vietnam! But we cannot ignore the fact they achieved this only through the State framework, by cooperating and showing understanding to the machine which in the end perpetuates capitalism, and wish to see them exploited as workers. What they have accomplished is undeniably good, but in the long run, the state can never be a liberatory tool. Another thing is that a substantial part of their funding comes from liberal NGOs and NPOs. They themselves acknowledge that it is a challenge for them to organize without that funding, which will eventually go away. So once again, in spite of the good, we are obligated to point out that this form of organization cannot lead to the total liberation of the oppressed: an organization dependent on funding from liberal sources can never work to break free of the chains of the status quo, only the painstaking lengthening of those chains.
So we would say that the blindspots of the organizing by and for folks of marginalized genders, sexualities and sex workers in Vietnam is that there is no interlinking of struggles. The feminists can pinpoint the un0level playground between men and women, but many are oblivious to, say, class struggles, of ethnic minority women, of queer people and of sex workers. Indeed, feminism in Vietnam applauds the icon of a successful career woman, a girl-boss CEO who are not dependent on men. The same with queer people: many strive to assimilate into the cis-het society by broadcasting that they can be as “normal,” as successful in their careers as non-queer people. And so the poor queers, the disabled queers, the queers who are not Kinh, and many more, are further marginalized and don’t have a place within the queer community. On top of that, their organizing are dependent on the State framework, on funding from NGOs and NPOs: they need NGO and NPO money to campaign for the government to give them more rights. And in our opinion, that kind of organizing is not sustainable and will never lead to total liberation. There will always be people who are unlucky enough to be the scapegoat, who are at the bottom of the hierarchy and cast to the fringe of society.
TFSR: Speaking as someone from the so-called USA, which participated in much of the 35 years of war Vietnam experienced in the mid-20th century following centuries of colonial extractivism at the hands of the states of France, China, Japan and others, I wonder if you can talk about the legacy of colonialism and war are on the peoples and environment of Vietnam?
Mai: This is personal to us. In my family, leftovers are seriously frowned upon, even just a single grain of rice. I remember, this was when I was about 5 or 6, leaving the dining table after finishing the meal, and got called back to eat one single grain of rice left in my bowl. This is because there are family members who are still alive, who survived the Vietnamese famine of 1945, caused by Japanese and French colonialism, together with the US bombing the transport system. An estimated 2 million Vietnamese people starved to death. There is also the persisting catastrophe of Agent Orange. Personally, someone in my direct family was exposed, and we have to deal with various medical complications. Ironically, if you Google “Agent Orange,” the top results are almost all about its effects on US veterans; few are about its lasting effects on Vietnamese people and our ecosystem.
If you’d like to learn more about the atrocities that the US army committed in Vietnam, we’d recommend you to first, well, talk to Vietnamese people. You can also read the “Winter Soldier Investigation,” which consists of first-hand testimonies from GIs about the many daily My Lais that they themselves had committed or witnessed in Vietnam. You may notice that this investigation has the same name as a fictional character from a famous franchise widely regarded as pro-US military propaganda. Now, of course this could very well be a total coincidence, but even so, the incidental effect is quite real. It casts a shadow over the investigation mentioned above regardless. The way information about war crimes and its devastating aftermath on people outside of the US is obscured like that is just one in a million ways how US imperialism and cultural hegemony are harming us right this moment. And as far as we know, the documents from that [Winter Soldier] investigation hasn’t even been translated into Vietnamese for the younger generation to access and read about what happened to our predecessors.
Another product of US-centrism, which manifests plentily in anarchist and leftist circles: in political discourse, Vietnam, a country, a people with our own complex and diverse history, is constantly reduced to and talked about solely in our relation to the US. Not the whole span of that relation either, but only 20 years of slaughter and ecocide. For example, on the website of the longest running anarchist magazine in the US called The Fifth Estate, they have a page about Vietnam that is described as: “VIETNAM The failed US war and resistance to it from an anarchist/anti-authoritarian perspective”
Vietnam is not just a “failed US war.” Refusing to view us as humans with our own complex history and ongoing struggles leads to dissidents like us Viet anarchists, who don’t solely paint Vietnam as the US’ helpless victim, being branded “fake Vietnamese, CIA pawns, agent provocateurs.” The irony here is palpable. If you stop for one second and just look at the whole span of Vietnam’s relation with the US, you’ll see how the Vietnamese capitalists have no qualms shaking hands with US capitalists in their quest to exploit Viet workers. The Vietnamese and the US militaries are being all pally now, with weapon trades and personnel training courses! The US framework of every political topic is also routinely forced upon us, to the point that a Viet person who doesn’t understand every nook and cranny of US politics and its lexicon won’t be able to participate in political discourse without risking being torn apart, figuratively. Meanwhile, many US leftists/anarchists will brazenly insert themselves and their narratives in almost every conversation about Vietnam that we try to have, without taking the time and effort to learn the Vietnamese context.
And this benefits no one but US imperialism and, ironically, the Vietnamese authoritarians and statists. They capitalize on the very real frustration of Viet people who know that their struggle is completely ignored and dismissed by the US and Western left. They’d constantly and only talk about how horribly awful the US is, reducing Vietnam to its helpless victim — a glorious, brave and united nation against a common foreign enemy. On top of that, because social media favors moralized content, they’d build their platform on moralized, hateful language and rhetoric. They target a clueless Western audience who prefer self-flagellation and tokenism, rather than carefully examining information, educating themselves and developing their own analysis. When faced with criticism, the statists will weaponize their identities to silence and even harass their political opponents, accusing any Vietnamese speaking differently of being fake Vietnamese. Statists and career communists capitalizing on disinformation about Vietnam have threatened us with state violence and we have no doubt they will report us to the authority the first chance they’ve got. Of course, US imperialism permeates many corners of this earth, but to view, for instance, a Kinh Viet person living in Vietnam as merely a “person of color” erases the privilege that their ethnicity affords them domestically, erases the reason for their loyalty to the Vietnamese nation-state. We humbly ask people to de-center the US and its bloody war from conversations about Vietnam — it is long overdue. Thank you.
tùng: To add on to that, after the war, information about Agent Orange was slow in reaching Viet people, and so a lot went on to have children without having been adequately informed and prepared. I personally knew a family whose first child is blind deaf with intellectual disability, due to their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange. Without any compensation from the US nor adequate disability care from the Vietnamese government, the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have to fend for themselves on their own, generation after generation. They receive about from $5 to $20/person/month, depending on the severity of their conditions and I think this money is not enough to survive on for a whole month.
And there are the millions of people who were displaced by the war, cut out from their cultural roots and families, forced to assimilate into a new society. Many lost their lives fleeing a war torn country with a shiny new state high on victory and hell bent on vengeance. The ones lucky enough to have reached their destinations and settled down know no ways of reconciling and reconnecting with their “đồng bào” — compatriots back in Vietnam. They can’t learn about the struggle in Vietnam without being manipulated and fed lies, thanks to state censorship and hateful nationalist sentiments.
TFSR: How can international listeners in the international community looking to be solidarity with struggles in so-called Vietnam and learn more & help? Are there any projects they can support or other sources of learning that you would suggest?
Will: There is a proverb in Vietnamese: “Nước xa không cứu được lửa gần,” which roughly translates to: “Water afar cannot put out a nearby fire.” So, the absolute best thing you can do for us, specifically, is to organize in your own community, and to educate yourself about the struggles in Vietnam, without unquestioningly absorbing disinformation like a sad sponge. It also helps if you rethink and refrain from projecting your own localized societal standards and frameworks onto situations in Vietnam, which usually have little in common. And this should be obvious, but: don’t use our struggles as mere ammunition in your struggles. When you go to do solidarity, you should not reduce us to media tokens and talking points.
As of now, Viet anarchists are outnumbered, our voices drowned out by pro-state propaganda. And so, every single person who refuses to fall for said propaganda is a win for us! You don’t need to listen to us, to Mèo Mun specifically, of course—we don’t claim to be the best source on every single topic related to the struggle in Vietnam, far from it—but please be very cautious of the disinformation from statists. Talk to as many Viet people as possible, and remember that we are not a hivemind and our experiences and opinions do vary! If you’re a reader, there are many texts on the Southeast Asian Anarchist Library concerning Vietnam and its history. So, do read close if you’re interested.
And if you’re into direct action, please pay attention to the migrant worker scene in your community. The conditions of Vietnamese migrant workers, especially undocumented ones, are often abysmal and they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. And I’d dare to say that many so-called-Global-South migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation. We’d be very happy to know that someone is looking out for them.
TFSR: Is there anything I failed to ask about that you’d like to discuss?
Will: Not really, but I’d like to, on behalf of Mèo Mun, express our heart-felt thanks to Burst for reaching out to us, for your very thought-provoking and interesting questions, and for spending time with us today. We appreciate your giving us this platform, and though we try our best to cover what we experience in Vietnam, at the end of the day, our experience is just an experience. It is not universal and by no means can we claim to speak for every Viet person. We only hope that our speaking up gives you some tiny glimpses into our lives and struggles, which similar to any lives and struggles, are human, messy, and imperfect. So thank you for listening and seeing us!
Mai: Thank you!
TFSR: Thank you, all of you, for participating in this and also to the collective for collaboration in the answers. And I appreciate you taking the time doing this in English for the audience, I’m looking forward to this being a contribution towards more international understanding and solidarity. So, thank you!
An Indian Anarchist on Anti Caste Organizing and More!
This week we are very happy to present an interview with Pranav Jeevan P, who is a student, a writer, an anti-caste activist, and an Indian anarchist living in the state of Kerala. You are listening to the full extended audio from this conversation, where you’ll hear Pranav explaining how he got into anarchism, how anarchistic praxis unfolds in India, some about the origins of and worldwide implications of the caste system, anti-caste organizing and how anarchism feeds it, and about how the BJP and Hindutva have real influence on people’s lives and destinies.
He further touches on the struggle of Dalit and Other Backwards Caste folks and how this tendency has always had solidarity with Black liberation here on Turtle Island, much more information about the anti CAA protest and the Farmer’s Protest, a little bit about the ongoing military occupation of the state of Kashmir, and many more topics. There is already a lot of really good anti-caste hip hop out there, mostly performed by those in oppressed castes, and I’ll be including a bunch of those tracks which have been recommended by our guest, plus providing links in the show notes.
There are a lot of terms in this episode which may be unfamiliar to all listeners, and we warmly invite folks to take a look at our show notes for this episode to see links for further reading and research. Please also look forward in the coming week to this show being transcribed in full, if you would like a copy to send to a friend or to read along while listening.
Also you may have heard that covid is spreading out of control in India right now, in no small part due to government mismanagement. Please also take a look at this ongoing list of donations compiled by the group Students Against Hidutva Ideology. You can follow this group on Twitter @Students_A_H to see their updates and events. You can also follow India Solidarity Network on Instagram for updates on COVID in India.
Please be aware that in this segment, sean speaks about the Derek Chauvin trial and the murder of people at the hands of police. If you would prefer to skip this subject matter, you can skip forward about 8 and a half minutes. This segment occurs at the end of the episode, [02:02:27-02:10:58]
Happy May Day, y’all. We hope that you have a rebellious and joyous celebration in whatever way you see fit this week. If you’re looking for a place to hook in or have a public event, consider checking out ItsGoingDown’s post “May Day Is Our Day” and joining in or adding to their list.
NYC ABC has called for people to get together and to write anarchist prisoners Casey Brezik, Bill Dunne and Gage Halupowski, more info at NYCABC.Wordpress.Com or linked in our show notes.
Finally, another idea is to act in solidarity with the “Eyes on Starbucks: Don’t Fund Tigray Genocide!” call from the Indigenous Action Federation and Horn Anarchists from Eastern Africa for boycott and protest actions against the genocidal actions in Ethiopia from May 1st – 7th. More info on that linked in our show notes and at https://iaf-fai.org where you can find background, stencil designs and ideas of places to apply pressure.
BOG: Would you please introduce yourself with your name preferred gender pronouns location or any other information that makes sense for the purpose of this chat?
PJP: okay. So, I am Pranav Jeevan P and I identify with the pronouns he and him. I am basically from the district of Palakkad, which is in the state of Kerala in India. So, as far as where I come from I am actually right now doing my PhD in artificial intelligence in the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra. I am part of the Anti- Caste Ambedkarite movement in India. And most of the issues that I struggle around the lack of representation of marginalized communities in the higher education sector in India, especially the engineering colleges and STEM fields. So, where I come from personally… my background is that I come from what is called a backward caste. And both my parents, they’re first generation high schoolers, like they got their diploma. So, they were the first in their family to actually complete formal education and get jobs That actually enabled me to access a really good education and go for higher studies. And even though that was the case, the society that I am currently living in is filled with the elements of patriarchy and caste. Even though the state of Kerala is comparatively better than the services in India, as far as the Human Development Index and literacy is concerned. It is almost similar in living conditions to the Western countries like Britain or US. But the evils of caste and of the particular hierarchical structures & social structures are very obvious here. And my parents really had to face that in the workplace, and especially the places that we live, which are sorted by the dominant caste.
WG: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think now, like, especially in the US, the issue of caste and caste-ism is becoming a little bit more visible just through the work of people visualizing it, and and also the election of Kamala Harris, who is half South Asian herself, and she’s from an extremely privileged caste. And some people are talking about that, and we would love to talk about that some more later in the interview. But in terms of anarchism in India, although anarchism, you know, was a philosophy that motivated people involved in the movement against British colonialism, like, like Bhagat Singh, for example. And through the independence struggle, anarchism, as a cohesive philosophy doesn’t seem to have much of a life in modern India, does that seem like a fair estimation? How did you come to identify with the philosophy and how has it melded with your work and thought?
PJP: Okay, so that’s the first issue with anarchism in India. Anarchism is unheard concept in India, as an ideology. It has never been studied or even in the activist circles, like people who actually study ideologies, who goes to this fight, even they are not completely aware that such a philosophy actually exists. I think, even in the freedom struggle, like there were self proclaimed anarchists who actually did anarchist organizing, like Har Dayal and MPT Acharya they were actually never active within India, because most of the organizing happened for Har Dayal that happened in the US. he started an anarchist movement in US, and even MPT Acharya, he was active in Europe. And so it’s like very few individuals who actually studied and none of them actually did much organizing in the subcontinent. So, that was one thing and the case of Bhagat Singh, identified himself as a Marxist and he was an admirer of Lenin. He wanted to study Lenin’s life and things like that, but he had an attraction towards anarchism, and he wrote about it. So he had published a series of articles on anarchism and that might be the only articles on anarchism that is existing in India.
And then what happened is, the Marxist dominance happened in India like the what people call us community, some people identify immediately with the Communist Party of India, the ML party and The problem is, everyone identifies communism or like the left radical thinking with this particular party. They don’t know anything beyond that. So, whenever we talk about the left ideas, people immediately associate that “okay – you are talking about communism, and the CPI/ML party”. So, or like the what is happening in USSR or China and things like that, there is no awareness or any rigorous academic, or even activist awareness about this particular ideology. Like when I talk to people who actually read a lot about different ideologies, they haven’t heard, or they haven’t read much about Kropotkin or Bakunin, or what actually happened between them, him and Marx. Yeah, people are really unaware of this particular ideology. The funny thing is that there are many people in India, actually very huge number of people in India who actually are following anarchist ideals of like, who understand anti authoritarianism. Who understands the importance of liberty and equality. Who understands the importance of mutual aid. and who actually work on this kind of decentralized organizing and everything! But they don’t know that there is a philosophy like this, that is existing already, on which activists have been propagating. They just don’t know that they’re anarchists yet. So, that is the whole issue with anarchism in India right now. So, part of what I am trying to do is that. So since there is this moment of this Anti-Caste movement against this hierarchical social structure, which combines attacking all kinds of hierarchies like patriarchy, class violence, caste violence, there is this language superiority, colorism… All of this type hierarchies, which exists in society, and anarchism, as an ideology is best suited for it and I am trying to build that bridge between these the more political movements and social movements that are happening in India, in this ideology. Just showing that these are not separate. There is it an ideology is already existing, which you are actually following. You just don’t know it, but you’re already doing it. So, that there will be a much more academic and organizational backing to the moment that are already happening.
That makes so much sense, you know, we or I at least I don’t want to speak for my co-host. But I understand anarchism, like the construct of anarchism to be you know, as coming from like, these sort of very imperialistic backgrounds or powers. And I think that it’s articulating something that people who have to survive in the face of a lot of different kinds of oppressions do naturally, in a way. So, like, that makes so much sense. How did you come to anarchism? Like, you said, you’re writing a lot you are trying to build bridges, like how did you first like stumble across it? Or or how did it first start to make sense to you?
Okay, so initially, for me I started as an Anti-Caste. I was reading more and more and more about anti-militarist and anti-caste activism and I was part of the anti-caste struggle. Then I realized one particular thing that people are always… so, every person gets oppressed by certain hierarchies and they are getting privileged from certain other hierarchies. For example: there are upper caste women who suffer due to patriarchy, which suppresses them, but they get privileged from the caste system, that gives them privilege. And they get to oppress the lower caste men and women. There are lower caste men who are oppressed by the caste system, but they have privileged over a woman when we will look at that. So there are these multiple dimensions of hierarchies, which exist simultaneously. And I was thinking of like, what kind of ideology can actually attack power, because people when when they then there’s fighting against hierarchies, they kind of forget that every hierarchy creates a power imbalance and it is the power imbalance that has to be fought.
Of course, the fights are different. You cannot attack background either way you attack castes or the way you attack religious fundamentalism but the way power works is never studied deeply and I wanted to understand more about what is the fundamental nature of power that is creating these hierarchies and ensuring these hierarchies. So, in many of the movements you see these leaders emerging, and taking control of the movement. And suddenly after some time, the position of leadership becomes a lucrative post, which attracts people who, who don’t have the will to fight for the cause, but who just want to capture the power or to show themselves as the savior of all the oppressed people… to be the voice. They just want attention and privilege that the power gives and the voice that it gives them. So, that nature of how power is getting concentrated on few people: that I observe across these different hierarchies, like in every hierarchy there is this position of power and it always comes to certain few indigenous communities. And then I started looking for other ways of organizing or other alternatives which actually tries to create a system in which the power itself is decentralized. So, I was introduced to socialism and it gave the opportunity to create a society that is built on justice and liberty and equality. But how to organize a society, and because the nature of power is such that whenever there is a small accumulation of power, it will attract all the people to concentrate power.
I was trying to find systems which are designed so that there will be complete democracy, there will be decentralization of power where people can actually exercise all that, because without dilution of power, if there is a concentration of power, it’ll automatically create hierarchies, if this hierarchy is broken, and the hierarchy will replace it. So I wanted to attack the fundamental thing. I identify the fundamental nature of power and how to fight it. That is how I came to read about like, the critique of Bakunin and Kropotkin on the communist moment, so how they told that like, the idea of a Vanguard party or the dictatorship of proletariat, how it wouldn’t happen because of this accumulation of power. That no matter how much you try it will not match up with that, because it’s the property of power, no matter how well-intentioned it is, an accumulation of power will always result in hierarchies. Once hierarchy is established, it always try to protect itself. So, once I started reading Kropotkin and then then I understood that Okay, so, these are the people who actually understand how power works, and they are trying to develop or design systems that will keep power in check or make sure that the concentration of power doesn’t happen. Then I realized “Okay, so, this is what I have been looking for so long! This is something that is really needed right now. In all the moments that are for social justice happening in India right now.” Because what has been observed until now is that whenever there is a social struggle, it kind of fizzles out or it kind of breaks down because of this particular concentration of power. It is not helping it. All the approaches or from top down. So there will be few leaders who will be commanding. So once the leader falls the entire struggle fades. So and there has never been much work towards building the movement from the grassroot level, that will be much more sustained. And anarchism actually gets a better analysis of how to do that.
BOG: So in some of your writing, you bring up parallels between different movements that have existed in the last decade or so in various countries. For instance, the Anti-CAA movement and some occupations related to it. As well as the distributed mutual aid that’s existed in… for instance: the farmers movement. Are there other examples of anarchistic approaches that are already existing in Indian culture and in political movement that you think are worthwhile of pointing out that that maybe could be used to help bridge an understanding of how this philosophy is already in action and how to run with it from there?
PJP: So, the issue with anarchism in India is that Indian society is designed to be hierarchical. It is designed for not just one hierarchy, it is designed for multiple hierarchies everywhere. Indians are indoctrinated to respect authority, just like like complete subservience without questioning. That is considered as a sign of obedience. Obedience is glorified here. You don’t disrespect the people who are older to you no matter what they say. The woman can never disrespect the man even if he’s wrong. So that glorification of subservience is core to the Indian social order. Anyone who tries to break that social order will be severely punished. So you might have heard of honor killings in India. If a boy and a girl from different castes get married, they’ll be killed by their family themselves because they broke the social order. And that is happening even in India right now. It’s very rampant. So its a society where hierarchy is celebrated. And it is considered the norm. On organizing leaderless? that happened with the Anti-CAA protests and the farmers protest. It was unprecedented.
I think one of the reasons why the scale of these protests… if you see, these have been the most massive protests India has seen after independence. So once the Anti-CAA, the Citizenship Amendment Act, which was passed 19 of December. The moment it was passed there was no call by a political party or citizen activist group to create this huge protest. It was just people just came themselves out to the streets and started sloganeering and they started meetings, and they started to occupy places. So it was a spontaneous thing. And I don’t think it was just because of this current one law. It was because of the decades of neo-liberalism, assault on rights of certain democratic institutions that has been happening, and the rising inequality that India has been witnessing for the last 20 years. When such a draconian law was passed people said “that enough is enough.” They just wanted to raise their voice because they felt one after the other that their right as citizens was being taken away from them. Whenever there is organizing like of this sort that was happening before, there is always a tendency of infantilizing. Saying “Okay, these people don’t know what they are doing. They are not educated or they are not aware of what they are protesting against.” So there is this tendency by the media and the government to delegitimize protesters claiming that they are unaware of what they’re talking about, like “we are the ones the experts, we know everything.” These people are illiterate, they are they don’t know exactly what is what is good for them, basically. And this particular law, once it was passed, like people came out, telling exactly what was wrong with them. They were articulating and ,regarding the Shaheen Bagh Protests, In India, there are these communities who we naturally stereotype as uneducated or who have no agency. And the Shaheen Bagh Protests was a symbol of a category of people who were considered to have no agency, no education, no rights. They came out and they occupied a particular spot and demanded their rights. It was an unprecedented moment in Indian history. There were Muslim women, who were likely not to be not to have education more than like a high school education, who were housewives. There are like, women of all ages from children to more than 90 years old. And they came. They knew that there was an injustice that is being imposed on them. And they came out to fight for their rights. So it broke multiple preconceived notions of what a citizen is, and how aware they are of their rights. And I think that is the first symbol of democracy. Where the citizens starts to assert their right.
I think subsequently, the citizenship protest started in December, it went till March and then the COVID pandemic broke out. Due to which the protest had to be called off. But the model that was shown in the citizenship protests in which literally every major city, there was massive demonstrations of millions of Indians coming to the streets and fighting for their rights. Okay, now, here’s the second thing. India is heavily divided on sectarian lines of caste, of color, of language, of religion, of cuisine, of culture, of religion. So, what the government expected was, and since this particular government is far right hyper Nationalist government. So every fascist government has this tendency to create an other, so that they can demonize that community in hopes of getting electoral or political gains from the rest of the group. So in India, what the BJP government is doing is they are demonizing the Muslim community which comes to about 14 to 15% of the population. And so that they can get electoral gains from the rest. And they bring up all these issues, the Hindu Muslim binary issues, because everywhere the government is failing, the government is completely failing the corporations, they are taking away the worker and labor rights. The labor laws have been diluted. The economy is falling. Inequality is rising. The public health care and public education system is completely being dismantled. There are no jobs, there’s a higher level of unemployment. To mask all these failures of the government, the government will keep on bringing up this Hindu Muslim binary.
All these laws, the Kashmir issue, the anti-CAA. The CA law itself was a way to distract people from what is actually happening, like what is the actual issues the country is facing. But here the government is calculated. People came, actually more than Muslims, it was the other people from the other religions like Hindu, from other communities like Dalits, OBC’s (Other Backwards Castes), everyone came together, because they understood what exactly the media and the government is trying to do, and the narrative that they’re trying to build. They just broke through the narrative. They just came out in support in solidarity with each other. And that was a turning point, I think in the Indian democracy, I think this is one of the first signs that that there is some democracy that is actually left in India. Not the institutions, or the government, or the machinery, but actually in people themselves. There is a democratic feeling. There is a sense of democracy and that is being expressed right now. Actually, we were really disappointed when such a public outrage was not happening when the Kashmir issue came out. When the government implemented Article 35, which actually granted special privileges to the state of Kashmir. They completely threw away the elected democratic government of the state and imposed their complete control without consulting a democratically elected government. So by that time it was disappointing to see that the government, the people of the country, were not actually coming forward to protest it. But after this happened, within two months, when the CA bill was passed, the Citizenship Amendment Act was passed, then the nation reacted. So that actually gave hope. And since occupation protest has never been more successful. India has always seen rallies in which people just walk to the National Capital of the state capitol and stay there for some days and then they just come back. If prolonged occupation protest actually needs the idea of mutual aid and solidarity, because you need these protests are participated by millions of people. Like the farmer protests that is right now happening in Delhi has more than 300,000 farmers that are stationed on all the borders. And it is not easy to sustain such huge protests, without the kind of mutual aid and solidarity networks that is right now existing. And in that mutual aid network of this scale, I think is unprecedented in human history for protests.
BOG: It’s amazing to see that many people in one place for a common reason, and also being able to sustain such high numbers of people is really prefigurative. So I was wondering if we could get back to the issue… because a lot of us in the west in the US in particular, myself, who doesn’t come from any sort of Indian background has a very, very weak understanding of the caste system and I know that you’ve done a lot of writing and activism around the evolution of it. Can you talk a bit about some of its history and ground it for the listening audience. Talk about some of the modern struggles against it, including B. R. Ambedkar, who you’ve mentioned in some of your writings, and how you came to organize and write against it, how does an opposition to caste-ism intersect with your work against patriarchy and and how can anarchists specifically add to your anti-caste analysis?
PJP: Okay, so the caste system is something that started I think, around like 5000 years back. So it is this is the oldest form of strict social hierarchy. It existed in India since I think when the Aryans came to settle in India, and this has been mentioned in the the Rig Veda and everywhere. So what this basically does is creates a gradient inequality. It is not a strict inequality that you see in places with slavery,serfdom, and things like that. This is gradient inequality. So, a gradient inequality, it’s like a ladder, in which there are multiple castes, with one on top of the other. So, the person who is on the very top, they get all the privileges. The person who is the right below them, they are also fine, as long as they get to oppress those who are below them. So, they will forget, and or they will actually increase their own oppression, because there are people below them who they can oppress. So for every class that you look at, there is always someone below them. This this particular gradient inequality survived for all this time, because there is very little incentive for people to actually fight against it, because there are people below them that they can actually completely exploit. So how is caste system practiced? So one way of it is practiced is by enforced endogamy. So a woman doesn’t have any rights. As far as the Indian social organization. The woman, their main purpose is for child rearing and being the homemaker. They have to worship their husband, and that is the ideal wife, or the ideal mother. And here is where the patriarchy comes in within this structure, they can’t remarry. They have to keep women in control because everything about our system is about purity.
The way it works, the people at the top top… they don’t eat or drink with, or even touch the people who are below them. There’s this practice of untouchability. Actually, in my part, the Kerala State where I am from we had a practice of unapproach-ability. The higher caste people won’t allow people of the lower caste to come less than 10 feet to them. So forget touching, even coming close enough to pollute them. In certain castes who are considered at the very bottom of the caste hierarchy, they won’t even allow them to come out in the sun. So that the upper class people won’t have to see them, because the mere sight of these people will make them polluted. So there were communities in this country who weren’t allowed to walk in during day, they could only get out of their home at night. That was the way this thing has been working for centuries. People of one caste cannot marry another caste. So that is precisely why they had to practice this strict patriarchy. Women cannot be allowed to have independent wishes. Their their bloodline has to be pure. Even the food that we eat.
Basically the people of the higher caste pride themselves of being vegans, that they don’t eat meat. They consider meat as something which is polluting. It’s only the people who are from the deepest caste which eat meat. Basically, because all the economic and cultural capital always start with the upper caste and the people from the lower caste had to basically live with whatever was available to them. So that social realities that are existing in society was enshrined into the way these people live and interact and behave. This remained exactly the same till the Britishers. So, India has been ruled by multiple communities like between 80,000 to 83 Britishers. India was also ruled by Muslims. But even when India is ruled by people from other religions, the evil of caste system never dies. So a person who is born in the lower caste, even if they convert to another religion, they won’t lose their caste.
So, basically, if Islam and Christianity… these are religions which actually doesn’t have the caste system right? But in India, when you come and look, you can find that there is a caste system within these religions. The people who actually convert to Islam who are from the higher caste, they have a richer status, they have their own separate mosques in which they will never allow people from the lower caste who converted to Islam to attend. Similarly with Christianity, for example, in Kerala, the people that top-most caste is called the Brahmins. That is why we call it a Brahminical hierarchy, or Brahminical patriarchy, the caste system. So the Brahmins who converted to Christianity, they are the dominant Christians who have all the wealth and all the land and all the power, political and social. The people who actually converted to Christianity who are from like.. let’s say, fishermen trade or from various other lower castes, they will never get the respect. These people actually practice untouchability on them, even though they’re not actually belong to the Hindu religion anymore. Now here comes the other issue, if you’re born in a lower caste, no matter if you can actually make money, if you actually gain wealth through any means, still, you won’t be allowed to enter many places, because of your caste. So this is something that might promote economic mobility, but you will never have social mobility. The lower caste were not allowed to enter temples a place of worship of Hindu religion, for like years, it’s just only in the 20 century that they were allowed to enter. So, even Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, he had to have a huge mobilization to get the higher caste to open templates for the lower caste. And there are places in villages where the people of lower caste cannot access water. There are ways from the public bath from which the lower caste people can not access even today in India. So, there are public baths, where people from the lower caste can’t access. In some places when you go you are served different utensils in restaurants, separately for upper caste and lower caste even today.
And now, the problem with this is that once the British came and there was this influx of Western education in India, the people who were at the top of the hierarchy, especially the Brahmins, were the first to get a chance to access education and all the knowledge that was provided to it. So, these people from this particular caste who actually form less than 4% of the Indian population, they dominate literally all the fields. When you go to any elite University in India, they are all belong to this particular caste, all the students belong to this particular caste. You go to media, all the news channels are run and operated by them, all the businesses in India run by these families, you go to the media, like the movie industry, all the actors that you see are from the upper caste.
And even the Indians who actually move abroad – the Indians who actually migrate to USA, so the way you talk about Kamala Harris, the fact that these people were able to move to the next country, because they had the economic and social capital to actually have the money to go elsewhere and start working there. That is why most of the Indians who are actually immigrants, who actually live in the other countries are upper caste Indians, they don’t represent the entire the actual Indian population. So, all the people who actually immigrate from India to the other countries are upper caste, they take their caste with them. So then people from the lower caste when they are actually moving abroad, because they have access to it, they are discriminated by these people who are in dominant places. So most of the people who are in the in the western universities, Indians who claim that they have been racially discriminated actually practice caste discrimination in their own households and to their fellows. So, what I personally work on is the issue of Indian Government, once the constitution was framed and since Dr. BR Ambedkar, he was the architect of the Constitution. So, there was certain safeguards that was introduced in the Indian constitution for the people of backward castes, so that they get adequate representation in all spheres of life. In economic, social, and political.
So here comes the reservation system in India, which is like heavily debated topic. So it is a little bit different from the way affirmative action works in the US. Here, a fixed number of seats or a percentage of seats, it’s correlates to a proportion of the population which is actually kept aside for people from this backward community, so that they will have representation in all the spheres, but this is actually only implemented in the government sector, which is less than 10% of all the jobs in India and all educational institutions in India. So even in this small available seats among the Indian opportunities that are accessible to Indians, what we find is that since all the topmost positions are being dominated by the dominant caste. They deny this constitutionally granted safeguards to these people from the marginalized communities. The norms are never implemented. So even after 70 years of independence, even the higher education institutions, especially the IIT’s” (Indian Institute of Technology, a network of tech universities in India) is one of the elite institutions in the world, more than 95% of all the faculty are from upper caste, even though the law states that 50% of the seats has to be from people from the backward class. Like it is completely thrown out even after 70 years. And when you take the students, again, more than 70, since the professor’s can choose the students directly, especially with regard to the PG admissions, the postgraduate admissions. They deny access to the students who actually come from the backward castes, and they only allow students from their own community to get these opportunities. And this network of nepotism in a way actually creates a huge barrier for the people who actually comprises more than 75% of the Indian population from accessing any of these facilities: education, health care… you name it, the representation is almost zero.
WG: Thank you for going through that in such detail. I think that interfacing with this system, which is over 5000 years old, is a continuous, imposed social hierarchy that is extremely adaptive, like it has adapted through countless social movements, and it’s still remains somewhat intact is a little bit difficult for folks to wrap their heads around having something so old to struggle against, and that really, really shapes people’s lives and people’s destinies for them. And you talked a little bit about this, about how the caste system gets exported to regions where immigrants go or like a Desi community forms. But I was wondering if you could expand a little bit on this? Or say some more words about this meaning specifically, why should In your opinion, internationals, be aware of the caste system? And its worldwide implications?
PJP: Yeah. So regarding why should the international community be aware of this particular system is that most of the international community are aware of racism, colonialism, and I think like the fascism… they have experienced with all these different hierarchies. They have a history of struggle against it, they can easily identify it, they can fight it. They have succeeded against it, like many struggles have been succeeded. But caste is a kind of hierarchy, which even after so much time, there hasn’t been a clear path to victory, because of its great inequality component, which is not actually present in most other hierarchies. Like in other hierarchies, you can easily distinguish between the people who are oppressed, of course, there can be other dimensions, which actually split people and won’t allow them to unite. For example in India, even in within castes, who actually share the same social rank, there, there won’t be unity between them, because there might be internal disputes of like, who has more land, who has access to water for farming and things like that. I think a similar case occurs between maybe like the blacks and Latinos in the US. So they have the same social standing, because they are both oppressed by the structure or the community above them. But there is this lack of cohesion between them. But this lack of cohesion is not because these people get to oppress someone else. It is because there is a narrative that is being created of a lack of cohesion between the two. That’s it, it is the dominant narrative by the government or the dominant communities of the people who actually have a command over the knowledge production, like the academicians, who mostly come from the dominant caste. The news anchors will be from the dominant caste. The people who will create literature will be from the dominant caste. The people who make movies, the actors, everyone comes from a dominant caste. The narrative and the knowledge that is produced is from the dominant caste and there is no knowledge that is being produced to meet the demand of this particular community.
So, that is actually what causes the rift between them, and they are constantly being fed by false narrative and fake news telling that the other person is the the reason you aren’t getting opportunities. So, they fight internally, but caste is a little bit different. In caste, even though there are internal conflicts, they are fine with caste system, because they always have someone below them they can exploit. So, they can actually take pride in the fact that “okay, I am superior to someone else, I’m happy with that” They are okay with someone on top exploiting them, because of that particular nature of this system. And that is one of the reasons why the people of each different caste in the different levels of the social hierarchy have complete mistrust towards each other. So, the Brahmins they’re on top. they’re completely fine. because no one oppresses them. The problem is that when you go down even when you go down to the cast, who are literally at the bottom they are also fine with the system because they get to oppress someone below them. So, a complete unity a vertical spectrum is not happening. And of course, there has been moments in India, like there have been moments of anti-caste in Kerala has happened in Maharashtra led by Jyotiba Phule, in Tamil Nadu led by Periyar there has been moments it was happening, but the problem always was that the condition that was established breaks away, because when you give what can I say, when you give power or political representation or economic representation, in a token form, there is a fight among all these communities to get that because we have a reservation! So out of 100 seats, let us say 50 seats are reserved for the community for the backward castes, but there are like 1000s of backward castes. So who gets to be in this 50 becomes another issue altogether. So the one who actually have access to some social capital might actually gain that advantage and certain communities in this particular caste, they will feel that “okay, it is because of them that I didn’t get to get this particular representation” and they would have resentment for their fellow caste men rather than the people who created the hierarchy in the first place, who who are the Brahmins.
So, that internal rift is actually exploited by the current government. So, what happened was in the past 22 decades there has been an increase in representation in the political sphere by the backward caste. If you are from a caste in the backward communities and got that representation, it created and animosity in the minds of the other backward castes and the BJP like in the the there is ideology, they they were able to exploit that sentiment. So, that is why even though BJP, or their ideologues. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) is completely like a caste-ist, patriarchal, hierarchical, structure. They want to create that hierarchy completely and throw away this notion of secularism or democracy. They have support of the people from the backward communities because of this rift within the community. And there they are very good at creating narratives that tells that. So what they do is they create alternative histories. They create the idea that India had a glorious past, like before and like caste never existed in India, it was something that was brought to India by invaders. Kind of like the marriage of Nazism and Hitler – What Hitler did to alienate the Jews from the Germans. That is exactly what they are using to create their foothold in the Indian society. So they are telling that India had a glorious past, like they create these ridiculous stories of in ancient Indian technology, where India had this interplanetary travel system, we had information of genetics. So you wouldn’t believe it! India has this annual Indian science conference where all the latest research findings of the Indian scientific communities discussed. In that forum one of the guys actually brought a presentation, which told that India had nuclear missile warheads, like in like 3000 BC, and we had interplanetary travel, we had stem cell research. We had teleportation. This was actually told in the Indian Science Conference. And not for just one year, it happened multiple times. So, there is currently research happening in India telling that the, let us say… that cow has magical properties. There here is golden cow urine that like if you drink cow urine cancer will be cured, AIDS will be cured. This is actually being done by the government. It is government funded program and in universities, public universities. So, there is a complete attack on logic. It’s a attack on the entire scientific method. So they have, they are rewriting history textbooks to tell that we had this glorious past and it was the invaders who came, the Muslim invaders who came, the Britishers who came, who actually ruined and created differences in the Hindu society by installing caste.
WG: That’s so incredible.
PJP: Yeah. So now people who actually suffer from caste system think that the enemies (the Muslims) are the enemies of Westerners who came to India, who actually… so that is why their life is crap. And they hope that this government, who actually promises them that ancient Golden Age, will actually bring prosperity back to people. When in actuality what they are doing is they are giving complete, they’re giving the entire country in the hands of the corporations who completely exploit the people. They are destroying all the social security systems that have been existing in India. Like India had minimum support price for the farmers, this was taken away by this farm laws, which is where the farmers are protesting. Like Indians had the option of going to court in case a corporate actually breaks a contract of trust. Like if the contract says that “I will purchase this many quantities of potatoes from this farmer at this rate after the harvest” and the often during the harvest time the corporate denies, like they don’t agree to pay that pre agreed price. Now the farmer cannot go to the court. The right to constitutional or legal remedy have been take has been taken away by the this new laws. So the farmers are protesting, not just for the farmer laws at this point. They’re actually protesting for every citizen of India for their democratic right, to, like constitutional remedies.
WG: When you’re talking about sort of this government propaganda this really outlandish sort of, you know, ridiculous claims. I mean, it is true, or I believe it to be true that I mean, the India has like a vast history. And, you know, they’re one of the first instances of indoor plumbing that they found archaeologically was in a city in India. I don’t exactly remember where because it’s a gigantic country as well. Yeah.
BOG: But they weren’t teleporting the feces to another area.
WG: They weren’t. It really reminds me of like the conspiracy theory machine that exists here too, on the far right, where, you know, we’re being ruled by reptilian overlords and the 5g chip is going to be implanted in us in the COVID vaccine and stuff. It really reminds me of that a lot. And it’s like, incredible to me that these systems seem to me to be a bit parallel in our two locations.
PJP: Yeah, it is. So right now, what the government is portraying is that what India needs is a strong leadership, which they have epitomized in the image of the Prime Minister himself, the Prime Minister Narendra Modhi. He’s like the Iron Man who can like unite India and bring all the glory back to India. So they have created all these stories surrounding this particular narrative, such that in Indian society like I said, you cannot question anything that hierarchy dictates to you like, if someone is dictating something to you, you have to obey it. There is no space for what you say… democratic discussion or debate, anything that is democratic is immediately. So the first fundamental thing of democracy or democratic policy making is that when you make a law, you have to consult with the people who actually will be impacted by the law. That is the first principle of any policy-making.
And here for such a huge farm…. so let me give you an estimate like of the scale of the issue. India is a country which has more than 1.4 billion people, of which almost 60 to 70% engage directly or indirectly with agriculture. So that is like almost around 600 million people. Just doing agriculture, of which around 520 million people are living in poverty. So, a recent statistics have showed that 63% of the rural agricultural workers in India, they don’t have enough income to actually get a nutritious food three times a day, they don’t have it. 63%. Almost 100 million people. This is the case, if they spent their entire income in food, even if they spend their entire income in food, they still won’t have enough food, nutritious food to feed them three times a day. And normally, most people don’t spend their entire income in full, they have other needs, too, right. So the actual data is saying that almost 73% of the Indian Indian population on the rural population in India. If they use two thirds of their income in purchasing food, they won’t still have nutritious food three times a day. So this is the status of India. And in a country like this, then the government and that to this many people are actually employed in agriculture, but the government is passing a law without consulting anyone. like and back to a time when the pandemic has hit and has completely obliterated, like, the scope of… it has completely pushed the country to its knees. It is like what the government expected was….
So the government always expected an opposition when this particular law will be passed. So the government has been sitting on this law for a long time. When the government was in power for the last six years, they never passed it till now, thinking that the farmers will protests. They immediately pass the law in the backdrop of this pandemic. Thinking back… because of the pandemic the farmers wouldn’t be able to organize. And they completely misread because the farmers were like “okay, we have had enough! if the pandemic won’t kill us, this law would.” So in India, like more than 30 farmers are committing suicide every day, because of the agrarian distress. It’s a huge issue in India. And right now, since the government is like attacking all the institutions, this was there for the Indian citizens.
So in India, the government… there is this huge array of government schools, which are like public funded schools, which literally everyone, anyone can attend without paying fees. The quality is less, because it has been systematically degraded by the governments to aid the private institutes. The same thing is with the healthcare, but still, these Institute’s where institutions are there, so that the people from the lower castes or the Muslim communities can actually send their kids to get education. And even though the quality was poor, it was a way for these communities to actually have some social mobility. But now the government is destroying even the remnants of the system that are existing the public education and the health care and they are completely opening up the country for… I don’t know what the word I should use for it… I think a complete takeover by the corporate industries. The corporations can come in, they can dictate the laws of labor, the corporations can actually decide like how much time the worker should work in the factory. They can change, it was eight hours maximum, now they can increase after 12 hours arbitrarily. They don’t have to pay the minimum wage anymore. So, this is like complete violation of the basic human rights and the government is completely fine with that. So, when people are protesting the government needs this diversionary tactics of like this Hindutva, like this, “we had this glorious past. You are suffering right now, because of the Muslims or the other castes, or other communities that came to India. We are the ones who will be giving you…”
The government is just a corporate propaganda machine instead of a government right now like you can see in every single place that you turn like the media or in the billboards, for every institution that you go and see you can see like pictures of the Prime Minister standing and telling that everything is going fine. We have like… India is like now becoming a symbol of hope for the world and the reality is completely opposite. So, this is not just in India, what is happening right now, right? The rise of populism and Trump in US of Boris Johnson in UK of Bolsonaro in Brazil, like this is happening everywhere at the same time because of this… I don’t know… the because of this neoliberal assault on all the public institutions and I think one of the hope that I see is that simultaneously everywhere in the world. So there was this occupy protests in Mexico, in which the feminists in Mexico they went and occupied I think the National Human Rights Commission office, and they just stayed there as a protest against femicides. So I thought like, “okay, that that is similar to Shaheen Bagh, what the women in Shaheen Bagh did they just came and they occupied a particular space and they just stand there telling that they demand that they demand justice! And that is what the farmers are doing right now. They are just coming and collecting together. And right now, okay, the nature of the protests has actually changed right now, even though there are like many farmers protesting around around Delhi, the farmers are now traveling to each and every village in India right now. And they are communicating the issues of the protests, and what are the issues that are plaguing the country right now. And all these meetings are attended by 1000s and 1000s of people! This is happening right now in India, you will never find this in any of the news. But right now, that’s Yeah… this is unprecedented.
Two days back, there was a meeting in one of the villages in which more than 20,000 people attended. And so the people who attended, they go back to their villages. They create a council and start creating the awareness expand the awareness of what is actually happening and why this is happening. Because you cannot trust the media in India anymore. like India has one of the worst propaganda machines in history. And they just regurgitate what the government actually tells them to do. They delegitimize the protests and they distracts people with really futile stuff. So the farmers thought that “okay, we don’t need a media coverage to a pass what we have to tell the people we will directly go to the people!” Grassroot level, like bottom up, like bottom up communication. I think that’s, that’s amazing to see.
The attack against the agrarian sector has been there for like the past three, four decades. And systematically, the people who had land to farm they lost the land because of they’re in crisis. And they had to become farm laborers, and go and work in other places where they can get money. Because of this, a lot of people who actually were farmers became a farm laborers, and they go to the Vela farms, like in Punjab and Haryana to work from other states. So that is why most of the other states in India, they never had this thing called minimum support price or this multi system, which was there in Punjab. So the reason why the protests act in Punjab was because these farmers had a lot more to lose than the other farmers. And since the way this law has been devised. So there are clauses in the law, which actually is very interesting how the legal terms are right now. How the laws are being formed by the government right now. So let me just read you one sentence from that law. “No suit prosecution, or other legal proceedings shall lie against the central government or state government, or any officer of the central government or the state government.” Or here’s the interesting part, any other person in respect of anything, which is in good faith that or intended to be done under this act. Or have any rules or orders made thereafter.”
So basically this is like, arbitrary. Like, you can’t, you can complain against not just the government, you can complaint against any person. And not just, if they do something bad. It is intended to be done in good faith. So they can just say that this happened like this, it ended badly, but I did in good faith. So I should not be criminalized for it. This is like, ridiculous. And this is the nature of all the laws that the government has been recently passed it.
WG: It’s so dangerous when there’s a piece of legislation that could literally mean anything. You know, we can see this everywhere, you know, it’s very bad sign, when you know, there’s something that can be just arbitrary, like you said, arbitrarily applied, no matter what. I did have one last question about anti-caste organizing. I became aware of this movement, which is Dalit Lives Matter. After sort of this, we had this summer of 2020, this summer of rebellion against the murder of George Floyd. I wonder if you have any thoughts on Dalit Lives Matter or DLM? would you would you mind expanding on that?
PJP: Okay, so unlike some Black Lives Matter was actually moment in us, right like there was an organization called Black Lives Matter. And like there was huge organizing based on that particular that particular tag. But in India, of course, the the issue of Dalits has been like, and the anti-caste organizing has been happening for a long time. And since there has been a lot of similarities between the issues of black people that they’ve recently faced in the US and what Dalits face from caste system, there has always been a bridge, and a takeaway of learning from that moment. So when the Black Panther Party was formed in the US, for the emancipation of the black movement and the black people so that there was an awareness that was being created in the community to organize and like emancipate themselves against the oppression that they are facing, the police brutality and everything. Simultaneously, there was a Dalit Panther Party that was founded in India, all in the same ideals.
If you actually look a little deeper into the history, like you can see that the various things that the rap music or the hip hop, which was used by the black activists as a way of expressing their anger, and their protest was similarly being… is being actually similarly right now used by activists, the caste activist in India, they are using hip hop to communicate and express their ideas and anger. So there is a learning that is being happening across these two different, but in a way, similar kind of oppression that is being faced by this people. So then, then there was this issue that happened, the murder of George Floyd. And there was this huge uproar, and then in the international community, and it didn’t limit to the US it it spread all around the world. Like, wherever there has been racism and colonialism, the statues were being thrown into oceans and dismantled everywhere in the world. Exactly. So it was an attack on a system of oppression. That was happening.
So in US it was black lives, right? But in other countries, there was something… like in Australia, it was indigenous tribes, right? Aboriginals Lives Matter. So, in every country, it will become a call for the people who are being oppressed. And in India, that happened, like it was the village. So when there was this Delhi Pogrom, in which there was an attack on the Muslim neighborhood, as a reaction to the anti-CAA protests, there was a new movement that came called the Muslim Lives Matter. So when a movement shows that there is something that can be used to create a mass mobilization that gets accepted or reproduced in other moments. And I think this was just a reaction to what was happening there. So since it was attacking, a voice raised against the hierarchical oppression, the similar thing just happened in India. And also another thing, why this happened to us because you can see a lot of Indian Americans there, who will be championing for Black Lives Matter, and they tell that they are also facing racism, because they are from a different community.
What we the people who are from the lower class in India find amusing is that it is these people who actually come to India and practice the same kind of oppression on the people who are below them in the cast. So this was actually a lot of this Dalit Lives Matter came as an opposition to these people, championing the cause of black lives matter because we were like, okay, you don’t get to talk about black lives matter, because you are the same, you are causing the same oppression. A lot of celebrities in in India who were like, suddenly championing for… they were raising their voice on “Okay, like, there is racism in us like I have faced racism in us.” And we were like, “okay, fine, you have faced racism or you got dismissed because you are Indian, but just remember the caste system that you are imposing on the fellow Indians? And why are you not raising the voices?” So all the people who from the dominant caste raise the voice against the BLM, but in India every day, like, only the women are being raped. Yeah. And they’re brutalized, and like they’re beaten, they’re paraded naked for being Dalit. It is a show of power by Dalit communities, to put their lives in their proper place. And none of these people who are actually championing BLM, they never raised their voice against us. So we were like, “Okay, so we are creating your another, like, let’s say hashtag. Just like black lives matter. That is what you missed, at least then then promote this too.” It was it was a mixture of all these emotions, basically that came to the emergence of Dalit Lives Matter.
WG: Thank you for going into that too. Like, it’s something that I’ve been seeing and yeah, it was, it was good to hear your thoughts on the matter and it makes a lot of sense that you know, yeah, people who were in the US and her from extremely privileged castes were like it completely ignoring the oppressions that they perpetrate. So thank thank you for going into that.
PJP: So actually, with regard to the Kamla Harris issue, recently, there was this case in California, in I think, John Doe versus the state of California, in which the internet employee in the Cisco company faced caste discrimination from his superiors. So they both actually went to the same Institute, like the one that I’m actually studying right now, IIT Bombay. So they are alumni of that Institute. And so this guy knew that John Doe was actually a Dalit. And he outed that to his other Indian colleagues and that led to him being discriminated in matters of job assignments, his appraisal, and stuff like that. He’s didn’t get promotions and he complained. And then it became obvious that the state of California doesn’t have a legal prohibition against caste discrimination. So there is currently a case that is being going on in California Court, which actually wants to include caste discrimination in the list of all the oppressions that people face along with racism and colorism and other things.
WG: Yeah, I remember hearing about that.
PJP: Yeah. And since Kamala Harris is from an Indian origin, and she actually… her grandfather is a Brahmin, her mother is Brahmin. So she’s, yeah, she’s from the dominant community. And they’re also called by the activists in US that Kamala Harris would actually make a statement in this matte. Because she claims to suffer racism and everything. And like, why are you not telling anything about this particular issue? That is actually much more closer to you than any other American actually.
WG: Kamala Harris is a huge, you know, you know, sticky wicket, I think because like she was the, you know, the District Attorney of Oakland, California. Her job basically was to incarcerate black people, you know, like the incarceration rates in Oakland are exactly the result of stuff that she has perpetrated. So she’s a police officer, she incarcerates a huge amount of black people. I’m sure she suffers, you know, suffers racism, you know, I’m sure that she does. But like, she also perpetrates a whole hell of a lot of racism, not even to mention the fact that she’s a Brahmin, you know.
PJP: So that is one thing that I actually keep saying again, and again. People very easily identify the hierarchies that oppresses them, but they are not ready to acknowledge the hierarchies that gives them privilege. Absolutely. And I think anarchism is an ideology, this is where I was attracted to it the most because it doesn’t attack one hierarchy. It attacks every hierarchy, the legitimacy of all hierarchies. And I think even when I’m when in the struggle against caste, a caste as a hierarchy is not a single hierarchy. It has patriarchy. It has classism. It has language. It has cuisine. Like there are multiple aspects of it. And you don’t just attack caste as a single entity, you need to attack caste from all these angles and that philosophy actually gives you the tools to at least create a narrative of how to attack these oppressive hierarchies. In a way that people can understand… Okay, even if I am not oppressed by your hierarchy, and if there’s a hierarchy that I am being oppressed by, I should be able to relate or translate my oppression to the other hierarchies too.
So that I can in a way empathize with what is happening to other. I think that can create a huge change if more people are actually aware of it. And without any teaching of anarchist ideas it is automatically happening like this spontaneously happening in the farmers protest. Because in farmer protest, many of the landed farmers are from a… I wouldn’t say dominant caste… They are like basically still a backward caste, but a better off backward castes, called Jats. And most of the agricultural laborers are from the Dalit communities. So historically, there has been a rift between these two. But since these new farm law came there has been a new emergence of solidarity, in which the landed caste now understand the struggles that the laborers are facing. And the laborer castes, they acknowledge that if these laws are implemented, now, it won’t just affect the landed caste, it will penetrate and it will affect the people who are actually employed as laborers too. And now there has been voice voices being raised on redistribution of land to the Dalit laborers, a raise of minimum wage, and other other things. So and, and here is the most beautiful part, the participation of women in the protests in India has been like… it has increased significantly, because recently almost 20% of the people who are currently stationed around Delhi the protesters are women. Which is huge when you consider the fact that India still is a hugely patriarchal society in which which doesn’t allow a woman to step out of the room, you can see a woman driving tractors. And the funny thing is almost 80% of all agricultural laborers are women. But most of them they are unpaid, like they are, they are expected to work. This particular protest actually shows the agency of women and their awareness. And it bring forth the strength and unity that the woman can actually show and the solidarity that they can contribute in this protest. And the issues that women face: like the patriarchy, the lack of wages, lack of equal wages, then there is this maternity benefits, this is a huge other array of issues, which are now being recognized because of this particular protest. Earlier, it would only be just limited to this one struggled against like a particular law or a particular event. Right now, everything is being discussed. And I think that’s a huge part. Or it gives me hope, that like, okay, now, at least the people are slowly awakening and they realize that they have more to lose together.
WG: I’m also very happy that the participation of women in the farmers protest has been so foregrounded by people who have been writing about it, or at least the people that who have been writing about it that I’ve read, like I’ve read your work on it. I’ve read some other folks’ work on talking about the farmers protests and it’s really cool that people are foregrounding the participation of women. And like, contextualizing it as a very important, you know, aspect to the protests,
PJP: So I have explained a lot of how the mutual aid was happening, right? Like, of all the networks of solidarity that was shown how community kitchens were being organized, and how from the village and the food, grains and milk and all the essentials were being brought, how volunteers are collecting blankets for these farmers. During winter there was medical aid that was being set up. There were laundry rooms set up to wash their clothes. And so the other thing that there has to be understood is that these are poor farmers who are living, who are actually sleeping on the roads and tents and makeshift platforms, or even their tractors. And when they came last December, it’s just like brutal cold in Delhi, like it was one of the coldest winters in 70 years. And right now, it is March and it is the opposite. The temperature is like nearing 45. And it is like extreme heat.
Now, the government what they did is they cut off water supply, they cut off electricity, they cut off internet, so that the farmers will go back. So what the farmers were like, okay, they dug bore wells for water, they install solar panels for electricity. So like, little by little the self organization. because the number of people who are participating is so huge, so is their resourcefulness. And I think, for any protests of this magnitude for it to become self organized, in which the people can solve all the problems and the institutions of service or support is automatically emerging out of them. Because there are so… like the threshold has reached like, okay, we have enough people so that we can do everything on our own. We don’t need an external support from the government. No matter what the government does, we can actually make this work on our own that has been achieved. And another aspect that is interesting is the lack of like a set of leaders. Of course, there are like eloquent leaders who actually speak of the protest.
But the decision making is decentralized. There are more than 500 farm unions who are actually participating in the protest along with other support groups. And even though like only 30 to 40 leaders are going and talking and negotiating with the government, every proposal that the government surpluses has to be brought back to the farmers, where they will collectively sit together and discuss and debate where every member will be present. And like every member of the union will be present there are more than 500 unions at the present time. They will debate, discuss, and the people who actually represent these farmers, they cannot decide on what they should, what distance to make, or what points to agree with the government, they have mainly a voice of the farmers to the government or spokesperson, they’re not elected representatives, per se. And I think that that that difference from in a hierarchical society like India, to a representative form of a decision making process, to participate in decision making process, even though it’s not perfect, of course, but the seeds of it is being assembled in this protest, even the anti-CAA protest, you can see that there is no single party that actually organize all these protests across the country. So I was in Mumbai, and in Mumbai there are multiple protests happening every day in different parts of the city. And the protests that I went to there wasn’t a single organization, it was collectively decided and everyone was taking part in the decision. There are huge debates happening. And I think people need to experience democracy to actually understand what they are losing in the current social situation. Only when people realize that their voices are heard. And they get an experience of expressing their voices, no matter how eloquent how bad it is, it doesn’t matter, then they understand that their voices deserve to be heard. I think people will not go back.
WG: Absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s a beautiful sentiment.
BOG: I was wondering, this wasn’t I keep stealing the headphone out of my co host ear. This wasn’t one of the scripted questions. But how has COVID impacted India? As far as you know, like has has Modi and the BJP followed the pattern that so many authoritarian governments around the world have done with the pandemic and denied public access to services or denied maybe the dangers related to it? Or has there been much in the way of mutual aid response from communities to get people access to protective gear or medical access?
PJP: Okay so what the federal government did was they cleverly denied responsibility for the pandemic, in a way that they just tasked the state governments to handle the pandemic on their own. So that they will be free of the responsibility. That is what basically they did.
BOG: Oh, that’s what Trump did…
PJP: And that’s very clever, because most of the same governments are not run by the BJP. So what they can do is they can…. if a state government fails to provide access, they can just point to that government telling that “Okay, these people are not doing it well, like they are not letting the central government do the job.” And they can get away with it. And in the states that actually are run by BJP, the numbers, the data that we see, the official data is never true. So there are states which do tracking and in good response. So personally my the state of Kerala, the state of Kerala has been lauded by international community for its past action and response because the state of Kerala has a strong public health care system. The government really funds the public health care and the state of Kerala was prepared to handle a pandemic because last year, there was a similar virus called nipah is hit the state and the state had to engage in protocols of how to handle a pandemic and like what other medical gear is that the blockers should wear that health professionals should wear and the government of Kerala was better prepared. The other state governments were not prepared for it.
And many of the states ruled by the BJP, they don’t do the testing enough so that they can show that Okay, we have very low cases in our state because we are doing very well. This is not the case they’re not testing to know whether like there are enough people who is actually contacting COVID and the government using their propaganda machine, the media, they are diverting every issue, like even when the COVID pandemic was at its peak, the media was discussing something completely different. Like they were going after like small things…. like celebrity news and stuff like that, they wer completely ignoring it. Now let me explain what was the actual humanitarian crisis that India faced during the pandemic. So when there was an initial lock down for 31 days that happened. So in India, there are like really poor states, like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Orissa. So, the marginalized communities from these states, they don’t get wages, literally they don’t have any rights when they are living there. So what they do is they migrate to other states where they can find a job as manual laborers, or they set up small shops. Basically, most of them are manual laborers who work in construction sites. And the women, they might work as maids in the urban households and stuff like that. So there is a huge migration of people from the rural to the urban cities. And when the pandemic hit, immediately, the economy went to a standstill, there was no work. Everyone was asked to stay where they were right?
So these people, the people who are unorganized, was who are not actually the formal employees, they just their daily wage laborers, they just go everyday to any place they can find work, and they just work there. They collect their earnings and they get food from daily earnings. So when the entire lockdown happen, these people, they were completely cut off from their income. So what they did, they didn’t have any other thing to do, they just started going back to their homes. And since it was a lockdown there was no railway, there was no bus service, there was basically no transportation available. So now you know how big India is right? People from across the country started walking back to their native villages! like walking 1000’s of kilometers! So during the time of pandemic, you could see millions of Indians walking. And it was March which is like extreme summer. 1000’s of people died due to sunstroke walking back home. There were images and videos of people lying dead in roads in railway stations and bus stops. People were run over by trains, when because they were sleeping in the railway lines. So it was terrible. And the government didn’t do anything. And when asked about the number of deaths, in pandemic by these migrant laborers who are walking back home, the government told that we don’t have any data about it. And the government is busy doing like other stuff like cricket or something like Bollywood is doing as well.
And it is busy passing laws that will further take away the rights of the… so it is during the pandemic that the Farm Bill first passed the labor laws which diluted the labor norms was passed.
So the government has their own priorities for corporatization, they don’t care about what the actual people and citizens of India, the struggles they face or anything. But one thing that was noticeable was the Indian community, they reacted to this particular migrant labor crisis. So across the roads, when people are walking, people are offering water, food. So there was this mutual aid that was automatically. There was this huge, so in every city in which these migrant laborers are walking, people are offering them water, if you’re offering them modes of transport, like they would take people who are really… who are elderly, who can’t walk, or children, they will have them transport in small distances. Like a relay kind of transport mode was set up. Many restaurants, they opened up so that they can feed these people for free. And there are many families which were like stranded in remote places without access to… let’s say I if I have a family and my elderly parents are living alone, and they need medicines, it’s lockdown, the medical shops are not open. So there were volunteers who were ready to deliver essential medicines to this families. So there was a parallel, when the government failed the people, the citizens rose to the occasion to try at least try to mitigate a huge disaster. It wasn’t perfect, of course, like it didn’t work everywhere, but it it prevented a much worse disaster from happening.
WG: I love that people stepped up to help each other. Of course, nothing’s perfect, but especially if you’re reacting to a widespread disaster that could very well like, you know, affect you… or is affecting you as well. You know, it’s a crisis. Crisis planning can often like look imperfect.
PJP: Yeah. And another thing that also came forward during this an issue that came to the forefront was police brutality. So this happened literally before the George Floyd issue happened. So what happened was during the lockdown, so you know, like many people who live in India are illiterate and they are and they are working the unorganized sector. They sell vegetables they sell…. So, in order for them to eat something today, they need to earn something today. It’s not they have savings they can go back to get food. So many of these people who are like daily, like who food vendors like to sell vegetables and stuff like that, they came out to sell their stuff because they will die literally of hunger if they don’t come out. And the government even though they promised to deliver food and stuff, in most of the places they didn’t. So when these people actually came out to sell their produce, you could see police going and like destroying their vehicles, beating them black and blue. These are people without any social or cultural capital. They can go to court, they don’t have money to hire a lawyer to fight for their case. And you could see police trashing them black and blue. And then there were cases of custodial deaths that have happened, because they arrested like two people in Tamil Nadu. They’ve arrested a father and son for not closing the shop on time. So the law mandated that the shops should close by 7pm or something and they didn’t close… they kept the shop open for five more minutes or something. And the police came, they arrested both of them. They took them to the police station, and they trashed them till they were dead. This happened last year. And this happened at a time when the George Floyd issue, the George Floyd murder, that protest was happening in US. And at that time there was a voice against police brutality. Right now, because of all these issues, there is a sentiment that… Okay, so till now, police was seen by the people because in India, people, like people worship authority. So they’re always saw police as the saviors and things like that. And now, they are understanding that police are just instruments of the ruling power to just further their institutions of hierarchy. It is not actually for the citizens…. police are not there for the citizens to actually like fight for their rights. And that particular sentiment is also seeping in because now we could see the farmers being stopped by the police and they were firing tear gas and water cannons are these farmers who are like, really old farmers like they are 70 or 80 years old people who are actually coming in the winter, and they’re firing water cannons at them. Which is like equivalent to like throwing knives at these people because it at six degrees, seven degrees, like water literally, it literally kills you if you get hit by it. And yeah, so the notion of police brutality as an issue has also been brought up due to this protest.
WG: Thank you for speaking on that. So we have just two more questions. You’ve touched on a lot of the topics that we were interested in hearing about and also like, way more and thank you so much for doing that. You’ve talked a lot about how like how the government operates the BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But would you talk a little bit about this philosophy known as HINDUTVA? And can you give a sketch of like what this is? And it’s also been said that the HINDUTVA movement is like the largest fascist street movement in the world. And I’m curious if this resonates with you.
PJP: Yeah, you can call it the largest, fascist street movement in the world, because it is happening in India. Because this is such a huge country with huge population. Anything that happens here will be like, the biggest thing.
BOG: That’s a good point.
PJP: Yeah, because the the when the farmer protests happened on November 26, there was a call for an All India strike, which was participated by almost 250 million people, which automatically made it the largest in world history, because anything in India will become the largest in the world. So, I don’t doubt that point at all.
So, why, what it is is actually? You have to understand what India what the word India is. India, the word comes from the word… so you have might have heard of the Indus Valley Civilization of is the Mohenjo-daro was a city. So there is this river called the Indus. And the land beyond Indus was called by Europeans as India. That’s it. There is nothing more to the word India than that. So the name of the country came from the river, the land beyond the river. And the people who were living in that land. Which was beyond the river was called as Hindu. Hinduism is not a religion, per se, it is just what you call a group of people who lived in a particular locality. So in India, when you actually look at it, Hinduism is not a religion or monocultural religion anyway. It is like a mixture of multiple cultures, multiple faiths, there are different kinds of traditions, which are completely in opposition to each other. And India’s political or geographically united place never existed in the greater scheme. It was like a lot of different smaller countries. And when the Mughals came, they try to unify it. Even before that there has been moments in Indian history when there has been large empires ruled over India. But even though there were these empires, the local cultures of the country… so in China, you might it is a little bit different, like Chinese culture is… even though there there are diversity and variations in it, it is mostly similar. India is more like Europe, the states of India are like the countries of Europe. The languages are completely different. So, if I go from Kerala to the next neighboring state, I wouldn’t understand anything that they say, because the language is completely different, the culture is completely different.
So, when the nationalistic struggle against the Britishers came, you needed like…. these people don’t have a common culture, they don’t have a common religion, they don’t have a common, let’s say, language. They don’t even have a common sense of identity, so that they can rally against a common enemy. So the Britishers adopted this policy of dividing the Hindus, pitting the Hindus against Muslims and stuff like that. So to create unity, or create a sense of unity, or sense of identity, a nationalistic identity. The founder of RSS, who is Savarkar. He created this notion that, okay, let us create this new sense of identity and name Hindu, which is like the people who actually inhibit this locality, it has nothing to do with the religion, per se, it is just the people in the locality. And then he thought that okay, to make the Unity more foundational, because the big since there was a huge sectarian divide, because of religion, caste, language and everything. He used the spirituality of Hinduism the Hindu philosophy, to give it a much more stronger backbone, so that people will fit in together. And people only rally against it, against a common enemy if you identify an enemy, and instead of identifying the British as the enemy, he identify the Muslims as the enemy.
You might know that the person who assassinated Gandhi, Mohondas Karamcha Gandhi (‘Mahatma’ Gandhi), he was actually an RSS ideologues, he was a part of RSS, who believed that because Gandhi actually spread the idea of unity and harmony between the religions, and the RSS society of hindutva is completely against it. They want the the entire community who calls themselves as Hindus, even though it includes Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, and all the other, like even Sihks. They have to separate them from the Muslims because as far as they’re concerned the Muslims are invaders who came and ruined our culture. So it’s like, exactly like Hitler’s notion of Aryan supremacy. And actually, there is much more similarity between the two because the Aryan race of Hitler and the dominant caste group of India, they actually hail from the same part, the Central Asia. That’s why there’s a similarity between the languages: Sanskrit and German.
They were like, okay, so they exactly copied the ideology that Hitler used in Germany, and they changed it to suit the Indian needs. That’s what they did. And for that, they had to brutalize or demonize the community, the Muslim community. Then what they needed was they had to create this narrative of a history of a golden age of India, in which India was like the golden bird of the world and we had solutions for everything, we were technologically superior we were like an egalitarian society, heaven on earth. And then this Muslim invaders came, and they brought their religion, they ruined our culture, they broke our temples, they broke our gods, disrespect our gods. And we are suffering because of that. And it was the Muslims who brought the Britishers in, and like everything that is faulty with the country is because of the Muslims and you have to, you should never accept the Muslims as European, they can live here, but they have to accept their status as secondary citizens exactly what was subjected to the Jews. Even though there has not been concentration camps that has been set in there are retention camps.
The CAA law was actually something similar with and there is this entire procedure of NRC the National Register for Citizens, which is trying to create a new document and in which the citizens have to prove that they are Indian. So the entire anti-CAA protest was not just against the citizenship Amendment Act, it was against this implementation of this national interest for citizenship, the entire process. And since there was a huge backlash against it, it has still been kept on hold. Even though the government is telling that they will implement it, they will implement it. I think if the government starts to implement it, there will be huge, much bigger protests, which will happen along with the farmers protest right now. So the government is like… and since the government is facing elections, state government elections in the next month, they won’t do anything to damage the reputation, right. So everything in India, everything this party that in this is basically that. So they want power, so that they can just sell India to the corporations, and they need this hindutva philosophy, to make sure that the people will always worship the established hierarchy and won’t question anything. So this is how the dynamics of Indian nation as a whole right now works.
BOG: I guess a final question that we had would be you had touched on the conflict in Kashmir, and like obviously, it’s a very complicated place on the border of two competing states. But we would love to hear about what had happened in Kashmir and a little more detail from your perspective and if you could sort of explain the situation and what to your knowledge the state of the people of Kashmir is at the moment in terms of military occupation.
PJP: So okay, before telling that I should mention that okay. Kashmir is not an issue that I am directly involved with. So, everything that I know is actually what I have heard from my friends who are actually from Kashmir. The articles that I read and from the activist who actually traveled. With respect to Kashmir, what is happening is that, so, there has a lot of history to Kashmir like it started with the independence and why Kashmir became part of India and not of Pakistan. So, Kashmir is not just one place. So it is Jammu and Kashmir. So there’s like the entire state has three major parts one is Leh, one is Kashmir and one is Jammu. Of which Lehs is Buddhists dominated, Jammu is Hindu dominated, and Kashmir is Muslim dominated. So what happened is… so even though the people of Kashmir were mostly Muslim, the king of Kashmir at that time was a Hindu, and then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, he was a Kashmiri pundit. So Kashmir was his home state. So he actually really wanted Kashmir to be part of India. So now the history becomes a little bit like untrustworthy, even I don’t exactly know what happened. So there were this… I think Pakistan instigated some militancy in the region, which forced the king of Kashmir to agree to a suit to India.
And there was something called an instrument of accession, which actually granted Kashmir special privileges. So the one thing which most people don’t know is that these special privileges is not just unique to Kashmir in the Indian context, this is the same kind of privileges are provided to other states in India, like Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and there has been calls for independence and autonomy by these states too. And the Indian Government has been trying to like what do you say to suppress the revolts the government has been declaring martial law, there has been cases of the Indian Army brutalizing the people and killing them, overreaching of authority. The issue is that with the current government, Kashmir is like a issue of pride and national pride. Because citizens government is not able to deliver on any of the promises on economy, on employment, Social Welfare or any of these things.
The government needs some particular narratives or particular incidents or events that we can highlight as their strength. Because this government has come because of the charisma of this one Iron Man: Narendra Modi, who can destroy every obstacles in his path. And who can decide to take actions completely independently without worrying about this corrupt politicians and stuff. So big neutral narrative, they have to always show strength. And the easiest way to show spine is Kashmir, because they just toppled the state government with just one act and they just arrested everyone and they arrested the chief minister of that state and put them on house arrest for a year. They arrested all the prominent leaders in that state and put them on house arrest. Every single activists who tried to raise voice against Kashmir was arrested and new laws were passed just before the Kashmir state autonomy was snatched out. There was this loss called UAP. Which is like Prevention of atrocity and NSA – National Security Act. So what these acts enable the government is they can arrest anyone, just on suspicion, and they don’t have to produce them on court for two years. So they passed these laws just before this Kashmir Act was passed, so that any opposition against this would be come met with complete incarceration. Then what they did was they completely cut off internet for a year, so that anything that is happening in Kashmir will never be like communicated to the mainland. So only the government and journalists and the government employees will be able to devise narratives and create stories. In the news when the Kashmir the article 35 was abolished the Indian propaganda news media, there were new celebrations in Kashmir, of people eating biryani and ham like playing with firecrackers and celebrating because their years of oppression are over.
And what is actually happening in Kashmir on the ground, the truth was actually revealed when certain activists travel to Kashmir and interacted with the people. So the military have complete autonomy, they can do anything they want, like the martial law is declared. It’s called AFSPA – the Armed Forces special power act, they can even kill people on suspicion. They have complete immunity against any atrocities that they commit. So, the problem with such an a process of water in the Indian sea from a personal perspective, I think that the people anywhere in the world should have the autonomy to decide what what kind of government they want. And it was fine till the Indian government had the Constitution because these are also citizens of India under the Indian law, and the constitution grant them the political rights they can they have the right to choose the government and what the central government did was toppling the democratically elected government who had legitimate power or the people gave them the legitimate power to rule them. So that was completely illegal and talk about illegality in India right now, everything whether something is legal or illegal is decided by the Supreme Court of India. And the RSS/ BJP government has destroyed the institutions in India in such a way that like the judiciary is also playing the same even as the government and in most of the cases where the judiciary knows that if they pass a judgment in fair play in favor of the government, the people who protest the judiciary conveniently decides to not take the case. They will just hold the case for years. So the then the Jammu Kashmir state was actually bifurcated into two different territories, that act was disputed in the Supreme Court.
There is a case in Supreme Court, when the government imposed internet a ban in Jammu and Kashmir, there was a case like the lawyers brought it up telling that it is a violation of human rights. That the people are not being given access to internet facilities. Because the entire businesses of Kashmir, they were completely cut off to the mainland, online, this everything just went down. What happened then was the government will tell that okay, we will need like two months to analyze the situation. And the court, we just grant them the two months. And again, the government after that, filed extension, and this court will just grant. So the court is just playing the same tune as the government. So in the farmers protests, something really interesting happened. The Supreme Court seeing that the farmers are coming to Delhi and the protest is not stopping, decided to intervene and tell that, “okay, we are ordering the government to stay the law for one and a half years.” So the law cannot be implemented for one and a half years. The farmers are like, “okay, we don’t care what the Supreme Court tells, we want the law to be abolished. We won’t take anything else.” So the it’s like the people is literally losing faith in the institutions of judiciary, and the executive and legislature. The people are taking matters into our own hands. That is action. And I think that that’s a huge change when people are realizing that they are the true sovereign, that the power actually resides in them to decide their own fate and their own lives. I think that is democracy.
WG: Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for going into that… and I think that that people are really, you know, starting to feel their own power and starting to see the states, whatever state that they live in is as sort of the complete Sham that it is. And I think that you know, yeah, we can look to the farmers protest, you know, as the largest mass mobilization, like it is in India. So it’s going to be the largest one, maybe. But as like one of the most robust mass movements in sort of recorded history in a way too. That was all the questions that we had. Thank you so, so, so much for your words and your energy, it was just a delight to get to talk with you a little bit and get to hear the things that you’re working on and the things that you’re thinking about. Would you give, if listeners are interested in reading some of your writing? Do you have a website? Is there a place that people can go to, to read your articles and to read your work?
PJP: I can actually provide you links of my articles, I usually publish my writings in like different journals. So I can give you a list of all the articles that I have. So you can share them with the listeners. I will also like to thank you for giving me this opportunity. And I hope that I did justice to these movements in communicating what is actually happening on the ground, because I know that I couldn’t cover everything, maybe I might have left out the really important parts. And I might have, like, oversimplified many stuff, or might have gotten things completely wrong. But to what I know, I think, yeah, I really think that it is important for the international community to at least get a sense of what is happening in India right now. And like, and these are models that should be learned from and replicated elsewhere.
WG: Absolutely, yeah. Family, like, you did I think amazing justice to a very complex situation and topic and complex place. So, I hope that listeners will hear your words and go out and do their own research too, because so many people and I will link to some books and some articles too. If people are interested in learning about like anti-caste stuff a little bit more, if people are interested in learning about the languages, the bioregion, the the politics of the place, we will provide some links as well. And like as many voices as possible speaking about India, and the Indian diaspora and stuff that people face, you know, I think is best. So thank you so much. Do you have any recommendations? I remember you were talking about sort of anti-caste hip hop. Do you have any recommendations for like, songs that we could play on the show?
PJP: Yeah, I can give you links to that, like most of them are new too. Excellent. Yeah. I will mail you the links along with the audio clip. So that is actually a very new development that happened, like the hip hop was used by the anti-caste activists as a way of expressing themselves. That is completely, like mimicking what was happening in US. So I think so like, it’s it’s amazing that like, the people from who are oppressed, they are looking outside for signs to learn from for lessons to learn from. And I think till now, like we have been looking elsewhere to learn from it. I think it’s about time that others look at us.
WG: Yes. Yes, yes. Absolutely. Thank you so much family.
BOG: This is great speaking with you. Let’s do it again soon.
WG: Let’s do it again. Yeah, same here. Okay. Yeah, take care. Stay healthy.
BOG: Ciao. Yeah,
PJP: I think it would be morning there, right. Yeah. Have a nice day.
Alive With Resistance: Diasporic Reflections on the Revolt in Myanmar
This is a conversation with Geoff Aung (@Rgnhardliner on twitter), a Burmese American Marxist anthropology Phd candidate at Columbia University living abroad, about the current uprising, repression and revolutionary potentials in Myanmar. We discuss the evolution of tactics on the ground as revolutionaries adapt to the brutal murders of protesters by the state. Geoff also talks about the ways in which this movement is different from similar current movements in Asia and some of the historical context of struggle in Myanmar.
The host, John, wishes they’d had more time to dig into further questions. There are some links below of news sources and articles on the struggle in Myanmar.
Show attention to Myanmar government offices in North American cities
US:DC, NYC and LA
Canada: Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver
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John: Welcome back to the Final Straw, my name is John, I’m a guest interviewer and today I’m interviewing GeoffAung. Geoff, do you mind introducing yourself a little bit?
Geoff: : Sure, I’m a PhD candidate at Columbia in the Anthropology Department and my work focuses on large-scale infrastructure projects and political struggles that tend to coalesce around them. My main work is in Southern Burma, Southern Myanmar.
John: Oh yeah, and we’re going to be talking about the current conflicts and uprising in Myanmar, as well as a little bit of the history of uprisings and ethnic struggle there.
John: I wanted to first ask this very simple question, but a lot of my friends ask me if they should be saying Burma, they should be saying Myanmar or if it’s like one is woke and one is ten key? In my mind, they’re both both, but I don’t know if you could actually help me clarify that.
Geoff: Yeah, they’re shifting the political register of those two names. The thing is they both mean the same thing, right? They both signify the Bamar, lowland Burman majority and at different points in time, one or the other has been seen as the worst name by different people. I mean even in the 30s, actually, a bunch of the Thirty Comrades, a bunch of anti-colonial leaders, specifically chose to use Burma because they felt Myanmar too closely signified the Burman majority and arguably, that’s flipped over time, and now some people think that Burma, as a name, is too closely aligned with the Burman majority. Myanmar is supposedly more inclusive, but the name goes back to the same route.
John: In the language Burmese, “Myanmar” means “Burman”.
Geoff: Yeah, and for a while, you could tell people’s political leanings by which name they used. I think that’s less and less the case. I grew up using Burma, and in my family, Myanmar is still a word that is closely associated with the military and military rule, so I still find it a little bit difficult to use the word Myanmar. They mean the same thing.
John: That’s the same in my family, especially because I think the official name change happened in 1989 or something, right after the failure of the 1988 uprising, and so I think, there were very sensitive feelings around that, although now I’ve noticed it seems like even generationally, younger people just grew up saying that, so they say that…
Geoff: Yeah, I think that’s accurate.
John: But I heard Amy Goodman make a big statement about it being like “Burma or, as the military calls it, Myanmar”…
Geoff: Oh really? I wouldn’t go so [far]. I wouldn’t really put it in such stark terms these days.
John: Totally, I think it’s just a product of maybe her longer activism and age.
Geoff: Yeah, could be that for sure.
John: Another question I was wondering about and maybe I’ll phrase it in terms of my experience… Growing up with family from Burma, I was really exposed to the anti-Pepsi and Taco Bell campaign’s early on, and I think that that really influenced my butting into capitalism, especially by starting to understand the contradictions of growing up in this country, with all this excess and stuff. But then these companies are supporting this government that is killing civilians and enslaving people. All these obvious things. But I was curious if you also had a similar experience.
Geoff: Yes and no, I would say that the exiled political world and some of the advocacy groups that have existed in the States, they’ve had different kinds of things going on. So, on the one hand, as you point out they had these boycott campaigns – and I do think that for sure, for me as well, those were formative. What they taught me, I would say, is that something like business, economics, investments: these things are not politically neutral. You have to understand them in a political context and in Burma, for a long time, they were helping to prop up the military regime. So that was a basic thing that I picked up on. On the other hand, in some of the advocacy work and the exiled government world, you also had what became, I would argue, a neo-conservative flavor of activity where you had people all too willing, in my opinion, to reach out to people like Mitch McConnell on the relatively far right end of even the American political spectrum, which is already pretty far right, to begin with, especially after 9/11, and especially with the Bush Doctrine foreign policy of democratization. So there I think I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on a kind of anti-capitalism. But with some of the boycott stuff, I think that’s fair to say…
John: Totally. I remember hearing Bush mention Burma in speeches and being like “Ah, it feels very complicated”, but also democracy is a meaningless word that we love over here. I wanted to also ask if you still have family in Burma.
Geoff: I do. We have family in Yangon. We have a distant family in Pakkoku, up by Mandalay and in Mohnyin as well, but the family we’re in touch with are in Yangon.
John: Are they relatively safe with all that stuff?
Geoff: Yeah, they’re doing okay, my dad is our contact with them and there’s a particular uncle that he’s in touch with and they spoke again recently, they’ve been in touch and they are doing okay. Uncle’s sons are staying home. One of them actually has been sending me selfies from protests, but he has been laying a little bit low more recently.
John: That makes total sense. I was perusing Burmese Instagram and it is interesting – I don’t know what your cousin is like, but there does seem to be this whole, I don’t know what you call it, a kind of revolutionary shift in people where you could look through their old selfies where it is just a dude working out all the time, working in an office, and then the next picture is like full militarized black bloc with a shield, and I find it interesting that the Burmese state is incredibly authoritarian, but also people are like “Yeah, I take pictures of myself in riot gear and post it”, but I guess it’s more dangerous to be shot on the street than the long-distance repression that we are more familiar with here.
Geoff: Sure. I was thinking about the discussion over the summer in the States, the George Floyd rebellion stuff and a lot of discussion about like “Make sure you don’t take pictures of protesters who aren’t masked and maintain anonymity, be very careful”, all of which is totally good and then in Burma, it’s hilarious how people are posting pictures of themselves, all over the place, in the protests and everything. It’s a different kind of threat.
John: It’d be clearly an understatement to say that the situation on the ground is changing rapidly, maybe every half-day that I check on the internet. There’s updates about different bombings or massacres or the most incredible acts of resistance I’ve maybe ever seen, but I was curious if you be willing to and could talk a little bit about the most recent changes.
Geoff: Sure, as you say, that it’s hard to encapsulate everything that is going on and I think that’s basically impossible, but at least a few things that I’ve noticed. I would say, for one thing, certainly we’ve seen a shift away from some of the mass demonstrations that happened early on in February, where he had these occupations of major intersections, these have fallen away. Security forces have reclaimed a lot of central areas in urban centers and the recurring demonstrations that have continued, have gone a little bit smaller and have tended to take place in tighter residential neighborhoods, where, among other things, it’s easier to build stronger barricades. It’s easier to maintain disciplined formations with shield bearers at the barricades, a second group in the back dealing with tear gas and then maybe a third group, more general protesters behind them. So you’ve seen maybe the spatial shift into more residential areas, and in some of those areas, it’s been possible to fight the cops and soldiers to a standstill. So there’s been recurring holding patterns in different places. It’s hard to make a ton of headway one way or the other by either side basically. And you’ve also seen a shift towards more peripheral industrial areas of eastern Yangon were Hlaing Tharyar of course. Repression has followed this shift. So it’s not like the cops and soldiers retook downtown Yangon and decided to chill. They followed people elsewhere obviously and so Hlaing Tharyar, for example, there was massive bloodshed. It’s the largest concentration of factories in the country. Chinese factories were set ablaze. You had this crazy, really intense stories of workers who are armed with shields rushing police lines as live rounds are being used, that kind of tactical implications of which are a little bit difficult to work out, but very striking, very militant and in North Okkalapa, where there is quite a bit of bloodshed, another industrial area.
I would argue as well that actually, as some of the urban centers have been maybe reclaimed at least to a degree by the security forces, rural areas have become maybe more and more important, at least in the south, where I work around Dawei.Dawei town, which was the site of very militant demonstrations for weeks and weeks, has quieted down. I mean, there’s still recurring marches and demonstrations, they’re smaller. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of more militant activities again, but the villages around Dawei have seen an upsurge in marches, demonstrations, strikes. On Facebook, you see all of the rural areas are underway. It’s kind of amazing, they’re alive with resistance and in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily have expected and that’s been really cool to see.
The other big rural issue is that the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, has been bombing ethnic areas. The Karen National Union, KNU territory in the east, there’s been airstrikes, something like 12,000 people have been displaced, according to the KNU. The Thai government shamefully has been fencing out refugees and the KNU has also been sheltering protesters who fled urban areas, it’s the total replay of 1988. And there’s talk of protesters training on firearms, hand grenades, tactical strikes on military facilities, a lot of talk of broadening armed struggle. That’s where things have gone. I think, as we were chatting before and some of the notes you put together you also mentioned – and I think this is also really important – is these local administrations have really consolidated or tried to set themselves up apart from the military regime. There’s been almost an autonomist streak lately, where you have some ward in neighborhoods that are claiming their own small-scale governments. Oftentimes aligned with the CRPH, which is the formally elected government, I guess we can call them the elected government. So that there is that connection. But there’s been this kind of autonomist, maybe anarcho move with some local governments as well, which has been really cool to see. I guess, I’m tempted to think of it in terms of dual power in some sense, but it’s maybe a bit early to go too far in that direction
John: Yeah, it was envisioning in some ways. I guess in a way that I’ve been trying to not convince but some of my friends and the comrades I have are like… There’s a suspect approach towards stuff there, but I think it’s because of liberal demands. But also because of just feel like spring revolutions in the past, like the failures of Egypt and all these things. I guess in my mind, this is, despite the horrifying violence that is taking place from the military, almost one of the most ideal revolutionary circumstances that we might see right now. I was going to ask you about this, but there’s a general strike and then there’s militant resistance. There seems to be almost, not uniform support but pretty close, and then there’s guerrillas taking up space on the outside. So, in some ways, it just seems like if the revolution there can’t succeed without US intervention or something, there’s actually may be very little hope for revolutions to succeed if the military doesn’t break apart and doesn’t want to give up power anywhere in the world. Maybe that’s a little too convoluted…
Geoff: I hear you and I agree. I do think it’s pretty fair to say it’s a genuinely revolutionary situation where you have a fairly small institution – I mean, it’s a big institution but relative to the entire country, it’s not huge – trying to cling onto power right now with absolutely zero or next to zero hegemonic purchase, let’s say. Nobody likes the military. And there’s been this militant resistance that’s really electrified the country, literally from Putao, just like the Himalayan foothills and far north Kachindown to the Kawthaung, which is the farthest point south, right north of Phuket in southern Thailand.
It’s been really interesting and in some ways surprising, because I think, for a long time, a lot of us who were working in Burma or paying attention would look to Thailand for the last ten years and see the kinds of popular struggles that have eruptedat different points. The Red Shirt struggle, the occupation of downtown Bangkok, even the Yellow Shirt occupation of the airport which has had awful political principles, but was an impressive popular struggle. And we’d look at them and say, “That’s amazing, but it’s hard to imagine in Burma just because of the openly violent nature of the military. They would just start shooting right away and blood would run and it’d be impossible to maintain anything,” and we have obviously seen violent repression and there have been 550 people killed. This is intolerable, but people are coming back and there seems to be this resilience, this unwillingness to bend. It’s really amazing. It’s hard to find the words, it feels silly to say it’s amazing, but I don’t know what else to say.
John: I don’t have Twitter, but I looked at your Twitter and it appears that you are like me or you just spend most of your non-working or whatever time, looking up news from Burma and following other accounts, but I might spend about an hour a day off and I’m crying in either sadness or that kind of being moved crying. Especially, I think, for me at least, and maybe we can talk about this more, but it’s across every ethnicity in the country, it seems like people are resisting and people are dying. And you see these funerals with Muslim coffins, you see funerals of Buddhists and Christians and I assume, animists. But there’s something about that unity that maybe you can speak more, but it seems not like something I could have imagined coming from Myanmar Burma five years ago with situations like Rohingyaand the Kachins and just different situations that just… It’s very moving, I guess.
Geoff: Sure, what’s happened is surprising and it is not surprising. I’m as surprised as you are. I think, if it’s not surprising, it’s only because, this is very vague and abstract, I guess, but as we’ve seen with revolutionary struggles at different points in history, solidarity is formed in struggle and it’s not always something that you can assume beforehand. And I think that’s kind of what we have seen here. There’s a lot of talk of unity. Unity is a term that occurs and recurs across political discourse in Burma a lot. I’m who is… One of my minor acts of… it’s not reallyresistance. But friends in the south, in Dawei, around this big project, when we’ve had unity in our materials. I always like to try and go and cross it out and put solidarity instead.
John: Yeah, I guess, solidarity is a better word. You are right though.
Geoff: It’s been really powerful to see that. It’s difficult to gauge, at least from where I am, which is quite far away, I should say. It’s difficult to gauge how much, how deep is this kind of reconsideration has gone. So when we’ve seen on social media people like these sort of effusive claims about Rohingyastaff, like “oh, we got it wrong. I can’t believe we’ve swallowed the military’s propaganda about this. We need to do better than this”, this sort of thing. There have been a lot of these statements. I don’t know how to quantify that. Having seen what’s happened in the last ten years and obviously not only the last ten years, not only Rohingya stuff, it does seem to me that some of these divides run pretty deep, and I hope that what we’re seeing is the beginning of the transcendence. But it’s difficult to say for sure.
John: That’s also my fear, I guess, is that people will forget again that in 2007, the military killing people in the Saffron Revolution, but seven years later them supporting the military killing other people that are an ethnic minority. I hinted at this, but I just wanted to ask the question that I think is maybe hard to answer or ask, but do you think that there is a chance that this revolution can win?
Geoff: Absolutely! I do think so. Is there a chance? There’s definitely a chance! I find prediction to be quite difficult. Here’s some things I don’t think.
John: That makes more sense.
Geoff: I don’t think outside intervention of one kind or another is something that anyone can count on. I don’t think that the United Nations, I don’t think that responsibility to protect, I don’t think the US of all countries, I don’t think these are realistic things to pin one’s hopes on. If there’s something that I would hold on to, it is this recurring willingness to return to the streets, return to urban centers, to keep the marches going, keep the strikes going.
The question is: how can that be maintained and to whatever extent even scaled up and generalized even more – where possible? I think for me, that’s the decisive factor. It seems to me, everything depends on that. There’s been a lot of discussions understandably, and I’m not super involved in it, so I can’t really speak to it in a ton of detail, but a lot of strategic discussion about the CRPH, about Dr Sasa, about their relationship to the general strike committee or the general strike committee of nationalities and their attempts to woo different people in New York and Washington DC, and how to spin up an alternative government and how do you legitimate it, and how do you take over some of the economic channels that the military has? I think those are important things to consider. Oh, and security council action as well. I’m not against working on all that stuff, but I do think that if you can manage to get something done at the security council, it’s not gonna matter if people aren’t out in the streets, if the strikes and demonstrations and marches aren’t happening. If it’s not possible to show mass defiance of the military, then I don’t think that elite civil society or alternative government strategies are gonna have very much traction.
John: Yeah, totally. I was wondering if you thought there would be any potential for breaking apart the unity of the military? Because it seems like that’s also an important part of the revolution, and we didn’t really see that in 1988. There was some defection of maybe airforce folks and police, we’ve seen the police more willing to break away. It seems like recently there was an attack on a police station, by a former police officer in Kalay, which has been a really big site of resistance. But the former cop in regaining his humanity by attacking the police was killed in the process, which is sad, but also a true hero. He lead an attack on the police, so it seems like the police are more likely to break, but I guess I haven’t seen in history the Burmese military break apart. And it does seem like that tends to be how revolutions succeed, right?
Geoff: That’s the historical precedent, it’s true. I can’t really speak to that historical precedent so much, but my sense is that is the case. In terms of the military and the police, what we see is that these are two institutions that are not the same. The police as an institution has a different kind of presents, it’s not as closed. The military is often referred to as a state within the state, and the history of the institution going back to, let’s say, the 1950s really consolidated itself in the post-colonial period. It really understood itself as the sole guarantor of national unity. There’s that word again. I think some people think that that was a claim that they try to make. That was not like something that they could really protect, but this was really their genuine self-understanding in some sense, and I think in many ways that remains the case today. From what I understand, the military really is this quite closed off institution in terms of schooling, in terms of residential arrangements. I think that helps to explain why we’ve seen defections from the police and not so much the military. But hopefully, at least, you can imagine that in a hierarchical institution like this, you could see people who are not at the top of that hierarchy understanding that what might seem obvious to us, which is that this institution does not have their interests at heart and that perhaps there is a line or fracture that one could identify and that might take shape. I’m not a keen analyst of the military. I can’t really say too much more than that. I’ve been interested to track some of their economic activities, but in terms of their internal community, it seems to be pretty solid, unfortunately.
John: With the recent uptick of ethnic armed organizations, either actively throwing their support behind the protests or tacitly making statements about it, and then also with some protesters going up to the mountains or down to the mountains and maybe getting training, people have been talking a lot about civil war, and there already is a civil war going on in Burma. There has been war since forever literally, it seems since World War II, right before independence even. But I guess they mean a full nationwide civil war and a lot of western media is fretting that it would be a new Syria, which I could see, but I was wondering if you thought this was accurate. Obviously, who knows, but if you felt if there are key differences here?
Geoff: Yeah, I’ve seen that comparison a lot as well. I guess I can understand why people raise that. I don’t think it’s particularly likely. For one thing, as we’ve seen with 1988 in the past, and we’ve seen urban protesters go to the jungle and try to build a more generalized armed uprising beyond, as you said, the civil war that has been simmering for a long time regardless. And that has never really taken off, and I think part of the reason why we haven’t seen a kind of Syria-like conflagration and it is just because their regional interests are entirely different in terms of neighboring countries, in terms of people who might want to be running weapons into the country or training insurgents. There’s this destabilizing influence of the US, but not only the US, in Syria has been maybe the main factor in some ways. And as I said before, I just don’t see the US having any interest in doing anything like that in Burma. There have been reports of Chinese troops massing at the border, and even there, I doubt very much that it would come to that. The Chinese government has had different kinds of positions over the years. They’ve supported some of the armed groups in the border areas much to the military’s chagrin, but they’ve also not been happy at all to have any refugee flows coming into China. It would be quite hard to imagine a Chinese military intervention and I don’t think the US, certainly not Thailand or India. That’s the big difference to me with Syria. You had a great power struggle that took place in Syria and I don’t think that struggle gonna be happening in Burma.
John: That makes sense. I didn’t even think about that. I was thinking about how there is this shadow government that, in theory, does have a bunch of functionaries already set up waiting to take over, although obviously, they don’t have the economic ties that the military does, but it does seem a little bit more united, but it does seem like there is more centralization, maybe for the revolutionary side.
Not that I want to give credit to theNLD,or that I like them, but they have been serving as state functionaries since 2011 or 2014, but I don’t know if you saw this but right before we talked, I was looking online and one of the Burmese news sites was reporting that a Chinese ambassador actually started talking with the shadow government and has actually made phone calls. It’s just an interesting development, it appears that China is probably just waiting and seeing how this goes, and so I imagine they are hedging their bets.
Geoff: There’s been a lot of speculation about China’s position relative to evidence that happened in the past couple of months. And then there’s is a popular misconception, I think it’s fair to say, that China has somehow been backing the military to the hilt, has been supporting this coup. As far as I’m aware, there’s no evidence for that. The Chinese ambassador even made a very rare move of giving an interview in which he said that the coup is not something they want to see and, as you say, they’ve made overtures to the CRPH as well. There’s a lot of Chinese investment in Burma, and the Belt and Road Initiative runs through the China-Myanmar economic corridor in the western part of the country, they look to work with whoever ends up consolidating power. I think that’s fair to say.
John: I hope, no one reads us as us being like “Tankies” or “defend the honor China”, but I think China’s just does whatever is good for their economics.
Okay, I had a question about the demographics of the protests. I’ve read a couple of articles discussing the central role of women in protests, and especially I was reading about in ethnic regions and that also I’ve seen some photos and a couple of articles about queer participation in the demonstrations, and I was curious if obviously, you’re outside of Burma right now, but if it seems like there is a redefining gender roles coming about through struggle.
Geoff: I think there’s been some of that. I think a little bit like with the earlier question that we’ll see how it goes because there’s a long way to go. But it’s been powerful, encouraging to see what we’ve seen. As you say, I think it is fair to say that there is quite a strong institutional infrastructure for women’s organizations in a lot of different ethnic areas. So organizations like the Karen Women Organization, similar organizations inMon State, Shan State, Shan Women’s Action Network, in Kachin state as well. I wouldn’t put it entirely down to these organizations, but there is a history and a precedent for very strong women leadership in a lot of ethnic areas, and we see that reflected in the current resistance for sure.
I would also say that in Yangon, the industrial workforce is something like 80 or 90 percent women. And the industrial workforce has been absolutely crucial in driving the largest demonstrations early on and then in trying to keep things going right now, and so in that sense as well, you see really strong roles for women, definitely. And a bunch of those unions have really strong woman leaders. people like Ma Moe Sandar Myint for example, really impressive. I think it’s also important to recognize that the military, as well as the NLD are both highly patriarchal institutions. So there might be an extra element of opposition that comes from that. TheNLDtoo, of course, has Aun Saung Suu Kyi at its head, but is otherwise a gerontocracy of old men without a lot of strong youth or women and its leadership ranks. So when we see that’s the redefining of gender roles in the resistance, I think this is how we have to understand it, maybe in the context of two kinds of patriarchal institutions, civilian, political leadership as well as the military. These are what is being contested through struggle, and I hope we see this continued overturning of those patriarchal power struggles.
In terms of queer participation, it’s a little bit more difficult to say. I have seen definitely reporting that emphasizes queer participation, which is also been totally awesome and not something that I’ve seen at least in 2007 or 1988 as well, but queer politics has been it’s a pretty active space in some sense in the last ten years, with a lot of really interesting… Some of them are more liberal civil society oriented organizations and networks, and then some more left-leaning activist work as well, and so this is also what we see reflected in this current resistance and long may it continue.
John: I have three more questions. Speaking on another group of people that are… I’ve seen in media, especially in the media I consume, but it seems like there’s a small handful of anarchist punks in Yangon, it’s been on the radar of punks and anarchists in other parts of the world, but I think since around the genocide against Rohingya, because I remember seeing punk songs “Fuck racists monks” and stuff like that. They were very present in the early days of the protests and actually still have been, as far as releasing music in solidarity. I’ve also seen a representation of anarchy signs and black flags at some things, and I was curious if you thought there was… Cause it seems, at least from my perspective, they do mutual aid and it seems they do mutual aid at these demos, but also they are an educational project in some ways. I was wondering if you thought they had any influence on the moment now or if they’re just a part of a giant patchwork of things, which makes sense.
Geoff: I’d say, they are a part of the patchwork, but I wouldn’t want to discount their importance or anything like that. There is this kind of subculture, it’s pretty awesome, and they are really active in a lot of leftist scenes in Yangon in particular, and they were, much to their credit on Rohingya stuff, they were really outspoken. They really pissed off some of the monks and ended up apologizing in a ceremonial manner at one point, which I think lost them like a bit of cred, but as someone who’s mostly far away, I don’t wanna judge them too hard for that, cause what I’ve seen in terms of their social presence, it’s pretty awesome, and as you say, you could see it in educational terms. At a certain point, after 2011 it did become a little bit of a cliche for foreign journalists to come in and do photo shoots with some of the punks and then they would turn up in magazines in western countries. There’s a little bit of a head scratch in that sense, because some of the discussion around this was a bit superficial, not that I have super ended up insights on them, but they’re part of a larger story. Technically, they are a great influence to have, and the mutual aid work, like Food Not Bombs at their hands, is totally excellent.
John: It’s interesting, they are a small constellation there, but it seems like there’s this whole southeast Asia / southeast Asian Pacific islands punk anarchist world that blossoms in Indonesia. There’s thousands of them. As a kid that grew up as an anarchist punk and just a regular anarchist now, it’s funny because I think my commitment to revolution or whatever and being ableto interact with normal people pushed away from the punk, but it seems like there… And it’s the same as in Mexico. Punk and anarchism are very tied together still. Anyhow…
On the note of southeast Asia, Asian things, I wanted to ask you about clear inspiration from Hong Kong and Thailand, that’s been in these demonstrations, especially the early ones, but also the differences, because clearly there are much higher stakes, even though obviously people are fighting for freedom in different ways, but I think one person was shot in Hong Kong and that was the biggest deal in the world. And from friends that were around there, it felt like our American riot were – except for maybe the summer – but where you could step a couple of blocks away and just be shopping, you’re going to coffee, just the ways in which the tactics are similar. There are similarities, but also the ways that they’re different.
Geoff: No, I think the differences are really worth paying attention to and it has been increasing Milktea Alliance discussion, but actually, I guess it’s always been there from the beginning since February. It’s sort of an old question with internationalism or cosmopolitanism maybe in some sense. With some of the Milktea stuff, what you get sometimes is collapsing some important distinctions, like the antagonist in Hong Kong, Thailand and Burma are just wildly different, and so the stakes I think it’s fair to say are quite a bit higher in Burma, which is nothing against everyone in Hong Kong and Thailand, not at all, but I think that the stakes are higher. The forms that struggle has taken have gone in many ways more militant directions, they had to, and so I wonder sometimes how useful those comparisons are. However, I would say that those connections do seem to resonate with a fair amount of ordinary protesters, demonstrators, front liners. In particular, the kinds of tactical knowledge sharing that we’ve seen, especially between Hong Kong and Burma or Myanmar, has been really important. In late February, as it became clear that there’ll be an escalation in violence, like everyone else, I was sharing these crowd-sourced images in Burmese that came from people in Hong Kong about things like how to build barricades, how to deal with tear gas, want to do with smoke bombs, how to treat gunshot wounds, when the shooting starts, what do you do? Do you run, do get low? And how long do you wait? What kind of formations make sense in street battles? That stuff is fantastic, it’s priceless almost. For that information sharing and collective knowledge production is totally important. I just wouldn’t want to lose sight of some of the different stakes in different places.
For me, at its best, these linkages are internationalist insofar as they maintain a distinction between the oppressor and oppressed people in nations, which is something that I think is lost in a lot of cosmopolitanism discourse where it’s like “Oh, these are all young people, Gen Z, millennial, hashtag activists who are just like young people elsewhere, and they are rising up against faceless authoritarians in Asia”. And this framing is a bit of a straw man, to be fair, but I think there is an element of this in terms of how Milktea stuff gets discussed. That I don’t think is particularly useful.
John: If I can spare you from your family for one more question. For the rebel groups that are currently attacking the state in solidarity / just because they were already doing that, but specifically, the KNU being the Karen National Union and the KIA, the Kachin Independence Army, and also maybe the frontliners. Is there a political ideology that any of these groups seem to have other than just nationalism or defending people in a democracy?
Geoff: That’s a tough question. To be entirely honest, it’s difficult for me to say too much on that, just because the history and politics of the different armed groups is such a huge area. It’s not really my area of expertise, but I mean it is fair to say that there’s quite a lot of variation, which might sound like a cop-out, but it’s true. Some of the armed groups historically have been more likely to embrace broadly left-leaning political visions and others have not. Others have been very sort of right-leaning, ethno-nationalist, anti-communist in many cases, and some linked very closely with the communist insurgency, for example. And the Thai-Burman border is also has had different shifting political winds over time with different armed groups, also shifting their alliances and their vision. It’s really difficult to say. One question would be if there is so much variation among them, is it possible to imagine a broad-based ethnic struggle in solidarity against the military? And that’s what people are hoping for. You would have an alliance formed between urban front liners, people from lowland towns, cities, villages, and armed groups in the borderlands who are very well-trained in guerrilla warfare. Well-trained enough to maintain these guerrilla struggles for generations upon generations, which is no minor task at all. Is it possible to imagine a sort of shared political project? It depends on who you ask. For me, and it might depend on people temperamental in style and meanings. I guess I worry that, in the past, even just in the past twenty years, which is not very long, there have been so many times when there have been attempted alliances formed between armed groups and it’s always been so difficult to form and maintain any sustainable ethnic alliance, and there are also good reasons for that because there is such variation among the armed groups that for some who might be, in some sense, more principled, how much sense does it really make to line up alongside others that are perhaps less principled? There’s been a lot of hope for that solidarity over decades, and it’s been unfortunate. It’s fallen away time and time again. I hope, like everyone else, that maybe that will change this time. We’ll just have to see, I guess.
John: For sure. For frontliners / workers… The unions seem like they at least come obviously out of a leftist tradition, based on their flags and slogans and Burma just happening in the past to be completely leftist, but is there some sign of leftist politics or right-wing politics, or is it exclusively to spread democracy, which I don’t understand?
Geoff: It depends, to be honest, even the largest union federations have been quite active within the democracy movement and also had of significant exiled presence as well, which is great, I think, also places them in a broad liberal political tradition and so even some of the smaller labor organizations, not the trade unions per se, but some of labor NGOs, activist groups that are working in industrial areas. Even these will be hosting human rights trainings, these kinds of activities. I don’t see a lot of explicit articulate in the direct sense of sort of leftist political thought.
But that’s the question: to what extent do we need to speak or articulate our leftist vision or to be leftist? When you see the general strike, maybe people aren’t passing out copies of, I don’t know, the Communist Manifesto or something, but this is a militant movement based on overthrowing, in part, certain economic relations in the country. And so there’s a lot of explicit political discourses is liberal, obviously, but there are economic demands that are in play as well. And in some ways, that doesn’t necessarily bother me, just because I think the question of leftist revolutionary movements in the past. I’m not nostalgic necessarily, I do think they’re good and important independent leftist political genealogies in Burma that are not simply a question of the authoritarian socialism that congealed in the state. Before Ne Win’sdictatorship, but even during in some ways, you had worker and peasant writers activists who were articulating a leftist project that had nothing to do with authoritarian power. In fact, quite the opposite. Maybe we could think, okay, are people appealing back to that right now? Not really, and maybe that’s unfortunate, in some sense, but if we acknowledge that political thinking depends on material circumstances in some way, the material conditions have changed.
There’s no reason to believe necessarily that in the current moment the explicit political discourse we hear would match what we heard decades ago. I don’t think it’s a problem really that there’s no overt leftist discourse or not that much anyway, there is some. I think that as material conditions shift, we see shifts in political visions, political strategies, and I think some of what we’ve seen with the massive general strike has been the most encouraging phenomenon that we’ve seen along those lines for quite some time. In terms of the formal demands we’ve seen, I do wish some of them might be a little bit more targeted in an anti-capitalist direction. People were discussing what would that mean to demand the nationalization, the breaking apart of some of the military conglomerates, which just have a massive choke-hold on not just the economy, but everyday life of a lot of ordinary people, just stealing from ordinary people in many ways. What would it mean to try to break those apart or what about something like land reform, something like at least repealing a couple of awful land laws passed in the so-called reform period around 2012. Maybe there could be demands to repeal those in a way that might do a bit to speak to real material circumstances. There hasn’t been a ton of that discussion yet, but I think would be a mistake to see that this resistance as not being a material political movement. It’s founded in a general strike, and that’s important to remember.
John: For sure. Thank you very much for speaking with us. I really appreciate it, and maybe I can trick you in the future and talk again about the history of Burma.
Geoff: Very cool, thanks for having me, I should say I am pretty far away, these are just things I’ve picked up on from here. But if for your listeners or anyone, obviously, I’m just always trying to pay attention to what people do at the barricades and otherwise in the country and we can also see what they’re up to and pay attention to what they’re saying. Thanks for giving me the chance to chat at least. I really enjoyed it.
We Need To Spread This Freely: JN On HK Under National Security Law
This week, I speak with JN, an anarchist who works with the decolonial, leftist HongKonger platform, Lausan, talks about where the uprising against Chinese integration in Hong Kong stands, the National Security Law, tankie and rightwing narratives and international anti-authoritarian solidarity and resistance.
The interview about Belarus that I mentioned before was from a recent episode of Elephant In The Room, from Dresden, Germany, which is a member of the Channel Zero Network of Anarchist Podcasts.
I’d like to remind folks that the 2020 Republican National Convention is going to partially be held in Charlotte from August 20-24. One group that is doing anti-repression work in the area is CharlotteUprising, which can be found on twitter at @CLTUprising, where you can find info about the protests at the event as well as their jail support, including how to make donations. You can learn more by following the hashtags #CharlotteUprising and #ResistRNC2020
To all in solidarity with the Prisoners Human Rights Movement:
We are reaching out to those that have been amplifying our voices in these state, federal, or immigration jails and prisons, and to allies that uplifted the national prison strike demands in 2018. We call on you again to organize the communities from August 21st – September 9th, 2020, by hosting actions, events, and demonstrations that call for prisoner human rights and the end to prison slavery…
On August 21 – September 9, we call on everyone in solidarity with the prison class struggle to organize an action, a panel discussion, a rally, an art event, a film screening, or another kind of demonstration to promote prisoners’ human rights. Whatever is within your ability, we ask that you shake the nation out of any fog they may be in about prisoners’ human rights and the criminal legal system (legalized enslavement).
During these solidarity events, we request that organizers amplify immediate issues prisoners in your state face, the demands from the National Prison Strike of 2018, and uplift Jailhouse Lawyers Speak new International Law Project…
The prison strike demands were drafted as a path to alleviate the dehumanizing process and conditions people are subjected to while going through this nation’s judicial system. Following up on these demands communicates to the world that prisoners are heard and that prisoners’ human rights are a priority.
In the spirit of Attica, will you be in the fight to dismantle the prison industrial slave complex by pushing agendas that will shut down jails and prisons like Rikers Island or Attica? Read the Attica Rebellion demands and read the National Prison Strike 2018 demands. Ask yourself what can you do to see the 2018 National Prison Strike demands through.
SHARE THIS RELEASE FAR AND WIDE WITH ALL YOUR CONTACTS!
We rage with George Jackson’s “Blood in my eyes” and move in the spirit of the Attica Rebellion!
Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami
This week on The Final Straw we’re featuring a chat with Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami. In this conversation, Joey tells us of some of the history of Lebanon, since the civil war that ended in 1990 and up to the current demonstrations against the clientelist warlords in power in that country. Intertwined with this, Leila speaks about the sparking of the resistance to Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, the tumult of the civil war, and the state of anti-authoritarian and social justice organizing and media work in that country. Then the two talk about the experience of countering disinformation, conspiracy thinking and poor solidarity in the so-called Left in the West and ways to combat ignorance.
This is another long conversation, covering a lot of the last 30 years in these two neighboring nations. The guests proposed speaking about the interrelations across that border because of the similarities, differences, and shared experiences between the two places. Lebanon has Syrian refugees, it was occupied by Syria until 2005. Both spaces share Palestinian refugees, experienced war with Israel, are politically influenced from Hezbollah, mostly speak Arabic and even the flames of the recent wildfires that ignited anti-regime sentiment in Lebanon last fall crossed the border between Lebanon and Syria. We hope to have future chats that play with borders in this way to explore ways we can bridge these borders in our understanding in hopes of increased solidarity.
Lebanese Protests of 2015 & 2019 [00:21:35 – 00:31:40]
Syrian Revolution to Civil War [00:31:40 – 00:41:34]
Current Social Justice Struggle in Syria [00:41:46 – 00:45:56]
Daesh / ISIS and Syrian Civil War [00:45:56 – 00:49:56]
Solidarity with Syrians in Lebanese Protests [00:49:56 – 01:05:38]
Leila on Tahrir-ICN [01:05:50 – 01:09:18]
Educating Ourselves on Syria and Lebanon [01:09:18 – 01:23:07]
White Helmets and other Conspiracy Theories [01:23:07 – 01:32:59]
Syrian Diaspora and Western Left [01:32:59 – 01:37:19]
Rojava and the Syrian Revolution [01:37:19 – 01:41:56]
Better Practice in Solidarity with people in Syria and Lebanon [01:41:56 – 01:53:38]
Michael Kimble Benefit
Last week we announced a fundraiser for Michael Kimble. Because of issues with the platforms, the fundraiser for Michael Kimble’s legal benefit to help raise money for his fight to get him released from prison has been moved. Now you can find it at ActionNetwork.org/Fundraising/Support-Michael-Kimble . Because the fundraiser had to be moved a couple of times, some of the initial push to get word out and initial donations may be irreplaceable. So, folks are asking for an extra push to help rasie this money to get our comrade out and organizing on the outside after 33 years behind bars.
BADNews February 2020 (#31)
This month, the A-Radio Network released it’s monthly, international English-language podcast featuring voices from anarchist and anti-authoritarian radio shows, pirate stations and podcasts from around the world. The episode is up at A-Radio-Network.org by clicking the B(A)DNews. If you’re interested in joining the network or learning more, info’s up on that site.
Thank you both very much for taking the time to chat with me.
Leila al-Shami: Thank you.
Joey Ayoub: Thank you.
FS: I thought we could talk about anti-authoritarian aspects of popular movements against the regimes in both Lebanon and Syria and for new ways of living, and what solidarity can look like, within that region and from outside, with those popular anti-authoritarian movements. This is a really big conversation, and I’m very excited for the information that y’all are going to present.
First can y’all lay out a thumbnail of the post-colonial development in the respective countries—in Syria and Lebanon—including a bit about the interrelation between those neighboring countries, at least up until those anti-corruption and anti-authoritarian protests known as the Arab Spring?
JA: The primary thing to remember when it comes to the relationship between Syria and Lebanon is that historically they are the same region, “Greater Syria.” With regard to contemporary events, what’s important to understand from a Lebanese perspective is that the Syrian regime was one of two military occupiers of Lebanon—the other being Israel—between 1976 and 2005, when it was essentially forced out after a popular uprising.
Since then, the relationship between the two countries is extremely complicated, to say the least. On the one hand there is a major Lebanese political party that is active in supporting the Assad regime in Syria—I’m talking about Hezbollah. On the other hand, when we speak of Syrians in Lebanon we have to differentiate between the Syrian regime and Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees are effectively powerless and living in pretty bad conditions—I’m phrasing this lightly. It is really bad these days. They are often the victims of scapegoating by xenophobic sectarian parties that have played the same card against Palestinian refugees in the past—they are just using it against Syrian refugees today.
Any relationship is very complicated; there are historical links, but there are activist links as well. But other than that, the two countries are fairly separated due to this power dynamic.
LS: From my side, I think it’s important to understand how the Syrian regime, the current regime, came to power. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party came to power in 1963 through a military coup, and it was founded upon an ideology which incorporated elements of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, both of which were witnessing popular resurgence in the wave of decolonization. Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970 through an internal coup within the Ba’ath Party. It was under him that the totalitarian police state was built, which repressed all political freedom. Any opposition or dissidents were dealt with very severely under Hafez al-Assad, and what became known as the ‘Kingdom of Silence’ was built. People were not able to express themselves politically.
Bashar inherited the dictatorship from his father in 2000, and when he came to power, Syrians were hoping for an opening—that they would have more rights and freedoms. But really he continued the policies of his father in terms of political repression, and the prisons were full of Muslim Brotherhood members, Kurdish opposition activists, leftist activists, and human rights activists. And there was also a very desperate socioeconomic situation: a wave of liberalization of the economy under Bashar which really consolidated the wealth in the hands of crony capitalists who were loyal to or related to the president, meanwhile subsidies and welfare that the poor relied on were dismantled.
It was these two factors, both the political repression and the very desperate socioeconomic situation, which led to the uprising which broke out in 2011—which of course arrived in the context of this transnational revolutionary wave that was sweeping the region.
FS: I think a lot of people in the West get confused with the term socialist in the expression of Ba’athists, and don’t have a specific understanding of what that term means in that instance. Can you break it down for those of us who are confused about what socialism refers to in terms of Ba’athism?
LS: The Ba’ath Party advocated socialist economics, but rejected the Marxist conception of class struggle. The Ba’ath believed that all classes among the Arabs were united in opposing capitalist domination by imperial powers, proposing that nations themselves, rather than social groups within and across nations, constituted the real subjects of struggle against domination.
So when they came to power, they pursued top-down socialist economic planning based on the Soviet model. They nationalized major industries, and engaged in large infrastructural modernization to contribute to this nation-state building enterprise: redistributing land, erasing the land-owning class, and improving rural conditions. It was these kinds of populist policies which brought the party a measure of cross-sectarian public support.
But at the same time, leftists were purged from the Ba’ath Party right at the beginning. Hafez al-Assad’s coup within the Ba’ath Party was against the leftwing faction. And later, all left opposition was either co-opted or crushed. Independent associations of workers, students, and producers were repressed, and para-statal organizations said to represent their interests emerged—a kind of corporatist model.
And like I said, under Bashar there was an increasing liberalization of the economy; it really moved away from any kind of socialist economic model towards a model which created a great deal of wealth disparity within the population.
FS: Joey, I wonder if you could set up how, after the civil war and occupation in Lebanon, power was distributed through the state structure there.
JA: It’s been thirty years since the end of the civil war. The postwar era, as we call it, started in 1990, when the civil war officially ended with the signing of the Taif agreement—Taif being the city in Saudi Arabia where they signed it. So it’s been almost exactly three decades since then.
The postwar era is defined by a number of things. The primary two components relevant to what is happening today are the format in which this so-called peace happened, and what happened after that. The format can be symbolized through an amnesty law that was passed in early 1991, which pardoned most crimes which were committed during the war—the only exception being the killing of other important people. If you had assassinated a prime minister or something like that, you might be exempted from the amnesty law. Other than that—if you were involved in kidnappings, enforced disappearances, torture, murder, all of these things—all of your crimes were wiped clean overnight.
Warlords who made their names during the war became the warlords who entered government in the nineties. They removed their military uniforms, put on their business suits, and became the government. The people we’re dealing with today for the most part are the exact same people who were the warlords during the civil war. The two very easy examples I can give are the current president, Michel Aoun, who was a warlord in the eighties, and the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, who was also a warlord in the eighties.
These people have each created clientelist networks—we call it wasta in Arabic—and the result is we don’t really have one state. We do in theory—but that state is subsumed within these sectarian networks.
The second thing that happened in the postwar era which is also important is what you might describe as actually-existing neoliberalism. There was a rabid form of capitalism, the “shock doctrine” scenario that Naomi Klein famously coined in her book, wherein all the ruins of the war were further demolished. The most symbolic example of that is downtown Beirut, which saw a lot of the violence. Large parts of it were completely demolished instead of being renovated and public spaces being made accessible again, and everything was privatized.
Fast forward three decades: what we’ve been seeing since October 17, 2019, this symbolic date when the current uprisings started, are attempts by a number of protesters to reclaim this public space that has been privatized, and to reclaim a sense of identity that transcends these sectarian limits which were implemented in the postwar era.
They were always there—they have been part of Lebanon’s de facto legal reality. Sectarianism is institutionalized. Political confessionalism is the official term for it. In the postwar era there have been quite a lot of protest movements trying to move beyond sectarianism, calling for some kind of secularism, some kind of trans-sectarian identity, with the knowledge that sectarianism isn’t just a social ill in itself (as in, it’s bad to be sectarian) but also understanding that sectarianism is used in a specific way in Lebanon that benefits those who are already at the top.
That’s a simplistic summary, of course, but that’s essentially what we’ve been seeing since October 17. And this time there is a momentum that is explicitly anti-sectarian, and an awareness that as soon as sectarianism wins, the movement immediately loses. There’s an extreme sensibility towards remaining anti-sectarian.
FS: Would you mind talking a little bit about how the clientelism and expectations of social infrastructure, and the lack of following through on these expectations, led to the October protests, and how clientelism stands in opposition to the idea of a social contract?
JA: It is very difficult in Lebanon to do anything unless you have the connections. Education, healthcare, basic services like electricity and water—people tend to rely on private networks for all these things. I went through a private education. Most people in Lebanon have to pay two electricity bills, one private and one public, because the public one is not 24/7. For water, technically you pay three different bills, because there’s public and private running water, and separately there is bottled water because the tap water is not potable. This is a small example of how the clientelism functions in Lebanon.
It really precedes the civil war, and going all the way into that would require a different kind of analysis which I’m not the most capable of giving. But what we saw in October—and in the months and years preceding October 17—was this lack of social contract becoming even more painful. Before then, there was always a way for a percentage of the population—I can’t even say for sure it’s a majority—to sort of get by. There was always a way to make ends meet, so to speak, one way or another. Living conditions were never extremely good, but they were decent enough for you to have an okay life. Especially, obviously, if you’re middle class. That has declined in the last decade or so.
The 2011 uprisings had an impact on Lebanon. Cutting off Syria economically from Lebanon impacted business locally. It also reduced significantly any kind of Gulf investment, which had been reliable up until 2011-12. That’s what has been breaking down slowly in the last decade, and that’s part of the spark that led to October 17, 2019. But that week, that same week, there were very bad wildfires that ravaged through the country and even reached parts of Syria; it was over forty-eight hours before they were fought off through a combination of luck—it started raining—and airplanes that were donated by foreign governments.
And just a day later, the government decided to impose a tax on WhatsApp calls, which are obviously free and used by virtually all Lebanese because actual phonecalls are so expensive due to the corruption and clientelism. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
On the night of 17 October, the day the WhatsApp tax was proposed, people spontaneously went to Beirut, to Nabatiyeh in the south, to Tripoli in the north—people went out in cities across Lebanon. In the first couple of weeks, the momentum was so overwhelming. It was on all levels across all regions of Lebanon, with almost no exceptions, touching all socioeconomic classes (there were even protests where I live; this has never happened before), and there was a very explicit anti-sectarian component.
This is remarkable because sectarianism in Lebanon has created a reality where it is virtually impossible—in practice it just never happens—that if you are from a certain region and you’re just used to seeing people from a certain sect (with the exception of the big cities like Beirut), you don’t really know much about other parts of the country where a different sect has a majority. If you come from Mount Lebanon you don’t necessarily know much about the south or the north, unless you have family connections.
That’s been our reality for three decades. And nonetheless in the first month or so, it was very common to see people in Tripoli (the Sunni-majority city in the north) sending their solidarity to Nabatiyeh (the Shia-majority area in the south) and vice versa. In Jounieh (which is Christian majority) and Beirut (which is very mixed) and Mount Lebanon (which is Druze majority), there were always explicit statements of solidarity from one region to another, from one sect to another, saying, essentially: we have this thing that unites us beyond our sectarian allegiances.
The other extremely important component is summarized by the chant kelon ya’neh kelon, which means “All of them means all of them.” It’s very simple. Every single politician that has participated in this postwar status quo has to go. It’s a complete rejection of every single political leader of the postwar era, basically, whether they are currently in government or not.
That’s very important, because there have been a number of sectarian parties that were previously in the government and currently are less so—they still have MPs but they are not the ruling parties—that have been trying to ride the wave of the revolution by presenting themselves as opposition parties, trying to play with the binary that is the March 8 and March 14 movements.
What are these two? March 8 and March 14 are the names of two coalitions that were formed on those dates in 2005. Following the assassination of then-prime minister Rafic Hariri on February 14, 2005, there were mass mobilizations on these two dates with different orientations towards the Syrian regime. On March 8 was the pro-Syrian regime protest, led by Hezbollah and Amal at the time. On March 14 was the anti-Syrian regime protest, led by the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Phalangists, and the Progressive Socialist Party and other parties. Since then they have created a power-sharing agreement following the model of the postwar era, where it’s one coalition or the other that’s ruling, always fighting with each other but always finding more things in common than things that distinguish them—especially when there are independents trying to run against both of them, that’s when they close ranks.
Because the current government, for various reasons, is a March 8 government—Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement—there are parties that were traditionally associated with March 14—the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, and the Phalangists—that have been trying to place themselves in the position of opposition against the March 8-led government.
The protesters are rejecting that. No. All of them means all of them; you will not be able to ride the wave of the revolution. In five days it will be the four-month anniversary of these protests, and the momentum has changed, but it is still firmly anti-sectarian.
FS: Let’s turn and rejoin Leila in the chronology of how anti-corruption movements had been developing in Syria and then come back to anti-corruption in Lebanon. Leila, Joey had mentioned Syrian refugees being present and the way the forest fires crossed the border; these two countries have had a lot of interaction between each other. I’m wondering if you could talk about how the anti-corruption and reform movements and revolutionary movements of the Arab Spring effected and impacted Syria, with the Syrian revolution and subsequent civil war.
LS: People in Syria were generally quietly against the regime prior to 2000. The last major uprising had been at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, and started off as a broad-based movement against the regime but ended up becoming very dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood due to the severe repression of those who were participating in it. It culminated in the massacre of Hama, when thousands of people were killed and much of the old city of Hama was destroyed by Assad’s forces. In addition to that, thousands of people disappeared into regime detention; many of them were never seen again. This experience of such brutal repression had kept Syrians quiet since that time.
But when the Arab Spring, as it came to be known in the West, emerged in 2010-11, people in Syria were seeing what was happening in Egypt, what was happening in Tunisia, and the governments being brought down there, and they began to ask, “Why not us?” This gave people—a new generation that hadn’t directly experienced the repression that had occurred before—the strength to go out onto the streets and start demonstrating themselves. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, though, people in Syria didn’t go out into the streets calling for the fall of the regime, initially. What they were calling for was reforms: things like a multi-party system, the release of political prisoners, a free press.
These were demands which had been taken up in 2000 when Bashar first came to power, and people thought there was an opening for change. There was a small movement—it wasn’t a popular broad-based movement like we saw in 2011, but it was a movement among intellectuals and human rights activists that started to call for reforms when Bashar came to power. That movement, again, was severely repressed, and all hope for change under Bashar died at that point—until 2011, when what happened in Tunisia and Egypt really reignited the hopes of a new generation.
So they came out onto the streets calling for reform, but the brutality of the response by the state—which immediately began meeting peaceful, unarmed pro-democracy protesters with gunfire, massive waves of detention, and repression—radicalized the movement. It caused it to spread rapidly across the country, and it encouraged people to start calling for the fall of the regime and even for the execution of the president. It was the regime’s repression which really catalyzed the movement’s spreading and becoming a revolutionary movement.
I think it’s very important to recognize that when this happened in 2011, it was a broad-based, inclusive movement. It included many women from all different backgrounds, a diversity of Syria’s religious groups and ethnic groups, all united around the demands for freedom, for democracy, and for social justice. The social justice element is often not focused on very much in the West. But it was a large component of the revolutionary demands.
Many people went out on the streets and chanted against the crony capitalists who had amassed a great deal of wealth under the current regime. For example, Rami Makhlouf, who is Assad’s maternal cousin, was estimated prior to 2011 to control some sixty percent of the Syrian economy through his business interests—in real estate, mobile telephone companies, etcetera. There were large chants against him on the streets and against other crony capitalists.
There was a strong element of awareness and strong social and economic demands as part of the revolutionary movement, but those were not focused on very much in Western reporting.
FS: In your book Burning Country that you coauthored, y’all made a point of saying when people took up arms to defend themselves against the government, the inclusivity of the popular movement started to dissipate. That’s how I remember reading it, at least. Can you talk about what the integration of armed struggle into the movement against the government did to the dynamic of the revolution, and how it became a civil war?
LS: Taking up arms was a response to the massive repression by the state against peaceful protesters. At the beginning it was still inclusive—this wasn’t an organized military or army. This was people taking up weapons in their communities to defend their communities and their families from assault. People were being taken from their homes and detained; there was also a mass rape campaign carried out in oppositional communities by Assad-affiliated militias. So people took up arms to defend themselves in loosely-coordinated defense brigades.
By the summer of 2012, we started to see the Free Army label being used. Now, the Free Army was never really an organized army; it was never centrally controlled or centrally funded, although there were failed attempts to do so. It was an umbrella which different groups and different militias could come under with two main aims: one was the fall of the regime, to force Assad out of power, and the other was to see some kind of democratic transition take place. The people who signed up to the Free Army label were people who were united behind those aims.
But as time went by, the armed opposition became more and more fragmented, due to external pressures on them. They couldn’t get the weapons that they needed to really defend themselves and their communities from regime assaults. There were light weapons going in, but the anti-aircraft missiles which people desperately needed were not being provided. Aerial assaults were the main cause of destruction and main cause of death, and it was Assad who was controlling the skies—later alongside his Russian ally.
We also saw, around December 2013, an increasing Islamization among armed groups in Syria. The main reason for that was the failure of the democrats of the Free Army to attract funding and support from the Western states that they were reaching out to. Some brigades started Islamizing their rhetoric in order to attract support from Gulf donors specifically.
So there was an increasing Islamization of the opposition groups, and an increasing fragmentation of armed opposition groups. There were so many different armed brigades that were present at that time, and we see now that most of the armed groups operating in Syria do have an Islamist leaning and have eclipsed in strength the democrats of the Free Army.
But while there was this fragmentation of the armed opposition—which was due in large part to this competing struggle for weapons, competing struggles for military dominance and political dominance in areas they were controlling—there was also, in parallel, a continuing civil movement which was committed to the original goals of the revolutionary struggle and remained an inclusive and diverse movement.
FS: Fast-forwarding now into what has been nine years of one of the most deadly civil wars of the twenty-first century so far, I’m sure what a lot of people are experiencing on the ground in opposition areas at this point is simply a struggle for survival against this genocidal regime. But can you say anything about what exists, as far as you’re aware, of democratic movements for social justice in Syria?
LS: There are plenty of Syrians who are still committed to those ideals of the revolution, and there are plenty of Syrians working today within their communities trying to keep things functioning; plenty of civil society organizations that are continuing to do media work, continuing to assist the displaced, trying to keep hospitals functioning. But it has become a matter of survival, a struggle for survival. Today the main area which is outside Assad regime control, or still in the control of rebel groups, is Idlib. Idlib today is facing an absolutely relentless assault, a war of extermination against the civilian population there.
Since the assault on Idlib began in April 2019, over a million people have been displaced, nearly 700,000 since December alone—just gone. There have been massive attacks on civilian infrastructure; dozens of hospitals put out of action. People are fleeing for their lives. It’s very hard in such circumstances to talk about any kind of organized movement, because people are really just struggling to survive. People are fleeing outside of Idlib city or to the north of Idlib, and there’s no place left to go, no remaining safe haven for people. Many of these people had already been displaced multiple times, when their communities came under attack or were forced to surrender and recaptured by regime forces. And the borders are not open. The situation on the ground today in Syria is completely desperate.
In areas that have come back under regime control, whether we’re talking about Dera’a in the south or the Ghouta around Damascas, there have been massive waves of repression against the population who stayed. Anyone who is seen to have been in any way affiliated with the opposition has been arrested and detained. Young men have been rounded up and sent to the front lines to fight, basically on missions from which they are not going to return.
But we have also seen that resistance has continued. There have been waves of protests happening in Dera’a. Extremely courageous people in regime-controlled areas have still been protesting, calling for things like the release of prisoners, protesting against the desperate economic situation. Just in the last couple of weeks in Sweida, which is a Druze-majority area, people have been out on the streets protesting against a very desperate economic situation, protesting against the corruption they’re seeing.
In Dera’a, we’re seeing waves of assassinations against regime forces as well. So while the organized resistance movement and organized civil society has been very much crushed over recent months as the regime has taken control, we see that those desires for freedom, for justice, for this regime to end, have not gone away. And when others have a chance to organize, they’re still trying to organize—they’re very clear that they’re not going to accept this regime. There’s no life for people under this regime.
FS: This is a subject that I’m sure gets brought up a lot in conversations about Syria with Westerners, but it seems like the democratic social movement had a few different fronts on which they were being attacked, including with the uprising of Daesh as a movement across Iraq and Syria. In your experience, is Daesh still a threat against social movements, or has it been crushed, as it’s been presented in the Western media?
LS: Daesh hasn’t been crushed. There’s this idea that you can defeat an ideology militarily when the conditions that fed that ideology are still very preset, when the chaos which allows such extremist groups to thrive is still there. Daesh has certainly lost a lot of its organized power, but it has the ability to regroup and re-form—we’ve seen that in Iraq, and in attacks that have been carried out in Syria in recent months.
It’s not just Daesh which is a threat. If we look at Idlib—I said that Idlib was the main province still under rebel control. The group in control of a large part of Idlib is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra, which is a very extremist Islamist militia. They have repeatedly tried to wrest power away from the democratic opposition structures which were established in Idlib following the liberation from the regime, and have tried to impose their own extremely authoritarian religious strictures upon a population which overwhelmingly rejects them.
This is something which is not spoken about much in the West. People often say Idlib is an “al-Qaeda enclave” because this group HTS was formerly affiliated to al-Qaeda. What they’re overlooking is all the people protesting against the group. We’ve seen continuous demonstrations in Idlib, up until now, people calling for HTS to leave their communities and hand over power to democratic opposition structures.
So yes, Syrians have had a battle on two fronts. They’ve had a battle against this fascist tyrannical regime which is committing genocide against a population which demanded freedom, and a struggle against extremist Islamist groups such as Daesh and HTS and others.
The third battle, of course, has been against people in the West, often people who identify as being on the left, who have continuously slandered revolutionary Syrians, have equated revolutionary Syrians with groups like al-Qaeda, and have in fact thrown their support behind the Assad regime. Free Syrians have found that they have very few friends. But they retain their desire for freedom, and they continue to maintain that they are not going to accept one tyranny being followed by another.
FS: Joey, on an episode of the Arab Tyrant Manual from November 2019, you and another guest, Timour Azhari, were talking about calls for solidarity with the Syrian people that were coming up in the chants of Lebanese protesters, and I wonder if you, or both of you, could talk a little bit about solidarity against authoritarian structures across that border, between Lebanon and Syria, and between the popular mobilizations against sectarianism that you’ve seen.
JA: The anti-sectarian component of the protest movements in Lebanon essentially appeals to some kind of national identity. It’s one thing to have my religion as a Christian, as a Shia, as a Sunni, as a Druze, and that’s fine, but there should be something that unites us further than that—we’re all Lebanese. Of course that’s a double-edged sword: nationalism can unite people across sects within one nation-state, and it can also otherize people who are not Lebanese.
That’s a very common thing, and it’s a reality that anti-authoritarians, progressives, radicals, lefties, and others in Lebanon have to contend with: the overwhelming presence of xenophobia. Much of it was created during the civil war; the Syrian regime was an occupier, so many Lebanese, especially those of the older generation, equate Syrians with the Assad regime. This is very ironic and self-defeating, because obviously Syrian refugees in Lebanon are fleeing a conflict that was started by the Assad regime; there could have been opportunities for cooperation and unity. But what is happening is xenophobia and nationalism.
In the same way as in Hong Kong, where there is a segment of the population which is anti-China in the ethnic sense rather than being anti-Chinese-government, there is in Lebanon a segment of the protesters that is anti-Syrian, not just anti-Syrian regime. There are even Lebanese who oppose the Syrian regime, who oppose Hezbollah, who still share the same xenophobic, racist attitudes towards Syrian refugees.
And this power dynamic is worsened by the fact that the economic situation in Lebanon is already shit. It’s really bad. It creates the opportunity for scapegoating Syrian refugees, modeled after the scapegoating of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the Nakba: they faced this type of attitude, especially during the civil war because there was an armed Palestinian faction, but that’s a different story.
To try and counter that, there is a segment of Lebanese protesters, most notably the feminists, who are trying to create a movement that is more inclusive. They are openly intersectional and speak about class struggle, and about gender equality beyond the confines of citizenship—which is already very restrictive in Lebanon. You cannot become Lebanese other than by marrying a Lebanese citizen or inheriting it—and even then it is only passed on by a man. You can inherit citizenship if your father is Lebanese, but you cannot inherit it if only your mother is Lebanese. So there is a percentage of the population in Lebanon that are “not even Lebanese” but who are in fact Lebanese. What the progressives are saying is that if someone can be Lebanese and not Lebanese at the same time, we can also accept that there might be more than one way of being Lebanese. This is why I insist on calling myself Lebanese-Palestinian, to refuse to relinquish my grandfather’s identity. It’s not even considered something that can be a reality. You’re either one or the other, and that’s it.
Something being called a “revolution” or having revolutionary momentum does not automatically mean that everyone participating in that uprising has the best politics in the world. Even in Syria in 2011-12, there were conservatives who would take part in the protests. That’s completely normal. There’s more than one way of expressing opposition to illegitimate authority. If we’re talking about the Assad regime, there are multiple ways of opposing it. There are even Islamists who oppose the Assad regime. As a progressive who would not want to have an Islamist regime either, you still can’t automatically reject everyone who doesn’t share every single one of your politics. It’s complicated.
In Lebanon it’s complicated in different ways. In the beginning, there were sectarian people participating in the protests. There were members of Hezbollah, members of the Lebanese Forces, and members of other sectarian political parties among us. Even to this day, there still are, but to a lesser extent. They were in fact going against their own parties, without renouncing their parties. What happens in that space, within that momentum, is a sort of negotiation. Chanting kelon ya’neh kelon made lots of people uncomfortable. Calling out certain specific politicians by name made certain people uncomfortable. That alienated some people, whereas other stuck around. Some people were “converted.” Other people still participate without chanting these specific chants.
So there’s an ideal: kelon ya’neh kelon, anti-sectarianism, a vision of a fair society. And within that ideal, there are multiple ways of negotiating, because at the end of the day, if I want a society that is better than the current society, I have to face the contradictions of that society. Those contradictions, whether we’re talking about sectarianism, xenophobia, nationalism—all of these things exist everywhere in Lebanon. They exist within your own family, within your community networks. It is very difficult just to say, “Screw all of you, I am going to create something without all of you.”
FS: Leila, the reason I first heard your name besides Burning Country was in reference to Tahrir-ICN coming up in the 2010s. Can you talk a little bit about that project and what became of it, how it developed, and what impacts you saw it have?
LS: Tahrir-ICN was an attempt to address the issue of a lack of knowledge of anti-authoritarian struggles in the region, outside of it. A group of activists came together, myself included, with the idea to build this network among anti-authoritarian activists in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. It had two components to it. The first was an information-sharing platform, establishing a blog and social media accounts. The second was to build a physical network where we could work on practical actions and build solidarity together, sharing experiences.
The first aspect of it was quite successful. It started in 2012, just after the revolutions in the region broke out. Different collectives from across the region and in Europe started sharing information of what was happening in their country. This was a time when there were lots of uprisings across the region and also in Greece and in Spain: the Occupy movement, a lot of exciting things were happening. It didn’t have one vision. It was trying to learn from a wide variety of experiences and struggles loosely labeled anti-authoritarian. We had quite a wide readership for our blog, and I think it was very useful for people outside, in Europe or in America, to find out more about anti-authoritarian struggles in the Middle East and North Africa, and vice-versa..
The second aspect, building a physical network—we had a number of discussions about having an event to bring people together. There was certainly a lot of interest in that. But then the counterrevolutions broke out very strongly. People became very bogged down in what was happening in their countries. People started losing a lot of energy, and the network kind of fizzled out. I myself decided that I had to prioritize what was happening in Syria due to my connections with Syria. People got very caught up in their own stuff, and it kind of died out. But I think that for the time when it was operative, it provided a useful source of information to learn about each other and to see the wide variety of struggles that were occurring.
FS: For the sake of us staying informed and educated about what’s actually going on in this region of the world, can y’all talk about maybe some resources that we have, particularly in English, that we could be relying on to get a better grasp? And also maybe some resources that you think are trash and we should avoid? That would be very helpful.
LS: I would encourage people to look for resources which are produced by people who are living in or connected to the regions themselves. It’s very important to try to go to native sources where possible, to people who have a very real understanding of the issues because they’re directly affected by them. We’ve been very privileged that there is so much information available in English. There are so many activists who are very active on social media across the region who we can connect with on Twitter, on Facebook, who are telling their stories. From Syria, there are so many great independent media initiatives. There is Enab Baladi—Joey worked on producing a book of some of their texts—which was established by women in one of the main revolutionary towns known as Daraya. There were some amazing experiences of self-organization in that town. There is al-Jumhuriya, which was established by Syrians, which is great for analysis of the region.
I would encourage people to find out a bit more and to go to these sources, and to try to educate themselves. The first and most important aspect of solidarity is correcting the information. There is so much disinformation circulating about what is happening in the region. It’s so exhausting for activists who have much more important struggles than focusing on correcting the narrative. It would be great if some of that work could be done from the outside. It would certainly free up Syrian activists to focus on other more practical things that they need to address.
JA: On the Lebanon side of things, I can start by recommending a podcast that’s called The Lebanese Politics Podcast. Starting with the episode which was released just after the October 17 revolution started, they’ve put out about an episode a week, in English, in which they go back to the events of that week and interpret them and talk about them. It is as objective as you can get, from an archival perspective. Both of them are on the left and are analyzing from the anti-sectarian angle.
Other than that, most good media in Lebanon is in Arabic. Recently, especially since 2015 when there was another uprising—which was not as successful but laid the groundwork for what was to come—there were things like Megaphone News, which is mostly in Arabic but sometimes has English stuff; they are really good. There is the Public Source—again, these are mostly in Arabic but occasionally have some English stuff.
A lot of the voices of anti-authoritarian Syrians are present in mainstream Anglo media. Just recently there was For Sama, the documentary that was nominated for an Oscar and won many film festival awards. There was the White Helmets documentary from 2017. There are a bunch of really good war-related but more personal-narrative documentaries popping up. All of these are available with English subtitles, and are very easy to find these days.
The main thing to challenge, really, is disinformation. The decision is whether people want to believe what they are seeing with their own eyes. For Sama is literally just footage put together to tell a story. You can think whatever you want, but if you’re starting to doubt what you see with your own eyes, the bombing that you’re literally seeing in front of you, then we’re entering a world that has not just implications for Syrians and Palestinians and Lebanese and others, but indeed implications for everyone else.
The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote and the so-called wave of far-right populism (which is a nice euphemism for fascism a lot of the time) didn’t really surprise a lot of us who live on this side of the world and have been involved with anti-authoritarian politics. Some of the signs that we were going into a dangerous international moment were already present in Syria as early as 2013, with the chemical massacre in Eastern Ghouta, among other things. The reactions to that started signaling that we’re slowly moving towards a normalization of blatant violence against civilian bodies.
What progressives in Lebanon are trying to do right now is create a different media landscape outside the norms, a counternarrative to the dominant narratives in Lebanon, because they are very influenced by the sectarian status quo. Many of them are owned by the sectarian parties. With Syria it was very different at first, because there wasn’t really any independent media before 2011. But an explosion of creativity came after 2011 (Enab Baladi, the project I worked on, is one of the examples of that), so now it is very easy to get very decent, advanced, sophisticated information. The question is how much energy people are willing to put into it.
It’s always good to inform yourself as much as possible about what’s happening in the rest of the world, just as a general rule, and there tends to be enough information these days. But the other thing is calling out disinformation when you see it online. To do that convincingly, you do need to arm yourself with quite a lot of knowledge, because the disinformation campaigns, especially since Russia decided to intervene militarily in Syria, have been pretty extraordinary. We’re not just dealing with RT and Sputnik. There are horrific takes being taken for granted which if they were on Palestine would be the abode of the far right, but for some reason when it comes to Syria, lots of lefties repeat basically the same things that rightwing Zionists would repeat on Palestine—the same takes! They just go with that narrative instead of looking at the facts on the ground and reading the books by Syrians who have been writing for decades now, many of whom are translated into English.
Information is power, and it can be used for good. But we have to deal with all of the disinformation around us. It’s been exhausting. Many of us have experienced months of burnout. Most activists I know, including those who were in Aleppo until recently, or in Ghouta or in Idlib or in the south or wherever, have completely given up on trying to challenge anyone online, or are just working locally. Some still spend entire days sometimes arguing with mostly Westerners online about their own country and their own homes that they just had to leave.
Westerners are not going through fascism in the same sense that Syrians are. There is definitely that threat, especially these days, but it’s still not at the level of the Assad regime controlling everything and dropping barrel bombs, and having foreign militaries invited into your country. I don’t know how to say this, but privilege is a responsibility. Having privilege means you should do something with it. Use the access to knowledge that you have and inform yourself on what’s been happening in Syria, especially since 2011, or since 1982 with the Hama massacre as Leila mentioned, or wherever you want to start, instead of just getting stuck in these echo chambers which have been so common, unfortunately, with the Western left.
FS: I’m wondering if either of you have the energy to talk really briefly about that or touch on some of the conspiracy theories we need to challenge? You don’t have to answer if you don’t have the energy.
LS: Very briefly, the White Helmets are volunteer first responders, men and women, people who are often the first on the scene to assist victims of Assad and Russia’s aerial bombardment, taking bodies from the rubble, taking people to makeshift hospitals for treatment. I think it’s because they are first on the scene to record and witness these state crimes that they have come under vicious attack. A lot of the assault on the White Helmets does originate in Russian state media; the Russian state has carried out a massive disinformation campaign against the White Helmets. We’ve seen them being accused of being al-Qaeda operatives; we’ve seen them being accused of being behind chemical weapons massacres. There have even been reports that they are engaged in organ harvesting. All sorts of horrendous and malicious accusations have been thrown at them.
The problem is that a lot of these accusations, which are starting in Russian or Syrian state media, are then being propagated and spread by people who identify as being on the left. We’ve seen a lot of these disinformation campaigns carried out by purportedly leftist activists, and these kinds of conspiracies also find their way into the mainstream. It’s very difficult now to even mention the White Helmets. I spend quite a lot of my time traveling and giving talks about Syria, trying to build solidarity for Syria, and even when I come across people who are generally sympathetic to what I’m saying—they’re not supportive in any way of the Assad regime; they seem to want to stand in solidarity with free Syrians—they’ll come up to me at the end of the talk and say, “Well, what about these White Helmets? We’ve heard this, we’ve heard that.” So this campaign of disinformation has been very successful in polluting the public space in such a way that really makes any kind of practical solidarity with revolutionary Syrians almost impossible.
It’s so dangerous at the moment in a place like Idlib, where international aid agencies have all pulled out. We’re seeing massive targeting of residential infrastructure and survival infrastructure—hospitals, schools, water supplies. It’s the White Helmets who are there, who can provide any kind of lifeline to people who are facing that kind of assault. They are maligned and slandered, when they are really the people who we should be standing behind and supporting—they are in desperate need of funding to continue their work. It’s very difficult to constantly face these kinds of attacks.
JA: Russia’s online disinformation campaigns have been widely studied by now. The discourse that Russia appeals to, or that pro-Assad or pro-Hezbollah folks appeal to, is identical to the War on Terror narrative that was popularized by George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. The whole “You’re either with us or the enemy” mentality was literally almost quoted verbatim by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, just a few weeks ago. This discourse has been reinforced and rendered hegemonic in some circles of the broader left, especially (but not just) the Western left. Russia has an obvious interest in people believing that the White Helmets are terrorists, because under the War on Terror, terrorists are fair game. You can shoot them. It’s really that simple.
The Russian embassies on Twitter (some particular embassies, like the one in South Africa, have a particular notoriety for some reason) post disinformation against the White Helmets, and against the documentary about the White Helmets—they posted a photo of Osama bin Laden receiving the Oscar. All of these things are Islamophobic smears that have been widespread especially since the aftermath of 9/11. Russia has utilized this in the past, in Chechnya. Chechnya is particularly important to mention here because one of the Russian embassies also tweeted at one point some years ago, during the fall of Aleppo, a before-and-after picture of Grozny—eradicated by Putin and rebuilt—and the message was, “This could be Aleppo.”
If those among us who call ourselves anti-authoritarians do not understand the consequences or the connotations of this, then we’re basically saying that we do not really care about groups of people that are vulnerable in our own societies, let alone in other societies or in the wider world, including Syrians in this case. The disinformation campaigns don’t just tell you something—they also tell you what not to think. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. It’s that sort of mentality. It stays in the back of your mind, it just festers there, and that alone is enough to reduce any momentum towards solidarity. What it does is discourage people from looking further.
That is the success of the disinformation. You pollute the media sphere. If you just google the White Helmets, on the first pages you will find a lot of horrible things being said. If you go on Twitter it’s dominated by Russian disinformation campaigns. When I say Russian disinformation I don’t just mean RT and Sputnik, but anyone who hovers around that world. That is extremely dangerous in a situation where these people are literally being murdered as we speak. They have even been targeted by al-Qaeda. Calling them al-Qaeda is not just a horrific, racist, Islamophobic smear—it actually puts their lives in danger.
FS: We haven’t really touched on the Syrian diaspora. I didn’t think about how a lot of this conspiracy theory stuff plays into the rightwing xenophobic rhetoric about people escaping the civil war there or escaping war in Libya or other parts of the world that the West often views through an orientalist and Islamophobic lens: that they are bringing this contagion of terrorism with them or whatever.
JA: Leila’s coauthor Robin Yassin-Kassab observed that before Syrians arrived on the shores of Fortress Europe and were being demonized by the far right as terrorists and demographic threats and all of these slurs, they were already being demonized and treated with hostility by large segments of the left. That scapegoating was already there—it’s not just that suddenly Syrians started appearing in Europe and there was massive reaction against them by the right. Of course there was that as well. But the stories of Syrians arriving in Europe (most are not in Europe, obviously; they are in Lebanon and Turkey and Jordan and so on) were canceled, deleted, smeared, and demonized in advance, accelerating the process of dehumanization.
Understanding what’s happening, the context of a country, especially one in “conflict” like Syria, also means supporting the refugees that come to your shores.
FS: A lot of the coverage that this show has done on war in Syria has been specifically focusing on the struggles in northern Syria, particularly as relates to the Kurdish-majority areas and the PYD and the PKK-affiliated Kurdish movement. This is partly because there’s a better infrastructure for communication and discourse in the West, but also a lot of anarchists and leftists have been for a long time in very active solidarity with PKK-related struggles.
Leila, as someone who’s covered the war in Syria and the revolution before that, could you talk a little bit about how the PYD has related to that?
LS: That struggle has certainly gained much more solidarity in the West, and you touched on the reasons for that: the Kurdish diaspora in Europe and the US has been there for a long time and has been able to build solidarity networks that take a long time to build, and Syrians living in other parts of the country had not had that. They didn’t have so much connection with the West. It’s very difficult, obviously. Even prior to the revolution it was difficult for Syrians to travel, to get visas, to be outside. So there wasn’t that much exchange built up for people to know what was happening in other areas.
Some of it also comes down to a Western orientalism that often likes to focus on minority groups as being the most persecuted, combined with Islamophobic racism towards Sunni majorities in Syria and elsewhere. This does tend to have a disproportionate impact on the way minority groups are able to attract solidarity.
That said, there are lots of very inspiring things happening within the Kurdish movement in northern Syria which are directly attractive to anti-authoritarians and anarchists in the West, and I see why there’s an appeal. But there have also been plenty of very inspiring things happening in other parts of Syria. One of the untold stories of the Syrian revolution is how in the absence of the state, when the state collapsed or was pushed out of the majority of the country, people came together and began to build alternative structures for self-organization within those areas.
For example, when the state withdrew and pulled out services, people realized that they needed to build forums to keep their communities functioning. The model that they looked to was developed by a Syrian anarchist called Omar Aziz, who advocated for the establishment of local councils, grassroots forums in which people could come together to discuss the needs in their community and self-organize to keep services functioning, such as electricity supply, hospitals, water supply systems, education systems. That model spread throughout Syria, leading to the establishment of hundreds of local councils throughout the country.
These experiences of self-organization and autonomous politics that happened as a direct result of the Syrian revolution should have been something that people outside were looking at and learning from, and that was a missed opportunity. Possibly some of that was on us, on our inability to communicate effectively what was happening. But also we had a lot of other priorities. It should have been people on the outside looking at what was happening inside Syria and seeing how they could find access to better information.
FS: To close, where do you think the people’s more democratic movements in these two venues are going? Are there any things to keep an eye on? Any direct ways, other than countering disinformation, that folks in the listening audience can support people who are struggling for autonomy and to uplift their dignity in Syria and Lebanon?
LS: I would love to talk about all the opportunities for political solidarity, to build the free Syria that we all want to see. But Syrians are facing a war of extermination right now. The situation on the ground is so absolutely desperate in places like Idlib that any immediate call has to be a purely humanitarian call, to try to pressure a ceasefire, to stop the assault by Russia and the regime on residential communities, to stop this humanitarian crisis from spiraling absolutely out of control, which it is doing at the moment.
I would encourage people to look at some of the Syrian-led organizations which are providing support to these internally displaced people on the ground. The Molham Volunteering Team is a wonderful organization doing wonderful work. Violet Organization, Kids Paradise—the immediate needs for survival take precedence over any other call I think of right now.
And then I’ll reiterate what we’ve been saying about being more informed—there are still many Syrians working to try to hold this regime accountable, to try to keep going with their desire to live in a free country. I encourage people to find out who they are and to see which ways they can stand in solidarity with them.
JA: As for Lebanon, what’s been happening in the past almost four months is often described as a rebirth. There is a lot of very new momentum. Some of the media outlets that I mentioned before were literally launched in the past few weeks. A few of them are the offspring of the 2015 movement, but others are really much newer than that. There are websites that only have half a dozen articles and they are just building on that.
That’s the exciting part. We’re having an emergence. There is an emergence of a civic-society mentality—though that has a lot of limitations. Sometimes it’s limited by a liberal paradigm. But it creates a space. It’s a moment to push for ideas that are more progressive. That’s what folks like me are trying to do. I am just a writer. Other people are doing much more direct work on the ground. There are soup kitchens that have popped up in places like Beirut and Tripoli. There are independent unions being formed because the current unions are either co-opted or useless. There are independent media workers—while there are good people working within mainstream outlets, they tend to be limited by those outlets’ priorities.
At the same time, in the same way as in Syria, there has been an outburst of creativity. Arts and music genres that hadn’t been explored before are now being explored, like metal and rap and hip-hop. Lebanon is freer than Syria as a society, there are fewer restrictions. There is a lot of self-censorship, but not as much of the overt censorship that there is in Syria. You can pretty much say whatever you want, within some limits sometimes, and that has allowed us a little bit more breathing space compared with what Syrians have had, to create some of this infrastructure that is now booming. Currents like environmentalism, feminism, queer rights, and so on are also finding momentum in the ongoing revolutionary upheavals.
The only limitation so far is refugee rights, and migrant domestic worker rights. The revolution hasn’t really addressed these issues as much as it should. But hopefully the more we continue and the more progressives and others manage to steer the revolution in a certain direction rather than in a nationalist direction, that might be possible in the near future. I personally think it’s going to be extremely difficult, but there is hope in that matter.
LS: One other area that I’d like to draw attention to is the prisoners’ struggle. The prisoner issue is something that everybody should be supporting. There are thousands of Syrians in prison, and we know the horror stories of how widely practiced torture is within regime detention. Those are our people. Those are the peaceful pro-democracy activists who were struggling against this regime. They are the people who are inside prison who we should be supporting.
There are some fantastic organizations that people can get behind. Families for Freedom is a women-led movement set up by Syrian women: the mothers, wives, sisters of political prisoners. It is a movement that was inspired by Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, and by a similar women-led movement looking for the disappeared in Lebanon. They’re doing as much work as they can trying to keep the issue of prisoners on the international agenda, calling for the release of not only those detained in regime prisons but also those detained in prisons by Islamist groups.
That’s something that everybody should be getting behind and finding out about and seeing how they can support, because it’s never on the agenda even though for every Syrian, it’s one of the most important issues because we all have family members or friends who have disappeared in regime detention.
We spoke a lot about how exhausted and traumatized Syrian activists are right now because of the strength of the counterrevolution and what they’ve gone through over the past few years. But one thing that has given us so much hope and strength and inspiration is seeing the protests happening in Lebanon. Also in Iraq, where people have been out on the streets and going through extremely challenging circumstances—this is also very inspirational in the way they are using anti-sectarian slogans. Also what’s happening in Iran with the protest movement there. All these movement have given us a lot of hope and courage.
Syria has been used to silence people across the region as a kind of bogeyman: if you raise your voice and demand freedom, this is what’s going to happen to you. You’re going to end up like Syria. The revolutions and uprisings that happened in 2010-11 have been crushed, they’re over. But they haven’t been crushed. This is part of a long term process. Although each country has its own specific situation, there are a lot of similarities: the authoritarian regimes, the corruption, the bad socioeconomic situation. And people are not being silenced. Something changed in 2011, and despite the massive repression these protest movements have faced, something has changed within people. That’s going to have a massive impact on the future. There’s going to be a lot of change happening in the region, and we’re only at the start of that process.
FS: Thank you so much for having this conversation, I really appreciate it.
This week on The Final Straw we feature a chat with a translator of the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran to share perspectives from membership in Iran and abroad about resistance to the regime from within, solidarity from abroad, the impact of US Sabre-rattling.
An inspirational movement arose out of the Cold War period among anarchists who found themselves on either side of the international chess-board. In the US this was called Neither East Nor West. The movement published a journal called On Gogol Boulevard, which after 1990, lived as a column in Profane Existence (an anarcho-punk journal), Fifth Estate and other journals. This project seems to have existed for about 15 years, from 1980 to 1994. The Final Straw lost the opportunity a few years ago to interview a New Yorker deeply engaged throughout this project, Bob McGlynn, when he passed away. He was obviously not the only person involved, but sharing his experience and story is a missed opportunity on our part. A link to an article that McGlynn penned about the project will be linked in our show notes.
Today, we find ourselves as anarchists in the USA, 20 years into the so-called War On Terror. This war of destabilization has targeted criminalized populations in within the U.S. borders and has had massively violent and deadly consequences across the globe. What we call a War, for lack of a better word, serves to destroy, enslave, maim and kill animals, human and non-human, around the world. And throughout the whole of this 20 year period a constant boogey-man has been that of the Iranian state, whose people have lived under the varying pressure of US-led sanctions. The US war machine hovers close to shifting from it’s regional proxy wars and an active war with Iran as the Trump regime’s rhetoric and economic policy close around the throats of the Iranian people.
In the interest of international solidarity and understanding and the spirit of the Neither East Nor West, we are quite pleased to be having a conversation with people from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. In this conversation we’ll be learning about Iranian struggles and what solidarity from the West might look like. We hope that in the future we can talk more about the impact of the 20 years of war on the peoples of Afghanistan perpetrated by the US government and it’s allies and the work of anti-authoritarians on the ground.
More than 2000 people have been arrested on charges related to the Chilean uprising. To raise funds for arrestees mounting legal fees, comrades in Santiago had the idea to organize an international tattoo party fundraiser to raise money for legal funds and increase the coordination across territories. The date will be February 15th. Currently, events in Santiago and Atlanta GA have signed on and we are waiting for confirmation from Valdivia and Punto Varas. A flyer announcing the international tattoo party is forthcoming with more details on how we can link up the different events. The idea is to cross promote the different events to build a broader network, showcase different tattoo artists, and take advantage of our our shared capacity across territories.
Deadline to sign on is February 1st, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved
Solidarity w Greek Antifascists
Comrades abroad are doing a campaign for the persecuted antifascists that are charged for the attacks of the offices of the greek fascist party, they will have to gather 30000 until 17/1. Show solidarity support/spread it!
Check out the support site for Chip Fitzgerald, Black Panther activist in the California prison system for 50 years now. Chip is an elder who has suffered a stroke inside prison and is sometimes confined to a wheelchair, often uses a cane and is the longest held Black Panther prisoner. He has served 3 times the usual sentence served for folks convicted of similar crimes and has been denied parole over a dozen times since he became eligible in 1976. More on his case and how you can help to bring this aging revolutionary home is up at https://www.freedom4chip.org/
Transcription of the interview with a member of AUAI
Thanks to A-Radio Berlin for the transcription. German translation available soon via that project.
TFSR: Today, we find ourselves as anarchists in the USA, 20 years into the so-called ‘War on Terror’. This war of destabilization has targeted criminalized populations within the US borders and has had massive violent and deadly consequences across the globe. What we call a war, for lack of a better word, serves to destroy, enslave and maim animals, human and nonhuman, around the world. And throughout this whole 20 year period, one of the constant boogeymen has been that of the Iranian state, whose people have lived under varying pressure from US-led sanctions. The US war machine hovers close to shifting from its regional proxy wars to an active war with Iran, as the Trump regime’s rhetoric and economic policy close around the throats of the Iranian people. In the interest of international solidarity and understanding and the spirit of ‘Neither East Nor West’, we’re quite pleased to be having a conversation with a translator from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. In this conversation, we’ll be learning about Iranian struggles and what solidarity from the West might look like. We hope that in the future we can talk more about the impact of the 20 years of war on the peoples of Afghanistan, perpetrated by the US government at its allies, and the work of anti-authoritarians on the ground.
So, right now I’m speaking with a translator from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak and do you want to introduce yourself further than that?
AUIA: Thank you for having me. And no, that’s adequate, thank you.
TFSR: Can you talk about the makeup generally of the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran and what its aims are? Like, why does it include both of those territories and not others and what are the unifying principles of the Union?
AUIA: The Union is composed of the ‘Anarchist Era Collective’, which is a community of anarchists from Afghanistan and Iran, operating both inside and outside of the respective countries, ‘Aleyh’, an anarchist group based out of Afghanistan and the ‘Revolutionary Radical Anarchist Front’ who is based in Iran. Our members are about two thirds in Afghanistan and Iran and one third outside of them. With many of those in Europe, Canada, and the United States. The vast majority of our new members are recruited from within Afghanistan and Iran. The reason why it is those two countries is because they share Persian as a lingua franca, referred to as Farsi in Iran, or Farsi and Dari in Afghanistan. Peoples in these territories as well share similar struggles and the states of the respective countries and the political elites share commonalities as well. We have many points of unity, though one thing to know is that we are open to all anarchists, except pacifists, sectarian religious anarchists and those who call themselves so-called ‘anarcho-capitalists’. Due to different situations on the ground in Afghanistan and Iran, we embrace a multitude of different strategies and except many different tendencies of anarchists, depending on the situations that they face.
TFSR: Can you give an explanation very briefly, of why – I can understand why an-caps, because they are not real, and partisan-religious anything wouldn’t be able to work with other people without those other people turning to their side, so that makes sense. What is it about the pacifist anarchists that puts them in with those other categories of groups that can’t be a part of the Union?
AUIA: Our reason for not accepting pacifists into the Anarchist Union is that pacifism does not effectively confront the state and in many ways reifies the legitimacy of the state. We also accept the necessity of armed struggle and armed self-defense, which pacifism does not encompass. But for people on the ground in the struggles and protests in Iran, it is necessary for us to use violence when necessary against the regime.
TFSR: That makes sense. So, as we’re speaking, tensions are ratcheting up between the US regime and the Irani regime. What does the Anarchist Union think about the assassination of major general Qasem Suleimani of the Quds Force, of the Irani Revolutionary Guard and how has the assassination affected living and resisting under the regime? How have people reacted to the states threatening one another?
AUIA: We are happy that Qasem Suleimani is dead and many found his death cathartic. He has been terrorizing the region in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, as well as in Afghanistan for quite some time and he was an important figure within the Revolutionary Guard, which unleashes domestic forces on protesters, demonstrators frequently, including the uprising in November. At the same time, we also condemn the reckless actions of Trump’s executive branch in Iraq and their self-interested strike, which served to stir up tensions in the region and bring more suffering on Iraqis and Syrians who are in the lines of fire. This recent international incident emerges from decades of conflict between opposing imperialist blocks, who are largely responsible for the wars, famines, and displacement of many people, that is so common now in the Middle East.
We believe that the death of Suleimani will not change Iran’s approach in regions that border it because his longtime deputy commander Esmail Ghaani is being appointed to replace him as commander of the Quds. As well the militia leader who was killed, al-Muhandis, his death will not end his militia or any other militia that Iran backs. On the opposite side, Iraq did request American forces leave, and many NATO operations were suspended during the last week, but there is no indication Western powers will dramatically change their policies or their presence in Iraq. So far there has been little effect on resistance under the regime. There was a day of state mourning, there were many state-mandated parades, and the regime banned any sort of protests or rallies against these.
There may be a lull due to a nationalist fervor, but it will not last long, because the economic conditions, the domestic conditions, the repression, that is forced on the Iranian people, will lead to riots and uprisings again. For this, we’re pretty certain. In Iran, the regime’s reaction has to be understood as well within the upcoming election. There is an election that is being held in Iran on February 21st 2020, and the strong condemnation and retaliation to the strike by the Americans was expected. So if Trump has an election, he’s currently in the cycle, he’s campaigning for, so too are Iranian politicians.
TFSR: What are the conditions of life in Iran under the regime? Many listeners in the West and in the US, in particular, will be curious to learn about the experience of day-to-day life. We understand that Iran is a large and heterogeneous territory, so whatever you can do to inform us, will be appreciated.
AUIA: The current situation should be seen as a part of the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was the regime that was born in 1979, during the revolution. The current situation is a result of four decades of divisions and splits within the government and since the beginning the regime has been gradually eliminating one group after another that has supported the revolution, getting rid of parties and curtailing their prominence and stopping political participation and excluding voices from the political arena that don’t support the revolution that occurred in 1979. While there are elections, the people who may run for the elections are carefully chosen by the Guardian Committee. So they are not the same as elections that happen in the US or Canada, where the party apparatuses are responsible for electing their own representatives to run as leaders of the parties or as presidents.
In the economic arena as well, there is a large gap in income. A majority of Iranians are either in absolute poverty, or they’re in relative poverty. There is a large working class, as well as a large unemployed population. And this is because neoliberal policies are being imposed by the Iranian regime, to kind of pave the way for the seizure of public property by political elites, and the impoverishment of many. Money that could be redistributed to the people has been instead funneled towards proxy wars that Iran is fighting as well as being funneled into the hands of clerics and the Revolutionary Guard. Iranian state assets are owned by four organizations, including the ‘Holy Shrine of Imam Reza’, the ‘Foundation of the Oppressed’, and the ‘Seal of the Prophets’. These organizations own companies in vast amounts of wealth and assets, including various factories and companies, as well as property that was confiscated from the Shah Regime. And the policies that Iran pursues, by taking much of the economy for the elite and to fund proxy wars and their own repression, is having a negative effect on the country and the livelihoods of normal people who live there.
TFSR: For listeners that are in the US and are concerned around the sanctions that the US has been imposing, it sounds basically like it’s just being passed on to the population and not actually affecting the policies and choices of the regime directly in Iran. Does this seem like a correct assessment?
AUIA: Yes, that is a correct assessment. Though some businesses and some members of the Iranian regime do feel the pressures of the economic sanctions, much of the actual burden of these is held by regular people.
TFSR: Could you talk about the protests that rocked Iran in November? Their genesis, and what role, if any, anarchists played in them? And also what sort of political, social, religious or gender strata participated in the protests? Were there demands? And how successful was it? Sorry, that’s a very big question.
If you want to more generally, would you tell us about those protests? And who participated, what went on, and how they went?
AUIA: These protests emerged from the pressure of US economic sanctions because they’ve paralyzed the government, which means that the regime is facing a severe budget deficit. A first spark for these protests was the regime deciding to cut the subsidies for gasoline in order to pay for some of the other parts of their budget. This created an outcry from the vulnerable parts of society and those who were lower income. What is perhaps surprising is that many of those who form the base of pro-government support were out in the streets: the lower classes. And they have been driven onto the streets to protest because of the economic pressure and the organized corruption in the country.
There are also reports of young people from affluent classes as well as people from the middle class and many students who joined. However, we can suspect that it wasn’t necessarily economic reasons that made those protesters join in the demonstrations. As to anarchist presence, there was serious and widespread anarchist participation in the protest that happened in November of this year as well as December 2017/2018. In the aftermath of the 2017/2018 protests, we know of at least some anarchists who were arrested and tortured, though it is not clear to us that the government knew that they were anarchists. And the Union does not have links with all Iranian anarchists, so we don’t know how many were arrested or were killed. As for this November, as far as we know, there were no anarchists associated with the Union who were arrested or killed, but again, we can’t know of the fate of all anarchists. And anarchists have participated in the uprising in different ways, in each location, because it involved a variety of different events, different rallies, different marches, depending on the circumstances and the severity of state response. We can’t really get into that due to security reasons.
But during these protests, there were three key drivers that brought people to the streets, and those were domestic politics, the economic situation, as well as the international policies of Iran. People were in the streets protesting Iran’s involvement in Syria, in Iraq and in Lebanon. We also know that Afghan refugees participated in the demonstrations because nine were killed, and many more were arrested. So we know that there was widespread participation by all classes and people in society against the regime, and the economic situation, and the imperialism that Iran has been inflicting on the rest of the region.
TFSR: There was what appeared to be an inconsistency between those two answers and so I would like to just address that and get a clarification if that’s ok. Because in the prior question that I asked [you said that the economic sanctions do not affect the Iranian regime]. So the sanctions are in fact affecting the regime, but the elite as individuals don’t feel the burden as much as the majority of the population, is that a correct understanding? Because you said that subsidies had lead to…
AUIA: So, the regime as a whole and the political elite as a class, do not feel the burden of the economic sanctions. They don’t go without food, they have plenty of fuel, it hasn’t affected their electricity or their internet, it hasn’t affected their day-to-day life. It has affected the running of the Iranian state. And Instead of directing money to the people, who are feeling the burden of the sanctions, they’re instead hoarding the money for themselves or using the money to rage proxy wars.
TFSR: The Iranian government has shut off the internet in a reaction to protests at various times. Can you talk about the impact that this has had on the resistance in Iran and social and technical workarounds that people have constructed or found?
AUIA: Definitely. Shutting off the internet did a great deal of damage to internet businesses, but did not have too much of an effect on protests themselves. The protests had begun before the internet crash and while the shutdown did limit the amount of information we could receive from the streets, people instead just decided to speak face-to-face, and they didn’t really use internet access to create the protests, to begin with, and so they just continued not using the internet. Given the events that happened over that week, we don’t believe the internet had much of an effect of protests, people tend to be organizing these protests and getting involved in demonstrations against the state through face-to-face interactions. Considering that many common social media tools that activists use in the West and other places to organize clandestinely with encryption and security aren’t available in Iran. And some apps and platforms such as Twitter are not accessible in Iran without VPN services.
TFSR: We often hear in the West about the Iranian state repression for feminist stances, for queerness, unorthodox religious expression and practice. How much is day-to-day life policed around issues of gender, sexuality, and religion? How free are people to live their identities as they see fit, love and worship as they will, and how much room culturally is there for these expressions?
AUIA: Day-to-day life in Iran is heavily policed, and one of the main organs that polices the expression of sexuality and gender is the Gashte Ershad, which translates to the Guidance Patrol, they’re also known as the morality police. We can see the effects of repression of women especially through the symbolic videos that have been coming out of Iran of women taking off their hijab. That doesn’t mean they’re not Muslims, it doesn’t mean they’re anti-Islam, but it means that they are performing a symbolic protest to reject the type of the Islamic rules that are imposed by the state. In general, women, all religious minorities, oppressed genders, and minority nationalities are under constant police pressure and control, they’re subjected to constant repression. Women must usually travel with a father or a husband or some other male guardian, and there are many human rights issues that Iranian feminists attempt to address.
LGBTQ people are oppressed by the religious police and the Iranian state’s interpretation of Islamic law, meaning that if a homosexual is discovered and it’s proved that they have had gay sex, they can suffer a death sentence. Largely, relations between men and women in society are very limited and in public, there is always police supervision or Guidance Patrols, who are tasked with enforcing the coverage of women, and the separation between young men and women. There are instances that even at parties that people are having in their own homes, police and Guidance Patrols come to attack them and arrest those who are in attendance if they find that the party is in breach with any of the state’s laws. The Iranian state has used religion to create this prison for marginalized peoples.
TFSR: So the last question didn’t really touch on ethnic differences, and you mentioned ethnic minorities and repression from the Iranian regime. Can you talk about the struggles of non-Persian peoples within Iran, the forms that those struggles take and the relationship between the Anarchist Union and those struggles? You already mentioned that the union has a stance in support of armed struggle against the Iranian state.
AUIA: As you have said, we are supportive of armed struggle against the Iranian state, and we have made two communiqués calling for an armed united front to defend unarmed protesters from security forces during these demonstrations and further uprisings. Iran has different ethnic groups and they all have their own struggles. The territory of Iran is home to many different peoples who speak Iranic languages, such as Balochs, Kurds, Lari, Luri, Mazandarani, Bashkardis, just to name a few, as well as Arab speakers. There are speakers of Turkic languages, like Yazidi. As a nation-state, Iran has continued ‘Persianization’, to forcibly assimilate non-Persian nationalities. Many minorities are kept out of the decision making positions in their regions, by Tehran, many languages are also discriminated against and economic distribution is kept away from minority regions, like Baluchestan and Kurdistan. Tehran wants access to resources in these regions and strategic ports and roadways but wants to keep the local people suppressed. The Anarchist Union had run a Twitter poll, and although Twitter accounts for about 10% of Iranian internet users and there aren’t too many Iranian internet users, according to the poll, out of Irans 31 provinces there are 30 with anarchists. There are anarchists among all the non-Persian ethnicities. There are also anarchists in the only province that no anarchists selected for the poll, but they don’t use Twitter or the internet and they can’t participate in those polls.
We shouldn’t forget that in Iran, anarchists are largely disadvantaged and impoverished and don’t always have access to the internet or to an internet café, and rarely have access to smartphones with that capability. The Anarchist Union itself does not rely solely on its own members and has a multitude of anarchist audiences and groups who coordinate union activities without direct contact to keep it decentralized for security reasons. We don’t want everybody to be in direct contact with us or to be a member of the Union because that could leave the Union open to being targeted easier by the Iranian regime. Many of the anarchists are movement-oriented and involved in many different initiatives including ethnic minority struggles. Non-Persian anarchists mainly fall outside of ethnic parties, that are organized, and have their own independent activities as anarchists that we are either about in contact with or indirectly coordinate with, though the non-Persian peoples of Iran and their anarchists are definitely involved in union activities and we do respond to the need and the struggles of everyone who lives under the Iranian regime.
TFSR: A painful truth of ignorance is the inability to see the bounds of that ignorance. Would you please speak about Orientalist approaches of Western leftists and anarchists as you’ve experienced it as the Union, as least since you’ve participated in the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran? And insights that we in the West can act from to overcome some of these shortcomings?
AUIA: Western leftists are very quick to defend states opposed to the US. Western chauvinism prioritizes a worldview that centers the United States and therefore makes opposing American imperialism at the expense of other states a priority. This orientalism subordinates the struggles of Afghans and Iranians who have to confront both their own governments, as well as many competing international interests. Many Western leftists are ignorant of the complexity of situations in places like Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Instead of listening to authoritarians on the ground or in the diaspora, they are quick to make judgments that confirm their own biases about the United States and American imperialism. For example, we receive negative feedback from Western leftists, mostly Marxists, to our own statements to the death of Qasem Suleimani, because we condemned him and found catharsis in his death in addition to condemning reckless American actions. For the Union, it is paramount that we both oppose American sanctions and warmongering as well as the Iranian regime’s corruption and brutal oppression. The insight that Western leftists can take away is to focus on and raise up the voices of those who are suffering from oppression abroad and people of those diasporas who have rigorous analyses of all imperialisms, not merely reflexively falling back on American imperialism and its allies.
TFSR: I raise that question because there is a certain brand of authoritarian leftists. In the US, and in the West I guess, we have a brand of so-called leftism that often supports repressive states that are viewed to be oppositional to the US state. However, they are also standing on the throats of the people that they claim to rule over. So, often we call those people ‘Tankies’. That nickname came from a derisive nickname, an insult for British communists who supported the Stalinist repression of Hungarian workers’ democracy in 1956. So, that is kind of why I raise this question because we have also gotten some push-back for trying to help amplify the voices, to American audiences mostly, of people in resistance in Hong Kong or Rojava. And ‘Tankies’ come at us on Twitter and they’re like ‘actually, you’re just anti-Chinese’, or ‘Assad is actually a Socialist’. Can you talk a little more about ‘Tankies’?
AUIA: Of course. ‘Tankies’ represent a threat to internationalism, especially in the region of Afghanistan and Iran. They support the Iranian regime even though Iran represses and targets anarchists as well as Marxists. They support the Assad regime, which is opposed to leftist thought as well as liberty and egalitarianism and has waged a war to keep authoritarianism in that country. They go back, as you said, they support the People’s Republic of China, as well as supporting Russia and Putin. For us, it seems that these self-described leftists do not support any sort of leftism, they have merely taken up a different imperialist block in these struggles. And they’re again centering the United States and Western action and agency, rather than centering the resistance of people who live in the places where struggles are ongoing and where different imperialist blocs are attempting to influence the region to install governments that are amicable to them. This creates complications in their geopolitics, especially in the case of Afghanistan, where the Americans have been waging a decades-long occupation and the Afghan state has been fighting a civil war against the Taliban. However, the Taliban are being supported by Iran, Russia, and China, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, and Pakistan. So, for the ‘tankie’ this raises a question: if Iran and China and Russia are always on the side of anti-imperialism, would that make the Taliban anti-imperialist? Would that make Pakistan, who also supports the Taliban, anti-imperialist? We also must look back.
‘Tankies’ often defend the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and present the Mujahedin as the precursors of al-Qaida, even though al-Qaida were Arabs and not Afghans. The Afghan Mujahedin was also supported by Iran and Suleimani himself participated in supporting the Northern Alliance that fought against the Taliban, which the Americans also supported. So we see how the pragmatic opportunism of Iran and other imperialist states sometimes coincides with American and other imperialist interests that these ‘Tankies’ definitely don’t support and these are problems with their worldview. It is based on some simple heuristics that they know about the world and that they apply to everything in order to make it simple. And perhaps in isolation, they can make sense but they can’t explain the global system unless they out and out become supporters of Russian imperialism or Iranian imperialism globally.
TFSR: That point is very well made. And I could see them – I mean if people relate the Mujahedin to the Taliban, there is the Osama bin Laden connection, right?…
AUIA: Following the fall of the PDPA (the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) government, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, that was ruled by Najibullah, who was installed by the Soviets, there was a civil war among Mujahedin commanders. And out from the Pakistani refugee camps, where Afghans were kept, emerged the Taliban movement and it joined the civil war. So the Taliban were largely fighting against who we would think of as the Mujahedin. And the Northern Alliance and many of the political elite that formed a coalition government are from the Mujahedin but they are also from the PDPA. So, the narrative that the Mujahedin became the Taliban is not true. There are fighters from the Mujahedin who joined the Taliban but by and large, the majority of factions and commanders that fought in the Mujahedin opposed the Taliban.
And to the second point of bin Laden: bin Laden was responsible for Maktab al-Khidamat which was an organization that helped bring Arab fighters, Arab foreign fighters, to Afghanistan, and fight in the Mujahedin against the Soviets. They never brought very many, they may have been no more than 5.000 in Afghanistan at any point in time. Most of the money that was raised by bin Laden came from private investors in the Gulf states. Some of the money came from Saudi Arabia’s security apparatuses directly, in order to do things that they did not want the Americans or the Pakistanis to know about because the Americans and the Saudi government were funneling money through the Pakistani Intelligence Agency, the ISI, and the ISI controlled the distribution of funds to the major Mujahedin groups. So, there’s no evidence to suggest that the Americans had any ties to bin Laden. Most of the time that comes from orientalism and assuming that Afghans and Arabs are the same, and that bin Laden was a participant in the Afghan Mujahedin, which he was not.
TFSR: Thank you for the clarification.
Switching gears a little bit: Anarchists in other parts of the world may be interested to learn about how you all from the Anarchist Union learned about anarchism, what anarchism looks like in Iran, such as what tendencies or influences there are. Maybe if it has subcultural roots in Punk or Metal as can be seen in a lot of other parts of the world or if it comes more from labor roots? And does the praxis hold any particular religious, secular, or anti-religious sentiment?
AUIA: Our own praxis definitely holds secular sentiment, and there are some who hold anti-religious sentiments. Much like Bakunin who said, “no gods, no masters” when he was living under a time of Christian hierarchy and when Christian organizations represented an authoritarian presence in society, so too does anti-religious sentiment stem from the authoritarian usage of Islam by the Iranian regime. What we have found is that there are many anarcho-syndicalists in Iran. However, there are also anarchists of other tendencies as well, anarcho-feminists, green anarchists, anarcho-communists, and other anarchist tendencies. Many people do not emphasize a branch or tendency of anarchism that they hold, they merely say that they are anarchists. Since 1979 there have been translations of anarchist works that have made their way into Iran, normally in zines. There are European, Western thinkers like Bakunin or Kropotkin who were able to introduce anarchism into Iran. Though anarchism in the region goes back further. There were Armenian anarchists and other anarchists, who were located close to the Ottoman Empire and Iran, that wrote in Persian as well as other languages, like Armenian and Turkish. So there is anarchist literature that is from the region as well.
TFSR: Iran is one of the states that overlap with Kurdistan. We would be curious to hear what sort of impact the Rojava revolution has had within Iran, particularly since decentralization, agnosticism, and plurality, feminism, and anti-capitalism appear as they might be in conflict with the aims of the Iranian, and any, state.
AUIA: Yes, we take inspiration from Kurds in northern Syria who are part of the PYD and the other groups who are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Autonomous Administration of North-Eastern Syria. They have shown us another political system that strives to achieve a society where there is respect for all citizens. In addition to that, they have opposed imperialism and reactionary politics by fighting against the Islamic State as well as Erdoğan’s fascist government in Turkey. In addition to this, there is an equivalent to the PYD and PKK operating in Iran, called PJAK, and they are present in the North-west and western provinces, such as Kurdistan, West-Azerbaijan, Kermanshah. And they have been waging a domestic armed struggle against the Iranian regime for quite some time with the support of their affiliated organizations. We also encourage everyone to participate in protest actions and rallies that support northern Syria and communities there.
TFSR: Iran is surrounded by nations destabilized by US wars over the last 20 years and beyond, and the borders are often just lines in the sand. The news hit the US media this year that much of the power vacuum left within Iraq by the US invasion and occupation has been filled by the Iranian government and its proxies. This comes as the US puppet state has failed to realize, unsurprisingly and thanks in part to the extremists and the extremism and ethic and religious feuds stoked by the US leading to the rise of Daesh and other groups… Unsurprisingly they haven’t been able to reach stability, this puppet government. Recent protest movements in the streets of Iraq have called for jobs, for security, for self-determination. This has been met with bloody consequences at the hands of security forces and para-state actors like those militias. Can you talk about the relationship between Iraq and Iran in this period and maybe give an assessment of the recent struggles in Iraq? Is there any chance of extending the Anarchist Union into Iraq as well?
AUIA: The situation in Iraq needs to take into account that Iraq and Iran have been in conflict since shortly after the Iranian revolution. There was a decade long war, the Iraq-Iran war, and following that and the invasion and occupation by the United States, Iran has been attempting to influence and control the Iraqi government. So recently Iran has played the role of regional imperialist by creating mercenary Muslim groups, they’re mostly Shia, to export their revolution throughout the Shiite Crescent, and they are injecting large amounts of money to support their own state intervention and support non-state proxy groups throughout the region. This is largely being done by the Quds force and was built by the late Suleimani. So far the amount of money that the Iranian government has pumped into militias and segments of the Iraqi government has been successful. And parts of the Iraqi government have begun affiliating with Iran. And we can see that from parts of the Iranian security apparatus opening fire on protesters in October who were protesting against Iranian imperialism, as well as instances of Iranian-backed militia members joining the police or the Iraqi military and firing on Americans. Much of the Iraqi resistance was suppressed and crushed by affiliated organizations of the Iranian regime including their militias and Qasem Suleimani played a large role in these events. Many of the activists in the Iraqi people’s movement were assassinated or tortured by Iran and Iranian-backed forces. And the struggles extent beyond Iraq to Lebanon, Iran itself, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria. All of these conflicts are intertwined because of the amount of money that Iran is spending and the organizing that they are doing to create militias in these areas or to infiltrate groups that already exist, like the Taliban which I mentioned previously. And if the Iranian regime falls, then the peoples in these countries will witness the collapse of the Iranian infiltrated parts of their own governments and the Iranian-backed militias would be defeated or disintegrated very easily without the constant funding from Tehran.
Speaking about anarchists, in Iraq, there are many anarchists in the Kurdish part and there are anarchists throughout Iraq as a whole but in order for our Anarchist Union to expand into the geographical area of Iraq, we would need more people in the Union to know Arabic, as that’s the language of the majority of the population in Iraq. And currently, we are focusing on Persian-language content and the struggles of people who speak Persian.
TFSR: Yeah, that makes sense. So in the West, we hear in our media and from the US government that the survival of Jews in West Asia is only possible by repression of the Iranian state through sanctions and military actions, in defense of Israel as a state. May people, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and of other faiths, or a lack of faiths, or various identities, suffer under the Israeli state. Has there been any show of solidarity between anarchists and anti-authoritarians living under these regimes and can you say some words about the role of religious regimes and stoking hatred among working peoples? Do you have any hope that international solidarity could surpass these limitations?
AUIA: We’ve seen demonstrations of solidarity from Palestinians and other people who are living under this regime and we have shown solidarity in return. We see the function of religion by oppressive regimes is similar to the functions of how fascist regimes operate. They create hatred among their people and fear and creating internal enemies through the use of propaganda. And this hatred is not only confined to religious differences, as it reinforces ethnic differences, racial differences, and the differences between nationalities. And it has produced, along with the colonial borders in the Middle East, much of the tension and ongoing conflicts that we see. We believe our international solidarity has already broken the barriers in many cases, we have developed very strong international relations with anarchists and resistance groups in other parts of the Middle East and are hoping to be better able to support and show solidarity with them in the future too.
TFSR: What should folks living in the United States or other Western states know about resistance in Iran? What can we do to support liberation struggles in Iran and against the State in Capital And how can we build stronger bonds across borders? Is there a way to avoid having our support being used by the Iranian regime as a reason for further repression?
AUIA: Resistance in Iran is very difficult. There is minimal access to secure communications technology in order for people to plan actions. It is also illegal and heavily policed to have demonstrations and have protests and rallies, where it is very easy in Western countries to either get permits or have spontaneous protests. This means that Iranians must operate clandestinely or wait for massive uprisings and demonstrations that the police can’t immediately respond to and must bring in the Revolutionary Guard or the military in order to suppress. Supporting Iranians fighting in Iran must at the minimum include criticism of the regime. Support that valorizes the regime as anti-imperialist in any way makes it difficult to create internationalist support for Iranian resistance. This is something that we see in Hong Kong as well as Iran and other parts of the world, where authoritarian self-described leftists are very quick to support the imperialist power, whether it would be the People’s Republic of China or Iran and this leads to conservatives, republicans, hawkish liberals, being opportunists and siding with, say Hong Kong or Iranian protesters merely because it suits their interests because they oppose Iran or China geopolitically. And as internationalist leftists, we should not allow that to happen and we should not cede that space to conservatives. Western leftists cannot hesitate to show solidarity with Iranian and Afghan struggles against their own states and all imperialist actors for that reason.
The Union has been approached by organizations around the world, in Belarus and Mexico, to exchange written interviews to learn more about the struggle happening in other places and this is a way to build stronger bonds between borders and share struggles and the ways that different anarchist groups approach those struggles and approach confronting their own states as well as the other international interests that have effects on their lives.
TFSR: Are there any topics that I failed to ask you about, that you would like to address?
AUIA: No, I think we covered them all.
TFSR: We covered a lot. Can you talk about how folks can learn more and keep up on the struggles of Iranian anarchists and anti-authoritarians? How can we keep up on the Union in particular?
AUIA: You can keep up with our work by following the Twitter of our media collective @asranarshism where we post translations of our communiqués and statements as well as news and prisoner letters that have been translated. You can also visit our website which you can find on our Twitter, though it is primarily made for Persian speakers. However, all of the translated content you can find by searching our Twitter handle. You can also access and join the Telegram group, though that is also largely written in Farsi.
TFSR: Well thank you so much for taking this time to chat and going through the effort personally of translating these words from Farsi on the spot, I really appreciate this. And also I realized a thing before we started chatting that after I sent you the questions and that little script about ‘Neither East Nor West’. I didn’t realize that that was actually one of the chants that were used within the Iranian revolution which was, of course, a lot of different tendencies pushing before Ayatollah Khomeini took over and his group took over. I really like the idea of sharing information and building solidarity through it, so thank you so much for participating in this.
Digital Security / Tenant Organizing / #MeToo Hong Kong
This week, we feature three portions.
Lauren Regan of CLDC
First up, we share a chat with Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, or CLDC, to chat about safer practices around technology for activists, as well as the “reverse search” warrant used by the NYPD with Google to capture info on antifascists and the Proud Boy attackers last year. More at https://cldc.org. An article about tech security and phones that Bursts references is called “Never Turn Off The Phone” [starts 10m 08s]
Palm Beach Tenants Union
Following this, Withers (a new collective member at The Final Straw) shares a chat with Adam and Amy, two organizers with the Palm Beach Tenants Union out of Florida about their work and the sorts of mutual aid disaster work they’ve done with Hurricane Irma and advocating for and organizing with renters in their communities for dignity in housing. More on the Union at https://pbctu.org and more on how you can get involved in mutual aid up at https://mutualaiddisasterrelief.org. There are a number of donation sites around the region to prepare for this Hurricane season, as well as distribute support to Bahamas that you can find by searching social media for DRASL (Dorian Response Autonomous Supply Line), as mentioned on itsgoingdown.org. [starts at 54m 06s]
#MeToo and Updates from Hong Kong
Finally, you’ll hear a conversation with Enid and Rebecca, who feminist activists in Hong Kong about the current state of protests there. Content warning, that segment deals in part with organizing around sexualized assault by police and by protestors. To hear our prior interview with Ahkok on protests in HK, check our website and see the great articles up at crimethinc. Also, the guests talk about the term 自由閪, or “Freedom Cunt” as a re-appropriation of a misogynist insult by police from the protests. [starts at 1hr 15m 51s]
*Correction to the HK conversation: The full name of the IPCC mentioned in regards to the establishment of an independent police inquiry is called the Independent Police Complaints Council. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam appointed two new committee members to the already existing committee, not independent investigators. However, the IPCC has hired five foreign investigators to participate in examinations, though it must be clarified that the role of the IPCC is observational rather than investigative. The IPCC has no jurisdiction to either call witness nor collect evidence for the independent inquiry called for by citizens.
If you’re listening to the radio version, as usual, we suggest that you check out the podcast version for longer versions of all three chats in this episode as well as Sean Swain’s audio this week. You can hear that at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org or via various streaming platforms we publish to, such as youtube, soundcloud, stitcher, pandora and so-on.
For the hour, we spoke with Ahkok who identifies as a humanitarian, antifascist and musician who grew up in Hong Kong and has participated in protests over the years including the Umbrella Movement and current protests today. We talk about the mindset of the Hong Kong protests, the situation in China, decolonization, racism and more.
Y’all may have heard that over the last 8 weeks or so, Hong Kong has been rocked by protests to undermine efforts by the government to create an extradition treaty with China. The protests have included barricades, interesting uses of AirDrop, Telegram and whatsapp and other digital platforms to avoid censorship to spread information, street fights against police and attacks from criminal gangs they and the Chinese government hired (the so-called “White Shirts”) and a raucous romp through the empty legislative chambers of governance leaving wreck and ruin behind. The street actions come on the 30th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square Protests of 1989 when student sit-ins demanding democratic political and economic reforms were killed in Beijing and around by the so-called Peoples Liberation Army. Currently, western reporting and word from dissidents inside of China has come about the Re-Education camps such as in Xinjiang where the Chinese government has been interring Uighur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities in order to stamp out their religion and socialize them to a more homogeneous Chinese lifestyles, definitely a reason for Hong Kongers to take the streets to keep dissenters there from easy deportation to China.
If you’re in the Asheville area, on Friday August 2nd from 6:30-8 at Firestorm Books, Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross will be showing the documentary “Love And Revolution” about autonomous and anarchist responses to austerity, police violence and resistance to borders and love for the people who cross them in Greece. More on the film at the website lamouretlarevolution.net. Then, on Sunday August 4th from 5-7pm BRABC invites you to it’s monthly political prisoner letter writing. Show up to scrawl a few screeds and meet some nice wingnuts.
Bennu Hannibale Ra-Sun
Supporters of Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun, recently moved out of solitary confinement after years in the hole for organizing non-violent resistance behind bars, are asking folks to show up in Montgomery, AL to support a court hearing for him at 10AM Montgomery County Courthouse, Courtroom 3C, 251 S Lawrence St. Montgomery, AL 36104 held before Circuit Judge James H. Anderson Fifteenth Judicial Circuit.
Support Workers Coop Efforts
Finally, comrades in Carbondale, IL, have put together a gofundme to help fund a workers cooperative. You can find the site by searching “Carbondale Spring Fat Patties Cooperative”, an effort to re-open a closed burger joint to feed the working class, not some fat cat CEO. More info about organizing efforts in Carbondale can be found at carbondalespring.org.
BAD News: July 2019
This month for the A-Radio Network’s “Angry Voices From Around The World” podcast we feature a shortened segment from our previous episode of TFSR with Perilous Chronicles, as well as A-Radio Berlin with notes on the National Socialist Underground trial in Germany and A-Radio Vienna with call-ups for the August 23-30 International Week of Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners and support for prison rebel, Andreas Krebs.
. … . ..
This week, we featured “Jab Cross” by Lucy Furr from their recent album, The Jungle, as well as the track “4K Punk Rock” by antifascist post-rock band Remiso’s album, Pleasant With Presentiment.
Y’all may have heard that over the last 8 weeks or so, Hong Kong has been rocked by protests to undermine efforts by the government to create an extradition treaty with China. The protests have included barricades, interesting uses of Air-Drop, Telegram and WhatApp and other digital platforms to avoid censorship to spread information, street fights against police and attacks from criminal gangs they and the Chinese government hired (the so-called “White Shirts”) and a raucous romp through the empty legislative chambers of governance leaving wreck and ruin behind. The street actions come on the 30th anniversary of the Tianeman Square Protests of 1989 when student sit-ins demanding democratic political and economic reforms were killed in Beijing and around by the so-called Peoples Liberation Army. Currently, western reporting and word from dissidents inside of China has come about the Re-Education camps such as in Xinjiang where the Chinese government has been interring Uighar Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities in order to stamp out their religion and socialize them to a more homogeneous Chinese lifestyles, definitely a reason for Hong Kongers to take the streets to keep dissenters there from easy deportation to China.
For the hour, I spoke with Ahkok who identifies as a humanitarian, antifascist and musician who grew up in Hong Kong and has participated in protests over the years including the Umbrella Movement and current protests today. We talk about the mindset of the Hong Kong protests, the situation in China, decolonization, racism and more.
TFSR: Could you introduce yourself to the audience?
Ahkok: Ok, yeah, my name is Ahkok. Originally I’m from Hong Kong, now based in London. I just came back from the Hong Kong massive protests starting from June, lasting until now, really. I’m a musician and I’m also a member of the Hong Kong antifa group. Yeah, that’s basically who I am.
TFSR: Do you identify as an anarchist as well?
Ahkok: Yeah, yeah, I..
TFSR: It’s ok if you don’t…
Ahkok: I, I do, but I like to call myself a humanitarian more, maybe. But sometimes I’ll put on an anarchist hat and, for to, make my ground or something. So, yeah, I would say I’m an anarchist.
TFSR: So,I got ahold of you because there are these ongoing and incredible protests going on for the last 8 weeks…
Ahkok: yeah, mmm
TFSR: …in Hong Kong. Can you talk a little bit about where they came from, recently, and sort of what’s gone on, please?
Ahkok: Yeah, it’s basically… it started from a murder that happened in Taiwan. So, basically there’s a Hong Kong guy, I think he was going out with this Taiwanese girl. That girl got murdered and he flew back to Hong Kong. And there wasn’t any extradition bill between Hong Kong and Taiwan. So, the Hong Kong government was trying to use this as a chance to introduce this extradition bill. But, it’s not for Taiwan, it’s basically trying to bridge this gap from Hong Kong to China. So, yeah, that happened I think in April. And then a lot of different people trying to reject the bill, but the Hong Kong government was really, really determined to pass the bill. So, on the 9th of June there was this massive protest about this extradition bill worldwide, really. I was in Berlin, and I was participating in a gathering in Berlin. There’s a lot of Hong Kong people living there, about a couple of hundred people.
And then it just… went more aggressive along. There was, on the 12th of June, there was a protest outside of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong and the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas. There was a guy, I think he is a reporter, and he got shot in the head, so everyone was sort of watching it and he was in a pool of blood, almost died. I was just really shocked, so I took a flight back to Hong Kong just to be with all of my mates and with the protesters. It just escalated from there and continues right now.
Well, it’s actually a little bit different now because initially we all gathered outside of the Legislative Council, it’s basically like a Parliament in Hong Kong. So there are a lot of protests there. On the first of July some of the protesters actually broke into the Parliament, I think people have seen the videos. Then they trashed the Parliament with lots of graffiti and then came out safely. But the Legislative Council isn’t really operating now so people start to organize different protests in different districts around Hong Kong. Like, for instance, last week it was in Lin Yao and the week before it was in Xiao Tin and so on and so forth. So, it’s basically that there are a lot of smaller protests now rather than just one big, gigantic one happening outside of the Legislative Council.
TFSR: So, is the Legislative Council between sessions where it’s taking an official break that is timed or is it that they are on pause because of the amount of disruption that’s occurring?
Ahkok: They are on pause because of the destruction, yes. Actually, the Chief Executive in Hong Kong, she said the bill is dead but we all think that’s a big lie because there are no options about the bill going dead. You can either pass the bill, approve it, or you withdraw it. But she never said ‘withdraw’, so we think she’s just trying to bide her time and maybe try to reintroduce it later on. So, the protesters keep on protesting her to say ‘withdraw’ but she never used the word. So we just don’t believe her and think the bill is just hanging there.
But, yeah, the Legislative Council is trashed pretty badly and it’ll take a couple of weeks to reinstall. But there will be a somewhat of a break later on anyway. We think that if the bill is coming back, it’ll be in October. But now I think it escalated more than just the extradition bill. It’s more about the independence or the staying away from the evil control from the Chinese government, really.
TFSR: So, I think it’s a good time for people in the audience who may not understand the situation with Hong Kong’s government. SO, basically, for a very long time China was in control, right, and then that was wrested away by the British during the Opium Wars, which gave it back in 1997. Can you talk a bit about that transition and what say the people of Hong Kong had in that and sort of what conflict there would be between the methods of governance that were present or expectations of the ways society ran under British rule versus under Chinese?
Ahkok: Yeah, it’s a very complicated and long story. But, there is this Sino-British joint declaration. Basically, Hong Kong is a British Colony, right? I think we got pretty wealthy because of the Cultural Revolution. There’s a lot of businessmen, maybe from Shanghai or somewhere, who tried to escape the Cultural Revolution so they went to Hong Kong to establish their business.
TFSR: And this was the Maoist attempt to change the cultural landscape in the 1960’s…
Ahkok: Yeah, totally. This was the attempt to try to introduce this really rigid communism around the 1950’s and 60’s. So, the economy was pretty much flourishing under the British colonial government. There was this Sino-British joint declaration saying “we have to hand over in 1997” so the British were handing over Hong Kong back to China. But they had this joint-declaration saying that there will be one country, two systems within this 50 years. So, from 1997 to 2047 we should be benefiting from this one-country-two-systems. Basically, meaning we have our own legislative system, we have our own declarations and so on and so forth, but we’re still a part of China. But as you know since 1997, it’s only been 20 years. Things are just going really really fast.
A lot of people are really scared now. Especially with this extradition bill. Meaning, if the Chinese Govt thought you broke some law in China, they can take you from Hong Kong and try to punish you in China. What this means is that we still have some Free Speech in Hong Kong, we can still criticize the government. We can still criticize the Chinese Communist Party, but if this bill passed then there will be no more freedom of speech whatsoever. They can just take you and put you in a jail in China. So people got really scared. Especially since we’ve been having this Freedom of Speech for a long time, we’ve been saying things about the Chinese government for ages. So, yeah, I think the Hong Kong people are really, really scared about this extradition bill.
The tricky part is that we’ve moved on from one colonial system to another one, I would put it that way. We were a British Colony and we feel like a Chinese Colony right now. So, the younger generation is having a stronger mind on the Hong Kong independence, more than ever, really. In the old days we usually talked about trying influence China as a country so Hong Kong can benefit from it. But now the younger generation is just trying to break apart from China to have their own way, their own system. They don’t really care about the Chinese democratic movement that much anymore.
TFSR: Just to sort of put a pin in what you said about dissent and the suffering at the hands of censorship. I’m reading through this CrimethInc article “Anarchists in the Resistance to Extradition in Hong Kong” that just came our recently. And the person being interviewed talked a bit about booksellers in Hong Kong who were disappeared for selling publications that were banned on the mainland. And activists in Hong Kong who have been detained or deprived of contact while cross the borders with no real possibility for challenging the situations. It seems like this isn’t just based in some conspiracy theory or fear based out of nothing, right?
Ahkok: Yeah, it escalated really fast in the last couple of years. Basically, we have a lot of different bookstores in Hong Kong selling censored books in China, so it actually is quite profitable because a lot of Chinese tourists would like to come and buy some censored books and bring them back to China.
I think the bookstore owner.. there was three of them. Three of them vanished for several months. What happened was this guy, I think he was trying to work with the Chinese government and go back to the store and try to get these phone numbers, so he has these customers information. I think the Chinese government wanted to have this. So, he was told to go back to Hong Kong and take it. But when he went back to Hong Kong, he changed his mind and reported to the mass what happened. So, actually, he’s now in Taiwan and because of this extradition bill he thinks he may not be safe anymore. He went back to Taiwan and thinks that Taiwan is still safe in a way. Don’t know for how long. A lot of people like him feel really that Hong Kong is not a safe place to stay away from the Chinese government anymore.
TFSR: You mentioned a younger generation having a perspective that this was imperialism being imposed after a different form of colonialism and imperialism. Does that mean that young people engaging in this wave of protests against the extradition, are they coming from more of a populist or nativist perspective? Is there nationalism underpinning it? Or is it more of a request of not being, or a push to just not be controlled by a power that is out of their own hands?
Ahkok: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question and very critical. I have to be honest, the younger generation are mostly organized by localists. They are in this spectrum, they are actually quite right wing. The younger generation that is now trying to pick up the identity of what Hong Kong people means, but there are a lot of privileges and discrimination that are behind it. I think, softly speaking, Hong Kong was… they have this elitism in their own sense of identity. Like ‘Hong Kong is much better than China. Hong Kong are a little better species than the Chinese…’. I think that’s the biggest problem about the movement happening it he last couple of years.
There’s a lot of localist leaders in jail now, so these sort of notions that the ‘Hong Kong people are better than the Chinese’ are dying down I think. But at the backbone it’s still the same localist thing. So, what happened was… there’s a lot of fights with the riot police but there are also organized groups to… We have some Chinese buskers, Chinese street performers in Hong Kong and the localists will go and attack them or try to kick them off from the park or something. I think that is not covered in mainstream media at all but that actually makes me really concerned, that sort of backbone of right-wing, localist identity. The tricky part is, how can we address the Hong Kong identity that we aren’t the Chinese and aren’t the British. But at the same time not be discriminating, especially against the Chinese. So, that’s the tricky part.
TFSR: It seems like there’s a possibility, and this is based again on my reading of that article, but that there’s a part of the Hong Kong identity that lies in the identification with refugees who have sought their own life-ways in spite of larger powers trying to control them. And that could be maybe some sort of unifying and non-xenophobic approach. I don’t know if that’s a correct reading on a part of the myth of what it means to be from Hong Kong.
Ahkok: I think, as a local Hong Konger… I spent 30 years in Hong Kong, I have to say that Hong Kong people are fucking racist, man. We had these Vietnamese refugees in the early 90’s. They were treated like rats, man, honestly. They were thrown into concentration camps and having really, really inhumane treatment from the government or the citizens. I think there’s this really powerful colony, the Hong Kong people usually are really.. they prefer the British or the Americans. If your people are black or brown… quite a lot of people from India and Pakistan live in Hong Kong but they are still treated like second-grade citizens still. It’s so difficult to tackle that.
They have this sense of ‘white people are better than the others.’ So, Hong Kong people have been trying to be white for ages. I think that’s one of the most successful colonies, British colonies you can find on earth. So, now, even going to protests, some of them will still wave the British colonial flag, it’s so fucking embarrassing to see. Even some protesters who trashed the parliament they actually took one of these colonial flags with them from inside the parliament. That actually reflects this kind of, really…
Ahkok: … reactionary… Yeah, yeah. I think it’s really naive as well. They thought ‘We have to stand strong and fight off the Chinese colonial power, the Chinese imperial power, so we have to stand aside with the British colony. You know what I mean? It’s like, oh my god can you think of something else. So that’s a pity, really.
TFSR: So, this is an instance that these days, since the end of the cold war, I haven’t heard very much of like how… Hearing from populations resisting a leftist imperialist force. You’ve mentioned that localism and a right wing populism is really frequent and, at least an inherited xenophobia from British colonialism or white supremacy. But, are there many conflictual or resistance movements in Hong Kong that come from an anti-capitalist perspective? And how do they relate to the fact that the Chinese imperial force calls itself ‘Communist’?
Ahkok: Ah, good question. I think one of the key protests was in 2011 with… well we actually had two Occupy Centrals. One was called, really lamely, “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” that was not actually part of the Umbrella Movement but was .. they had this plan with occupying Central with love and peace for a long time but they didn’t know how to execute it because it was a plan from the university elites. But we actually had an Occupy Central in 2011. We spent one year occupying this Hong Kong HSBC bank, the headquarters of this bank. So, we were at the ground-level of this bank for 1 year and then we got kicked out. But that was actually echoing the Occupy movement around the world, so it was basically anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian. But it wasn’t that popular in Hong Kong, actually.
When it was started, actually, we got a lot of attention but gradually, maybe it was just like 5 or 6 tents left at the occupying space. It is actually very difficult to introduce anti-capitalist ideology in Hong Kong because that is precisely the core identity of Hong Kong people. They think they have the economic power, much better than China. Not so, now, but in the 80’s and 90’s that we were much better than the Chinese because we were rich. That we were much better than the other Asian countries because we were one of the strongest Asian countries in terms of GDP and so on and so forth. So, that makes up a lot of Hong Kong’s identity, and people are proud of it because of the financial power.
Part of this Sino-phobia is because we are losing that privilege and China is growing into the second biggest Imperial power in the world. So, Hong Kong is actually losing this privilege. A lot of middle class, right wing Hong Kong people are actually frightened because we don’t have this privilege now. Rather than saying ‘Freedom of Speech’ or ‘Freedom of whatever’.
** 32 minutes **?
TFSR: If there was room for anti-capitalism or if it was so tainted by the dialogue coming… or the monologue coming from the Chinese Communist Party…
Ahkok: I think in the 1960’s and 70’s there was actually more left-wing, anarchist movements. I think because, precisely, in the 80’s and 90’s the financial power in Hong Kong was soaring. People tried to be a-political in order to not cause any trouble. You know, capitalism needs a really smooth, operating system. So they tried not to disturb it. So they became very a-political in the 80’s and 90’s.
I think since the early 2000’s, we tried to pick up social movements again from the 80’s generation. We, who were born in the 80’s, stated to pick up a lot of different protests from that point in the early 2000’s. So, within these 19 years, we actually went on this crash course. Before that, we went to protest and if we tried to snatch a barricade, we got maimed really from the media (saying that we’re Thugs and shit). But, until now we have gotten really good with tear gas, setting up barricades, trying to stop the riot police. This is actually moving so fast, faster than anyone could imagine.
Nowadays in the really front-line, trying to fight off the riot police, are actually people who are like 16, or 16-21. Really, really young. People like me in their 30’s, we are like the older generation already. We actually try to participate by saving the kids in the front, or just providing the resources, the tools that are needed. It actually changes so fast. I got arrested a lot of times before, but usually I was charged with unlawful assembly. The charge wasn’t really, really serious. I got social service for 80 hours and things like that. But now, it’s escalated so that whenever you participate in this kind of demonstration you participate in a riot. So, it jumps from social service to like 8 years of prison time.
Ahkok: So, yeah, actually, the risk is really, really high now. But the young generation knows it, but they are really very desperate. This desperate feeling, you can get it from the young generation. If this one-country-two-systems is ending in 2047, that’s actually not.. it’s 20 years later. So, maybe this is.. I think that a lot of people think this is our only chance to stop this from happening. This is the only chance to introduce or try to ask for Hong Kong independence. So, the young generation would risk that 8 years prison time to fight for their future.
TFSR: So you mentioned that capitalism requires a lot of smoth running for it to be able to extract resources and move them up the chain in a population. And this sort of disruption, of course, it will bring a reaction from a capitalist state. Earlier, you mentioned that the two-state-one-nation approach… Can you talk a bit more about the shifting power towards China within the decision making within Hong Kong? For instance, representation of the CCP within whatever supposedly democratic institutions that exist in Hong Kong? And how that might impact things like the passage of this extradition rule or punishments for participating in disruptions and such?
Ahkok: You know, we were pretty proud of Hong Kong not having any corruption at all, it’s not like in China. But I wouldn’t say so now, because there are so many new construction plans coming up. It costs fortunes, billions and billions of dollars, even for just one pedestrian bridge or something. So, we actually know that the Hong Kong gove3rnemnt is answering to the Chinese government and trying to maneuver all the money to the Chinese by these kind of construction works. It costs a fortune but the quality is shit. So, the new train stations, for example, even the construction site is sinking a couple of inches, a couple of inches. But, literally, no one got arrested, they still have a way to get around it. They were able to find some specialists to say ‘it’s safe’, that kind of bullshit, but it costs a fortune and things aren’t safe anymore in Hong Kong.
I think a lot of people in Hong Kong are very sensitive to this kind of money investments. So, that makes a lot of people angry in the society in general.
We know this Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong is actually behind almost everything. The Hong Kong government is no longer answering ot the Hong Kong people anymore, it is directly answering to Beijing, and the Liaison Office is actually more powerful than the Hong Kong government.
So, what we saw with the thugs attacking people randomly in the train station last week. A lot of evidence shows that they were actually hired by the Liaison Office. That’s why the Hong Kong police were working so explicitly with them. Because, it came from the highest order of the Liaison Office, so they weren’t interfering when the thugs were attacking. There were no police whatsoever for like 40 minutes and the thugs were just attacking people with pipes and sticks and whatever, randomly. It’s actually state-sponsored terrorism happening in Hong Kong. It was happening in the street called Yuen Long, so a lot of protesters went back to Yuen Long yesterday, Saturday, right. But, the riot police came and they actually… last week we were beaten up by the terrorists and this week we were beaten up by the riot police. Actually, it’s the same, but they’re just dressing different coats really. But they all isolated this Liaison Office. It’s actually an open secret, we know that this government in Hong Kong has this kind of attitude, shamelessly having so much of this police brutality. Because they aren’t really answering ot the Hong Kong people anymore, they are actually working for the Beijing government.
TFSR: So, these thugs that you mentioned, for people who may not have seen the video. There was a video shared online that showed this so-called ‘White Shirt Gang’, a bunch of men in their teens and 20’s, rather large, wearing white t-shirts and attacking protesters in public transit stations. And this isn’t, I mean, but it may be getting worse but this isn’t a new thing, right? In 2014 during the Umbrella Movement, there were also noted cases of Triads or thugs being hired or working with the police to undermine the occupy encampments and beat up protesters, right?
Ahkok: Yeah, it’s not new, but the scale is quite different. It’s not so explicit now. The police just don’t give a shit. They would go and talk to the gangsters saying “Yeah, well done.” Something like that we can see on the videos. I think, back then in 2014, they were still pretty shy to show that the police were working with the thugs. But now, they just don’t care and just admit it. When people were under attack, when people tried to go to the police station to report, they actually closed the police stations. If you call *999, it’s like calling 911 in the States, they actually hang up. If you say, ‘the thugs are attacking’, they’ll hang up or just say ‘if you think it’s not safe, just don’t go out on the street’ and hang up. So, it’s really explicit now, they’re actually the same. **chuckle**. Yeah.
I’m not saying that the police were a fine unit before, we’re not that naive, but this kind of explicitly working together in front of cameras is quite new. I think in 2014, thugs were trying to blend in with the protesters. Their mission was to make the protesters look dirty on the media by throwing things at the police or something like that. Or trying to harass the protesters to make the occupying area less safe. But the mission now is actually quite different. They actually go out and terrorize people. I mean, they aren’t attacking protesters, they are attacking pedestrians, they are attacking random people taking the train.
Yah, I think the scale is actually quite different. I would say that now it’s like corporate terrorism, it’s actually like state-sponsored terrorism. And before it was actually just a little bit different.
TFSR: I think that the US doesn’t have a very proper understanding of the term ‘terrorist’. Recently there was some legislation that was pushed by a few senators, including Ted Cruz (who’s very far right wing), to accuse antifascists or ‘antifa’ being terrorists. When in fact over the last 5 years how many, like 100, people have been killed by right-wing extremists. But, whatever. But to imply, to actually impose terror and make it so that people don’t want to go outside would be an example of terrorism, right?
Ahkok: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s actually a very different kind of context in the States, I think. But, yeah. Maybe it’s not a really good term to use, ‘terrorism’, but the thugs in Hong Kong… I think we have to go back to the history of how these thugs happen to be really snobbish in the first place. Actually, they claim to be the indigenous inhabitants of Hong Kong because their ancestors actually helped by fighting the colonial government. With plows and stuff like that. So, the colonial government tried to say to them, ‘You and your off-springs will have the right to claim the lands” as a way of making a truce. So, what happened is that all of the males from these indigenous inhabitants will have the rights of the land. You know, in Hong Kong, land is really scarce. We have a lot of different living issues, living in really cramped places. But these ‘indigenous inhabitants’, they have the land, so they become one of the privileged classes in Hong Kong. They actually think they own the place. They actually think they own the territory, so they become their own group of people, the main part of these thugs or the gangs that are operating in these terrorist attacks.
The notion that they came out to beat people randomly, saying that they were trying to protect their land. It’s actually really funny. They actually think that the Black Bloc will come to start trouble. So, their first intention is to punish the Black Blocs. So, I think they are trying to go out and beat people in black shirts, and it just escalated to beating up people no matter what they’re wearing. That’s one of the really strange things happening in Hong Kong.
The gangs that are wearing white, the Black Bloc is actually the protesters. Because within this anti-extradition bill, we dress wholly in black, actually, I think it helps a lot of introduce Black Blocs, really. Starting in 2014, we saw Black Blocs, but never in this scale or therefore this kind of organization. I’m actually really proud of the organized Black Blocs, they’re really really powerful and have gained a lot of momentum in the last few weeks. You have to understand that in 2014 it was really just a few people wearing black clothing and throwing objects at the police. But now we’ve become so strong that we can organize many different resources, help people by having our own medics. Yeah, it’s become a really organized groups. I should write something about these Black Blocs coming together in this last couple of months. It’s really interesting.
TFSR: Yeah, I think that you mentioned before the difficulty of engaging barricades and other such things. And now, they seem to be really commonly used and somewhat dispersed among the population. Critiques that people may have gotten for resisting the police in the past have sort of gone by the wayside as wider parts of the population have experienced how difficult the situation is and how dangerous it is. I think it is really impressive and a lot of people have also commented on the very intelligent use of buckets of water to stop teargas. Most people try to throw it back and burn their hands. Can you talk about some of the improved tactics and usch that you’ve seen used in the protests?
Ahkok: Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with the punishment, it’s getting really scary. So, when, back maybe like 10 years ago and we would go out protesting and set up barricades, we didn’t even think of covering our faces because the jail-time was so short. But it escalated with the Hong Kong government trying to prosecute people with riot charges, with 6-8 years in prison. So people think seriously about hiding their identity whenever they go out. So, I think that makes it more popular to have Black Blocs go out in Hong Kong.
I think we learned a lot in the 2014 Umbrella Movement by organizing really big occupying spaces, how to move the tools and resources, how to fight the riot police. Yeah, well after that 79 days of occupy8ing movement in Umbrella Movement, a lot of people went home feeling really pessimistic for almost 5 years, actually. But, in these couple of years, actually, we had a lot of time to really chew on what happened in 2014 and let it sink in. So, when we went back out ot protest in 2019 we came back really strong and really prepared. I think, especially the really young generations don’t have the…
I would say that when we went out to protest maybe 10, 20 years ago, a lot of mainstream politicians were afraid to look dirty on mainstream media. They also calculated how we were actually represented by the media, ‘are we doing things right? Are we looking good?’ Because we thought images would mobilize people to join in.
But, nowadays the younger generation doesn’t give a shit. I mean, they don’t really care about if they try to hit the riot police, if it looks bad on the news. They don’t really care. So, I think from representation to being present in the riot is really different now. So, the younger generation participates and they actually are present in that and don’t really think about representation in the media at all.
And one of the reasons that we have escalated into this kind of mobilization and organization is because a lot of the leaders were arrested **laughs**, they’re actually in jail. I shouldn’t laugh about it, they’re having really hard jail time, but this time we don’t have leaders or main-stages telling what people should do or what people shouldn’t do. So, I think we actually benefited from all of those mainstream political leaders being arrested. So, people have literally no leaders telling them what to do. And now they mobilize with Telegram, or co-location social media… We actually have this main, massive discussion board called Ling-dung, so basically they’ll go online and discuss strategies, what to do and what not to do. Or how to coexist with different knid of risks and tasks. I think that’s the main difference, thinking about it, we don’t have one idealized leader trying to steer away the movement. So things are just born naturally. Some people, maybe they would like to take more risks, to do more things, or some people want to participate in some really peaceful demonstration and go home when things are getting dirty. But they can still work with the Black Bloc. Yeah, I think it’s a new era of protest in Hong Kong.
TFSR: Do you have a sense of how, as trust and this sort of knowledge gets dispersed among more people and decentralized, how people know at what point… I mean, because the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government are watching what’s going on, are listening to what decisions are being made and I’m sure trying to engage and trying to confuse peoples activity and trust with each other. Is there an understanding that at a certain scale we need to devolve our methods of approaching things or have people come to that point yet?
Ahkok: I think that since 2014, there’s a lot of, we call them ‘Ghosts’, undercover cops who would blend in and try to start things or escalate to something more violent, or whatever. They try to make the scripts play out by the movement. I think we still have a lot of those. But we spent a lot of time trying to catch the ghosts in 2014, ‘oh those are undercover cops, those are protesters’ but how do you identify and distinguish them? I think that now people are so aware of it, we always try to remind ourselves ‘don’t spend time catching ghosts, just do your own thing.’ I think this actually works quite well, we don’t really spend time trying to call other people out from the protests ‘they aren’t one of us or they are ghosts or they aren’t protesters’. We don’t actually care now. We do our own stuff, we stay with our own groups of people. But I think that people are getting really smart at the same time. We try to analyze the situation, where to stop and what not to do.
There was this incident on the 1st of July when people trashed the parliament. Actually, four people had this death oath that they wanted to stay inside until the riot police came inside and they wanted to (it was actually suicidal). They actually made this oath to stay inside and fight off the riot police. Before the police came, 100 protesters went into the parliament to pick them up. They said ‘We either leave together or stay together.’ I think this was a very powerful moment of the protests, we actually learned a lot of trust. We’re on the front-line all of the time and we can analyze what would be really harmful fro the protesters, for the Black Blocs and where to actually call it off for the day and come back later on.
It’s just a lot of trial and error, really. But I would say that we’ve been waiting for this moment of leaderless protests for a long time. Because, even in 2014 there were so many idolized leaders that had their mics and said shit, making deals with the police… a lot of people just chanting what they were chanting on the stage. But not anymore. Even some of the politicians, some of the mainstream politicians they know this is not their time. They would just go and try to encourage the protesters to be safe or whatever, Even the lawmakers in Hong Kong know they know shouldn’t take the stage or take the mic to give orders anymore. That’s what makes it really powerful at this time.
TFSR: So, this show sometimes gets heard in China, gets downloads in China and I seriously doubt this will get past the censors.
TFSR: But, in the hopes that someone has a VPN or TOR and can hear this. As you said, things are feeling very dire for people and especially the youth who see a future in 27 years or whatever of China fully taking control of Hong Kong and it losing it’s autonomy and independence, whatever it has now. And it’s also the 30th anniversary of the Tianeman Square massacre, which I know is not allowed to be covered and is censored highly from within China. And I wonder if you have any words for people that are within the mainland about this situation and any hopes that you have… if you have any hopes… for their independence and autonomy. And what you want them to understand about what’s going on in your home.
Ahkok: Yeah, I mean we have a lot of really strong connections with activists in China. We have a lot of respect. Because they are paying a really high price for being dissidents in china. I would say, look, all tyranny collapses. I’ve actually been quite positive. Of course, if the Chinese Communist Party is still around in 2047 Hong Kong will become a part of it and then maybe there’s no escape. But, who knows, maybe the Chinese Community Party might collapse any time soon, man. Part of the reason why there are so many people obedient to the Chinese Communist Party is because of the economic power. There’s only one reason why you obey them, because of money (honestly). Even from Hong Kong. Even some people in Hong Kong are pro-Beijing because they will be made rich.
But I think the economic structure in China is so unstable that it might just collapse at any time. They just make up their numbers. We have been waiting for the bubble to burst for like, for a long time. It might happen any time soon. Once that happens, there will be no more obedience. People will question about the Communist Party in China. Things will be very different.
You know, they have this one… one row one belt, what’s it called, initiative in China. So, in the UN people try to question about… they have these concentration camps, reeducation camps in China now. Actually, 27 countries support these re-education camps in China because they are in the pocket of China. They want to get a piece of it. But I think this time, because of this extradition bill, or maybe we should pay attention to how evil the Chinese government is. Of course, I know a lot of people are trying to go against the imperialism in the States, so they would choose to side with China. I think that is just nonsense, that is just two evil empires. You shouldn’t choose one of them and then think “I’m with the Chinese, so fuck the US government and US imperialism.” No, China is just another, maybe even more evil imperial power, they are just getting stronger and stronger and a lot of countries are supporting them. I think it’s actually a very good time to raise the question “Should we really side with the Chinese?” Look at what they’re doing, there’s no humanity in this system, and that’s why they can grow their economy so fast because there is no legal system, no humanity. Just money. They still use the term ‘Communism’, but they are on the most right side of the spectrum you could imagine on earth.. Let’s think about this. It will collapse pretty soon, man, I have a lot of faith in that.
TFSR: Yeah. I… I don’t necessarily have the faith but I don’t know any better. I can hope for it. And that people can have something better. Definitely not the US coming in but something for themselves.
You kind of addressed one of the questions I had, which was… There are communists, that are statists, who we call Tankies in the west which is a British term. It’s for authoritarian leftists who believe that the opposition to the main capitalist empire, which would be the United States as you said, which would be to support anything that anyone else does that’s in opposition. I appreciate you raising that.
Ahkok: My pleasure, man.
TFSR: So, in terms of that… and I won’t keep you too much longer, I’ve kept you an hour now… But there’s been rumors of the so-called People’s Liberation Army showing up in Hong Kong. Have you heard of that happening or does that seem like a thing that the Chinese government is likely to impose at this point?
Ahkok: Yeah, that’s maybe the worst nightmare of Hong Kong is what happened in Beijing in 1989 happening in Hong Kong. So, there’s always rumors when we do something to upset the Chinese that “The People’s Liberation Army is actually standing by somewhere closer to Hong Kong, maybe in Song Jen (?) or Guangzhou.” And now we have the high speed train, they can just carry all the armies into Hong Kong in no time. But, honestly, to me… I mean… There’s a lot of people saying it won’t happen because the Chinese capitalists still need Hong Kong to make money. If they send in the armies to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong economic structure will collapse and the Chinese government can’t benefit from it. Honestly, I think it might just happen. But, we shouldn’t worry about it. If that’s the trump card, then the CCP has it and they might use it. But we have to mentally be ready for this knkid of reaction to happen in Hong Kong. But I think that we shouldn’t be threatened by this army behind the Chinese.
Or to think that we shouldn’t do this to upset the government more, or we shouldn’t do that. Even going to protest at the Liaison Office, some people are scared because the Liaison Office answers to the Beijing Government. So, when people are throwing paint at the Liaison Office and Chinese officials say ‘We will deploy the army on you if it happens again.’ I mean, yah, just fuck them, just do it then, man. What happened in 1989, it might happen again. Maybe not in Hong Kong, maybe not in Beijing, maybe somewhere else. But we should be mentally prepared if we are still on the road of resistance then we’ll have this obstacle in front of us.
TFSR: Do yo mind if I step back for a moment of clarification for the sake of the audience?
Ahkok: Yeah, yeah.
TFSR: So, when you are talking about the re-education camps that are being engage by the Chinese government, “re-education”, are you talking about the use of concentration camps to break up Ouigar and other Muslim populations within mainland China to socialize them in to, I guess, Han culture or Chinese Communist Party culture?
Ahkok: Well, China doesn’t allow for freedom of religion, right? So, they have been doing a lot of things, bad things, to Muslims for a long time. I think it was the BBC that had this really long coverage about these re-education camps in China. So, basically they throw Muslims from Sun Gong into these concentration camps to make them eat pork or brainwash them into something, until they are not Muslims and are free to go. We call them concentration camps because that’s what they are. I think a lot of people in Hong Kong are worried there might be this kind of concentration camps for Hong Kong Chinese, Hong Kongers. Because it actually might happen, you know? Yeah, yeah, it’s actually really frightening. I think the world should do something about it. We should organize… I don’t know…. We should save them from the tortures happening. We have news of this Muslim poet maybe just died inside the concentration camps. We have this kind of news all of the time. I think the world should really react to those.
TFSR: Boycotting and divesting countries that operate concentration camps such as the United States and China might be a really good idea for people internationally who have a sense of ethics. Or people domestically in those countries if they have that opportunity. Or sabotaging.
Ahkok: Absolutely, man, sabotaging.
TFSR: One thing we haven’t really talked about really… I’d like to touch back on the idea of the youth coming from a kind of right wing, populist perspectve in their resistance to the imposition of rule by the Chinese mainland, by the Chinese Communist Party, which is a very absolutely undemocratic institution by definition. So, with these concepts of Free Speech and Freedom of Entrepreneurship, Freedom of Protest and Religion that exists in Hong Kong, which is very parallel to what I’ve experienced in the United States, is that people point to these beautiful rights that are enshrined in these documents and protected. There’s also incredibly large class divides. A lot of populations, often racialized populations that live at the bottom of society that don’t have the opportunity to partake of that GDP, that fast moving economy that is enriching ‘the country’. So, I wonder, nearing the end of the conversation, do you think that in this push for independence and for thinking outside of.. away from… What do you think it would take or do you see an inkling in the youth in Hong Kong who see that their officials and their business people are willing to make deals with the Chinese Communist Party and state capitalism in the form of Chinese Communism that they can find an autonomous anti-capitalist alternative that doesn’t support the police state authoritarianism of the Chinese or the capitalist creation of feudalism in the current conditions?
Ahkok: Oh, man, that’s tough. I was having this conversation with this guy who’s also participating in the protests. He actually doesn’t know he’s right wing. From this conversation, he said “We’re not welcoming the Chinese in here, we should welcome some people with more, higher standard. Mainly whites, English-speaking groups.” They don’t even know they’re being really right wing. But that’s a part of the problem of being colonized for so long here in Hong Kong. One of the really tough issues is how to decolonize Hong Kong. You know, actually, people still fantasize about the British ruling days. They think it was really good, the financial structure was strong and the legal system was a really smart way of colonizing a place. They haven’t got the tools to criticize about being colonized for so long. Maybe, I would say, we have to educate people, or we have to remind people how bad it actually was when the British ruled Hong Kong. It actually is just really smart. We didn’t have universal suffrage when the British ruled. They just gave a certain kind of freedom: you could criticize the government, you name it. But deep down, we were actually enslaved, we just got really wealthy because of this financial movement benefiting Asia. In the 80’s and 90’s it seemed really good. We should really education people about decolonization means. Also, I think these different places we can look up to or have a different exchange. For example, Catalunya in Spain. I think we have this really common problem around raising our identities while at the same time not being a right wing fascist, saying that people are lower than us.
I’ve been engaging with a lot of Catalan activists. They have a lot of experience to share. Maybe we should have more of this kind of exchange in the future. Actually, there’s a lot of this work to do, but I think now we are more active politically, but we should be educated better with what to do with our deep politics in the future.
TFSR: Well, so how can people abroad.. you mentioned going to a demonstration in Germany at one point… How can people internationally get involved in offering support to resistance to Chinese imposition and the Hong Kong police and how can people educate themselves better on the outside?
Ahkok: There’s a free press in Hong Kong that does a pretty good job in English. If you search Free Press I think you can find a lot of coverage of that. I think there’s a reporter based in Beijing, she’s been writing a lot of articles on Hong Kong and Chinese political issues. Her articles are, I think, in The Guardian, the UK Guardian. So, if you search Guardian and Hong Kong you can find some of her articles as well. So, by knowing the history and the political facts, I think would be quite helpful.
Hong Kong is a really tiny place, really, you know and I’m not really surprised if no one heard of it or thinks it’s a part of Japan. So, knowing the facts is really good.
So, how can foreigners participate? The G20 is happening. Some Hong Kong protesters actually raised a couple of million of dollars to have a lot of different countries front page newspapers saying to address the G20 leaders to help us in Hong Kong. That is so embarrassing, but that actually really reflects how Hong Kong, the majority of Hong Kong protesters think. They are actually trying to ask help from other, strong leaders, or evil organizations.
Well at the same time a lot of my friends in Asia, anarchist groups, actually came to participate in the protests. A lot of comrades from Japan and Taiwan and Korea actually came. We actually have this, really strong anarchist network in east Asia these days. We have meetings probably more than once a year. We always try to talk about how to participate in your countries demonstrations, or other movements. So, we should definitely think about that. Besides knowing the facts and how we can participate when you guys are mobilizing or having different demonstrations and so on and so forth. Yeah, having these kinds of networks actually make us feel better. Maybe it will become something really powerful later on, who knows? Yeah, we actually have this really strong collaboration starting from Fukushima. The No-Nuke campaign in Japan and Taiwan was really active and they were actually working together really well. And of course, in Hong Kong, we have nuclear power plants that have threatened us for a really long time. And China is building quite a lot of new power plants in the near future. So, we actually have a very similar threat. So, from this No-Nuke network we slowly developed this pan-Asian anarchist network. We should definitely think of how to mobilize later on.
TFSR: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you think listeners should know about? That I didn’t ask out of ignorance?
Ahkok: Uh, no, actually that was really good. That was some really tough questions. I tried to answer them but it’s not really easy. I tried to prepare for it, though. I think… I haven’t really engaged with media that have been asking things that deep before…
TFSR: Well, thank you.
Ahkok: Yeah, I feel like I’m still really stimulated by the questions. Yeah, I can’t think of anything to add ,really.
TFSR: Well, I really appreciate the candor and making this work. I know it’s really late where you are.
In the first Bursts spoke with two organizers of the Asheville Another Carolina Anarchist Bookfair (ACAB2018) taking place the 22-24th of June. To link up with this project and for aaall the information, you can visit the website here! To follow on social media, you find @acab.2018 on Instagram, and for email it’s email@example.com. This segment begins at [11:46]
Then Bursts spoke with Tristan, an anarchist living in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia, about the riot that took the streets for 3 hours there on May Day. They talk about anarchist in Java, the feudal Sultanate they suffer under, the New Yogyakarta International Airport threatening to displace a village and more. This segment begins at [40:02]
As Tristan says in the interview, much of the resistance of the Committee Against Feudalism that raged against the police on May Day in Yogyakarta was in order to damage government facility as well as to undermine trust of local and international investors in the building of a New Yogyakarta International Airport, or NYIA. The airport has already lead to the displacement of people in the farming village of Kulon Progo, destroying trees & livelihoods, and authorities cut power supplies to intimidate residents into selling their ancestral lands in this southern coastal village. In place of the farmlands where 11.5 thousand people live, cultivating peppers, eggplants and watermelons, the state would destroy the erosion and flood-defending dunes around this area with a 2,000 hectare “airport city” containing hotels, industrial zones, shopping centers & other tourist ventures. Here is a chronology of resistance up to late 2017.
The airport would be operated by Angkasa Pura (state-owned Airport Operator), and constructed by the U.S. company Landrum & Brown, with offices in NYC, Orlando, SF, Tampa, Cincinnati, Bogota, Boston, Chicago Alongside L&B is the India-based megaproject conglomerate, GVK. GVK is named for it’s founder, Gunupati Venkata Krishna Reddy, and is also active in the Australian coal mining sphere. A Czech corporation involved in designing the NYIA is AGA-Letiště, s.r.o. (based in Prague). Mott McDonald, an employee-owned consultancy firm, also plays a role in this mess. Finally, the Rajawali Corpora (a heavy hand in five star hotels and media ownership) is involved and is owned by https://www.forbes.com/profile/peter-sondakh/.
The Sultan, Hamengkubuwono X, the second in his lineage to be given official governorship of Yogyakarta, is grabbing public and communal lands for sale and gifts to investors, selling it off for megaprojects like the NYIA and personally profiting, claiming a Feudal ownership. The real losers in this situation are the people of Yogyakarta, the real winners are the Sultan, the global rich and these megaproject proliferators who choose short-term profits over community autonomy and ecological health.
Since we didn’t get to it, I’d like to touch on what I understand of some of the racism that Tristan references. Among other things, the Sultan’s continued use of a 1975 law that is now in conflict with Indonesian national law against discrimination, is another tool at grabbing land and fueling ethnic populism. The law excludes ethnic-Chinese Indonesians (despite many having been in Indonesia for generations) and other non “pribumi” (or ethnically Indonesian) people from owning land and has been used to repress ethnic minorities in the archipelago in the past. This law also serves the Sultan, by denying property rights it allows his government (therefore him as feudal lord) to retain the rights to the land.
A few articles on resistance in Indonesia can be found at Agitasi, a site for Indonesian Counter Information and Analysis. If you can’t read it, learn Indonesian (or babelfish or googletranslate it). Some photos of solidarity can be found on InsurrectionNews. An article on resisting the airport from EF!Newswire, with more links inside. Indonesian embassies in the Americas can be found listed here.
Here is an update from the Appalachians Against Piplelines social media, which was posted two days ago:
Earlier this morning, on day 12 of the skypod on Pochahontas Road in the Hellbender Autonomous Zone (aka the Jefferson National Forest), fern was extracted and arrested.
Law enforcement began arriving to join the skypod’s existing 24 hour watch before 6am. For a couple hours, they discussed extraction, suited up in climbing gear, and attempted to coax fern down – but she refused to give in to their intimidation. Shortly after 8 am, a cherry picker drove up the road, by 8:30 fern was on the ground, handcuffed, and arrested.
Although the blockade of this pipeline access road has been removed, the fight is far from over. The Mountain Valley Pipeline remains a dangerous project, installed by force, and part of a network of dead end disasters for water, climate, communities, and ecosystems.
So before MVP and law enforcement even begin to breathe a sigh of relief, thinking they are one step closer to their goal of padding the pockets of executives at the expense of this forest and the lives of all along the route, let’s show them that they have not won.
Let’s remind them that this pipeline is not yet built, that it is not a foregone conclusion. Let’s prove that they have not extinguished the flame of resistance.
If you’ve been watching the efforts and sacrifices of the people confronting the MVP, if you’ve been grateful to know that this pipeline isn’t getting through without a fight, now is the time to move forward with actions of your own! None of us can do this alone.
And you can follow them on social media by searching Appalachians Against Pipelines on any platform you can think of.
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Following the recent murder of Roxsana Hernandez at the hands of ICE agents, the organization Familia TQLM (Trans and Queer Liberation Movement) is organizing a national day of action against ICE, to end trans detention, and to call attention to the dangers forced upon trans, gay, and queer people in detention on Wednesday June 6th. Roxsana Hernandez was a 33 year old trans woman from Honduras, and her passing is one of the most recent examples of the specific threats that Immigration and Customs Enforcement pose to LGBTQ people. A recent study found that LGBTQ people are 97 times more likely to face sexual assault and sexualized violence at the hand of ICE agents while imprisoned, as well as facing conditions akin to torture: being held in freezing cells, or ones that are dangerously hot, and being denied life saving medication, as in the case of Roxsana Hernandez.
If you would like to connect with this action on June 6th, you can follow the hashtag JusticeForRoxsana, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This week we spoke with members of Maharlika Integral Emergence, a collective in Davao. Davao is a large city in the south east of the archipelago of Maharlika, also known as The Philippines. We talk for the hour on the emergence of anarchism in this country, anti-colonial indigenous struggle, anarcho-punk, eco-resistance, green and post-anarchism, permaculture, anti-extraction and land struggles and more. Maharlika Integral Emergence is a collective in Davao working with communities to promote self-care, explore autonomy, build alternatives to the deadly duo of State and Capital and it’s ecocidal path. We apologize for the quality of the audio, at times it becomes difficult to hear the collective members due to tech issues. Check out ashevillefm.org/the-final-staw to find the blog entry for this episode which includes hyperlinks to some of the projects and publications coming out of Maharlika. For instance, here’s a pdf about projects that that MIE are involved in.
But first, a couple of announcements. If you’re in the Asheville area, we’d like to remind you that tonight, Sunday the 12th at 5pm is the grande-opening of Firestorm Cafe & Books at it’s new location at 610 Haywood Road at the intersection of Haywood Rd & State St in West Asheville. From their facebook event:
“It’s been sixteen months since we closed our doors at 48Commerce Street… We’re ready to start the next chapter! Join our seven year old workers co-operative for a day long celebration, featuring free coffee and other give-aways plus a 5pm local author showcase!
Located directly across State Street from Sunny Point Cafe, our new store features a unique selection of books for young folks and adults alike. Curious readers will find not only the rich assortment of titles on gardening, green living and political radicalism, for which our co-op is already known, but also an expanded inventory of children’s books, classics and speculative fiction.”
More at http://firestorm.coop
Relatedly, there’s a squatted anarchist social and community space working around some of the same causes as MIE. The space is called Feral Crust and in Manila operate a squatted infoshop, school and garden in a small squatted neighborhood. To contact them for more questions, drop them a line at feralcrust(aaat)riseup(dot) net
We’d also like to mention that AshevilleFM is currently at the Big Crafty Festival in Asheville from noon-6pm today, come check out the booth and sign up to be a volunteer!
Also an update on the occupation at the Che Cafe on the campus of the University of California at San Diego:
“On JULY 15 at 2 PM there will be a meeting with UCSD Chancellor Khosla.
For the FIRST TIME, representatives of the Che Cafe Collective and CCSN will meet with Khosla to see if he will call off the eviction. Che supporters are calling for a big crowd to rally outside the meeting. It’s requested that you come if you can and spread the word! Directions to Office of the Chancellor at www-act.ucsd.edu/maps/ enter search for “Office of the Chancellor”. Address is University Center 107, and it’s located facing the UCSD Town Square just south and west of Price Center.”
We here at The Final Straw are soliciting sticker/poster/logo design to provide fascinating swag for our listeners! The design must include our web address, show name & imagery reflecting the nature of the radio show. Chosen artists will receive gifts of t-shirts and other anarchy goodies. You can email your designs in pdf form to bursts(attt)ashevillefm(ddot)org or a physical copy can be sent to:
The Final Straw
864 Haywood Rd,
Asheville, NC 28806
A reminder: The Klu Klux Klan has called for a rally at the steps of the state capitol of South Carolina in Colombia on Saturday the 18th at 3pm. Folks are planning a counter-demonstration on the day to make it known that these jokers are not welcome in the streets. Check out http://columbiascdemocallout.tumblr.com/ for more info, or follow them on their twitter handle, @antiracistSC. From their site:
“On Saturday, July 18th, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan will assemble on the statehouse grounds in Columbia, SC. And we will confront them.
This rally is part of a recent wave of anti-Black terror, from the Charleston massacre to the arson of Black churches, that has strategically sought to build upon a white racist backlash against the #BlackLivesMatter, anti-police uprisings of the past year.
We call upon all those who can #BlackLivesMatter activists, community organizers, anti-racists, anarchists and other radicals, and anyone else furious with racism and the police—to converge on Columbia, confront the Klan, and defy their message of white supremacy. History has shown—from the armed standoff against a lynch mob in Columbia, TN, in 1946 to the 1958 Battle of Hayes Pond, from the Deacons for Defense to the armed defiance of Monroe, NC’s NAACP chapter, from the 1979 Greensboro Massacre to the 1997 confrontation with the Klan in downtown Asheville, NC—that we must oppose white supremacist organizing actively and physically, in our streets and neighborhoods.
The KKK is only a small group, whose ability to inflict racist violence actually pales in comparison to that of structures of oppression like the police, the economy, and the state. But the sentiment that groups like the KKK hold runs deep through the currents of whiteness in this country, and is a major obstacle to our struggles against these larger structures. Explicit manifestations of white supremacy like the Klan are one way that the state will seek to contain the #BlackLivesMatter organizing and anti-police riots of the last year; at this historic juncture, a large Klan rally in the South cannot go unchallenged.
Bring banners, bring a friend, and bring your anger and rage against the white supremacy that courses through the veins of this society. See you in Columbia.”
Along the lines of last week’s announcement of great audio projects to check out outside of asheville, I’d suggest folks interested in a fantastic North American prison related show give a listen to The Prison Radio Show on CKUT, out of McGill University in Montreal. The show airs on the second Thursday of every month between 5-6 pm CST as part of CKUT News’s Off The Hour & the fourth Friday of every month between 11am and 12pm CST. More at http://prisonradioshow.wordpress.com
Also for a great look at audio anarchy in the Philippines – and to see what this week’s guests typically work on – you can check out the pirate radio station RADYO ITIM at https://radyoitim.wordpress.com/, or at 107.9FM if you are listening in Davao.
Out of Middleton, Connecticut & Wesleyan University, WESU hosts a show called Anarchy On Air, a student anarchist collective radio show featuring interviews, panels, action updates and more. This show was formerly incarnated as The Horizontal Power Hour. This show More can be found at http://anarchyonairwesu.tumblr.com/ and it can be heard 2nd/4th Tuesdays 4:00-4:55 pm EST
Anarcho-primitivist & philosopher John Zerzan cohosts the weekly, years running, hour-long radio show Anarchy Radio on 88.1 KWVA at the University of Oregon, Eugene. Check out archives of the show at http://johnzerzan.net/radio to hear him and cohosts discuss recent news around technology, school shootings, alienation, ecological destruction and ideas. The show airs Tuesday’s at 7pm PST and express your views by calling 541-346-0645 during the live broadcast.