Category Archives: Communism

Exile, World Systems Analysis and Anarchism with Andrej Grubačić

Exile, World Systems Analysis and Anarchism with Andrej Grubačić

Professor Andrej Grubačić
Download This Episode

Andrej Grubačić is a former teacher at the University of Rojava, founding Chair of Anthropology and Social Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies, author of books such as Don’t Mourn, Balkanize!, co-authored Wobblies and Zapatistas with Staughton Lynd and most recently the co-author of Living At The Edges of Capitalism: Adventures In Exile and Mutual Aid with Dennis O’Hearn. Andrej is also the editor of the Journal of World-Systems Research as well as the Kairos imprint at PM Press. For the hour we speak about anarchism, the Yugoslav experiment, exile, World-Systems Analysis, Rojava, his friend David Graeber and other topics.

A couple of Grubačić pieces referenced, found online:

Some further reading suggestions include (more references in upcoming transcript):

Announcement

Anti-Repression in Asheville

As a follow up to the episode we did about protests against the homeless sweeps by the city of Asheville, the Asheville Police appears to be serving arrest warrants to people for charges like felony dumping and aiding & abetting felony dumping in relation to the Aston Park protests on Christmas, when the Asheville police arrested multiple journalists from the Asheville Blade as well as others present in the park prior to cufew. If you think this is bullshit and want to help, consider a donation to the Blue Ridge ABC bail & legal defense fund via their venmo, @BlueRidgeABC. You can also send funds to any of The Final Straw’s accounts, found at TFSR.WTF/Support, and mention ABC Bail in the comments.

. … . ..

Featured Track:

  • Clock Strikes (Instrumental Remix) by Timbaland and Magoo

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: I’m very pleased to welcome Andrej Grubačić onto the show. Andrej is a former teacher at the University of Rojava, a Founding Chair of anthropology and social change at the California Institute of integral studies. Author of books such as don’t mourn balkanize, and most recently co author of living at the edges of capitalism adventures in exile in mutual aid with Dennis O’Hearn. Andrej is also the editor of the Journal of world systems research. Thank you so much for coming on to The Final Straw.

Andrej Grubačić: Ah, my pleasure, good to be here.

TFSR: Do you want to introduce yourself any further? I don’t know. Say a few words about yourself your preferred gender pronouns any anything else?

AG: Oh, nothing really? No, I usually just say that I’m from Yugoslavia. That’s fine.

TFSR: Well, first up, I wondered if you could say some words about your identity as a Yugoslav a nation that one cannot any longer find on a modern map? And if you could you talk a little bit about the Yugoslav experiment and how you became an anarchist.

AG: This is why I don’t like modern maps. And you are quite right. Unfortunately, the countries no longer in terms of the states, but Yugoslavia, I was always a little bit more than just a country a little bit more than just a state. And I think you’re quite right to say that it is an identity and identity that is in a certain sense, also, a way of rejection, or opposition to identities that were imposed onto us after the breakup of Yugoslavia. And the breakup of Yugoslavia, as many of your listeners probably know, was extremely violent and it happened in the 90s. All of us who were who grew up in Yugoslavia, and who were actually Yugoslavs, who were identified as Yugoslavs and who identify as Yugoslavia, we have found ourselves in what I call my first exile, which was the loss of a country that I loved. I still remember the moment, when I was in Belgrade at the time, my entire family’s from Serajevo from what today is Bosnia and Herzegovina and Belgrade is now capital of Serbia. It was the capital back then of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia established in the end of the forest… But the problem, of course, was I remember watching that, that footage of shadow ever being besieged and the civil war breaking in Serajevo, and it was absolutely heartbreaking. And that’s the moment when I realized in tears through tears, that I have lost something that was precious to me, and something that was extremely important.

It was something that informed again… I said, I am thinking about this as my first exile, second example would be coming to United States also not my choice, not my first choice, certainly, and not something that I did quite willingly. But let me answer your question, I think in a way that is probably more informative for the listeners who are not familiar with Yugoslavia, or maybe even not familiar with anarchism. So, I blame anarchism on my grandmothers, two grandmothers and both of them were communists.

When I say communists, that for us meant people who believed either in Tito, who was the leader of Yugoslavia, and who was the founder of what we might call Tito-ism or Titoist communism, which was a dominant form of communism in Yugoslavia. It was considered to be socialist self-management plus, Non-Aligned movement as a political orientation, external political orientation. And there was of course Stalinism, which was the opposition to Titoism in my family was split sharp half of my family were teachers communists, the other half were closer to standing back in the days before 1948 which was a very important moment in Yugoslavia history because that’s the moment when the Yugoslav Communist Party split. The majority of Yugoslav communist and basically saying no to Stalin, the famous historical “No”. Yugoslavia was choosing its own way, its own path to socialism, which involved again, socialist self-management. It was proclaimed in 1950 by a man named Edvard Kardelj, who wrote the first draft of what was to become “Socialist Self Management”, in which included many anarchist, guild socialist and even Trotskyist components.

And then, of course, Non-Aligned movement, which part of my family was very involved with, and they were building together which anti-colonial movements and states like Nasser’s Egypt, a new internationalist perspective and new anti-colonial perspective that Yugoslavia was actually the founding state of the Non-Aligned movement. And the first conference was in Belgrade, 1961. So all of this is to say, it was a fascinating country in which, to which one family had two different shades of communism. And the grandmother who was, shall we say, closer to the Stalinists side, but of course, lost the faith in that form of bureaucratic socialism, suffered a lot because of her choices. I asked her at some point, what does she think and how did she feel about communism right now? And that was a long time ago, I think I was 13 years old. And she told me “Listen, I believe in communism, I will always believe in communism, I think the problem is that my generation has chosen the wrong path to communism. And the responsibility of your generation is to find the new one not to give up on communism, but to find a new path to communism.” And that, you know, left me scratching my head and thinking what this different path can be.

Again, I was 13. So I was still pretty innocent in the ways of the world and political ideology. So this is where my other grandmother came to help. And she gave me her favorite book, which was soon to become my favorite book, which was Alexander Ivanovich Herzen’s My Past And Thoughts, it’s called in English. And My Past And Thoughts is Herzen’s memoir, in which he delineate and describes the fascinating history of the romantic exiles of 19th century, which included Bakunin. There was my favorite anecdote of Bakunin in being chained to a wall somewhere in the Russia, having to repent in front of the Tzar, but somehow escaping. He swam across the frozen Volga, jumped on a ship, ended up in United States and Caribbean and finally in London, where Hertzen was waiting for him. And Herzen said, “Well, welcome, what are we going to do first?” and Bakunin responded “Do they have oysters in this place, or do I need to go back to Siberia?”

I loved that response. There was, you know, everything I was looking for was there. You know, you’re 13 years old and you read something like this, and it’s absolutely amazing. And I said, “Well, okay, this man was an anarchist. So let me explore anarchism and let me see if this could be that other path to communism that my grandmother was actually referring to.” And ever since then, I started reading things about anarchism and reading Noam Chomsky was very important. Noam Chomsky was extremely popular in Yugoslavia for different reasons, he was somebody who gave a qualified support to Yugoslav self-management as somebody who was translated. I also started translating Noam Chomsky’s books into Serbo-Croatian, because then the name of the language. And through Chomsky, through Daniel Guérin, and through my first anarchist mentor, who’s name was Trivo Inđić (who recently passed at the beginning of COVID) I learned most important things about anarchism. Trivo used to say that anarchism is this noble attempt of trying to approximate or achieve freedom using the means of freedom itself. That was one of the ways that he was describing anarchism. And perhaps the most important thing that I learned from all three of them, my early introduction into anarchism, my early mentors Chomsky, Trivo and Danielle Guérin, was an actual distaste for any kind of political sectarianism. I have no patience for anarchist sectarians and I have no patience for sectarianism to begin with of any kind.

And I have even less patience for nationalism. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, we were sort of forced to choose and people have their own identities, nation state identities that they have chosen. Identified with Serbs, Croatians, Montenegrans, Bosnians, Slovenes, Macedonians… believe it or not, these are all now independent states out of one. Seven, we now have Kosovo as well. Basically, I refuse to identify with any of those and I became an anarchist (so, a man without a state) but also Yugoslav (which means man without a nation). And Yugoslavia for me became a sort of identity that I claimed with great pride for two reasons. One, because I was raised a Yugoslav. So the fact that Yugoslavia as a state doesn’t exist anymore, it doesn’t really concern me. But also Yugoslav in a sense of a political project.

Yugoslavia was always a sort of a truncated version of something that in the region was known as Balkan Federalism, and Balkan Federalism, which was inspired by the ideas of Serbian socialist, Svetozar Marković, a number of Greek and Romanian and Bulgarian friends of his in 1871 and after that, was this idea of not a federation of states, but a regional federation that was horizontal, that was state-less and it was built on agricultural and working units of working people, most notably on something that was called Zadruga, which was the village commune and of Obscina, which will be short of village administrative unit. Similar to Chernyshevsky in Russia, similar to Russian populists, and also later anarchists, we were there, we were talking about things and we were thinking about things that were not related to capitalist forms of organization of life. But we were actually referring to something that predates, negates and to certain extent, escapes relationships of capital and the state. Which led me to my preoccupation with what, in time, I started up to call it “exilic spaces” spaces of escape from capitalist modernity, spaces that escape a concentrated spatial forms of mutual aid. That was a nod to Pietr Kropotkin, famous anarcho communist. Spaces that escape at least to an extent, relationship of capital, capitalist law of value, and also of regulations and regulatory pressures of the state, especially of the modern capitalist nation states.

This led me eventually to embrace World-Systems Analysis, and different other ways of looking to avoid methodological nationalism, and state-fixation in social sciences and conventional social science. So at the point when I actually had to leave, what at that time was, I believe, Serbian-Montenegro (the name of the country kept trained during is the counter revolution was progressing after the war, neoliberal right wing counter revolution), I think was the country that I had to leave and I was forced to leave because I couldn’t find any employment. I was a young historian who was perhaps a little bit too outspoken, politically. So, Chomsky brought me to United States, he became my PhD supervisor, and he introduced me to a man whose name is Immanuel Wallerstein. And I’m forever grateful to two of them because they brought me to a place called the Fernand Braudel Center, which was in upstate New York and was a place where I was allowed to participate in research working groups. And in something that was an extraordinary experience of collective work, and thinking politically about limits and limitations of social science, and the ideas of social science that would be completely different than whatever it is that we have right now. I don’t know how much you want me to go into that or if you would like me to talk about something else.

But that is, again back to 13 years ago, when I was 13 years old, that was the beginning of my love affair with anarchism, which is still ongoing. And with my absolute dedication to the anarchist cause, which identified with democracy, very early on and this idea of prefigurative attempts and notion of prefiguration or anticipation, anticipatory politics, which for me was very important and to try was able to find already in Chernyshevsky, in which you have to enact in the present the kind of the future you would like to see. And you have to I think this is a quote from Rudolph rocker and other important and anarcho-syndicalist “You have to build the facts of the future in the present.” That is what I think the most important thing about anarchism is your theory and practice of self-management, which was another way that I would refer or maybe even define anarchism. As a theory of organization, more than just an attitude, an anti -authoritarian perspective on things.

TFSR: Thank you. That was a great answer.

I do want to talk more about what values you found and give an explanation to the audience, and me, of what world systems analysis is as a framework, but I had a couple of questions about your experience at the time in the Balkans, in Yugoslavia and former Yugoslavia. I’d love to hear if you had difficulty as you were coming up finding material about anarchism, there was a place in the sort of genealogy of the development of the socialism that the government imposed, or that was provided around you to say “Oh, yeah, people like Kropotkin were deeply influential, but they were idealists, but you know, here, we follow the materialist trend…”

And also a guest that we had on the show a few weeks back, who lives in Belgrade, spoke very briefly about sort of difficulties of organizing now, in the Balkans, in former Yugoslavia, because of the rise of ethnic nationalisms, that the imposition of those sorts of thing. But also, that any sort of like leftist philosophy can be looked at by many people as polluted. And today, currently, being a leftist and trying to organize around labor or around Mutual Aid, or these sorts of things, has sort of sharpness to it, that a lot of people, you know, refuse upon sight. I wonder if the NATO contribution to the war that was in the Balkans at the time, the neoliberal approach has been to claim that forces like the United States government are bringing democracy when they’re dropping bombs. And what they bring is is a neoliberal model of capitalist management as opposed to democracy. So I wonder also, if the term democracy you found is a bit like tainted or polluted, or they have to fight for a meaning of it?

AG: Oh, it’s an interesting question. A man asked who was the guest from Belgrade

TFSR: The name that he used on the show was Marco. And he’s currently involved in the anarcho syndicalist initiative of the IWA-AIT in Belgrade. But he didn’t give a last name.

AG: Yes, sure. I think your questions are really interesting. And they do make me think.

Back in Yugoslavia, this is a very important thing to mention, it was a very different world than the one of the Soviet communism. Soviet communism was in say, Romania, Bulgaria… It was different in Romania, and it was different in Bulgaria and different than in Russia and other parts of the Soviet communist universe. But basically, these countries were called the Second World countries. I don’t know if you remember that. First World countries were countries your freedom and as you say, democracy of a particular kind. The Second World was the name given to those countries that were part of the immediate Soviet sphere of influence. And then the Third World (which funnily that for European country, or at least geographically European country, like Yugoslavia was a part of), the Third World was the world of Non-Aligned countries, countries that were neither West in terms of liberal democracy, nor East in terms, or the Second World I guess, in terms of what was known to be communism, mistakenly, of course, but countries of “real socialism.” Now, Yugoslavia was different, and Yugoslavia had much more space for liberal, for dissidence, for all sorts of activities that were not completely or not at all in accord with the State, were dictats of the states, but more tolerated for many different reasons.

In Yugoslavia, there was always a coexistence of bureaucracy, we used to call it Red Bureaucracy, and the New Bureaucratic class a term popularized by Milovan Djilas, one of the Yugoslav early dissidents, not my favorite figure by any means. But it’s a useful way of thinking about a new, Red Bureaucracy and an emerging clash that assumed power in Yugoslavia, including, of course, members in higher ups of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia or the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. That was the name that was used after the reconstruction of the party after 1948. But there was a significant space outside and counterbalance of dissidents.

One of the most important parts, and I don’t know if Marko spoke about this, of that dissidency was a group called Praxis Network. And Praxis was a Humanist-Marxist, or one might say Marxist-Humanist, or I would say Libertarian Marxist group, that organized cultural a school Korčula, after the island in Croatia, and Praxis journal published all the important names of what is what became known as the Western Marxism. The term Western Marxism was popularized in Germany in the 70’s, it builds upon the idea of the school known as the New Reading of Marx. These are Adorno students, but also Eastern Europeans like one, especially one who was very important for me, Karel Kosík. Some people who are in the United States like Karl Korsch that you probably know is Libertarian Marxist, or Council Communists. And many of the people who became known important names of the New Left, like Herbert Marcuse, who was coming fairly often and many others.

So, all of them participate in Praxis, and Praxis was a fantastic critique of Yugoslav bureaucracy, providing space for all sorts of possible reinventions and reinterpretation of Marxism of that we that was practiced and that was cherished and imposed, implemented in many ways in socialist Yugoslavia. They were all insisting on the partial success and partial failure of the Yugoslav self-management system. They were all in favor of self-management, but they provided very important and very nuanced, intelligent critique. People like who are today famous like Slavoj Žižek, for example, who was never a part of Praxis, but he gravitated around it. He was in Slovenia, and he was latching on to the Lacanian interpretation of socialism, show he was looking more into French. Many people in Croatia were looking to Germany and German interpretations for the Marxism and other things are plenty of space for ideological and very creative ideological engagement. It ended in 1968, when eight of these professors including my friend, Trivo Inđić, my first mentor, were fired from the University of Belgrade and punished, rather severely for disagreeing with the Titoist, the official bureaucratic party line. And that in many ways, was the beginning of the decline of Yugoslavia.

Now, many of the people who participated in Praxis were also favorable to anarchism because they were looking for different ways to reinvent, reinvigorate Yugoslav self-management, which was an alliance of selfmanagee economy and state. It was something that anarchists, who were the pioneers of thinking about self-management… Proudhon was probably the first person who wrote cogently and coherently about self-management known also as “the father of selfmanagement”… He never imagined it it coexisting with the political states, let alone been run by people who were Bolshevik, or Titoists. So, this was an uncomfortable marriage, shall we say, or alliance. And in that particular political space interventions were made to introduce anarchism, left libertarian thought, libertarian socialist thought. As you probably know, in most of the world, we use the term “libertarian” to talk about anarchism. There is no idea of right wing libertarianism, it doesn’t exist. So when we say libertarian, we actually mean anarchists. And one of the groups that I was a member of was called Belgrade Libertarian Group. And these were mostly people who are the left wing of Praxis. And these were the people who were interested in this libertarian reinterpretation, not only of Marxism, but promoting anarchism as a possible way of solving some of those deficiencies. So, out of this group, out of this milieu, out to this political space came many translations of Pietr Kropotkin such as Mutual Aid, Memoirs Of A Revolutionary and other books were translated. And this now sounds a little bit ridiculous, but by a man who is the former neoliberal minister or prime minister of Yugoslavia, Zoran Đinđić. There was a time in the life of Zoran Đinđić, himself assassinated by mafia by different other elements of the, we used to call them dual power… The dual power in Serbia after 2002, 2001 was really mafia and organized crime. They assassinated a prime minister who was in his youthful days and anarchists who translated parts of Kropotkin, and even entire books by Kropotkin. So, we have a number of younger people who identified with the libertarian tendency within socialism. And some of them, again, will later come to power and both become very important much of the establishment. Even my mentor, Trivo Inđić, became the ambassador. He was an anarchist Ambassador, an anarchist who was an ambassador in Spain.

TFSR: That must have been a very difficult thing to deal with the Francoist regime, or was this post-Franco?

AG: Oh, this was post Franco. The reason he was given Spain was not only because he spoke Spanish but because he was somebody who was developing within Praxis network and within this libertarian space political space relationships with Spanish anarchists and relationship also with Latin American libertarian movements. So, Trivo was the first one who actually told me about Edvard Kardelj, while composing this new program that became known as “Yugoslav Self Management”, was consulting anarcho-syndicalist texts and reading Diego Abad de Santillán and many other people who were anarcho-syndicalists. And who were thinking about shelf management, including Proudhon. So, it was an uncomfortable task for the father of Yugoslav Self Management to have to relate to the father of anarchist self management and tried to call him a Leninist, or a Marxist, or just trying to somehow reinterpret this in a Leninist key.

In any case, these were the strange spaces and strange times of Yugoslavia, which was very different had very different political culture and much less suffocating, more open then the culture of other socialist states. We were watching American movies and Soviet movies. We were delighting in Czechoslovakian cinematography and beautiful movies that they had. And film culture, there was a whole thing called Prague school and many Yugoslav directors in those days went there and learn their craft in Prague. This includes Emir Kusturica, Goran Marković and many others. And Living Theater, I remember, used to come quite often to Yugoslavia. An anarchist theater from New York who had actually much more popularity in Yugoslavia than United States. Yugoslavia was a very interesting, open political space, of course contradictory because of the presence of the Communist Party, because of the elements of state violence, which we cannot ignore.

But they were many interesting elements there that allowed for the development of that political space that Marko was referring to these we bought your original question was about anarchist literature, which we could find without problems. I remember absolutely being delighted reading can be Albert Camus and his book, The Rebel, which was also very important in those formative days. And of course, other anarchist literature, which existed. Some of this most Marxist takes like biographies of Bakunin, but you know, you could read against the grain and you could read in a certain sense and discover many different things about the anarchist tradition by reading the Marxist critique. And again, there were books by actual anarchists published and translated. So, Yugoslavia in that sense was unusual difference and for me the space where you could actually learn a lot about Marxism. Marxism was something that I had in my elementary school matches and was a class that I had to take in elementary school and I had Marxism in high school. And then I had Marxism at the university. And now of course, that particular kind of Marxism that we had to learn was what I came to call in time “right wing Marxism,” that was the Marxism that begins with the Second International in Germany, developed further by the another right wing deviation in the history of Marxism, which is Lenin and Bolshevism. And then goes to Tito, Mao and other people who in the third world, mostly, who developed it further, and that was an interesting experience.

Of course, it made me this stage, you know, it made me dislike Marxism a great deal. But I was able to find books and especially because I was, you know, trained as a historian I was able to discover the wonderful world of British Marxism a British Marxist historians. So I was able to read EP Thompson, who was translated of course and Eric Hobbeswan, and but more than Eric Hobbeswan, whom I will not call the historian from below, he was a British Marxist historian but not exactly a historian from below. EP Thompson and Christopher Hill were really important. And when I was reading the two of them I, this is all that I wanted to do back in those days, I was thinking about writing a history from below.

My first published academic work was actually related to the history from below of the Anabaptists, the first communist right people who said “Omnia Sunt Comunia” or “Everything Belongs to Everyone” and created this beautiful communist experiment in Münster for which they were punished severly, tortued and caged. The city of Münster still has cages of macabre monuments to the killed, assassinated, tortured Anabaptist. So I was trying to trace the movement of Anabaptists from Germany, to the Balkans, and to see whether they left because they were fleeing the oppression. And it was a fascinating thing. And in those days, I was very skeptical of the Fernand Braudel, who was the historian famous for historical structuralist approach or maybe…

TFSR: The Annales School?

AG: The actual Yes, he was the third grade and Annaliste. The first was Lucien Favre and Marc Bloch and then the third one that the editor of the Annales was Fernand Braudel. They created something called “Total History”, which was a perspective that was relatively popular in Yugoslavia in those days, but I just wanted to study pirates, Anabaptists and runaway slaves. And, you know, I was interested in innate agency and resistance and all of that. And only later, I discovered Fernand Braudel, after moving to the Fernand Braudel Center in upstate New York in Binghamton University. State University of New York at Binghamton, I think is the full name and this is where Immanuel Wallerstein was a director. And through Immanuel Wallerstein, but especially through the very first recruit of the Fernand Braudel Center. Immanuel used to recruit people, both historians, sociologists, social scientists, and students. So, both professors and students were recruited by him in a certain sense. I was probably his last recruit. I don’t think that anybody came after me. I think the Center is now closed. But I met Dale Tomich, who was the first person that Immanuel recruited. And through my relationship with Dale even more than with Immanuel, I learned how to appreciate Braudel, and I moved away from EP Thompson and Christopher Hill and Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, and all of those historians of resistance, historians from below. I started to develop my own Braudalian history and my own broad area and approach to history.

Now, your question had another part, which was about the difficulties of organizing the former Yugoslavia, or what now I still insist on calling the Yugoslav political space, because of the NATO bombing. NATO bombing concerns two countries, one was Bosnia, where Bosnian Serbs were bombed, the other place was Serbia where I myself was bombed by the American NATO forces in 1999. It wasn’t pleasant. And it definitely left an extremely difficult wound, not only in terms of psychology and trauma and all of that, that definitely was the case for those of us who had to suffer through that. But in terms of how do you organize in the midst of all of this. The nationalism in Serbia is not something, ethnic nationalism, is not something that begins with NATO bombing. I think the “great counter revolution”, as I call it started really in the 80’s, and especially the end of the 80’s. And then with the Yugoslav civil war in the 90’s. Serbian nationalism, which was important because in those days, I was in Serbia and I assume so was Marco, created important limitations in being able to actually speak about any kind of leftist politics. So speaking about leftist politics, in face of either neoliberal capitalism or neoliberal modernization, or Serbian ethnic nationalism which was it’s alternative, oppositional and I would say symbiotic political option. They will complementary in many ways, although challenge counterintuitive, these were the, you know, huge conceptual blocks blocking the horizon of possibility of creating a new politics of emancipation.

And anarchism, which again, it has each moment and there was a possibility for actually articulating the new perspective that would be libertarian, and that would be anarchist. It was really hard. And I think that many of us made the mistake of not doing more to push for the anti-authoritarian socialist option in those days. However, it was really hard. I mean, you have to think about should be a nationalist paramilitaries, the war is over. There are people coming back from the war is a lot of street fighting, there’s our of violence everywhere. Mafia / organized crime is basically running the country. In relationship, a very intimate relationship, not only with political structures, but also with the ever powerful secret police in Serbia. And the countries, other countries or former Yugoslavia suffered a very similar fate. So it was really hard to fight for anarchism or any other kind of genuine leftist idea back in those days, and then referring to the end of the 90’s, beginning of 2000’s.

TFSR: So switching gears a little bit, you’re currently the editor of the Journal of World-Systems Research. We haven’t talked about World Systems Analysis on the show before so I wonder if you could give us an introduction to the framework of what it is how its approached relates to internationalists or inter-communalist, anti-capitalist struggle in and beyond academia?

AG: Well, that’s an interesting question in terms of relationship, and I think under explored why the relationship between anarchism and World-Systems Analysis. You know, there is the new issue of the journal for systems research will feature a special issue dedicated to non-state, anti-statist and anarchist movements in the capitalist world economy in the modern world system, but let me, let me try to explain what was so useful, for me at least in terms of thinking about political ideology and ideas within that framework. Immanuel was, and you can see this in the four volumes of his book Modern World-Systems, but also in many other books where he was popularizing or making more accessible all the historical arguments, that are very dense that he made in those main books, four volumes… Now, the important thing for me was that Immanuel was talking about 500 years of capitalism, 500 years of what he called “Capitalist World Economy”, “Capitalist World System, a historical social system that had its own, and this is an important term,Geoculture”. And that the geoculture, meaning a dominant, hegemonic idea of constellation of ideas. He called it “Centrist Liberalism”.

And it basically all of it begins with the end of the French Revolution, which introduced something completely new in the world and that novelty was called “social change”. Namely, before the French Revolution, the idea that change is possible, change is normal, change is even something that is good, has been universally rejected by traditional monarchistic ways of thinking about the way that the world works and the way that history moves. So, with the “dangerous classes” as Immanuel called them, or the French Revolution, this is the first moment when really the ruling classes people in power had to deal with the dangerous classes. And they had to somehow respond to this great pressure coming from below that was felt all the way to Haiti. And the Haitian Revolution was very much part of the French Revolutionary experience. Usually you don’t learn about the Haitian Revolution in American universities or high schools which I had to learn when I moved here. But the thing about this is that geoculture means that people in power had to figure out a way of how to respond to this pressure, also intellectually and this is where intellectuals come in handy and this is the birth of modern intellectuals, but also of modern ideologists. And of course of social sciences.

So the greatest novelty according to manual of French Revolution was that it created the idea that social change is normal, social change is desirable, but social change needs to be somehow managed and controlled. And the forum through which social change can be enacted and experimented with is the State. So, what capitalist modernity means, basically, is the organization of the world in which centrist liberalism occupies a central and most dominant place. However, the part of the whole world of capitalist modernity is not only occupied by the dominant real culture of centrist liberalism, but also by other modernist ideologies that are also part of capitalism. And these are, of course, modern conservativism, but also the dominant, mainstream forms of Marxism. They all deployed and accepted the liberal notion of Time, which was the linear notion of time, a progressivist notion of time. Unquestion belief in the idea of progress, linear temporality and organization of space through Nation States and through a political system of representative democracy, identified again with the space geographic space of the states, with a dominant nationality and ethnic group and dominant language. Now, many of us began to call this a Jacobin solution and Daniel Guérin has this famous and beautiful essay, De-Jacobinized Revolution, perhaps would be translation from French. I’m not entirely sure if this has been published in English (It is, it’s linked in the show-notes, -TFSR).

And the idea, basically, is that the Jacobin Revolution and temporality and Jacobin idea of the state and Jacobin idea of modernity has only one enemy: and that enemy was anarchism. And it gives the most anti-foundation of which, in a sense that it refused to accept all the foundational elements of capitalist modernity: Authority of the state; authority of the modern nation; authority of liberalism; and authority of the intellectual. So, what people in power did in order to manage social change, they invented the university. The university was a moribund institution, medieval University, of course, before the 18th century, when it was reinvented very carefully. And eventually in the 19th century, the disciplines were created. And all of this was a political enterprise. This was an attempt to again manage and explain social change. So your head all of a sudden social sciences, created with a particular political task. The first one that was transformed into science was actually history. And the reason why history was created was basically respond to the challenges of the Paris Commune of 1871. And then history, especially with Leopold von Ranke who said famously that “we have to study the history, the past, as it really happened,” became really a form of change that legitimizes the state and legitimizes the nation. And when I say legitimizes it also mean to a certain extent, creates the state and creates the nation. Historians, the new historians, professional historians, Ranke and others, were actually given a task to create states and nationas. States were already brought into life, now we had to invent… As the famous saying goes, “we have France, now we have to invent French people.” And for this, we needed history. So history was given that particular task.

Liberal ideology is organized around a trinity of concepts. It’s organized around very violent abstractions: one is called the state; another is called economy or the markets; and the last one is society. Society was left to the sociologists. Sociologists were there to study the society. Economists were invented in order to study the market. And finally political science and political scientists were created in order to study the state. Those people who were left behind the liberal political universe were known as Primitives, you know people who don’t really have the state. So, the stateless population of savages, barbarians, primitives were a domain of a new social science discipline known as anthropology. And finally, we have people who, once upon a time, used to have great empires, great cultures and great civilizations. And like people in Persia, like people in China, and they became the domain the field of study of Orientalists. People who were mostly philologists, but who were using all ways of studying different cultures that are supposedly frozen in time, meaning that they do not belong to the goals of Eurocentric liberal modernity.

And again, most of the ideas, most of the ideologies against centrist liberalism, what Immanuel Wallerstein calls “antisystemic movements”, movements against the system,, were very much embedded in that system because they accepted the same premise of progress of certain unqualified celebration of the enlightenment, or certain ideas of the Enlightenment, codefied by the State. And there was only one that was misfitting and that was anarchism. So what World-Systems does for me in terms of understanding anarchism, it opens up a space to speak about two periods in the history of anarchism. The first one is what I call the “First Anarchist Century”. And that is, I would say, roughly between the 1870’s and either 1917 or 1936, the Spanish revolution. Depending on when you want to think about the ends of the first anarchist century, which was the period and this is the reason why I’m calling it the anarchist century, is the period when anarchism was the dominant perspective in the Global South, and in basically all the countries except Western Europe.

In Western Europe, you had the absolute triumph, absolute predominance of hegemonic Marxism, which was the Marxism of the Second International, the Marxism of the steam engine and Marxism of the guillotine. Which was developed by people in German Social Democracy and later on improved upon, in a certain sense, by Lenin and his comrades. You had a few dissonant voices like Rosa Luxemburg, and like people who became known as Council Communists, Libertarian Marxist, but they were a minority. In most of the world, the dominant anti-capitalist tradition, was the tradition of anarchism. And you can read Benedict Anderson’s wonderful book called Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination (later republished as The Age of Globalization, now out of print, but a pdf linked in the episode notes -TFSR), Sho Konishi’s masterful work, Anarchist Modernity, and of course Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, who is from Lebanon, and her work The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914. And in all of these books, and many others, which are treating anarchism from this perspective, you could see that this period (1870’s to Russian Revolution, or perhaps the Spanish revolution), was a period where anarchism was really the only game in town in terms of an anti-capitalist politics. It served as a sort of gravitational force between revolutionary and anti-colonial struggles on different sides of the Atlantic. So, you had thes incredible situations in which Filipino nationalist (meaning anti-colonial fighters) would meet anarchists. and exchange ideas, would borrow from anarchist repertoire of anarchist ideas, which was very flexible because anarchism always gave more primacy to life than to the text. So this anti-authoritarian eclecticism of anarchists was something that the anticolonial revolutionaries in India, the Philippines, in Japan in China were all using for different purposes.

There were a series of communication network, which involved in many, many different journals from Belgrade to New Jersey, the most important one was you Paris, Les Temps Nouveaux. And all of these journals were sort of communications network of that anarchist century, but there were also other spaces. Anarchists were absolutely brilliant in using the new public spaces like taverns, cafes, but also theatres, to propagate anarchism. And of course schools. This is the beginning of Modern School Movement with Francisco Ferrer. But anarchism, actually, in terms of education begins with Paul Robin, who was an anarchist who created the first educational program for the Paris Commune, the only one, known as Integral Education. So, integral education and you will notice that the police were it to school California Institute of Integral Studies, integral education for a long time was the anarchist perspective on education. Tolstoy was very close to anarchism was very close to all of these, they were known as Model Schools. They were created all over not only Europe, but the entire world because anarchist organized through networks.

And networks were a preferred model of anarchist organizing, you know, in those days. So, Pietro Gori, Errico Malatesta, the fabled names of European anarchism, were all of a sudden in Paraguay and Argentina. And there’s a reason why… There was a very intimate connection between Caribbean, Pacific, Mediterranean networks, where anarchists were circulating their ideas. We know of translations of Malatesta in Cuba. We know of Malatesta, for example, trying to come to my part of the world, the Balkans to fight against the Ottomans. In in the late 19th century. We know that he was with Sergius Stepniak, who was a famous Russian populist. After that they went and they plundered the countryside of Italy, repurposing, or I guess the term would be expropriating many of the village properties there. Stepniak, then goes to Russia, assassinates the minister of the police, comes back to England. He is killed ,unfortunately, in Chiswick of all places in train accident. So, this is a time where anarchism is traveling everywhere. Francisco Ferrer was a famous anarchist educator was murdered by the states in 1908. His project which was known as Modern Schools, and the modern school movement becomes extremely popular. In the United States, you had modern school movement and many modern schools. But the Fransisco Ferrer Affair, as it was known, became a play, they used to be known as Martyr Plays. And this theater play, I think, premiered in Alexandria, or in Beirut, I can’t remember, and then later in Buenos Aires.

And then of course, you had the Mayday. Immigrants, anarchists who created the May Day and who, I guess to those two events are really kind of the connective tissue or the most celebrated events of the anarchist century. Marx was important. And I will say that anarchists in many ways were more faithful to Marx then majority of the so called hegemonic Marxism or the mainstream or right wing Marxism as they call it. Bakunin famously translated, in prison Marx’s capital. But anarchists were always skeptical of Marxism, because Marxism was a modernist ideology. The majority of Marx’s in those days were people who were tinkering with engineering, and the idea of creating the great locomotives of the future, fascinated with tractors and modernist progress. Anarchists were always skeptical, anarchists thinking about Russia Mir and the different, other forms of organization, self-organization of people in Russia. Not as pre-capitalist, in terms of a relic of the past, but as non-capitalist, in terms of traditional forms that, again to some extent, deform and avoid capitalist relations. And I believe very firmly that Marx at the end of his life, the most libertarian Marx, was the Marx who wrote to Vera Zasulich actually, the famous Russian populist, and who basically agreed that there is nothing inevitable about capitalism. However, Marx was not always read by the Marxists. And again, I think that anarchists and, later, feminists develop some of the most important and libertarian insights of Marx, and understood that Marx is far more complicated than it is presented by the Orthodox Marxist doctrine.

So, all of this is possible to understand if you think about World-Systems. You think about the first anarchist century which ends with a triumph of state socialism. And it basically ends with, and this is how Immanuel Wallerstein explains it he says… Well, during the anarchist century, he doesn’t use those terms, I do, but during the time of anarchist dominance in the capitalist world-system as an anti-systemic configuration of ideas there was a two step strategy that people accepted. Which is, first you change the society, you create new possibilities, you create new social relations, you create a new civilization basically, outside and against capitalist modernity. And then you destroy, or you replace, or you dissolve the states in those relationships. The two step strategy became reversed with the Russian Revolution, and it was: first, take the power of the state; then, create a new socialist humanity. And that two step strategy was felt all over the world. Dominance and overwhelming acceptance by the radicals of the two step strategy is part of what we can call the “Marxist century”, which in my analysis leads to 1968, the time that world-systems theorists called the “world revolution of 1968” that simultaneous exploded in many different places. And it basically questions, that fundamental premise of anti-systemic movements, which was that you have to first conquer the state, take the power, and then create a new society. And what was created instead was basically a validation of the anarchist insight, that you have to do it exactly the other way around. This was formulated in sort of clumsy way with a New Left movements and New Left political culture following the 1968 Revolutions during the 70’s. But finally, after the 1989, 1990’s, the end of Soviet Union, I think, the you can recognize the first symptoms of the triumph of all of those ideas that anarchists traditionally champion. And David Graeber and myself wrote an essay, I believe, sometime in the 90’s, Anarchism, Or The Revolutionary Movement of the Twenty-First Century, I think it was the name of that essay. That had an interesting career, and it’s still being read and widely disputed, and you know. But the basic idea that we had is that after this period after the Marxist century, the new anarchist century, the second anarchy century, is coming. In a sense of the anarchism, which was insurgent common sense, as we defined it in in the article, insisting on the ideas of self-organization, self-management, direct democracy, libertarian socialism, all of these ideas were becoming dominant. And again, a sense of a sort of a common sense in politics that we could see Mexico in other parts of Latin America, Europe, in the United States. The antiglobalization movement was profound, the I think, influenced by this libertarian impulse, as well as the Occupy movements.

So, right now I think we have this uncomfortable situation in which I can see the pernicious and short of frightening resurgence of statist, bureaucratic socialist ideas, and people who should be truly a shame for peddling this nonsense. Who are again, once again, trying to bring the state in and are trying to reinvent this cadaver of bureaucratic socialism, in this necrophiliac maneuver, to make us again, read all the people who we should really not read anymore. Is it Bernstein, or is it Kautsky? Is it Lenin or is it Trotsky? Or is it, God forbid, Stalin? All of these ghosts, demons from the past, are being summoned in order to make an argument that we need to be realistic, and we need to demand the possible. And the possible seems to be, again and this is such a colossal failure of imagination, but also any kind of historical nerve, is a resurrection of state bureaucratic socialism because we supposedly have no choice but to again commit a suicide in terms of radical politics. So, I think the great challenge for the new generation of radicals is to refuse any, and I mean any idea, political idea associated with the State. And to say farewell to the ideas and traditions of capitalist modernity, and to look at places like Rojava, and places like Chiapas, but also so many other places where libertarian ideas have been practiced and have been improved upon improvised and so forth. And there is a reason why ideas of World-Systems theorists like Immanuel Wallerstein, Giovanni Arrighi, and many others actually read in Rojava. If you read Rajala, the Kurdish part of Syria, which is the part of experiencing libertarian social revolution, well, the most important people are Murray Bookchin, an anarchist from United States. And the other most important reference is Immanuel Wallerstein and Fernand Braudel. Same with Chiapas. When you go to Chiapas, you will be escorted to the Immanuel Wallerstein library. So there is a reason why these theories actually being recognized as people who have something interesting to say, to the movements that are, perhaps, the most significant movements of our time.

So, all of this is a very long answer to your question that world-systems analysis, in my view, offers to people who identify with anarchism and libertarian Marxism, what we can call libertarian socialism or libertarian communism, a lot of space to rework politics in a way of understanding the world that is not the world of nation states. And the main premise of world-systems is that we live in a singular historical system, organized by an actual division of labor, there is a periphery there is a core there is perhaps something called semi-periphery. The way that this the world is organized through the division of labor, through the world markets, and through the interstate system. And in a certain sense, it is a direct assault against the usual nationalism, of conventional social science, that fetishizing the nation state is the main unit of analysis. In Worldsystems, it’s exactly the opposite. The main unit of analysis is capitalist modernity, capitalist worldeconomy, modern worldsystem, or now there is a new interpretation, Capitalist World-Ecology, associated with the work of Jason Moore and his school. Meaning, there is a historical system in which states are nothing but instances of political organization and we should study the way that different instances are being produced within historical space that we call capitalist world-system or capitalist world-ecology. And we should not fetishize the state as a unit of analysis, we should try to study them and understand them, but they should not be our unit of analysis.

TFSR: I think it’s really interesting that the two examples that you brought up of some of the revolutions that are currently going on, both sprung out of, to some degree, an initial Marxist impulse. Whether it be the, I think Stalinist at the time, PKK that went through the changes after the fall of the Soviet Union. And, and as he said, like, you know, brought in ideas from Brunel, and from book gin from Wallerstein for many other people, as well as studying what was happening in Chiapas. And then what was happening in Chiapas: Marxist guerrillas going into the jungle and intermeshing and building something new with Mayan people. And the synthesis that comes out, the unorthodox, largely indigenous answer to neoliberal capitalism that has been created in both those instances while distinctive of each other, there’s a lot of resonance between them. And I think that the fact that the impulse was directed by indigenous folks (not to say that indigenous folks aren’t a lot of different things, not to say it’s a monolithic thing)… But the fact that it’s such a break with this, modernist progressive worldview, that these other systems that, you know, academia has been pushing in that the states have been pushing. It provides an example that says, “it’s not like it moves from this state, and stage of development into this stage, and those people are back here. It’s, you know, it, it is what people make it.” Does that make sense? Sorry, that was going rambly…

AG: No, not at all, I think absolutely makes a lot of sense. And, you know, I’m right now writing an introduction to Öcalan’s book called Beyond Power, State and Violence, which is going to be published very soon. And it’s a huge book, which has 700 pages, I think, and the book was fascinating because he has all of these… It follows him changing from a person who might be called an old leftist, a Maoist, probably closest to Maoism. And you know, a person who believes in Statism and national liberation. And he does this thing that Maoists often call Critique/Self-Critique. And he does this in such a way that you see that he responding to the analysis made by Wallerstein and others, Bookchin, of course. But also responding to his own experience. He now imprisoned in the prison on the island of İmralı in Turkey, he is able to completely reinvent and creating a completely different system that is profoundly libertarian. You know, and I’m reading this book, and it’s an fascinating book. He speaks about his “curious marriages”, as she calls them, about his relationship with his brother, his love of the mountains. And at the same time he speaks, he criticizes analytical intelligence, and lack of dialectical method employed by many Marxists and gives this masterful overview of Kurdish and Ottoman and Turkish history. It’s just an incredible book. But you can see how incredibly difficult it must be for somebody to change. And then to enact a change, or to participate in the enactment of change in the entire movement, which is huge. I mean, the Kurdish Freedom Movement is probably the most numerous leftist in terms of numbers, at least leftist force that I can think of right now. And all of these people are now identified with a form of libertarian thinking, inspire may be formulated by Öcalan, in prison. So, it’s a mind boggling experience just observing this.

And David Graeber and myself had become acquainted with this experience in 2012, not without some initial skepticism. We were at the beginning, as two anarchists, very confused by the strange and somewhat skeptical. And it took us several trips to Rojava to actually be able to see that this is real, that this is not for show that this. And then of course, delving into all of this literature and reading, Öcalan‘s books, and even more importantly, meeting Kurdish activists, internationally, but also in Rojava and other places, in the Middle East was actually a profoundly enlightening experience. This was the first time, and I think I told you again, my grandparents have witnessed a revolution, they believed in revolution, that revolution was possible, that social change is possible. And I came of age at the time when people, mostly young intellectuals, were saying that no such thing is possible anymore. We have to have to stop having these great dreams, Imperial Napoleonic dreams of great change. And we need to think about whatever, lifestyles and different other kinds of impossibility of thinking and about revolution. It became codified in certain forms of post-structuralism and other intellectual interventions that were, you know, very popular that all discounted generosity, altruism, mutual aid, and revolution. And then coming to Rojava and seeing what’s happening there, I actually experienced firsthand what it means to be a part of a Social Revolution, of a revolutionary transformation of the entire society on the basis of a non-state democracy Democracy, that is, as any democracy, democracy cannot be compatible with the state, you either have the state representative government, or you have a democracy. You can’t have both at the same time. So we are seeing a non-state space and emerging there in the middle of a very complicated, confusing, contradictory social revolution, in which revolution once again becomes possible.

And I think this is very important. And I think that we should think about this and think about this incredible strength and courage that it took the Kurdish revolutionary movement to transform from a sclerotic, statist organization, to respond tp challenges and promises and perspectives of the new moment, of the new anarchist century and to reinvented themselves. And give us what is now probably the most impressive example of revolutionary uprising or revolutionary restructuring of a society that refuses to become a state anywhere.

So, I think that also confirms certain insights of worldsystems tradition, and I don’t know how interested you are in in my own way of dealing with it. You know, I told you that when I went to the Fernand Braudel Center, I was not exactly friendly disposed to Fernand Braudel, which was somewhat uncomfortable, as you can imagine. I was looking into histories from below and then, you know, through my exchanges with specially with the Dale Tomich, I understood that world-systems is by no means a coherent set of things. World-systems can be understood as a theory, which some people unfortunately do, which I think is a big mistake, or as a method, which is far more interesting way to think about world-systems. And it also led me to understand Marx in a different way. And it took me back to Marx, but not the Marx from my high school or my college, my university, different kinds of Max. A Marx, who actually, let’s say, a kind of unusual… And I mentioned at the beginning Karel Kosík and his book The Dialectics of the Concrete which influenced me deeply. A Marx, who actually opens up space for thinking, together with Braudel, about history in a much more layered and complex ways, opening up space for new temporalities that difference, antagonistic temporalities, to the dominant temporality, sense of time, of liberal modernity and capitalist modernity. It allowed me to grasp the Zapatistas and the courage, not as some kind of a precapitalist relic, again, not as people who belong in some kind of non-modern past, who need to be modernized, but to a group of people to two examples of this distinct, antagonistic temporality that Kurds had a term for. This inhabits democratic modernity, a different kind of modernity, a different kind of temporality that can only be understood if we employ a very non-conventional social science. And that led me to this interesting, I think, or weird perhaps, way of combining Hegelian Marxism, anarchist anthropology, and Braudelian history as a way of understanding what world-systems is and world-systems analysis could be.

And, to conclude with this, in response to this question of yours: I think this is also something that has very significant political consequences, including for the country or to the region that I come from, I introduced myself as somebody who is not only a Yugoslav but a Balkan Federalist. And when you think about the notions of federalism and regional organization, the principles of non-statist federalism… Well, that’s exactly what is coming out of Kurdistan right now is the idea of Democratic Confederalism. And I think that people in the Balkans should be in dialogue with these ideas. And I think this is definitely where my politics and political energy goes these days. To create these possibilities of political translation, in which the ideas of federalism that of course, will be different in Kurdistan and in the Balkans, and the possibilities of these Federalist ideas in other parts of the world, can be somehow placed in a dialogue. And we can actually learn from all of these experiences and struggle for what was, for a long time, a signature accomplishment of anarchism, which is the anti-authoritarian, federalist political idea, and self-management as a way of organizing society.

TFSR: I’ve had you on for a long time, and I would love to continue talking. I think I just have time for one more question if that if you don’t mind, but I’d love to talk again sometime in the future.

So, you’ve brought up David Graeber a couple times and anarchist anthropology. 2020 saw the passage of your friend and colleague anarchist anthropologist activist, author and professor David Graeber. I feel like a lot of the impacts that he had on liberatory movements haven’t yet been measured. And I wonder if you’d say some words about your relationship, and what of his works left their mark on you most. And if you have any suggested starting places for people that aren’t familiar with his writings and contributions…

AG: Yes, David was my best friend since the end of the 90’s until his passion in September last year and something ago, show it was probably the greatest loss of my life, and somebody who I profoundly mourn and miss every day. And David was not just a best friends… just… Not only a best friend, but also a political companion. And I don’t think I’ve ever had an idea that I did not run by him first. We used to talk on the phone every day, we used to meet to discuss these things, and it’s hard for me to talk about David. But it’s also important, I think, to talk about David, because David should be celebrated as, to my mind, the most original anarchist thinker of the contemporary period. And also a brilliant anthropologist.

What has he distinguished? Well, he’s distinguished by his… First of all, his contribution to anthropology has been immense. And I think people are going to spend a lot of time assessing he his contribution to anthropology and other historical social sciences. He was not troubled by trends in anthropology, he was actually quite traditional in his taste, in terms of anthropology. And he wanted anthropology to go back, not to its colonial roots of course, but what made anthropology so rich.

And that is the idea that anthropology could be understood as a catalog of political possibilities. Possibility was a key word for David and perhaps the first book that I would recommend to people to read collection called Possibilities published by aka presh, sometime around 2008. That book contains all the germs of the ideas that David would continue to explore. And that coalesced around the idea of a dialogue. David believed in dialogue, something that he called dialogical relativism or dialogical anthropology and also dialogical politics. He believed, for example, that anarchism is, more than anything else, premised are made possible by the idea of dialogue. Anarchism is profoundly dialogical. We come together, because we want to solve a particular problem and then we talk about it. We don’t first define social reality and then we have all to agree about what social reality and political reality and so forth is, devise a correct line, and then proceed from there. That is the political horizon of Orthodox Marxism. His idea was anarchism was a situation in which we have a particular problem that we have to solve and people who might have completely different views of what the world is like, come together to figure out how to solve that problem. Out of which he developed something that he calls “low theory”, which is different than “high theory.” Low theory is the way of grappling with all of these consequences of practical, political projects.

Anarchism, in that sense, is profoundly dialogical, and anarchist anthropology, which is the term that David has been associated with, which is elucidated in his pamphlet, Fragments of An Anarchist Anthroopology, published in 2001. A brilliant piece of work, that pamphlet. Something that I have tried, and I think this is my way of honoring David, was to build it intp my department. I was invited to California Institute of Integral Studies in 2012, to build the department, and they asked me what kind of department you would like to build. I said, “Well, I would like to create a department of Anarchist Anthropology,” and I really thought that I was going to throw me out of the room or maybe through the window. But they actually said “Yes, ok”. And one of the reasons was that David made anarchist anthropology something that people were able to refer to and understand that something that is actually valuable.

One of the ways that he spoke about anarchist anthropology was suspended dialogue or an active dialogue between ethnographic research and possible utopias or utopian possibilities. So, ethnographic research into utopian possibilities, places, experiences, cracks that are created in the here and now and that already exist. And then using all the gifts and possibilities of offered by the technique of ethnography to actually study those people those practices and those spaces, is what makes anthropology anarchists. This is what we do at the department of Anthropology and Social Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies, we try to use ethnography and by ethnography, I mean militant ethnography, militant research activist ethnography in order to study these utopian possibilities. And again, for David’s anthropology was study of human possibilities, showing people, showing the audience, showing his readers that humanity and the possibilities are always much larger than we are led to believe. And discovering them, and bringing them to light, emphasizing them, preventing them from rescuing them, as EP Thompson said, from the condescension of posterity. It’s something that anthropologists should be doing and anthropology should be doing. At its best, it’s all about enlarging the sense of political possibility.

David, as a political theorist, I hesitate to call him that… as a political… David as an anarchist intellectual, is somebody who has inspired anarchism by pushing us to think about anarchism as a not as a dead set of ideas, as something that sclerotic and belongs to the 19th or early 20th century, but something that continues to develop. And he recognized social sciences, anthropology in particular, but social sciences more generally, as an important vehicle in expressing anarchist ideas, and developing anarchist insights. David as an anthropologist and David as a political anarchist, usually people talk about them in separation. I think that’s a mistake. I think that David was one of the most serious and dedicated anarchists I have ever met. And he is definitely the most brilliant social scientists that I was likely to meet, a privilege to meet and call the a friend. And he is someone who was able to show us a way that social science need not to be neutral, or anarchist have nothing to be ashamed of. There is no intellectual deficient, inherent in the tradition of anarchism. Quite on the contrary, anarchism can be used in a way that is profoundly intellectual. And he defied those foundational principles of capitalst modernity, talked about in such a vigorous intelligence, and creative way that is hard for me to find words. The loss is immeasurable but the books that he left us, including The Dawn of Everything, which we co-authored with his friend, David Wengrow, are absolutely breathtaking in the ambition, scope, and consequences for thinking about world history. And David used to say that he thinks about the past and writes about the past because people who write history, write about the past in a way that hides, obscures the possibilities. In a way that it prevents it to be written in a way that prevents us to think about the future. So he was very interested in finding a way of writing about the past, so that a new kind of future and possibilities would be revealed. And I think that in doing this, he was remarkably successful.

So you’re quite right, his political legacy and intellectual legacy, the two of which cannot be separated, is something that’s going to be rediscovered and celebrated, I’m sure many, many decades from now. And perhaps to end with this, he was just one of the most joyful, one of the most generous and one of most dedicated people I’ve ever met in my wife.

TFSR: Thank you very much for sharing that, Andrej. Well, thank you so much for this conversation. I’ve learned a lot. I’m very excited to share this with the audience.

In closing, I guess we mentioned And the Journal of world systems research where people can find your editorial work. Where else can listeners find some of your books, or if you have a blog or anything like that, aside from the Journal?

AG: Well, one thing that I do is I am one of the people involved with PM Press publishing. And it’s a project that I care a lot about. And it is thanks to another brilliant and exceptional person whose name is Ramsey Kanaan and the group of people that he brought together, we have a publisher that exemplifies I think, all that it’s best in thinking about anarchism and radical politics today. And with PM Press, I am an editor of an imprint, or series editor I guess, called Kairos. The term mistaken from Immanuel Wallerstein and the way that he uses the term Kairos, which means the right moment, the idea that this being: now is the right moment to think about social change. Right? So Kairos is an imprint of PM Press. And people can go to PM Press website, and see Kairos. And see the books that we publish with Kairos. And of course there is a blog or there is a page that they have there. That is part of the PM Press website. And of course, California Institute of Integral Studies, Department of Anthropology and Social Change. We also publish things there

TFSR: Is Kairos where people can hope to see the translation of Öcalan’s work that you’re doing the introduction for?

AG: Yes, so kind of is where we have published so far, I think, four books by Öcalan. And at least two or three books about the Kurdish freedom movement and the Rojava revolution. I edited all of them and I think these are really important documents for understanding what is happening with the Kurdish freedom movements and struggles in Rojava in particularly,

TFSR: Again, thank you so much for taking the time and for all the work that you that you do. I really appreciate it.

AG: Thank you for having me.

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

Black & Red Flag background, purple cat in foreground holding a star in its mouth like a mouse
Download This Episode

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.

Mèo Mun links:

Other Links of Interest:

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

. … . ..

Transcription:

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:

Oh, Stalin!

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!

The Russian Political Landscape and Anarchist Prisoners

The Russian Political Landscape and Anarchist Prisoners

Download This Episode

This week we’re featuring 2 guests speaking about Russia. First up, John spoke with author and journalist Dmitry Okrest about the state of anarchist and antifascist movements in Russia, the politics of Putin’s United Russia party, nazis and the far right in Russia and successes of the Communist Party in electoral politics. Then, Moscow Anarchist Black Cross member-in-exile, Antii Rautiainen, adds some more detail on repression in Russia, including the hunger strike of Network Case prisoner, Victor Filinkov, calls for solidarity from mathematician Azat Miftakhov and others.

Rad Russia-ish Links:

Dmitry Okrest’s Books:

Russian Limbo, Podcast about prisons: https://open.spotify.com/show/3tyBLCEQnvkY9L3DdrGry1

Antii Rautiainen’s podcast links:

Past interviews on repression in Russia:

Announcement

Keith “Comrade Malik” Washington

In a quick announcement, we want to note that The SF Bay View National Black Newspaper editor Nube Brown just published an article showing that Keith Washington, aka Comrade Malik, admitted in a letter to a prosecutor in 2011 (while throwing a prisoner seeking legal support to the wolves) that he had and would gladly work with law enforcement and the FBI to snitch on inmates or whoever as a source or informant. Malik was then incarcerated in Texas and became involved in organizing with the New Afrikan Black Panther Party and participated in the 2016 nationwide prison strikes, gaining notoriety. Malik came to play a prominent role in the prison movement and was in 2020 released to a halfway house in San Francisco after a surprising parole from Texas and brief stint in Federal prison. Malik helped to run the SF Bay View upon release but has since left. I think a lot of facts on this still need clarification, but some things just don’t add up with Malik’s situation. Check out the piece by editor Nube Brown with an addendum by former editor Mary Ratcliff at SFBayView.Com and likely in the print edition of the paper.

. … . ..

Featured Track:

  • Set Adrift On Memory Bliss (Extended) by PM Dawn from eponymous single

. … . ..

Transcription

Dmitry Okrest

TFSR: Hello and welcome to the Final Straw. My name is John and I’m going to be conducting an interview today with Russian independent journalist Dmitry Okrest about the recent repression of leftists and anti-fascists in Russia. Welcome to the show, Dmitry.

Dmitry Okrest: Nice to meet you.

TFSR: Nice to meet you. To start with, could you give our listeners some context on yourself and the work you’ve done as an independent journalist in Russia?

DO: Just a few words, I have been a member of a punk hardcore scene in Moscow for the last 15 years. I had been more involved like 10 years ago, and I made my fanzine, organized freemarkets, music label, a book publishing house, and discussion forums. There was one generational change, I tried to work at first in a historical publishing house, and then I moved to work in the media. And as a journalist, I worked for a long time in a society department. I write more about street politics, human rights, police, prisons. And I have also written about a lot of political radicals, including Nazis, jihadists. I’m now a co-author of two books about how the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc moved from their version of socialism to capitalism. The books are in the spirit of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, and I’m also the author of a book about Rojava, where different researchers, activists, fighters talk about this project and their own experience. I’m currently preparing a book about the anti-fascist movement in Russia. We’re looking for an opportunity to translate some of it into English.

TFSR: That’s great. Those books all sound really fascinating. You said they’re only in Russian currently.

DO: Unfortunately, only in Russian. But we wanted to translate it into English, too.

TFSR: That’s really interesting. All three of those sound fascinating. And just for context, as most of the listeners live in the United States, and we’re ignorant about the world in general, or at least many of us are. How old are you? Where does that place you as far as your experience with the Soviet Union, and the years in between? Do you recall that experience of the Yeltsin years and all this?

DO: I was a child when the Soviet Union collapsed. So I really don’t remember anything. But I remember a lot of details after the Soviet Union crashed. So it was the time of economical crisis, most of the people didn’t have any money at all, no jobs. There were a lot of local wars. But on the other hand, there was much more freedom, freedom of speech, freedom in politics, and there was no big punishment for any activity. Now it’s a nostalgia war about what was it? Was it a good time, or not a very good time? And now, there are much more political wars over this period. Most people have a very selective memory for it. So now, it’s a very political question.

TFSR: Interesting. When you’re saying more like freedom of expression, you’re saying as in contrast to today, right?

DO: Yeah, because Putin has been the president for 22 years. He became prime minister in 1999. So we had like nine years of so-called freedom, and then a 21-year period of the so-called stability, but in fact, there is no stability, it’s just a mask, imagination.

TFSR: A question I wanted to sort of start off with: Could you, to the best of your ability, give us a brief overview of recent anarchists and anti-fascist movements in Russia, and the repression that has been facing them? Because I’m aware of a bunch of trials in the last 10 years or so of supposedly anarchists terrorists or whatever.

DO: Maybe the most well-known case is the so-called Network terrorist group. It started four years ago before the World Cup Championship. Activists were kidnapped, beaten, tasered, forced to sign a piece of investigation evidence. These are 11 men from different cities, and secret services incriminated them with the participation in this mythical terrorist organization. There were a lot of accusations of them being terrorists, but no real evidence. In this case, the political police made a lot of work. A lot of people moved from Russia because there was a dangerous situation.

There are also other terrorist cases. Three years ago, a 17-year old anarchist went into a local political police office with a bomb, but he killed only himself. And he said that he tried to support the Network case defendants. And after that, more than 200 people were arrested, cases started against them. They commented that he was a hero to do it. Some of these persons are anarchists or anti-fascists. That played badly against the anarchist movement. Also the people in Kaliningrad, in Crimea, that used to be part of Ukraine, there were also terrorist cases. So now a terrorist case is the best way to put anybody in prison because no one really wants to support terrorists. Because, you know, it sounds like they wanted to kill everyone. But now people understand that it wasn’t really a terrorist, but something that political police called like that.

TFSR: I see. I know that there is or was a big-ish movement of anti-fascism in Russia. And in my mind, that was a response, I assume, to a rise of hard-right violence on the streets. Is there… it’s hard to say a brief history of that because that’s many years. But in my mind, the reason I could assume that the far-right gained power or popularity in Russia in the last…

DO: Fortunately not now, but 10 years ago, hundreds of migrants and ten street anti-fascists were killed. But when the Nazis tried to seize the monopoly of power and become the power themselves, all violence was stopped pretty quickly. There was quite a lot of information about provocateurs in the Nazi movement. Now, there are a lot of Nazis in Russian prisons and they wanted to do something like Aryan Brotherhood, but most of them just cooperate with the prisons administration in exchange for any help, indulgence. On the other hand, a lot of right-wing football fans became demonstratively apolitical last year in exchange for opportunities to control their territories. Some of them attacked political opposition actions and now, they try to be very silent, especially before and during the World Championship in Russia four years ago.

Now it’s not a really big problem but last summer, political police arrested three groups of neo-Nazis. It looks like they became more popular, the memory of those events pops up amongst the younger generation, but the intensity of passion is not the same at all. So, police forced these Nazis to admit on camera that they renounce nazism, but I think they were not ideological, it was rather street violence, nothing more. But they will be in prison for the next 10 years or so. So in my mind, now we can expect a consistent evolution of the right into the people hate – open misanthropy. Some Nazis hope for disparate revenge, and therefore they can commit terrorist attacks. But I think they will inevitably be crushed by the state and police.

TFSR: I know that this conversation is sprawling, but that brought up an interesting point for me. I personally don’t really understand what Putin’s and United Russia’s politics are. I think a lot of American liberals see them as being right-wing, but in my mind, it seems like they just work with whomever against whomever. I don’t really understand what United Russia’s politics are, other than just like power.

DO: I think that nobody knows, in fact. It’s something quite conservative. But inside Russia, the state just uses different political science and young politicians. When they need, they use Nazis. But in this case, they’re not a Nazi state, they just use it for several years. For example, they tried to communicate with the left-wing movement 10 years ago, but nobody wanted to do it. And they said, okay, but they tried to do it. Now they say a lot of things against tolerance, about transgender, etc. They seem to be much more right-wing, but in fact, in the next five years, it could change again.

TFSR: It’s just cold power or something like that? Interesting. I guess, speaking of politics, more macro politics in Russia, we saw really large protests last year, in theory, in support of the opposition political figure Navalny. And the United States media and liberals championed him as a liberal democratic icon, but some of what I’ve read is that he’s somehow a Russian nationalist, or has sketchy racial beliefs of other groups in the Russian Federation. I guess I’m curious about how leftists and specifically anarchists engaged in those protests, and also what your take of Navalny as a political figure is.

DO: As I said before, the Russian government doesn’t use any political terms. And usually, people in Russia also don’t use any political terms. Most people really don’t know the difference between a liberal, democratic, authoritarian, etc. When you talk about liberal, Western, etc., usually people don’t understand what it means. Navalny originally was known as a blogger who writes about corruption. He is was originally from the Democratic Liberal Party, but he tried to cooperate with nationalists. He tried to communicate with them when they were popular 10 years ago, but Nazis and other nationalists didn’t accept him. So as a result, now Navalny tries not to answer this question, he tried to ignore it. And for a long time, he was out of danger, although he had several criminal cases, then he was poisoned last year, he was taken to Berlin, then he returned despite a prison term. Now he’s in prison.

His arrival was a strong sign that inspired many people, not only his supporters. Navalny’s actions look rather like a civil protest in which anarchists also took part and two of them ended up in prison. One guy is still in prison, there was a case with policemen. The current protests are connected with the name of Navalny. Now he’s been recognized as an extremist organization. And nobody can say that he supported Navalny without a punishment. There were mass actions against putting Navalny in the prison but then the most massive repression began this January, and now most of the employees of Navalny’s campaign team have immigrated. Many media outlets are in crisis and under sanctions, and a lot of people are in prison because it’s very easy to be in prison for being detained several times at a legal demonstration. And now we don’t have any legal demonstration because of the pandemic, it’s illegal to make any demonstration at all.

Another thing, economic conditions have been deteriorating in Russia. Lately, Navalny has made it visible how officials are living richer and richer. So people were really angry in this case, because they don’t have a lot of money, but they see a video with officials and their palaces. So for me, it’s a good position when we can see the result of such corruption. But as I said before, most people don’t use any political terms. They don’t have any political education. And in this case, the main problem is that they don’t know what is going to happen afterward. And there is no opportunity to understand what will happen after this government.

TFSR: So there are recent elections in Russia. And I know that something that came out of them was also this law against foreign agents or something like this. That that has led to the repression of journalists and other people, but specifically leftists. Could you speak about the most recent wave of repression? As well as stories that I’ve read about people leaving Russia for Georgia or other areas, having to flee basically, based on the repression.

DO: It’s true. Since the beginning of 2021, the Ministry of Justice has added 11 media outlets, 42 journalists, and 9 NGOs to their register of so-called foreign agents. Every Friday someone else gets on this list. Now there are 223 foreign agents. If we think in terms of liberal democracy, it is an act of state pressure on the media or public organizations, because there is the destruction of any infrastructure and control by authorities. We’re talking about projects controlled by the Russian authorities. These organizations get grants from different funds – from the US, from United Nations, and the European Union. But the problem is that these organizations, these NGOs, and these media are the only ones that try to do anything with corruption, protests, or tortures in the police departments. The danger of criminal liability constantly hangs over foreign agents – from fines to imprisonment up to five years. It led to really big fines and bankruptcy of organizations. You can go to prison for five years if you don’t do good paperwork for the ministry, but no one knows how to prepare it. And society understands it. People sign a lot of petitions against this foreign agent law. So now it’s 150,000 signatures. But as usual, there are no street actions because people are afraid. As I said before, detentions at a rally can lead you to prison. So people try not to be in this area.

TFSR: I’d seen an article about specifically Russians fleeing to Georgia. And I imagine it’s because Georgia is aligned with the United States.

DO: Russia and Georgia, there was a war between them 12 years ago, so we don’t have any diplomatic contacts. There are a lot of American NGOs that are based in Georgia. 20% of Georgia’s territory is under the control of the Russian army. This country is relatively safe, sorry for such a comparison, but it looks like an American activist would go to Cuba, for example. But basically, everyone connected with politics in Russia is going to Georgia now: journalists, human rights activists, supporters of Navalny, liberal activists, leftists, anarchists. During the pandemic, there are not a lot of states where we can go. The border with Georgia is closed, we can go to Armenia, and then from Armenia, which is a friend of Russia, we can go to Georgia, but most states now are closed for Russians. So Georgia became a state where it can be maybe safe, maybe not, I don’t know exactly.

TFSR: I see. Along the lines of talking about Georgia, and then also right-wing violence that we were talking about earlier. Has there been a lot of repression of queer and trans activism and life in Russia, or how that has been because you mentioned that anti-trans stuff had been popping up?

DO: It looks like no people – no problem. Now a lot of such people are invisible, because of the law against the so-called “gay propaganda.” So most people prefer not to say about themselves, for example, most gay people I know, I really don’t know if they’re gay or not, because there is no one coming out and sometimes I hear about someone, but usually people prefer not to say anything about it. So most people prefer to be “normal” because if you say that you are gay, it will be not a very good situation in prison if you get arrested and there is a lot of homophobia. Most people, including gays and trans persons, prefer not to show themselves in many cases, especially in a demonstration, etc. So there are no open street manifestations or something like that. Most people show their sexual orientation only in talks at home. And in Georgia, it is the same situation. In Georgia and Belarus, in Ukraine, the situation is a bit better. But in fact, there are a lot of Nazis also, so most people prefer not to show themselves during ordinary life.

TFSR: That’s pretty grim.

Speaking of Belarus, maybe a week or two ago on The Final Straw, we aired an interview with several Belarusian anarchists about the uprising and repression by the Lukashenko regime there. And I was wondering, because, in our talks, we discussed Belarus and Belarusian anarchists quite a bit. And I was wondering, without making this a conspiracy, how much interaction and solidarity is there amongst anarchists in former Soviet and Eastern European countries? Because I know that there’s been a really strong anarchist movement in Belarus for as long as I’ve been reading the Abolishing Borders From Below magazine about Eastern Europeans. So I was wondering what influences go between these countries?

DO: Belarus is the closest country to Russian, in linguistic and cultural terms. I’ve never been to Canada and US, but it looks the same. So the before the beginning of the war in Donbas, Ukraine was the same country. But now, xenophobia is unfortunately on both sides. So there were many common organizations in post-Soviet space, and activists always went to each other during demonstrations or gatherings. A lot of people from Russia helped local activists, for example, many of my friends are banned from entering the territory of Belarus for the next 10 years. The reason was that they participated in street actions, and now activists left for Russia when the repression started in Belarus because neighboring Poland didn’t open any humanitarian escapes.

At the same time, the territory of Russia is not very safe for the Belarusian people. For example, one Belarusian journalist was detained in Moscow and brought to Belarus, and now he’s in prison. An anarchist from Belarus is in jail in Moscow, he took part in so-called mass riots in Belarus and the Belarusian state wants to extradite him. But he’s still in Moscow. Right now, over 1000 people are in the prison for political reasons in Belarus and about 30 anarchists and anti-fascists are among them. Some of them were tortured by suffocation, electricity. We don’t have any quality communication with them, because it’s a big problem with lawyers now. They can’t share information about the case. I think that same situation will be in Russia in the next maybe two-three years because usually, Belarus looks like a [testing ground] where the state tries to do something and to understand if it works or not? A lot of people think that now we will have a similar situation in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

TFSR: Has that happened in the past where forms of repression… Have authoritarian government policies happened in Belarus and then later happened in Russia in the past, or is that just a fear?

DO: The most updated information, you can read on abc-belarus.org. It’s the website of the Anarchist Black Cross Belarus. But what I see now, most people don’t do any street action, but they are still angry, they stayed, and they try to help people in prison, they try to support each other, there was a lot of solidarity between people, they help each other in medical cases, in cases of mental health. So in my opinion, it is the best option for people now to help each other and try to support each other in this dangerous time. So the best time is to save their resources.

TFSR: Thank you for that. I mean, it’s just a horrible situation.

Well, this isn’t really related to the anarchist movement or anarchy at all. You sent me an interesting article in Jacobin, about the recent elections and electoral gains by the [Russian] Communist Party, and also that article was posing that there is a shift within that party towards a more social-democratic opposition, and I was curious about if that in itself could lead to a resurgence in leftist politics in general. And also, if the recent gains in the election are significant, or if it’s just a weird apparition?

DO: Well, there was a very interesting case of Mikhail Lobanov, he is a professor. He’s a mathematician. He took part in a trade union, he’s a real good activist. And he is not a typical communist from this party but in fact, this Communist Party is not a real communist party. It’s not a Marxist party. It’s more conservative, they think about how the Soviet Union was a really great state. And for them, it’s more important to know that the Soviet Union was Imperial than an actual communist state. So the campaign of professor Lobanov, I think was the best thing that left activists have been doing for a long time in the entire post-Soviet space because the degree of penetration of leftist ideas, slogans, problems to the masses was unprecedented. People really were surprised that there is someone who could say anything smart about society without any problem. He didn’t say he is a communist or a socialist, in fact, he looks like a left-wing democrat. But for a lot of people, it was really surprising, because they usually see people who are more Stalinist than communist. So in Lobanov, they just saw a very smart person who can tell smart things about society, about taxes, about different repressions with a left-wing optic, and in this case, it was really interesting to see the reaction of people. He won the election, but in fact, now he’s not a deputy in the Parliament, because the state preferred to change the results. In this case, it was interesting how he made a political machine. There are a lot of left-wing activists who decided to help him. He preferred to be a mouthpiece of a lot of people. He preferred to be not like a typical parliamentarian, but a man who takes a recommendation from people to the state, and for the political system in Russia, it’s looks really exotic. So maybe for people in the US, it looks like nothing special, but for the Russian political movement, it was special, like “Wow, how did that happen?!” People were really surprised, and that’s why a lot of people helped him.

TFSR: Do you think in some ways that his popularity or the popularity of the things he was saying shows that there is some left-wing or more liberatory desire in Russian society? Also, do you think he’s actually speaking to material needs? Do you think there is a left potential in Russia?

DO: I think that it shows the request for left-wing ideas because people see the crisis, economic crisis, political crisis, ecological crisis, electoral crises, but people don’t see any solution. There is no way to protest. A lot of people went to this election because they just wanted to show they don’t agree with the state, they wanted something to change. But they’re really afraid to do anything, to take part in any street action, in any organization, because a lot of organizations now are under punishment, under repressions. So, I think that it could be a good chance to show that there are such ideas that they can be popular, but no one knows how to use that effect.

TFSR: Have there been any sort of attempts from more autonomous or anti-authoritarian left groups to, not piggyback, but exploit the fact that these ideas are becoming more mainstream, or work on spreading those?

DO: In fact, we don’t have any polls to understand what people really think. And we don’t have time to grow politically or to raise any activist, because it’s a really big risk for such people. Only in their kitchens [in private] do people say what they really think. And in this case, we have a lot of informal networks between people. But there is no real formal actions and formal organizations for any movement, and most people prefer to put their ideas, their activity in a secret.

TFSR: Does it feel like when there are large-scale demonstrations, that’s the only moment when people can be open politically? Like when there are enough people in the streets, that it’s hard for the police to pick off individuals?

DO: I think that really nobody knows the answer to this question. Because there is no data, no information. And it’s really hard to make any researches and now the state tried to do something with independent researchers, with independent education, with people who know how to make a study. We don’t have any tools to understand what we can do in the next year, in the next five years. There is a very good term to describe this. It’s “forced helplessness,” people don’t know about their power, and there is no opportunity to check it. The same situation is for the left-wing movement and anarchist movement because they don’t know what power they have and how to use it. There is no space for practicing it.

TFSR: I assume you probably didn’t listen to it, but in an interview, my colleague did with the folks from Belarus about the uprising there, was interesting, because while so many of their comrades are in prison and facing really horrible odds, they also seem somewhat more positive about potential future stuff in Belarus. It takes me by surprise, the attitudes of those folks being hopeful about the future. Whereas it seems like in Russia, it’s not so hopeful at the moment, which is just the reality, obviously. But it was interesting to hear the differences, obviously, it’s very different countries in different contexts.

DO: I can’t say that I am an optimist because I think I’m more realist. I really don’t think that it will be better after Putin, because I really fear that different police departments, Nazis, etc. can use their power. But on the other hand, I see people around me, I see a lot of good vibes between people. I hope that it will be better because people can say something without being repressed. But it’s just a hypothesis, I really don’t know.

TFSR: I wanted to first thank you, and really appreciate you being in touch with me and doing this. But I also wanted to ask, is there a way that you can think of that anarchists or anti-fascists in the United States could show solidarity with their comrades in Russia that are facing repression right now, or any kind of meaningful solidarity?

DO: There is the Anarchist Black Cross Moscow, which supports the repressed activists, and Russian and Belarusian anarchists often call for solidarity. So the best way is to make any demonstration or help. So you can check like Avtonom.org or Rupression.com for any information in English because these organizations provide legal and material support, medical care, food parcels, etc. I know that the Russian state really doesn’t like to see any solidarity in different states they get very angry. And for us, it was really interesting to see how American anti-fascist and anarchists took part in different demonstrations last year or two years ago, it was really exciting for us. But my recommendation is that everyone needs to know how to support each other, like to know how to take medical care, how to sustain good mental health, and how to be in a good healthy condition because when we had that street violence 10 years ago, only training with guns and knives helped people from the anarchist movement to survive. So in my mind, it’s really good knowledge how to protect yourself, and I hope that people from the US also know how to help themselves and to protect each other.

TFSR: I like you mentioning that you need to do mental health stuff but also learn how to shoot guns. I didn’t expect it to go there but it makes a lot of sense. I really appreciate you talking with us. Where can people find work that you’ve written and stuff that are translated into English?

DO: I have some publications on OpenDemocracy.net. It’s a site with a lot of materials on the situation in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine in English. We made a podcast in English about Russian prisons, and we called Russian Limbo. We usually don’t have any possibility to make articles in foreign languages, unfortunately.

TFSR: No, that’s great. We will put these different websites you’ve mentioned, and podcasts in the show notes so people can click on those. And that podcast about the Russian prison sounds fascinating. I appreciate it. Thank you for negotiating the time difference with me.

DO: Thanks a lot. And thanks for your questions and interest. It was really nice to talk with you.

. … . ..

Antti Rautiainen

TFSR: Can you identify yourself for the audience with any names, pronouns, or affiliations that make sense for this conversation?

Antti Rautiainen: Yeah, my name is Antti, I’m working with ABC-Moscow. Even so, I’m in exile currently, haven’t been able to visit Russia for almost nine years.

TFSR: So I was hoping that a chat with you could accompany the interview that we just heard with Dmitry Okrest, about the situation for anarchists and anti-fascists in Russia by making space for more specific updates from Moscow ABC. So thank you so much for making yourself available for this. Off-mic, you had mentioned that there was a hunger strike of Viktor Filinkov. Could you tell us more about his situation, remind us of his case, and how he’s doing?

AR: Viktor Filinkov was in prison as a part of the so-called Network case, which was started around 2017-18. It was a number of anarchists and anti-fascists, and just their random friends from the city of Penza and the city of St. Petersburg, who were framed up to be some underground terrorist organization. I was a part of a support campaign for them which united many different people all around Russia and also internationally, but it didn’t succeed to have this case collapse, and everyone was sentenced. And Viktor Filinkov was one of the people sentenced, they started doing their terms this year and the previous year they have been appealed without any changes. And now they have been sent to prison colonies. Viktor Filinkov arrived in his colony in August. It’s in Orenburg, close to Kazakhstan. And they have been putting huge pressure on him in this colony. He’s been basically sent to the hole more than 10 times, he hasn’t been a single day in the general prison population, maybe he was in some common cells for a couple of days, but in general, he has been kept in complete isolation.

And currently, he started a hunger strike on the 30th of October. This is a traditional day of political prisoners, of first Soviet dissidents, and then political prisoners in the Russian Federation since the 70’s. There were hunger strikes of political prisoners already in the 70’s. So Viktor joined this tradition, but also, he is stating his own demands, which are that he wants to be released to the general prison population to escape the isolation. And he also demands to get written materials, like books, papers, and materials of his own case, because currently, he is not even allowed to read his own case. This is an ongoing thing, the hunger strike has been on for around one month and Victor is struggling for some basic things. Probably, it’s the prison administration who wants to frame him up, every time he is sent to a hole for a minor violation, like laying down in his bed, which basically is not allowed in the Russian prison colonies in certain hours or not dressing completely, according to prison form rules. Just general bullshit things. And probably the goal is to railroad him to higher security prison called EPKT, which is basically the highest security prison.

TFSR: A hunger Strike is a really intense method of struggle that can cause extreme deterioration of some of the body’s systems, long-lasting effects after the actual hunger strike. It’s a choice of the last tactic for people. Is there much history recently of the prison administration’s responding to this? Or is there much discussion in Russia right now about Viktor’s case?

AR: Filinkov’s case doesn’t seem to be super high profile. But it’s not only anarchists but also some human rights defenders or liberals supporting him to some extent, especially the Novaya Gazeta, which got the Nobel Prize in literature, they are covering his struggle. So I wouldn’t say that he’s completely isolated but also these demands are super moderate. He’s not demanding Putin to give up power or something. So I think there are certain chances for him. Quite a prolific hunger strike was around 2018-19, Oleg Sentsov, one of the Crimean prisoners, together with Alexander Kolchenko were accused of organizing underground activities against the Russian occupation of Crimea. Sentsov himself was not an anarchist, but his co-defendant Kolchenko was, and Sentsov was in some very long hunger strikes, and eventually, he was released as part of the prisoner exchange. Of course, not only because of the hunger strikes, but I think the hunger strikes may have played some role that he was included in the prisoner exchange, which was originally meant to be just prisoners of war. So, I think hunger strikes are pretty popular in Russia, even with some liberal and environmental struggles, maybe even too popular, if you asked me, but I wouldn’t say that they are completely useless. They also can achieve some results. Sometimes it might be that risks are heavy, but also sometimes you don’t have so many other options. I hope Filinkov’s strike will succeed.

TFSR: Yeah, me too. Are there ways for people outside of Russia to support his case?

AR: I asked about this for people who are more closely involved in supporting Filinkov. Our group, the ABC Moscow, we have been diminishing during the years, and half of our group has been forced to migrate for different reasons, as I was deported and others have become refugees. There are still people in Russia involved but we are not, in this particular case, super active. But there are people in, for example, in the Rupression campaign for the Network prisoners, and they are currently organizing letter-writing, but they have only resources to organize this in Russian. And of course, you have to send the letters in Russian but I think in the show notes, we can share the links to online forms in Russian and a petition text. With Google Translate people who might want to contribute can try the join this campaign, but also, as usual, just in general information coverage would be needed and letter-writing. On ABC-Moscow’s site, you can find Viktor’s prison address. Of course, if you send mail to prison, it doesn’t necessarily reach Viktor. Actually, as far as I know, around one month ago, he hadn’t received any mail. Everything was just stored somewhere or trashed but at least the prison administration knows that is not being abandoned, that people are following the situation. And also the support campaign has to pay the lawyer bills and so on because if they put this heavy pressure on Viktor, he will be in constant need of lawyer support for all time he serves in prison, which will be the following four years. There are also instructions on our website on how to donate to the Network case prisoners.

TFSR: I know that that website has a lot of information about other people in the Network case and also other prisoners that are being supported. Are there any individuals or cases that you’d like to mention that should be particularly or generally supported by listeners?

AR: I think all the cases are important, especially the network has prisoners because they have very long sentences. A number of them have more than 10-year prison sentences, but also the Network case was at least lucky that it managed to get good international support and attention of many anarchists and anti-fascist, but there are obviously many other cases.

For example, there was an anarchist couple from Chelyabinsk who just got crazy two-year sentences for a simple banner drop, which was done in solidarity with the Network case. Also, there is artist Pavel Krisevich who is an artist and not an anarchist, but he was doing many actions to support the Network case and for one of his performances, he is now in this famous Butyrka prison in Moscow, where many anarchists were jailed even before the Revolution. Also, a very important case is the case of Azat Miftakhov, the mathematician. He was sentenced for another support action for the Network case prisoners to six years in prison, for just breaking a window of the ruling party office. And he’s been put on pretty heavy labor condition, but at least he can receive mail. So it’s important to support him by letters at this point. And also, there is an international campaign to have the International Society of Mathematicians involved. So if any of the listeners are working or enrolled in mathematics departments in any of the universities, you can check on our website how to join the efforts to have the International Association of Mathematicians support Miftakhov, because, in Russia the support campaign is actually mostly organized not by anarchists, but by the community of mathematicians. Because that’s Miftakhov’s profession.

TFSR: Dmitry also mentioned in the prior interview dropping banners and posting solidarity images is something that embarrasses Putin’s administration and has a deep impact. Are there other methods that come to mind, like you’ve mentioned the mathematician society and supporting them and applying pressure? But are there other methods that come to mind that folks can engage with from abroad to show solidarity with anti-fascists and anarchists, as well as oppressed identities in Russia, particularly well, not whitewashing the repression and cruelty of our own governments that are repressive institutions?

AR: A very important thing is just to spread information. Also, many of the campaigns, especially before the sentences, need to pay the lawyer bills, which can be quite expensive, because there are not really many activist lawyers in Russia. Occasionally, especially if there are no terrorist charges, you can have some human rights organizations sponsor lawyers but this is not always the case, if there is some radical politics involved, that doesn’t necessarily happen. I will say also that basically maintaining horizontal contacts, I think it’s very important to be involved in the local struggles but I think the anarchist movement is not only about the local struggles, it’s also about international solidarity. And in Russia, and even more so in Belarus, the movement is now in a pretty difficult situation so it’s good to just maintain contact and discussion not only on the repression work but general strategies and perspectives. So especially when this COVID era is beginning to end, it’s more important than ever also to have international meetings and discussions and not only meet in some discussion forums, social media or Twitter or whatever, but also to have face-to-face meetings and to create more solidarity.

TFSR: Awesome. Is there anything else that you’d like to mention that I didn’t ask about?

AR: This was pretty much what I wanted to say on this. Avtonom.Org website is hosting the ABC Moscow news, but we can put all the relevant links and so on to this episode information.

TFSR: Does it make sense to mention the podcast project that you work on since it does bring a lot of opportunities for international understanding of situations?

AR: Yeah, I could mention it. I have my own podcast, but it’s mostly in Finnish and dealing with some local discussions, but I will also put in Russian episodes, and occasionally, there will be also English texts. I hope to have an episode this week or next week about a project called FemDatcha, a feminist shelter for burnout activists that was organized by feminist activists in the Moscow region. So this was an example of a creative and positive project in Russia because it’s not only suffering and repressions, people also have some new and interesting concepts and ideas and I would also like people to pay attention to these things. You can find my podcast with my own name Antti Rautianen, which is a bit tricky for an English speaker I didn’t figure out any fancy name and also wanted to keep my content eclectic, I don’t have any special topic. It’s just basically for my own rants about various stuff. But we can link it to the episode description so people can find it. I have a couple of English episodes and in the future, there will be more. This one about a feminist cottage FemDatcha will also be in English.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for having this conversation, Antti. I really appreciate it.

Antti: Thanks. This is my favorite podcast because others in the States don’t seem to have so much international perspective. I think it’s very important that you are pushing this direction because America is so big that people often tend to watch mostly inside.

TFSR: Yeah, absolutely. It’s really easy for us to just think about ourselves as the world. Thanks so much for the kind words and take care of yourself.

AR: Okay. See you I guess in five years, we will have a third podcast.

TFSR: Anarchy will reign by then, so it will be a less depressing conversation.

A: Yeah.

“For Trans Liberation, Capitalism Must Be Abolished”

“For Trans Liberation, Capitalism Must Be Abolished”

"Transgender Marxism" book cover with a trans flag color scheme of pink, white and blue and a transgender symbol mixing male & female iconography
Download This Episode

This week we’re sharing a chat that Scott Branson had about Transgender Marxism (2021, Pluto Press) with Jules Gleeson (co-Editor, Contributor) and M.E. O’Brien (contributor). Transgender Marxism brings together Transgender Studies and Marxist theory, exploring Transgender lives and movements and surviving as Trans under Capitalism. In the end, the claim of the book is that for Trans Liberation, Capitalism must be abolished. In this interview we talk about the: collective, material process of transition; trans visibility, assimilation and liberation; the history of Gay Liberation and Trans movements; being Trans in the workplace; care work and family abolition; and Trans solidarities against Capitalism and the State.

  • Jules Joanne Gleeson is a writer, comedian and historian. She has published essays in outlets including Viewpoint Magazine, Invert Journal and VICE, and performed internationally at a wide range of communist and queer cultural events. She can be found on Twitter at @SocialRepro and Patreon (QueerCom). Check out her awesome interview with Judith Butler that the GuardianUK censored due to critiques of TERFs, found in full at IllWill.Com.
  • M.E. O’Brien writes at the intersection of communist theory, trans liberation, LGBTQ social movement studies and feminism. Michelle is a co-editor of Pinko, and her writing has appeared in Social Movement Studies, Work, Employment & Society, Commune, Homintern, Endnotes and Invert. Found on Twitter at @GenderHorizon & on Patreon (MEOBrien).

Update on Sean Swain

This week, instead of words from anarchist prisoner, Sean Swain, I’d just like to share the info that Sean has been transferred back to Ohio, his state of capture, from Virginia where he was held at a Medium security facility for the last 2.5 years. It’s assumed that he’s back at the Supermax, OSP Youngstown for 2 weeks of quarantine and determination of status to decide what prison he will go to inside Ohio from there. When he was leaving Ohio for Virginia, he was close to graduating to a lower security, medium level, than where he was held and has not had any serious breeches of conduct since his transfer, so hopefully he’ll be heading to an easier and more comfortable facility.

For the moment you can write him at his old address where I’m sure he’d love some kind words or some books, posted in our shownotes and at SeanSwain.org:

Sean Swain #A243205
OSP Youngstown
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd
Youngstown, OH 44505

You can donate to his legal case to challenge his denied parole by sending money via cashapp to $Swainiac1969 and you can follow @Swainiac1969 for info on the upcomnig online raffle to help fundraise for Sean’s legal fees. To donate items for raffle, also contact the instagram mentioned above and keep an eye out for more info. As an update to prior mentions of Swainiac-fest, it was a success but is only a step on the way to covering his legal fees to get him the best legal defense possible. And remember, you can fundraise toward the $12,500 needed by the lawyer on your own or in community and if you want to send it to the TFSR venmo or paypal or a money order made out to us via our PO Box, feel free to do so and make sure you note Sean’s defense in the comment.

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

  • Gemini (instrumental) by Princess Nokia from Everything Is Beautiful

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: This is The Final Straw Radio and we’re excited get to talk to an editor and a contributor to this new really, exciting volume Transgender Marxism which is published by Pluto Press. I wanted to first ask you to introduce yourself with your names, pronouns, any affiliation that you would like the listeners to know about.

Jules Gleeson: Hi. I’m Jules Gleeson, and I am one of the co-editors of Transgender Marxism, the new collection we’re here to chat about. My pronouns are she and I am only very loosely affiliated to things at the moment. I’m very happy to be joining you today.

Michelle O’Brien: Hello, my name is Michelle O’Brien and I am a contributor to the volume chapter on trans work and experiences of trans people in employment, both formal and informal. That chapter I wrote draws heavily from the New York City Trans Oral History Project that I worked with for some years. I write communist theory, teach Queer Studies at Gallatin, and work as a psychoanalyst. And my pronouns are she and her.

TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I’m really excited, I did a deep reading of the book, it was really helped me think through my own positionality in the world. So I’m excited to dive into a lot of the ideas in there. Starting off, right away, one thing that keeps coming up in the book throughout different contributors’ pieces is the question of how transness might be useful for Capital. And this is being posed after this “transgender tipping point” where there’s more visibility, specifically, I think, for trans women and more understanding of transness, I guess, in mainstream worlds, although that might be questionable. So to start the discussion, what do you think are relative or limited, or positive gains made by trans people as a result of this increase in visibility?

JG: Yeah, I’m happy to pick up on that. So for those of you listening at home, who are not familiar with the “transgender tipping point,” was a phase around, I suppose, 2014 to 2015. Most notably, this famous Time’s cover of Laverne Cox, the star of Orange Is the New Black appearing on Time. And the transgender tipping point is pretty loosely this moment when suddenly there was an increase, a surge of popular familiarity, let’s say, with transgender culture and transgender experiences. After which – to me, the most obvious difference is – trans people seem to become a lot more numerous, which is measurable in everything from people applying to become patients of gender identity clinics to transgender-specific communities seeming to swell in size, and there are all kinds of ways we can talk about the measurement. But, clearly at this point somewhere around 2013 to 2015, things transformed pretty rapidly and seemingly permanently towards what had been a cluster of different subcultural circles, becoming something more like a mass culture. That’s my own reading. I think both myself and Michelle, this wasn’t our point of departure into transgender circles or transgender discussions, however, clearly the transgender question, I suppose, transformed thereafter. And the work of this collection is very much following on in the wake of that, and in the confusion that follows and is continuing to follow on from that.

MO: So I’ll say a bit. In the far queer and trans left in New York City, there’s a pretty well-developed critique of the trans tipping point that centers around a number of points. One is this discrepancy between popular media attention on trans people and the actual material conditions, social service infrastructure, material well-being, violence against trans people. And so there’s certainly a disjunction between the two and where there might be a lot of progress made in the symbolic popular media realm, that only occasionally corresponds to any material progress made in the lives of working-class people. And even when we’re talking about sort of material progress, I think there’s been a lot of good thinking around how, for example, anti-discrimination legislation that we recently won in New York City, a few years ago, doesn’t actually protect people very effectively against being highly marginalized in the employment market because of the dynamics of “at will” employment and the sort of broader forces of oppression and racism in society. And so we can recognize the limits of both liberal equality and liberal celebration, liberal recognition. And I think people are very right to point out and call attention to the trans liberation, trans well-being, trans life has to be something more than getting on magazine covers and having famous people mention the existence of trans people.

I will also say that I think that the increased visibility has had dramatic and substantial benefits. And one of the stark ones Jules mentioned is the increase in the numbers of trans people, that part of the dynamics of trans life is at any given time, there are probably a lot of people out there who have internally and privately a trans experience that they are not yet able to act on in the world, to come out, to transition, to find other trans people, to talk about their experience. In my work as an analyst, I certainly encounter a lot of people in this situation. And the level of increased visibility just has dramatic implications of enabling a lot more people to find each other and to build a life together in ways that I think are very powerful. And then the other is, I think there actually has been a dramatic and substantial increase in trans organizing and trans movement-building that’s happened concurrently and that has taken Black trans leadership and communities very seriously in some ways. I think the Black Lives Matter Movement is one of the most substantially trans-inclusive political struggles I’ve ever seen, more inclusive than, I would say, most LGBT rights organizations and organizing. And I think that Black Lives Matter has been very powerful in moving money, attention, and support to Black trans-led movements, and helped them a lot in gaining political grounds in a variety of ways: whether that means money or specific policy reforms, or much broader level of attention and infrastructure. Which, obviously, we have quite a long ways to go, but we’re out in the streets and then struggle together and the tipping point has been a dimension of this political process unfolding that has dangers, that has backlash, a backlash that has, in the words of one anthology, a trapdoor, but also has some really quite powerful opportunities in advances.

TFSR: Yeah, thanks for mapping that out. First, that historical moment that we’re in the wake of and then the complexities of visibility, how that can bring good things and also cause some harm. I also think it’s really important, as you noted, to talk about the Black trans leadership we see in movements – that’s a different kind of visibility than the media or TV show kind of visibility the tipping point refers to.

There’s one thing that, Jules, you and your co-editor Elle O’Rourke write in the introduction, “if trans life can’t be eradicated, it can be normalized and disciplined.” So I’m interested in this… I don’t know if you have more to say about this kind of double-edged sword where there are these gains, but there’s also maybe a risk of what we saw with gay liberation becoming a movement for marriage equality. I wondered what either or both of you had to say about this as a potential moment of capture by capital, by the state? Can we be distracted in the way that transness can be stylized and then normalized, and then sold back to us? Or is there also hope for the resistance to that capture?

JG: Yeah, I’m happy to talk about this and the introduction. Sadly, Elle couldn’t join us today, but this was the introduction that we cowrote together. I suppose just to say one more word on Black Lives Matter does: what the introduction is trying to capture is at once we have these remarkable and unpredictable breakthroughs, breakthroughs that sometimes are quite hard to keep track of and last summer, when Black Lives Matter was in full swing, was definitely one of these cases. This is one of the moments we touch upon, the cleaning-of-the-house moment that bought around the Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn. And this is the optimistic aspect of it: all of these insurgent, intersectional connections, which are just being put into motion rather than just theorized, I think, like Michelle was saying, we’re just getting out onto the streets some of the time. But the other aspect is there needs to also be a realistic assessment of what’s standing in our way. And what you’re flagging up here as a section where we talk about the family, about private households. And this is, I think, still an intractable and still probably – I don’t know if it’s the majority of the harm that trans people encounter – but definitely any group of trans people you meet, if you talk to them about their relationships with those parents, extended families, even the friendship circles they’ve grown up with, I think maybe a minority will have had fortunate or blessed experiences, if you know what I mean.

So this is this passage which you’re flagging up that the repression and disciplining, and to drawback to what Michelle was just saying, it’s the privatization of transgender experiences where many people are allowed to furtively and secretly live out the lives they want to live, but then among the people maybe who raised them, the people who they grew up around, they have to don another face, don another attire. I think that’s something which there’s no reason to believe that is going to transform anytime soon. Maybe Michelle would want to say some more about it. Specifically, what we’re trying to do in this introduction is address the family, address private life as part of political life, which is a familiar concern for anyone, especially anyone who’s read feminist history. But we use a particular framework drawn from Angela Mitropoulos, who writes about Oikonomia / Economia, the binding and normative rules that appear in these private households. And that’s one way which we’re trying to approach this broader question, which is then returned to, in many different ways, throughout the rest of the collection. There’s basically this question of how can it be that exactly what’s supposed to be apolitical or de-political safe haven from political and capitalism – the household, our upbringings, our private lives – how can it be that those places are what any trans politics has to work through before it even exists? Before we can even take to the streets openly? That’s what this introduction is trying to cut up. I’m sure Michelle has some stuff to say as well.

MO: In the introduction, Jules’ reference substantively engages this question of the family. And you have another question, Scott, around thinking about family and family abolition. Family abolition is a very powerful way of trying to think through these pieces alongside each other, both thinking about the overall circuits of labor markets and capitalist society that the family plays a really integral role in. And then thinking about how, nested within that, the violence and tyranny and brutality that trans people face within so many structures of family. And part of the dynamics of the privacy of the family, is that it’s very difficult to make inroads in there. People are able to constitute a level of family or a form of family that’s protected against a certain kind of outside scrutiny, attention, a certain space of political struggle, and that a lot of our political movements are oriented to the state, perhaps to employers, the civil society, and it becomes much more difficult to think in political terms about what it takes to transform families. Like some of the dynamics of the workplace or some of the dynamics of the state, I think this is a real limit for contemporary social movements, that we are sort of trying to figure out how to politicize and transform these spaces that are that have deep structural dynamics in the reproduction of collective life. And it’s part of what leads a lot of trans people to be interested in science-fiction, in revolutionary politics in a more dramatic sense, in thinking about what could it mean to actually come up against and move beyond these limits.

TFSR: The experience of being trans within this bourgeois ideal of a white family that is still upheld, even though it contradicts the reality of what people are experiencing… Actually, there’s one way that you put it in the introduction, talking about how the families serves, not only in a moral sense, that is the way that is often talked about, but also in an economic sense as the project of neoliberal debt imperialism. Like allowing the state to continue to throw people into dispensable situations and somehow maintain itself while doing less and less. My question is about how this historical point we’re in, where there’s like more and more trans people, there’s still this relic of the family, but the family is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing. How does transness come in as a way to disrupt that? How can we use that increased visibility, the increased trans struggle to continue to work against that stranglehold of the family, not simply morally but also economically, politically?

JG: That’s a great question. In terms of us addressing the bourgeois family, obviously, the abolition of the bourgeois family is something that is not specific to radical trans theory or anything like that. It also appears in the Communist Manifesto, obviously, and this was something which various figures in the First International were committed to and published about in the writing in various ways. What’s being talked about at this point is the bourgeois family as in this type of household which brings up the new generation, but also transfers wealth and assets and fixed capital from one generation to the next one. So when the introduction is talking about this contemporary phase, very much what we’re drawing from is these extensive decades of work, now, that’s been done looking at the New Right where through the political framework, the New Right had envisioned was not only about the strong state but also about strong families. And this is still very much evident today. If you tune into Tucker Carlson, he’s not only talking about how the police need to be given powers to put down Black Lives Matter, last time I tuned in, he’s also complaining about how today your kid’s probably a stoner cause weed is legal, so your kid’s got bloodshot eyes over the dinner table and stuff like that. This is still a part of the Right Wing imaginary, part of the Right Wing horizon is that families need to be strengthened up and there needs to be more authority against generations and pure disruption of that. One of the things he said, though obviously, Marx didn’t really talk about white families, and I suppose this is saying which more came on to the abolitionist horizon from work like Hortense Spillers’ black feminist critique which is identifying how, specifically in the American context, what’s being transferred across generations for Black families through much of US history is not wealth and not fixed assets, but exactly legal dispossession. Being un-personed and so on is exactly what’s being transferred from one generation to the next. I’ve run out of things to say at this point. But the reason I suppose that this is the family abolitionist politics has been of relevance to me and several other people in the collection, is exactly because there is this moment where you feel like a lot of the existing left has strayed from the First International in ways which I think are a shame and ways which we consider to reunite with these questions of gender and household oppression quite easily. That’s my own project.

MO: I’m writing a book on family abolition for Pluto at the moment, and it’s in full swing, as Jules and other people know. I have just an enormous amount to say about all of this. I don’t want to take up our podcast time talking about it too much at length, but a few points… One is, in the introduction, Jules referenced the family as the site of privatized social reproduction. It’s very helpful to think about the family not just in terms of a sort of normative ideal that’s imposed through policy, that’s aspired to by people, an ideological form that exists on the right and in culturally conservative sections of the left, but also the family just concretely: who do you live with? Who do you share whatever limited resources you have available? If you’re not able to work, who are you dependent on that you actually know? Who do you cook for? Who cooks for you? These questions are really concrete social reproduction that can be done entirely in the market to some extent, could hypothetically be done in various historical times and for specific strata through a welfare structure or a state structure, but overwhelmingly are done through forming relationships of care, dependency, coercion, intimacy with specific people in our lives, and that the vast majority of children are raised in this kind of structure. People have these privatized households, and there are all sorts of political implications for that. One of those political implications is that it’s a total growing up as a queer trans youth, as a gender nonconforming child, if you are unlucky enough to end up in an extremely unsupportive household, things are bad, and there are very few opportunities for collective intervention in how to change that. It’s insulated from a certain kind of struggle and collective transformation, which is a tremendous problem for liberatory movements, and how we think about them.

In terms of race and white supremacy, Jules mentioned Hortense Spillers, I’ve been very inspired by the work of Tiffany Lethabo King, who rereads Hortense Spillers and Afro-pessimism and thinks about race and gender in terms of family abolitionism. And I think there’s a way of reading about the history of enslavement and the history of the pathologization of Black families in the United States in terms of an imposition of a white norm that demonizes and pathologizes the certain kinds of kinship structures coupled to an actual apparatus of state violence, of economic violence, of historically slavery…. really fragmenting kin relationships. And that there is a dynamic dialectic in the history of anti-racist, anti-capitalist struggle in the United States, between really seeing a white bourgeois family norm as something to aspire to and pursue versus thinking that we could do something very different and better. What would it mean to actually care for each other? And that there’s a wonderful, long legacy of people trying to form a chosen family, trying to depend on extended family, trying to depend on neighborhood and community, and that these are both inspiring and to be celebrated and defended, but also run into all these contradictions that have to do with what it means to try to constitute a household in the capitalist society. And uneven access to work, to resources, to public space, and the way it structures power dynamics internally. And we can point to the bourgeois white family as an extreme or particularly horrific example of that, or the Christian fundamentalist family. But that even in chosen family structures, the broader dynamics of trying to survive and reproduce ourselves in a capitalist society are going to torque those relationships, to distort those relationships and make it very difficult to figure out how to treat each other well. Anytime we are dependent on people, there’s an element, a dynamic of coercion that becomes a part of that, that we have to sort through and we have to sort it through politically and collectively in a way that the family as a structure ends up opposing.

TFSR: Thanks for that. And I’m also very excited to read the work on family abolition because I’m also super interested in that. Maybe we can talk about that when it comes out. Going back to Spillers, because both of you mentioned that at the end of Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe, Spillers says that the violent experience of women in chattel slavery made sort of ungendered is how she ends up talking about it, and she points to it as a place for rethinking and a resistant understanding and reframing of feminism from that experience. Maybe this is what you were referring to, is the dialectic with changing the impact of the state and economic violence that creates the situation of oppression into a place where you can start framing liberation. And I see that also that gets paralleled in the 60s-70s, gay liberation movement and feminism where the places that are excluded and marginalized are also places to form a resistance. And I wonder, to what extent do you think the trans experience within these structures is also actually the threat to the social order that the right-wing would claim it to be? I guess this could get back into that question of capture because it could also be domesticated in a way. But I wonder if you have thoughts on how trans experience could be liberatory in that way.

MO: I’m most attentive to the substantial intersection between transness and poverty. This is particularly true of trans people from working-class and poor backgrounds. It’s particularly true of trans people of color. It’s particularly true of trans women. Employment discrimination is quite widespread, is quite prevalent. And one of the things I tried to do in my piece is thinking about how coming out as trans, how transitioning, if you’re not able to be very stealth and very closeted and very lucky in pulling that off – and for lots of trans people being stealth is not a realistic goal – that’s going to have a huge impact on your employment trajectory, a huge impact on how you’re able to reproduce your class position, a huge impact on your economic chances. And that that’s true across the board. So you see a downward shift in class position for lots and lots of trans people. And then there’s a huge host of trans people from poor and working-class backgrounds for whom that shift pushes you entirely out of formal employment. Getting access to formal wage labor is extremely difficult. And so you see lots and lots of trans people, trans women, particularly working-class trans women and trans women of color, but it’s actually quite a widespread experience for trans women to spend extended periods of time engaging in sex work of various sorts, engaging in criminalized economies, in hustles. And then you see these little pockets of employment niches where trans people are able to reproduce themselves with some visibility, and that is most closely tied to the world of sex work and criminalized economies. I’d put HIV services, a lot of ex-sex workers or current sex workers end up doing HIV prevention services, and trans social services tied up with the world of HIV services. So, you have all these weird dynamics in fundraising and public health administration and biopolitical surveillance and criminalization tied up with this nonprofit nexus that people might use as a way of exiting out of sex work into like a lower risk, but also much lower-paying job, often with some stability. And in the Trans Oral History Project, they interviewed several former sex workers working in HIV services now and the dynamic of that trajectory.

But you have a few other pockets and those are growing. I’m certainly attentive to social work, there’s a presence of trans women in tech. As changes open up, the spaces of employment expand, but by and large, the experience of trans life is one of significant economic precarity. And so long as that’s true, and there’s a lot of reasons to think it could be mostly true for a long time to come, that has a dramatic impact on people’s politics. Being highly economically marginalized in a situation of a disappearing welfare state, of hostility and lack of support from your families of origin, of very little safety net, puts you in a position where you are relying on friends, on your own ability to engage in criminalized hustles, and makes it very clear that the world is a nightmare that needs to be overcome and destroyed. That’s not a universal response by any means. But the economic experience of economic precarity helps me make sense of why so many trans people end up in political struggles, in organizing, end up with anti-capitalist politics of a wide variety, and helps me make sense of under what hypothetical future conditions are trans people likely to be on the left or to be far-left. The circumstances of our political inclusion – obviously, a stratum of trans people could be politically included quite quickly – but really it depends on the question of employment and economic stability.

JG: There’s a few different chapters of the book that deal with this question of work, I suppose, as you’d expect from a Marxist collection. I feel like Michelle and Kate Doyle Griffiths’ piece, both addressing this question of how trans people managed to exist as workers. I think, as Michelle was alluding to, it’s also that any understanding of trans work has to understand the experience of being out of work long-term and unemployment relying on state resources or perhaps family and friend networks and so on. There’s also Zoe Belinsky’s essay, which is called “Transgender and Disabled Bodies – Between Pain and the Imaginary” and in another way, Anja Flower’s “Cosmos Against Nature in the Class Struggle of Proletarian Trans Women”, which is more using this framework of direct market mediation and the indirect in terms of the reproductive labor. So there’s a bunch of different perspectives addressing this question of both what it means to exist and make it in a workplace as a trans person and also the very commonplace realities that a lot of the time, that’s not really where we end up. Where we end up as more in the industrial reserve army of labor. You’re proletarians insofar as you’re stripped from the means of production, but not proletarians, insofar as you actually have a source of exploited toil, which you’re reliably committed to. Like Michelle, I definitely consider us spending so much time in the underbelly of capital and its reproduction a huge part of why it’s such a commonplace to find communist trans people, or leftist, anti-capitalist, whatever you want to call it.

TSFR: Or even anarchist trans people, which is the enclave I inhabit.

I like the narrative that Michelle poses away that a trans person could become politicized in a particular way. One of the things that the book in multiple essays grapples with is the extent of trying to survive under these conditions in a way that’s at least somewhat bearable versus having even the energy or the ability to fight the conditions that create that form of deathly oppression. A lot of the essays do a really good job of trying to talk about how we can create situations to survive and then also think about where we can fight against them. One of the most important things for me reading this whole book and reading everyone’s pieces is how it intervenes within the discussion of social reproduction and thinking about trans life through care work. This is something we keep mentioning, but I want to dive more directly into that. If either of you wanted to talk a little bit about how you think the transgender Marxism wreath frames social reproduction because there’s a feminist version of that, and I think that you’re building on that in here, but doing something different with specific trans experience. And specifically also talking about the transition through this lens. Maybe we can just start with understanding what a trans analysis of social reproduction might be.

JG: Yeah, that’s an exciting question, because social reproduction comes up in this collection in a bunch of different ways. Social reproduction appears on several different registers across the course of this collection. The first one is in the very first essay by Noah Zazanis, which is called “Social Reproduction and Social Cognition”, brings that Marxist feminist framework into dialogue with some more mainstream psych kind of approaches to how people develop their identities from a very young age. I guess the different approaches taken in this collection speak to the pretty broad set of approaches that Marxist feminism has increasingly come to deploy. And it’s worth mentioning that social reproduction is not actually a framework that every Marxist theorist or even every Marxist feminist is really committed to. So it’s not exclusively an SRT collection. However, I suppose that the reason which I first came to this framework of social reproduction that is focusing on workforces, what come to the workforces in the first place, how people come to the laborers and sustain themselves as laborers… The point at which I came to this, I suppose was exactly in the wake, as I was saying before, of the tipping point, and as part of my frustration that so few people really were providing any explanation as to why this was happening. And I actually found it to be very prevalent on the right, the right-wing accounts of these things were just depicted as some mysterious degeneration, or perhaps an ideological mania. But I also was finding that a lot of social theorists didn’t really seem to provide any satisfying or even helpful attempts at working out what was going on.

So social reproduction was the thing which I personally was pretty committed to around 2016. And I would say a lot of the collection is taking that meaning of the time and that avenue of inquiry, which is specifically looking at communities and subcultures, if you will, but I would rather say these reproductive circles, in whatever form they take, which provide people collectively with the means of making themselves transgender. Which has been discussed, primarily means surviving as a transgender proletarian, although it’s not the only variation, as we all know. That’s the primary meaning which I’ve been interested in and invested in. But as I say, this isn’t a settled question. And this is an ongoing discussion within Marxist feminist theory, what are the best terms to use and the best frameworks and understanding. I’m happy to say a lot more about that. Probably both myself and Michelle could talk all day about this one.

MO: I would distinguish three registers that I think of social reproduction as having a really huge impact on trans life. And I think Jules to some extent referenced each of these. One is thinking about the mutual aid networks, communities of support, that when somebody thinks they might be trans or gender questioning or knows with confidence that they are trans, they might go out and seek connections with other people to be able to help them think through both their gender identity and way of thinking about themselves, the concrete steps around transition. And this is I think, partially why we’ve seen just a giant increase in the numbers of trans people coming out with a steadily increasing access to the internet. People on the internet are able to find these communities. And why there are have been particular pockets of trans people for many, many generations, who are demographically numerous in highly specific social settings.

Like when I came out as trans in 2000, shortly after getting out of college, I looked around, I was in a kind of queer punk scene where there were a lot of trans masculine people and very few trans feminine people. And I looked around the country and I found three or four other punk trans feminine, trans women. And then I moved to Philadelphia and met like 300 black trans women my age who were the first trans women of my age I ever met. And it’s because they had this highly developed scene around balls and houses where they really figured out how to enable each other’s transitions. That certainly wasn’t available in the Women’s Studies Department, right? In my much more privileged background on some level, I was really lacking this supportive space and community. And I had various internet-based communities to try to figure out how to do this that have since really flourished and are much bigger. So that’s one meaning of social reproduction.

Another meaning is the violence and tyranny that we might experience in our homes, the dynamics of our family of origin, household as this private space of reproduction. And so social reproduction has been really key to thinking about anti-trans violence.

And then another register of social reproduction is that, depending on how you parse it, many people identify various formal wage labor sectors as being really integral to social reproduction. Nurses, teachers, daycare workers, elder care attendants – all these different people that are reproducing humans capable of participating in the labor market and society. And I think for various reasons, you see a lot of gender-nonconforming people in these sectors. These are feminized sectors, they are sectors that historically have had lots of women and queer people of various genders. I think there are different historical dynamics that have brought a fair number of trans people into working in these realms. And that these are realms of intense labor struggle, currently, and that some of the dynamics of de-industrialization and the shift to a late service economy, that these are not sectors that are easily automated, so that the need for labor isn’t easily reduced. So you really have a growing section, in the Global North, of people working in these labor sectors, and that these labor sectors have a lot of potential for uniting and connecting different sectors, strata of the working class, and bringing people together in different and complex and rich ways as part of their struggle for working conditions.

 

JG: Oh, just one more thing, quickly on the connection, I really appreciated that three-part breakdown from Michelle. I suppose one more thing in the collection, one way it appears is there’s this primarily historical essay by Nat Raha which looks at exactly the kind of movement struggles which brought what we now call social reproduction theory into being and she looks at one of these lesser-known groups, a British collective called Wages Due Lesbians, which was a counterpart of the much better-known Wages For Housework. That was operating in the context of the British New Right. And that looks at some overlaps that she perceives between this group and the much better-known STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) in New York City. That’s another approach that you can find in the collection. There’s at once a range of different social reproduction theory type outlooks, and also people who see social reproduction theory as a thing to talk about other terms.

TFSR: That was already helpful to think about what transgender Marxist perspective on social reproduction COULD look like in different ways. The last point that you made, Michelle, was talking about another possible place for politicization, given that trans people and non-binary people or gender non-conforming people would be working in specific situations for a potential radicalization. That was interesting to me as another reframing of that inherent liberatory perspective that sometimes gets through and around and to me, seems often like a very liberal feeling, just being trans in itself is somehow resistance. But you discuss more explicitly how that actually works through the work that trans people do in the care work that they do for other people.

One thing I might do to follow up. That visibility in the mainstream, the idea of transition often becomes individualized, like there’s a particular internal experience that needs to be brought out through transition. The liberal perspective will get brought into the nuclear family that somehow unchanged by the fact of a transgender child, when there’s a focus on a supportive family, but the thing that the book really brought out in me, a way more explicit to me that I personally experienced through transition is how much of this is done through community and, as you said, Michelle, mutual aid. We see that also in the pandemic, just like with hormones, when there’s a supply chain break, people are sharing hormones, for example. So, I wonder if you wanted to talk more about that actual work of transition, because that’s something that gets brought up a lot in this book, and I thought it was also a major contribution by a lot of the writers in here to think about the process of transition this way, rather than the transgender individual who somehow exists. I can ask more detailed questions, but if you want to, if you have something to jump in right there, I’ll leave it open to you.

MO: This is something that other contributors and other people have thought a lot more about. I said a little bit about it, in terms of thinking about mutual aid support, but I don’t have a lot more to add.

 

LG: In my essay, I guess this is one that tried to address this question. It’s called “How Do Gender Transitions Happen?” I think that simultaneously, you can’t do away with either the personal narrative, the personal process, the very self-directed, individualized labor which people go through, or the community working. But I think it’s interesting that these things appear to be at odds, or they appear as distinctive to each other and yet, from another view, they always unfold at the same time. You’re always drawing from collective resources, or at other times, as Michelle was saying, there’s a lot of parallel development, there’s a lot of different communities which are attempting much the same thing, much the same process of transition in very different contexts and with very different styles. The point which the essay is trying to address is how people will tend to switch between these different registers of approaching transition either as something which is a set of encounters that is continuously happening as you try and negotiate your way through the world or through the community rewriting and renarrativizing. Just the specific stuff which actual circles of transgender people can do together.

 

TFSR: There’s the passage in your introduction that really stuck out to me, that “transition must come to be understood by revolutionaries as a response to its own form of hunger. The longings that drive so many to reforge lives for ourselves that leave us thoroughly proletarianized, or cast out rendered surplus”. I like this statement because I think it leaves behind the gender as a social construction versus essential gender as not even something worth spending a lot of time on at this point, and focuses on the act of transition as politicized, political, and I think it gets articulated also as ethical. But one thing that came up for me reading this is how do we… I guess there’s this personal / political divide. I could see this being dismissed as a lifestylism or self-chosen marginalization. Subcultures often get dismissed, like anarchists or punks. The thing that I really want to pull out of here is the trans desire, and also how that position of surplus in capitalism and the state, which is historically needed for capitalism to function the way it does, but how that can we rethink that place as a set of insurrection?

MO: I’ll just briefly say that I think desire is really an underappreciated category in liberation movements and the far-left. Desire is both far beyond the question of individual choice or individual preference, or how we think about market options that I think in some transphobic, conservative left discourse, there’s this idea of people choosing genders in a free way, like a neoliberal subject chooses consumer items. And that, I think, is a profound trivialization of how deep, how powerful, how transformative, and how uncertain desire is. Desire is very much what sets us in motion, in unfolding processes of personal and collective transformation, desire for survival, desire for dignity, desire for recognition. These desires are not, they’re not trivial things, they are things that are not easily satisfied, they are things that set us on trajectories that we don’t know where we’re going to end up. And that brings us into alignment and into connection with each other. And that’s just a whole realm, a whole dimension of political struggle, that I think trans people, precisely because often most trans people have made a set of personal decisions around changing their gender, that was significantly at odds with major sections of our social world, our families, our jobs, whatever that is, and had some clarity that we had a certain, one could say, truth that we were trying to think through or trying to grapple with, that might not be an essential gender, or a kind of inner gender, but a certain kind of desire in the world. And that opens up some space for thinking about how the desire functions in terms of the entire working class, in terms of the struggle for the abolition of class society, in terms of the desire to destroy and remake the world. We need to spend a lot of time listening to that and thinking much harder about that, and thinking beyond these categories of individual choice versus structural determinants.

JG: So, I suppose we talked about desire and, talking about things in terms of hunger. This is a part of the introduction where we are talking about Georges Bataille, the French theorist, pornographic writer, very heterodox political economist, call him what you will. And Bataille exactly counter-poses this effort of previous anti-imperialists prior to Marx, who were trying to elevate things and talk in terms of eagles and surpassing things. This is his critique of surrealism, by the way. It’s a very eccentric essay. But his point is that Marx is more about the old mole, it’s more about the subterranean, and specifically he talks about the hunger of the proletarian bellies being central to what Marx was trying to do or the indispensable feature of that. The stuff you’re alluding to exactly, people are dismissing this stuff as questions of lifestyle, or marginalization or whatever. This is what I feel needs to be addressed. But even if they’re rarely spoken about in the political field, transitions are the consequences of cravings, breakdowns, powerful emotions that make themselves central to the decisions we make and to the things we depart on. So you use the word ethical and that’s exactly right, a transition is always going to be about reshaping your life, taking steps, and in some way engaging in activities that transform who you are, how you’re perceived, how you’re apprehended, how you apprehend yourself. Any approach to trying to do… Whatever trans theory that doesn’t include that is bound to failure. But also, I don’t necessarily see this as something we have to choose between. We know that people seem to be living lives that are filled with desperation and breakdowns and then they get hold of these endocrinological interventions, like they got a hold of sex hormones and this transforms the lives substantially, maybe doesn’t solve all their problems, of course, it never does. But it transforms the course of their life. That doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to do the political economy of sex hormones. I’ve actually been trying to look it up, but I can’t find it. Was it you, Michelle, who wrote this piece on the trajectory of sex hormones that’s going across work? I remember I was reading this in one of these trans studies collections. But this would be an essay from a long time ago, but I can’t remember if it was you or I was just reading this.

 

MO: Yes, in 2004, I wrote an essay about capitalism and pharmaceutical companies and hormones, that got reproduced many years later in the second Routledge Transgender Studies Reader. A very long time ago.

JG: So it was the second one.

MO:Tracing This Body” is its name.

JG: Yeah, a lot of it’s kind of talking about the shipping process and the way that these things move across continents. It’s 2004, so people have been working on this for a long time. This is exactly what I mean. But there’s no reason that we can’t look at these things in a way that applies an internationalist framework, which looks at how the actual ways that pharmaceutical companies interact with transition, not the conspiracy theory version where for some reason, pharmaceutical companies are trying to profit off incredibly cheap, low-cost medical treatments. There’s no reason that we have to say, “Oh there are all of these passionate sensations. And there’s been this political economy, and we have to look at one or the other”. But it’s exactly Marx’s kind of materialism that we don’t accept that as a choice, right? These are things that are continuously interacting, people are always trying to sort out their own lives on a very basic level, but then they run into this stuff, then they run into the reality of having a landlord and having a doctor. And all of these other lopsided social relations, which they have to work through. That’s what the point about hunger is, because as you say, I think this is a difficult argument to win. But also it’s like the most important one in a way.

TFSR: Thanks. Both of these are beautiful answers. What you just said, Jules, brings up for me, there’s the experience of the relationship of a trans person to the medical and pharmaceutical industry, I am trans and also chronically ill. And you’ll get leftists who will make this argument that your existence for either of these reasons could not persist post revolution, whatever vision of a revolution they have, because, in some way, you’re so reliant on these capital systems of production and shipping, etc. And I know that’s an interesting dynamic to see the ways that those genocidal ideas play out within a leftist circle. I don’t know if you have more to say about that. And maybe Michelle, that’s something that you were talking about in that earlier text.

MO: Thankfully, there are a lot of people thinking about this and speaking on it. I wrote a piece for Commune magazine called “Junkie Communism”. And I, in some ways wrote it, you wouldn’t be able to tell this reading essay, it’s a discussion of the Young Lords and them doing syringe exchange work in a detox in the South Bronx during the occupation at Lincoln hospital, and how that helped shape harm reduction today. And I wrote that essay, in my head, as a direct response to a really vicious and very ableist genocidal framework that I saw amongst Tiqqunists and some other anarchist strains in the United States, of like, “after the revolution, all these disabled people are going to die.” And like that gets referenced one way or another. I think it’s an “Introduction to Civil War” that they say that diabetics are objectively counter-revolutionary and I think that’s a current in the American far-left or in the international far-left. So it really has to be directly combated and there are various ways that we can challenge that and various ways we can critique it, and the one that I go to is a form of radical communist humanism on some level. A fundamental political principle has to be taking each other’s lives seriously and taking the profound preciousness of lives that are treated as disposable. A part of our political paths as communists or as revolutionaries, is to really cultivate an ethic of caring for each other, of defending each other’s lives, of treating the subtitle in the piece I wrote on Communism, “No One Is Disposable.” They’re really not participating in the kind of a ranking of the value of life. The trend obviously comes pretty directly out of my experience as a trans person and thinking about trans life as being treated as disposable on all these different social registers in the world.

JG: I definitely recommend people check out “Junkie Communism” as well. In the collection, there is an essay on disability, which I’ve already mentioned by Zoe Belinsky, who is also a diabetic in reference to the Tiqqun bit. This essay’s approach to this question of disability is pretty phenomenological, it’s looking at the philosophy of experience. And the main framework which Zoe was using is talking about disability in terms of this sensation of “I cannot”. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who is this communist philosopher Zoe’s mostly responding to, talked about things in terms of experience and our way through the world in terms of “I can”, so you encounter things and you think, “Well, I can rotate this square 90 degrees”, and that lets you understand the square. So Zoe’s always a social account here, looking at exactly where disability arises, where you think, “Well, I can’t do that”. I’m really glad that this essay is in there. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of it because needless to say, a lot of our contributors are chronically ill, I certainly am. I feel like it never quite works out, it’s not just additional to being transgender, it always overlaps and interacts with it and these things mesh in interesting ways.

But strangely, I feel like actual extended pieces about disability in my circles are unusual. There’s a lot of contributors who don’t talk about their experiences with chronic conditions, chronic illnesses in this collection, who’ve definitely been through that. So I’m hoping that between the essays we’ve talked about… I’m hoping that this stuff appears in the near future because it’s definitely a thing which is increasingly, on my mind, I felt like if you don’t really have an account of disability and the way in which it interacts with people that are preparing themselves for the workforce, then why not? This is obviously something that not only brings people into these struggles and says that people have to work through in order to survive but it’s also something that has been the site of so much organizing across so many different national contexts. It’s an ongoing point of crisis, definitely, in Britain I come from. I can’t see why people would leave this out of consideration. Other than maybe in Tiqqun’s case, I think it’s just edgy flourishes, I feel like they just don’t care very much, so they just put the stuff in to show that bad-ass insurrectionists or whatever. But I think we can do a lot better than that, an honest account of the people who become communists especially is going to include a lot of reflection on the stuff and how it impacts our lives.

TFSR: I appreciated that putting the “I can’t” as the primary experience. Other people who often make these arguments are like primitivist anarchists, and to frame that as the original experience of being a human rethinks that idea of there’s Essential or Integral Health before domestication, civilization, whatever you want to call it. I’m glad you brought that piece, too, because I think that’s really important.

I did want to go back to the question of desire and bringing us to the relationship between a trans liberation movement to the earlier gay liberation movement. One of the things I appreciate in the book is that there’s an argument against separating gender and sexuality as if there are two separate fields, which in academic discourse, became a thing for a while that gender and sexuality have to be thought of separately. But as both of you have emphasized, the desire inherent in the transgender experience, and also connecting it to these other readers like Bataille makes me think of Guy Hocqenghem talking about Fourier as a way to rethink Marx through the desire within an economy. So, we’re past the end of gay liberation and the ways that it had been co-opted. And we’re in a new era of uprising and resistance. How does the trans liberation still theorize desire as revolutionary without getting trapped in the ways that it can be enclosed into a liberal understanding of life choices as you put it, Michelle? And I had originally written some questions about earlier theorists like Guy Hocqenghem, Mario Mieli thinking about homosexuality or transsexuality as the horizon of liberation and as providing the means towards it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and what we can inherit from that older tradition of gay liberation.

JG: Well, I actually have an essay published in the magazine, which Michelle is a founding member of, PinkoMag, which deals with Mario Mieli specifically. The essay is a sketch of what they want to work on in the future. Mieli is the Italian gay communist thinker, whose work is mostly from the early 70s. His / their work definitely uses this term transsexuality underlying the homosexual experience and specifically that what triggers homophobia, what sets it off, is that there is this base level of transsexuality, that cross-dressing, male-male desire, and so on. All these things can cause the precondition of civilization like transsexuality to peek out. I love that stuff. I think it’s 1972. By all means, check out that piece on Pinko if you want to know anything about him.

But in terms of desire, which is what you began with, I feel probably what’s the most interesting thing is why would people want to do away with desire? Why would you want to think politics without our desires and needs? That is the thing that I feel needs to justify itself. The reason I come back to Marxism all the time is that exactly what Marxism seems to provide, for me, is an account which is happy to begin with the commodity. This is what Marx begins Capital One with, what he starts with the commodity, he says, “the commodities are a strange or curious or queer thing, he says “verdächt.So the commodity is this inscrutable object. And the reason it’s so strange, and the reason you look at it, and then you look at it again, see something different, is because commodities are, on the one hand, very straightforward, very simple things. Like you want to have a snack – you buy a pack of peanuts. There we go, what could be simpler than that? And yet, when you consider them several different times, we find that it is connected to the supersensual thing which is beyond our immediate experience. Like we were saying earlier, with sex hormones, they are something you need for your satisfaction, and yet that is also something which has been shipped from another country, fabricated probably in another continent, and it’s being prescribed to you by someone in an authoritative social position.

I felt like this is sort of the way with desire. Why do we need to lose it? Why do we need to not talk about these palpable feelings that seem to drive us and lead us around? Why have we got to put those in the cupboard? I’m not going to say the closet. Why have we got to get rid of them? And that’s increasingly what I’m not convinced about, I don’t think that we need to. That’s why I was putting together a Marxist collection. I hope that the different perspectives we’ve put together mean that you don’t need to do that. You can look at things psychoanalytically at one point, and you can even look at things historically and look at different movements. Or you can try and do several things at once. Why not? Just see what works.

MO: I don’t have a lot to say. But I think this has been a really central concern at Pinko that we’re really interested in trying to think through and to think hard about the legacy of gay liberation. Gay liberationism both has some really quite extraordinary and very powerful potentials and currents and has more or less been a catastrophic failure in a lot of ways for thinking about our current moment. And to think those alongside each other in a way that really tries to draw out, to reload what could be relevant for understanding our era, for understanding sexual and gender life today, I think Jules’ pieces are a very powerful example of our efforts of trying to do that as a collective and as a journal.

I think this question of the separation of sexual orientation and gender is largely relatively unhelpful. It belongs to – even though it was pioneered in circles dominated by continental philosophy – it really kind of reeks of an analytic attempt at separating out things in[to] distinct categories that you then can isolate their divisions. While, really it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of homosexual desire abstracted from gender difference was ludicrous, it is an invention of advanced capitalist society in the 20th century and hasn’t yet permeated lots of places. You look back on the history of sodomy, and a huge amount of it involved people that were gender non-conforming in a wide variety of ways. I have some problems with it, but I think Andrea Long Chu is very interesting for talking about transitioning as being very tied up with scopic desire, with the desire of what one sees, and what one wants to become, that I think some of our efforts at avoiding some transphobic discourse around this thing prevents trans people from spending as much time talking about or thinking about as might be helpful. But the question of sexual desire and sexual yearning and gender identity has always been deeply bound up. And separating them is an elaborate artificial conceptual edifice that we should question.

TFSR: I’m glad you brought up that last thing about the ways that people try to avoid the transphobic discourse to the extent that they end up maybe repeating or leaving those distinctions in place. Winding it down, I want to ask my anarchistic question, because you’ve framed this as a Transgender Marxism and one of the classical resistance between anarchists and a version of Marxism is this historical determinism or these ideas of blueprints and stages? I’m totally open to that being a misreading of Marx, it’s played out within authoritarian communist parties. And I think historically, we could see gay liberation, the historical gay liberation movement of the 60s and 70s being a reaction to some of those versions of authoritarian communism. So I appreciated that this book didn’t play along those authoritarian lines and also made a lot of space for historical contingency. So I’m wondering how you might frame this materialist account – all of the pieces really ground their analysis from a materialist perspective – how do we bring that into relation with unknown historical contingencies, the future solidarity is that we might need to elaborate and in the particular context of trans struggle? To me, this often is a place to think of anarchism as an intervention, but I’m wondering what you have to say about that.

JG: I was really looking forward to this question, because it is a juicy one. I suppose the very short answer is that I have always found the sectarian divide between communists of the kind I get along with, communists who are my comrades and anarchists to be very flimsy, even spurious. And communism, when I use the term, and anarchist positions are remarkably similar and definitely have significantly more common ground than they have divergences. And the divergences that do exist are primarily cultural scene history stuff. That’s how I put it. That’s the very short answer.

The longer answer is, I think, Marxist communist politics of the kind I affiliate myself with, of the kind I feel connected to, have always been implacably anti-state and had a position towards the state which considers its greatest strength to also be the things that make it the most threatening and most indispensable for capitalists. The state does things that no individual capitalist is able to do and brings capitalist society into existence, one generation after the next. That’s my position. I also feel like this is becoming a much more common position among Marxist theoreticians like David Nally really recently had a series about the state, which was basically saying what I just said in a much longer way. Michel Heinrich just had an appearance on the Antifada podcast where he’s talking about how the second part of his autobiography, which is across several books, is gonna focus heavily on Bakunin and in this much misunderstood, antagonistic relationship, which Marx and Bakunin had with each other, an antagonistic relationship that exactly was over the narcissism of small differences in many cases. Increasingly, this is the turn things are taking. Obviously, there is an enormous amount of bad blood between Marxist and anarchist traditions but in many cases, I think this is overstated in its substance. Any kind of Marxist perspective which I would associate myself with is fully aware of that.

Getting back to the transgender stuff, as we must, it’s really remarkable to me how in 2013 Nevada, this novel by Imogen Binnie, it’s intuitive that the protagonist, Maria, is into anarchism. I feel like today she’d probably be a commie. I don’t know. I feel like that’s something that has changed over the past five years. And I really don’t know why. They’re obviously still a lot of transgender anarchists out there. But I feel like now the meme is that we’re all communists. So if anyone has any answers to that one, please send me a postcard.

MO: There are various ways of parsing the distinction between Marxism and anarchism, and I think most of them are silly and somewhat unhelpful. But I define and understand communism as the need to overcome class society, as the yearning, the pursuit, the real movement that abolishes the existing order of things, and Marxism is an effort to make sense of how capitalism functions. The statist Marxism, statist Communism, this idea of the consolidation of authoritarian ownership-based states that control society through violence and wage labor as somehow a transition to Communism, hopefully, it was a historical blip that we will move past and not have to deal with. And I mostly don’t spend a lot of time in an anarchist tradition, however great my hostility is towards states, just because I see the dynamics of capital and political economy as so central to driving the dynamics of human societies, state violence, state policy, police brutality, I find talking about the production of surplus populations as really an essential starting point that happens through the dynamics of capitalist wage labor markets over time. So that’s my lens of Marxism, less of statist versus anti-statist, but instead, the starting point of trying to think through the world and what we have to destroy is the dynamics of capitalism. And if an anarchist thinks that, we have a lot to talk about.

TFSR: To bring it back to the book, maybe a final question, unless you have more that you want to bring up… I appreciate the fact that this book isn’t only an academic text. It’s connected to academic work, and there are people writing in this book who are potentially employed by academic institutions, although maybe not comfortably, especially when you’re out and trans, which is something I’ve experienced, making me more and more precarious. Marxism often gets lodged in the academy in a way that’s maybe not helpful. So I just wonder about the formation of the book and how it may have come out of solidarity struggle work, or how you think it could tie back into on-the-ground movement struggle work, instead of being set off into the realms of the theory that don’t connect on the ground as much.

JG: Speaking about how academic the book is, I actually have tried to count up… it’s a bit hard to keep track off. But I think out of the 16 contributors, we’ve got 15 chapters, a total of 16 people who wrote for it, including myself and Elle. Out of those, I think about a quarter of the book [contributors] are active university lecturers. One contributor, which is Jordy Rosenberg, who wrote the afterword, has tenure. So I would say it’s primarily not an academic book. But of course, this is only part of the picture. Obviously, it’s informed by academic discourses, and a lot of academics are reading it and teaching it. That’s not especially surprising to me. The academics we do have contributing in the main body, other than the afterword, are primarily not people in the most secure or lasting positions, like come back in five years’ time…

I think that this is actually remarkably similar to the way that things look in trans healthcare, which is that there is an enormous number of people who have some relevant training, whether it’s bioresearchers, registered nurses, and so on, but very few MDs who are transgender, and this is the reason why it’s all… Who are the people with the not only the security, the partners or parents to bankroll you through down years or whatever, but also the connections that would get you through medical school, that would get you onto a tenured job, and so on. Exactly all of those connections and those healthy inter-generational bourgeois relationships are what transition is very likely to rupture. There are, of course, exceptions. There’s probably more to be said about trans studies, which is, of course, something much more expensive than this collection, and probably has a kind of uneasy relationship in some ways. But that’s what I would say. Academia has a very specific set of like demands and requirements, for people who are ready to exist for that, and that’s a very competitive environment or you’re not going to be paid reliably for quite a long time. I feel like that’s probably not going to change very quickly. And who knows if it would even be a good thing if it did.

MO: Academic life seems a deathtrap in some ways. I am one of many more or less failed academics trying to write and think in the world. If people are able to make a living there, that’s great. But it’s extremely clear that we need to create revolutionary and left spaces of thinking and study and debate and analysis, that are outside of academic spaces, academic constraints.

JG: Samuel Delany actually recounts in his shorter essays collection… he is primarily a sci-fi author, but he talks about how in the later 20th century, he got into academia on the basis that he wanted a steady income, to supplement his sci-fi career. I really struggled to imagine anyone doing that these days.

TFSR: I started teaching in the area where he was, which is also where Jordy Rosenberg is and U-Mass. He was publishing pornographic novels and at the same time… Anyway, I feel like we covered a lot and went for a long time. Is there anything that you feel like we’ve missed? There’s so much in this book, obviously, we missed a lot. But there’s anything that you would like to put on the table or bring into this discussion?

JG: I feel really satisfied. And I felt like this is gonna give a good account of the book and hopefully entice your listeners who haven’t bought a copy yet to do that title. How about you, Michelle?

MO: This is great. I already talked about far too much that extends way beyond the book. But it’s a beautiful collection and a really magnificent set of writers and authors. Jules and Elle just did an excellent job editig it. It’s a great honor to be in it. And I think I highly recommend people being interested, on the one hand, gender struggles, gender theory, trans liberation, and on the other hand, anyone wrapped up in thinking about capitalism: to buy a copy, read it and talk about it and to share about it.

TFSR: Thank both of you so much for giving so much breadth to the conversation and so much analysis of the structures. I really appreciate thinking about transness through this lens which often gets left out in the mainstream discussion of it. And even in trans studies, I find that is often disappointing, so this politicization of it is really important. And connecting it to care work and the labor experiences of trans people. I appreciate your time and the book. Is there any place that you would want to direct, beyond buying the book which you can get from Pluto press, to direct people to follow you or hear more of your work?

JG: You can follow me on Twitter @SocialRepro and I also have a https://www.patreon.com/QueerComm. That’s everything from me.

MO: I am @GenderHorizon on Twitter, https://www.patreon.com/meobrien on Patreon.

Unity And Struggle Through The Bars with Mwalimu Shakur

Unity And Struggle Through The Bars with Mwalimu Shakur

Photo of Mwalimu Shakur from 2021 at Corcoran Prison (copied from Mwalimu's site)
Download This Episode

This week on the show, you’ll hear our conversation with Mwalimu Shakur, a politicized, New Afrikan revolutionary prison organizer incarcerated at Corcoran prison in California. Mwalimu has been involved in organizing, including the cessations of hostilities among gangs and participation in the California and then wider hunger strikes against unending solitary confinement when he was at Pelican Bay Prison in 2013, helping to found the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, or IWOC, Liberation Schools of self-education and continues mentoring younger prisoners. He was in solitary confinement, including in the SHU, for 13 of the last 16 years of his incarceration.

For the hour, Mwalimu talks a bit about his politicization and organizing behind bars, his philosophy, Black August, the hunger strikes of 2013, the importance of organizing in our neighborhoods through the prison bars.

You can contact Mwalimu via JayPay by searching for his state name, Terrence White and the ID number AG8738, or write him letters, addressing the inside to Mwalimu Shakur and the envelope to:

Terrence White #AG8738
CSP Corcoran
PO Box 3461
Corcoran, CA 93212

Mwalimu’s sites:

To hear an interview from way back in 2013 that William did former political prisoner and editor of CA Prison Focus, Ed Mead (before & after the strikes), search our website or check the show notes.

Other Groups Mwalimu Suggests:

Announcements

Shut ‘Em Down 2021

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Jonathan Jackson at the Marin County Courthouse, the assassination of his brother George at San Quentin in California and the subsequent uprising and State massacre at Attica State Prison in New York. Black August has been celebrated at least since 1979 to mark these dates with study, exercise, community building, sharing and reflection by revolutionaries on both sides of the bars. In the last decade across Turtle Island, you’ve seen strikes and protests and educational events take place around this time of the year as we flex our muscles.

This year, as you’ve heard us mention, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak is calling for weeks of action for Abolitionism under the name “Shut ‘Em Down 2021”. You can find out more at JailhouseLawyersSpeak.Wordpress.Com and follow them on twitter and instagram, linked in our show notes, alongside links relating to this weeks chat. You can hear our interview with a member of JLS from earlier this year about the “Shut ‘Em Down” initiative, or read the interview, at our site and in these show notes. Also, check out our interview with the remaining member of the Marin Courthouse Uprising, possibly the oldest living political prisoner in the US, Ruchell Cinque Magee.

Shaka Shakur Hunger Strike

New Afrikan prison rebel, co-founder of the New Afrikan Liberation Collective and IDOCWatch organizer, Shaka Shakur has been interstate transferred hundreds of miles away from his support network to Buckingham Correctional Center in Virginia (recognize that name?). There was a call-in campaign this week focused on VA Governor Northam, director of VADOC Harold Clark, VADOC central regional director Henry Ponton and Warden Woodson at BKCC. This was in support of Shakur’s hunger strike in protest of the transfer, his time in solitary prior in Indiana for having his prescription medication, being moved into solitary at BKCC with minimal hygiene and no personal materials. As noted in the transcript about his hunger strike at IDOCWatch’s website, the transfer interrupts civil and criminal litigation Shaka Shakur had pending in Indiana and has caused him to be halfway across the country after his own surgeries, the loss of his family matriarch and another aunt, the hospitalization of mother and other health hardships.

You can find ways to support via

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

  • Blues For Brother George Jackson by Archie Shepp from Attica Blues
  • George Jackson by Dicks from These People

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: Hi, I’m wondering if you could introduce yourself for the audience, maybe like your name, your location, if that’s useful, any pertinent information that will help the audience understand you.

Mwalimu Shakur: My name is Mwalimu Shakur, and I’m in Corcoran State Prison, where I’ve been for the last 17 years, 13 of which were in solitary confinement. But, you know, due to our massive hunger strikes in challenging this legislature inside of prison, the bureaucrats decided to let us out to the general population.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about some of your background, where you came from, how you became politicized, and how you identify politically now?

MS: Yeah, well, I came from Los Angeles, California. You know… gang violence was a problem in every neighborhood around the whole LA County area. As well as most of Southern California, but I grew up in a gang neighborhood, and not having really no political education, and only knowing the street way of life. You kind of navigated through court cases, you know, cases that put you in prison. But once you come inside of here, you have older individuals from your same community and other communities around the country who became politicized. And they became politically mature, so they can re-educate others that come in.

And for me, landing in prison, or what the drug mentality, gang mentality, criminal mentality all together. It put me in a situation where I was always involved in physical combat with others. You know, people I knew from my area, and then we have race riots. So those types of things that put you in solitary confinement. And when you go to solitary confinement, or you catch an infraction, those in SHU term, they’ll place you around more politicized individuals, who’ve educated themselves, studied their own history, study, politics, economics, a vast array of things. And being around those guys, that was the program on the inside. So I was able to start educating myself. I educated myself, so much so that I developed it into my practice. And it gave me a discipline, that became second nature to me. And once my mind started opening up to this new reality, I started seeing things more clearly, and I realized and understood why my community was the way that it was.

It wasn’t because we wanted to do these things, it was by design by those who oppress us and control us so that they can put us in their prisons and enact a modern day slavery type practice. Being in prison, that’s exactly what it is. So that’s what happened to me. And now, the more I still learn, the more I’m able to teach, and hopefully stop others from making those same mistakes. And if my teaching is correct, the way it was with me, then we can stop this school-to-prison pipeline which is what we say when you have a lot of people from inner city coming to prison, not knowing what to do with their self, they usually end up here. And we’re trying to break, break that curse, break those habits.

TFSR: A lot of people in the listening audience may not understand what you mean, with talking about how the situation was set up, particularly at this time, like you went in during what could be called like the heyday of mass incarceration in the United States. And if you could maybe break down, since you’ve been in for a while and some things have changed greatly, somethings have stayed the same. There’s this guy named Biden, I’ve heard about that has a still pretty prominent politics, that was pretty prominent. And some of the political decisions that put a lot of people in particular, Black and brown folks behind bars at that time. Can you talk a little bit about that context?

MS: Yeah, well, in the inner city, they flooded it with cocaine. You know, as if to say that the little progress we’ve made in the 70s, from the 60s revolutionary era, would quiet us and stop us from progressing as a people and as a culture. So you flood all the inner cities with this cocaine, okay? A lot of us partook in selling it, not knowing or really having a vast understanding and just further destroying our community and our people. So we became hustlers in the drug game. Gangs were rapidly building and growing. And then they put guns on the streets.

So now with the gun wars, and drug wars… basically the administration, I think and believe, had it set up that way so that they can take taxpayers money to build more prisons and create more laws to put us in and clearly show you the problems that are happening in those inner cities. And they created it, you know, and when you study it, you see it unfold that way because the only ones being hauled off into these prisons is Black and brown people. And the sentences are outrageous. Without a murder just for like selling small amounts of cocaine, you can get a lot of times – double digits, Okay? And then they enacted other laws, like the three strike law and made it seem like we were the worst people on planet Earth.

And in all actuality, that’s not really true. If you wouldn’t flood the inner cities with that cocaine and had made it possible for us to have better quality education in our schools, made it affordable to go off to college and learn a higher field of study so we can be successful in this country, we would have had more success. But the ratio, you know, people Black and brown playing sports was very limiting and that was the only ticket that I see out if you weren’t being a drug dealer. So that’s why I say it was by design, when you studied you see that mass incarceration boom, is still in effect right now, right? And what we’re doing is trying to challenge some of those laws and get them out of here. Because we recognize what they did. And with some of the laws changing, it’s like they’re admitting it, that they did do this and now it’s time to make it right. So that’s what I see.

TFSR: Awesome, thank you so much for sharing that. Part of the context that I have for you and was excited to have you on the show is because you have a long history of struggle alongside of other prisoners against unethical situations, against cruelty, against mass incarceration. One of the points in the struggle of prisoners that I’ve heard you refer to was participation in the hunger strikes against basically unending use of the SHU or solitary confinement. Can you talk a bit about it? People may have heard of the term SHU or secure housing unit? How does that differ from solitary confinement more generally? Is there a difference?

MS: Well, no, there’s no difference. I mean, we refer to solitary confinement is to AD-SEG, administrative segregation, which is what they first put you before you get the SHU term. The situation is the same. 23 hours locked down. Except for once you once you go to the SHU, that’s when you can have appliances like a TV or radio, okay? In AD-SEG, you can’t have those two things, but you can have everything else. You still go to yard every other day for a few hours. And you’re in a dog-like kennel-type cage, where they put a urinal, so that you can use the restroom. But you have no contact with another human being. You can see from cage to cage, but you can’t contact them, you can’t touch them.

The only human contact you have is if you have a celly. So the practices are the same. The length of time, in AD-SEG is not as long as it is in SHU. Like I said AD-SEG is like a pit stop before you get to Security Housing Unit. And within a Security Housing Unit. You can’t have the type of things you can have on in the general population. You can’t take college courses, you can’t go to school. You can’t take a vacation. You can have a few books. You can have no tennis shoes. Just like, some type of shoe that’s not really designed to protect your feet, you can put on like a shower shoe, but with a little bit more support. You could have no athletic shorts, no T-shirts. We took like two pairs of T-shirts to make a long sleeve T-shirt in case it was cold. So you couldn’t have sweat suits, thermals, beanies, nothing like that, to keep yourself warm.

It’s a real inhumane practice to have. You pretty much break a person down to nothing. And you put them in a cell, like I said, confined for 23 hours a day. And it was just because of those conditions: the small portions on the trays, the lack of quality healthcare, always being handcuffed every time you do come out of the cell to go to a shower, which is like five minutes. If you’re in Pelican Bay, then you’re not in a dog cage, you are in a little cage right behind your cell so you see nobody.

So yeah, we all came together talking through the doors, talking through the toilets, to each other and decided to come up with a strategy to get out of here. To get released. It worked because, united we stood on a hunger strike. And then we started challenging the injustice that puts you in there, like the gang validation. And then we start challenging the practices that they use to keep you in there. Like, if you talk to another inmate who’s a gang member, then you get another point, and it keeps you in there longer. And mind you, you are going through a classification every six years to get considered to be released. So it was really inhumane, the practices were. We just came up with the hunger strike strategy as well as challenging the rules in order to get up out of here. And for the most part, it worked.

TFSR: You talked about participating in the hunger strikes against SHU containment. Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between the administration and gang status? There’s a term, you’ll be able to come up with it, but, basically where if you’re assigned a gang status, because somebody else pointed at you, the only way in a lot of cases to get out of the SHU at that point was to basically claim that someone else was a gang member, and give false testimony in a lot of cases, to be able to reduce SHU time. Is that Is that a fair description? Is that what happened?

MS: Yeah, well, what it is, is the administration, they look at who they feel is against them as far as political-ness. Like for us New Afrikans, I could speak on that. We’re not a gang, but being a politicized, conscious, New Afrikan means you can challenge the conditions and wake others up to that knowledge on how to do so. And what they do is they’ll put that gang label on you, because they put the gang label on the other ethnic groups, and it will stick with the other ethnic groups, if you’re a gang member that came from society, and you come up inside of these prisons and you group together, and you form your structure.

So what they do is they put that label on you. So they can get away with the type of law book that they write. They come up with these rules, just like the bureaucrats and society come up with rules and different laws to get legislation passed, okay? The bureaucrats in prison do the same, they get a book where it gives them the rights to whatever they consider gang practice: like reading certain types of books, certain type of cultural literature, a certain type of drawing depicting that literature. Anything you read, study, or practice, if they consider that gang participation, they’ll slap you with that label.

Okay? And if you rack up… they give you points for everything you do. Okay, if you speak this Swahili language, they say you are communicating in code. Okay, so that becomes a gang point. If you exercise a certain way, in military form, that shows unity. They look at that as gang participation with other gang members. So it’s whatever the rules they can try to come up with to make stick on you, which gives them their little right to hinder you. And once they have enough points, like three to four points, they then can put you in solitary confinement indefinitely. And what it does is, they give you an indeterminate SHU, which is only six months. But every six months, they just keep stamping it. So then you stay in there for years and years and years and you only go to committee every six years if you have an indeterminate SHU. So that gives me the right to keep you in there. And then when you go to that committee, they stamp you again. Saying, “well, we see them talking to another gang member, he hasn’t denounced his association”.

So, you know, those little things keep you in solitary for that length of time, and the only way to get out is parole. And if you debrief, go through the little process of dry snitching or telling on others, informing on others and work for them, or you die. You know? And we wanted to take that power back. So we all got together and decided, you know, let’s come up with these strategies to do so. But it’s a flawed system. We challenged it, it worked because we didn’t have the political maturity to understand that in order to beat their system, we should unite. But once we develop that, we found those strategies to be significant in winning our freedoms from behind that wall. So now, they can only use this SHU practices, if you catch a SHU-able offense. You know, whatever they deem a SHU-able offense by getting caught with a weapon or participating in some type of a riot or melee, assault on the staff, anything that will warrant SHU placement?

TFSR: Mwalimu, just to make a point, on the on the gang jacketing, and the files, and the debriefing and everything. Like, if you get paroled out… and like a lot of people are going to end up staying with their families because they don’t have money. So if they can go anywhere, they’ll try to stay with their family. Oftentimes the ways that the California government defines gang membership, there’s a relationship to… they say like, “Oh, it overlaps with family.” So it seems like it complicated it too, when you go and you stay in your cousin’s house or whatever, they are then associating with a known gang member and this kind of thing. I’m not sure if it still is the case, but I think in 2013 this was still the case, gang injunctions would then come into play where maybe if because you’ve been communicating with your cousin, who’s on the outside. When you get out maybe you can’t go to the neighborhood that your your cousin lives in, because they’re considered to be gang associated through family connections or whatever. Is that right?

MS: Well, it’s true still because yeah, they can gang jacket you. But once they do background checks on your family, and they see that they’re not involved with the street gang or anything like that, they will back up but they will still watch you. Most people, the family already knows about them, and what to expect in case they parole to a loved one’s house. Now, if you go to your neighborhood, and you are a member of a street gang, then the parole department is going to watch a lot more, because if the street gangs is under any type of surveillance for any type of activities that they have, they’re going to see if you’re participating in things like that. And that’s also avoidable. It’s all about you and what you want to do to integrate back into society.

For me, I was working, went back to school, and living a productive life, where they couldn’t pinpoint me for doing things with known gang members from my area, or anybody else I might have ran into that I knew, because while they’re watching me, they’re seeing that “Okay, he may be speaking to people, but he’s not doing anything that we consider illegal or gang activity.” So, they won’t push on you so hard, they’ll gives you a little leeway. But for those that do go back out there and do anything like that, you’re just setting yourself up for failure, you know? Surveillance capitalism, you see it all over now they got cameras on telephone poles, and certain community areas where they can watch the neighborhood and see what they’re doing, and things of that nature. So the community is under surveillance, you know, normal people under surveillance. I mean, so they’re watching everything you do. But it’s up to you, that individual, on how well they want to be productive out there and what they want to do while they’re out there.

TFSR: Yeah, what you’re describing, though, with, like the inside / outside affiliations, and the constant surveillance is counter-insurgency. Right?

MS: Right. Right, right. And they do that in here as well as out there. I learned that firsthand by being in the SHU and being investigated by ISU officers and IGI who are supposed to work with gang members in prison. But they’re going out there in society and work on parole agents, and other Sheriff departments and patrols certain gang neighborhoods. And that’s how I got arrested, actually, on three violations that I obtained. I was arrested by them, you know, and I didn’t commit a crime. But one of my violations, they put me back in prison for being out past curfew because I stopped at a gas station before I got home, and then they were the one’s harassing me! Okay? Then I’m at home, you know, it’s a decent hour, but they came to my house, saying “Well, you are living above your means.” You know, just little chickenshit things like that. It’s the thing that they do when you have their gang jacket on. And like I said, it gives them that right, because of their flawed law book that they put together, that they target us. You know?

TFSR: During the last portion of our conversation, you were talking about the the prison strikes, the hunger strikes across California prisons that actually spread way beyond that, around concerns of solitary confinement. And you talked about when people realize that when they were unified, they have a lot more strength. Can you talk about that sort of organizing. That inspirational moment and the hard work that you all put into create negotiations and some sort of like, de-escalation between different crews, whether they be specifically racialized crews, like the Aryan Brotherhood? That sort of stuff that inspires people still from the Lucasville uprising and from Attica before it?

MS: Yeah, yes. When you show a person your purpose, and you can sometimes take race even out of it, and just show the love for humanity. When you take a stand for others who are being oppressed. And you show them the conditions in which they’re being oppressed, they can understand and say “That makes sense.” So what we was able to do was, let them know that there’s a bigger picture than this little bickering that we had going on for generations and generations. And when you show them that bigger picture, and they see that “if we unite with you all, whether our interests are the same or not, and we can reach the objective by doing so, then let’s do it.” And then the whole time, while you’re doing that, you still show them your correct views, your correct ideology, what you proceed. You show them the incorrect ways in which they’re being treated by the government. You show them that it’s a class struggle, and not a race struggle, and you use these teaching moments, you know, to show them that it’s the race caste system was devised by the two party government system. To show you that “look, if you divide yourself from the Negros and the Indians, then we will give you special privileges,” but they’re not getting as those privileges. So now you show them that, “look, you’re serving their interests as much as we do, or we are. And if you believe in American values, you’re going to lose because they’re not going to treat you the way you think you deserve to be treated.” And you can clearly see that with people that go off to war. So when you show people where they’re wrong is that and who is responsible for the wrong they’ll lean more towards you.

And that’s what we were able to do with the other ethnic groups in California, as well as when we got the word out to society, and had a lot white people, a lot of Mexican people, a lot of other ethnicities join forces with us, in solidarity, to help us overcome the challenges that we were facing here. And we had a lot of people from other countries like maybe Europe, you know, where there was a lot of civil unrest, and a lot of organizations who established themselves, they were poor people organizations. They realized that it was a class struggle. And that’s how you win the masses over. You know a lot of times people just, they have a feeling, they have a thought, they just need to be pushed to exercise that thought and give into that feeling. And when you show him that you’ve got that love and support for them. And they feel that strength, they tend to latch on, too.

TFSR: What were some outcomes actually, of those strikes. I know it led to higher court responses and admonition of the state of California for its practices. How have things changed because of that mass movement of people, and how has that peace that was brokered, and reflection, that it was a class struggle, and not a race struggle… Where does that seem to fit in the California system to you now?

MS: Well, now that they let us all out of solitary confinement, you know, that was one win. And then they can only use solitary confinement or the SHU for if you catch a SHU term. You know, it would have to be a criminal infraction, just like if you’re on the streets, and you catch a case and you go to prison. They have to utilize it the way it was designed. So they can’t use those practices no more. Also the guard union took a hit, because a lot of them can’t work in the SHU no more and get that hazardous pay, which is like triple pay. So they lose out. The Board of Prison Terms has said “You know what? We’re going to have to start letting some of these people out of prison and back into society.” So the laws have been changing.

Since we’ve gotten into the general population, and utilize our practices, and shown them, you know, this revolutionary way of doing things. When they implemented their own self-help groups, which are like robotic programs to teach you how to have common sense the way they want you to, you see how they’re doing it, and you change that narrative and create your own self-help groups. Things that you know will really work. And you’re working together with other ethnicities, and you’re increasing the peace and showing this younger generation “You’ve been misled, you’ve been misguided. You know, we’re the ones who made mistakes, and had the faults, it’s time for us to change that.” And when you do that, you see legislature saying “Okay, well, they know the truth now. They know what really happened. They know how the Three Strikes were devised. They know who pushed the crack cocaine into the neighborhoods.” we’re taking the power back by realizing that there’s a peaceful way to get things done, there’s a peaceful way to bring these changes.

And if you keep telling the truth, you take the power out of their 1% class of hands, and you win more of the masses over. Because you make people who didn’t know, understand, you know, by teaching them those truths. And then they research those facts on their own and they’re more willing to want to help you. So a lot of changes are still needed, but we got the ball rolling. And that’s one thing that I can say is happening right now throughout the California prison system.

TFSR: So this year, Jailhouse Lawyer Speak, which is a coalition based around and in prisons around the US and a lot in the South, is calling for days of action, solidarity and education on the outside with folks struggling on the inside on August 21, and September 9. And I’d like to hear later about Black August and about education and the 50th anniversary of George Jackson’s assassination, and how people participated in the Attica Uprising also. But I’m wondering if you can say a little bit about the importance of having people on the outside acting in solidarity and understanding the unity between inside and outside as well as the differences. And just to sort of like point to that trajectory of activity… the inspiration of the hunger strikes in California that spread the movement in Georgia, in the early 2010s, the Free Alabama Movement and the strikes that were happening in Alabama and Mississippi around that time and the sort of like chronology of struggle. Could you talk about the importance of the inside / outside solidarity and the upcoming dates of the action and education?

MS: Yeah, well, the inside outside solidarity is of paramount importance because we don’t want separation. We don’t want the 1% class to think that people in society look at us as bad people, you know? They need to understand that it’s important to support us on the inside because we are the ones who will be fighting once we get out, we’re the ones who are going to fight with them, to help them challenge different conditions out there that are still oppressing them out there is as it is in here. You know, it should never be a divide. It should always be unity.

You know what we sparked in California by recognizing our conditions, we’re glad that it trickled over into the other states because they were up against the same type of oppressive slave conditions. I mean, they didn’t start in California with the three strikes, for example. They started in California, and that actually spread to other States, and they just call it something different, but the condition is still the same. So the importance of knowing that, will build that unity, and people outside will see the importance of this, to stand in unity with us on the inside to get things done because t takes us all in order to beat back Capitalism and Imperialism.

What we would love to see more of, is a lot more changes being done in the Constitution, like Ammendment 13. Keeping those clauses there allows them to still keep those practices, those slave practices. And people on outside needs to really understand a lot more of what they’re up against. And if they are working with anybody in here, we can always show them to look at Liberation Schools. It teaches you something that the American public school system didn’t teach you. We teach the truth based on all cultures, how they’ve been oppressed, economically, politically, militarily. And the need to eradicate those backwards ways of thinking and doing, because you know who established them. And if you know that, then you can fight them a whole lot easier. So we look forward to continuing our Liberation Schools and winning the masses over that way. We look forward to supporting you all out there. As well as I know, you guys will look forward to helping us on the inside. And yeah, we can talk about it a lot more than next time I get a chance to call.

Working inside and outside is the best thing possible so that we break away from that dividing line, that they try to put there because they want to keep you separate. Unity in the masses is of paramount importance, if you want to go forward in this class struggle, because we need to unite, helping each other with whatever we got going on, that reaches a positive objective of change. You know, and like what you’re doing now, this right here builds unity of the masses, builds solidarity, this reaches people so they can see their purpose. And if they need help with anything, and there’s others who might have a semblance of how to make it happen for them, then, you know, by all means you should always assist. You know, and that’s what will keep the unity strong. People always want to be able to lean on their comrades and loved ones and sometimes other people have better programs or something else is working, that they might not have working. And you always want to help people so that they can achieve their goals, just like how you want to achieve your goals.

TFSR: So we’re talking right now, in August, that’s the 50th anniversary of the Attica uprising as well as the assassination of George Jackson, which, as I understand in 1979 began being practiced mostly by Black radical prisoners, and then by others in solidarity, the practice of Black August. Can you talk a little bit about the practice, it’s important to you? And also a bit about the education and the Liberation Schools?

MS: Yeah. Well the purpose of keeping the practice going of Black August is what the month means to New Afrikan revolutionaries and fought and gave their life to win freedoms that we have in here. They put their life on the line to challenge these conditions. So, the Liberation Schools, from the onset is to teach that, about our history, our cultural practices, because this is something that we didn’t learn in school. And when you learn through the Liberation Schools, it allows you to go out there and not compete in the capitalist market, but understand what Capitalism is all about and utilize your finances for socialist practices. You know, helping grow Black-owned businesses or other oppressed ethnic groups in the communities, businesses, and building that unity and solidarity. Because what you learn is that we all have shared cultural practices. In Howard Zinn’s book The People’s History of the United States you learn how divided line was established and by whom. You learned the importance of solidarity and unity and how to help each other, you know “Each One Teach One” practices come to mind. And you see the importance of doing so. So yeah, this whole month, we pay reverence to those who paved the way for us, basically, and continue with this study. And practice the exercising, something we do in unity. Just to feel strength.

TFSR: So you mentioned, like the practices and the importance of sharing this, learning and mentoring, and study, and focus, during the period of Black August, and also like redirecting funds back into socialistic endeavors. Could you talk a bit about sort of the legacy for you of some of the big ideas, and some of the big thinkers. George Jackson obviously comes to mind. His struggle, his writings have been like greatly influential to folks that are doing study behind bars. I know that you’ve done work on projects that have collaborated with George Jackson University. And also, I would like for you, if you if you’re okay with it, to break down the term New Afrikan, which you’ve defined yourself as. I think some listeners may be unfamiliar with that term and some of its lineage.

MS: Well, the New Afrikan term is your ideology. You know, we consider this our New Afrikan being as we’re descendants of our ancestors who came over here as slaves. So we don’t use the term African American or Black or… We try to refrain from those terms, because those are the terms that the oppressor wants to call you and to see things in his way is just not the correct way. So that’s why we call ourselves New Afrikans, it’s an ideology. And all ethnicities who are revolutionary nationalists should always refer to their self in a way that they feel comfortable, not in a way like the oppressors feel like referring to them. And you know, most of my role models, so to speak: yeah, George is one; Mao; Marx; Engels; Amílcar Cabral; Patrice Lumumba; Kwame Nkrumah; Jomo Kenyatta. All those who took the liberation stands, Che Guevara, to challenge oppression, and unite the people, and challenge the conditions that were oppressing them, not just the people. Those who sacrificed their life, paved the way for us. The spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of all of those who continue to do the same, because, as you can see, the problem still exists.

I do like Huey’s concept as well, because, creating a party, which Lenin spoke about, a party or self-governing organization of the people. You know, that’s basically what Communism is. And Socialism is your economic practices. So it works in hindsight, as long as you’re always keeping the People in mind. When you create programs for the People, they are programs designed to help further the people along, and keep them thinking about self sufficiency. Because that’s what it’s all about. You don’t need to compete in the capitalist market, work your way up the capitalist chain, because you’ll never make it to the top. In understanding that, you want to wake up the minds of others who don’t yet know that. And that way they won’t be running around like dogs chasing their tail, so to speak. Lost and caught up just trying to make ends meet. They’ll make things better for themself. Okay?

TFSR: You were just telling me about the liberation Schools. Can you talk a bit about what y’all do and what the idea is?

MS: Okay, with us, it’s always about need. So, as far as like the Liberation Schools, we try to bring the material, the cultural material, historical material, where we read it and studied it, and we practice our way of life like our ancestors did. And every program we create, is a program of need. So when we grab the certain books, by for instance, Chancellor Williams has a book called The Destruction of Black Civilization, and it tells you how it was destroyed in Africa. Okay, Then he tells you, he does a sequel, part two: The Rebirth Of African Civilization. And that tells you how to build these self sufficiency programs that are designed to allow you to implement socialist practices that are programs of need that people have, so that they can continue to raise healthy families. You know?

Like for instance, we created one program, I have to use a pamphlet so you can get the in depth details of it. But like for instance, one of them was like building a community grocery store. And let’s say for instance, I have enough finances to rent a space and build a grocery store. I use a comrade or friend in the community that has their own construction company, and I spend money with them who is not going to charge me a lot to build the grocery store. Okay, the grocery store, all the stuff that I’m selling in a grocery store, let’s say or instance there are four or five people on my street who have organic fruits and vegetables. The soil is ripe for planting and growing foods and vegetables. So I take all their groceries, all their stuff, I pay them what they want for this, reasonable price, and I turn around and sell it to other people. And what you see is the practices of implementing that. And everybody has enough. Everybody is not in need. And the concept continues.

And you can use it with other things like a clothing store. I have a friend of mine who’s a good artist. So I might want to go to another friend of mine who has a linen shop, and buy some linen, and then take my other friend’s art and transform the art onto the clothes and start a clothing line. You know what I mean? And go to another friend of mine who owns like a store similar to Walmart, and put my stuff in his store and have him sell it for price. So that everybody has enough money. Everybody is working and contributing to each other’s businesses, and we’re growing and thriving those businesses and living off of that. Those socialist practices are what’s missing in the communities. And if there is a lot of, you know, what we call a mom and pop spots, the community businesses, thriving those businesses allows for a safe environment in a thriving community. And that’s one of the things we teach in the Liberation Schools. One of the ways that we’ll be able to implement socialist practices.

People get other things out of it. Because we don’t just study New Afrikan history, we study all oppressed people’s history. Mexican history, First Nation peoples history, which they call them Indians or Native Americans, because that was all of Central South America. We study American history. When you study other culture’s history, you fill in the gap that’s left out of American history, where all of us played a part in history, and we fill those in. We study theology, break down the different religions, show how cultures worship God in different ways. Some comrades are Muslim, so they can talk about that. Some comrades are Christian, Hebrew Israelites, Judaists, you know, I’ve heard all different types. We just study all the sciences that we can and some of the arts. And there’s people who are more well versed in languages and in other forms of study than a lot of others, so they study on an advanced level, and then some study on a beginning level. And as long as you can grasp the concepts, and implement them into your practice it will change your way of thinking and how you relate to each other. When you see that each other has a need, and you learn about core value systems, and you try to complement those needs based on their core value system.

TFSR: So, to go back to the example that you gave, of both starting markets and trading with each other and using each other’s resources and such, how does the socialist approach not allow for the re-creation of a bourgeoisie within that community? Certain people have access to certain resources? And if they continue to hold on to it, doesn’t that just reproduce the class dynamic?

MS: Yeah, if you can’t show people the importance of the socialist practice, then yeah, they’ll stay with a bougie mind. And that’s middle class mainly because they try to reach for that 1% class. A lot of them don’t make it. So if they want to continue to reach for it like that, then you have to just let them do what they do. You know, but for those who see the importance of the socialist practices, you continue to welcome them in and show them the importance of sharing those resources. Because you don’t want to be materialistic, if you if you become too materialistic, then the capitalist mind has as engulfed you. You continue and you start thinking like the 1%, which is what they they want. You see it on a TV screen all the time, the lavish lifestyle. They want to showcase that so that you can see that that is success. And it’s really not. You know?

I was in the streets, and I was a hustler and I used to think that that was the way to be successful. When I realized, after studying my history, when I came to prison, that all I’m doing is stepping on my own people, hurting my own people and creating genocidal practices as well as menti-cidal practices by destroying people’s mind. Making them think that this is the way to be, and it is not. So you have to use a practice that we call “eradicating backwards and unprogressive ways of thinking and behavior.” And when you read and study more, you see that that’s the most important thing to do. You know? And when you apply that mentally, you have to encourage others to do the same. But yeah, if you can’t reach everybody, so if you can’t, you just got to let them pretty much fall to the wayside.

TFSR: I’d love to hear more about your ideas on, for instance in Corcoran, in your study group where, like people have limited access to material resources, there’s… literally the institution is there to keep people separate from each other and monitor their relationships. Sharing knowledge is definitely an aspect of socialism. But is there are there other practices or or ways that people relate to each other that sort of reflect on this socialist practice you’re talking about?

MS: Us who come from the inner city, you know, we’ve swallowed a lot of our differences. And we see that there’s a common goal. And that common goal is keeping it peaceful on the prison yards, and not let anyone disturb that peace so that we can make it back to society where our families and our community needs us. So we can undo the damage that we did with the selling of drugs and the gang banging and the, you know, things like that. So we pretty much understand our conditions. And we know that we are our own liberators. So we fight to do just that. We’ve already, because of our agreement to end all hostilities, we’ve already got football tournaments going, basketball tournament, softball tournaments, handball tournaments, things like that. We share in the practices of implementing the self-help groups. We know how to build better men. We know how to interact with each other to help each other thrive and overcoming any injustices that come our way. So we help each other with law work and stuff like that, filling out 602’s, medical forms. Anything like that to show and build unity, which helps with the solidarity.

So coming across those lines, youngsters coming in here who have a different mindset, they see that, and then they realize “Wait a minute, we thought it was like negative and violent!” And we show them “No, this is why it was violent at first, it was CO’s behind it starting all that.” You know? Then of course when there is bloodshed, it’s hard to stop it. But we show them the importance of building that unity, and why we’re resorting to a different way of doing things. And they’re starting to relate to that more. So it is a lot of action. And we were trying to take the hands out of these CO’s, slowly but surely.

I mean, we’re up against the California Guard’s Union. It’s real big and powerful. But, you know, we’re not going to let that discourage us. We’re going to keep doing the best that we can, so that we can overcome this and get these laws to change, get these Parole Boards, hopefully, with people from the community on them, that would have more sympathy towards us. And let us out instead of believing in Capital Punishment. But yeah, it’s still a work in progress, but it’s working. It’s working in a good way. So much so that the governor is letting people off death row, and letting them transition into prison, so they can function in a normal environment. So hopefully they can get a Parole Board date or win their case in court. You know what I mean?

TFSR: So I guess the specific question, again, about the place that you’re being held, or at least the state. So in terms of the demonstrations that are being called for by JLS that we’ve talked about, or mentioned before, between August 21 and September 9, asking for folks on the outside to spread the Abolitionist message and work with comrades and connect with comrades behind bars. I was wondering if you could talk about some of the issues that are specific to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation system, where you’re currently being held. And any sort of insights on what you would like folks on the outside to be working on, or programs that they could be coordinating with, based on the conversations that you’re hearing and the reality on the ground, where you’re at.

MS: Well, where we’re at, if comrades on the outside were building Liberation Schools, that will be of paramount importance, because now they’re educating themselves on the need and the importance of transforming the inner cities into positive places, getting rid of all the negative things. And that’s mainly what we’re doing in here, because our self-help groups, we’re finding needs, and trying to meet those needs. And what the state does is they want to create self-help groups that the prison board will accept. So they can transition back into society and be a robot basically, for them. And we don’t want that, that’s not therapeutic programming. Rehabilitating is people who want to change. And they know what they want to change. And if you create certain types of programs that help that change prosper and thrive, then that’s what’s needed.

And that’s what we’re trying to do. What outside comments can also do is work with organizations that are already doing things in prisons, whatever it may be. If it’s creating newsletters, newspapers, podcasts. Whatever it is, so that people in here can let you know what’s going on. And you can find ways to help that, to bring about those changes, that’s what’s needed. We really would like to see people from the community on these Parole Boards, instead of ex-police, DA’s and people in the legislature who only want to control us all. We don’t want to see them because they don’t really want to help you. You know? If they help you transition to society, then they don’t have a job. They have a job when all these prisons stay full. So that’s basically what’s needed.

TFSR: Are there any sort of organizations that you want to name that folks would get involved in? Like, you were one of the founders of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Commitee? So I don’t know if that’s one that you’d want to name or Oakland Abolition or any other sort of groups?

MS: Yeah, IWOC is always… whatever state you’re in, whatever city you live in, there’s a chapter, and we’re trying to create more chapters. But yeah, IWOC is a good group to get involved with because their Abolitionists and activist, and a lot of them have other professional fields where they can utilize those tools to help transition us out into society and create safe space for us to be involved in community work. They challenged legislature. Initiate Justice is another organization that they really challenged legislature and try to get… They’re guiding Senators and State Council members to pass certain laws that will let us get out of prison earlier than what is expected. You’ve got Critical Resistance, they’re pretty big, and they work to abolish prisons altogether. But a lot of them are activists. You got California Prison Focus. There are some other organizations out there in society and different states. I can’t think of them all right now, but any organization that’s working with inside people to make conditions better on the inside, as well as transform those communities into positive places like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in the South. You know, those are organizations you want to be a part of. We have a lot of organizations that we’ve established like the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panthers Party. That’s an organization that deals with racial schools. Prison Lives Matter is a new organizations like Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, where we’re trying to continue to connect ourselves to these other prison plantations throughout this country, where we continue to develop consciousness through our education, and our revolutionary theory. We can apply that to practice so that we can continue to grow and thrive as a class, not just as a nation, but as a class of all ethnicities, and struggle to win our freedoms.

You have to liberate the mind first before you can liberate the body. That’s something that I always tell people. That’s something that people can get involved with, and if they’re not working with anybody on the inside, they can always go to my website and contact me, go to other comrades who might have websites and contact them directly. So that that way we can help them get that extra push they might need to get involved in something.

TFSR: Can you say what the what website publishes your writing?

MS: Yeah, I got two different websites. One’s a penpal website and it’s called Wire of Hope. You can go to wireofhope.com/prison-penpal-terrance-white and you’ll see some of my writings on there. My comrade she put that that website together in order to establish relations, not so much as romance. If that happens, that’s a good thing, but to get us a voice out there as well as have people in the community connect with some of us on the inside so that they can work with us with doing positive things out there. And then I got my own website is ajamuwatu.wixsite.com/ajamuwatu

Ajamu means “he who fights for what he wants” and Watu means “people”. So if you put that together, it’s saying “he who fights for the people”, a Swahili word. And you’ll see a lot of my writings. My writings are mainly about education. How to build and create self-sufficiency programs, how to develop political thought, how to apply revolutionary theory to practice.

And one thing I always tell people is never be embarrassed if you go through the political immaturity stage, because that’s a given. You have to develop your own way of doing things based on your understanding. There’s no big me’s there’s no little you’s. But as long as you are studying cultural history, politics, economics, African history, you will see the holes in American history. And you’ll be able to see the lies that they put out there. You know, a lot of the reading material that we read is like, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States of America which shows you how the 1% class divided the rest of us in the 99%, and how they’re continuing to exploit us through their Capitalist system. The more you read, and learn, and study, the more your mind will open up. So you’ll see where there’s a problem, and you want to challenge that problem any way you can, as long as it warrants success. I would always encourage people to do that.

TFSR: And Mwal… Mwalimu… *laughs* Sorry, I’m still learning, you know? I guess we are all learning right?

MS: Yeah, well we’re all alive and learning. It took me a while to pronounce them all right too. You know, it’s funny because in Swahili dialect, the A’s are pronounced like “e” and the I’s are pronounced like “e”. So it’s backwards for the English vowel sound. The U was pronounced “oo” The M is pronounced “oom” you know, so it takes a while, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll flow like water. *laughs*

TFSR: Yeah, I guess it’s just about practice, and praxis. Comrades, thank you so much for having this conversation. I really appreciate it. And I really value you taking the time and making the effort to get in touch and be in touch about this. I wish you total solidarity and take care of yourself. Keep in touch.

MS: Well, thank you. Thank you. I appreciate you for having me, man. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you, comrade, people of like mind, in order to go forward is always a beautiful thing. You know, I enjoy meeting new people. I enjoy working with people and helping them out as best I can. “Each one, teach one” is something that we have to continue to do. And “can’t stop, won’t stop” is something we have to continue to be mindful of. So yeah, I’m always here for you all as well. Thank you. Appreciate you all so much. It’s always a pleasure.

. … . ..

History of Black August: Concept and Program

Thi smonth of August gained special significance and importance in the Black Liberation Movement beginning with a courageous attempt by Jonathan Jackson to demand the freedom of Political / Prisoners Of War of which the Soledad Brothers case were the center of attention. On August 7, 1970 Jonathan Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain and Ruchell Magee were gunned down at the Marin County Courthouse in that attempt for freedom. Ruchelle Cinque Magee remains the sole survivor of that bid for liberation, he also remains a POW for freedom. Though this rebellion was put down by pigs and their agents, it was internalized within the hearts and minds of the people on the outside in the larger prison as well as those in the concentration camps (prison). Internalized in the same fashion as we honor other heroic Afrikan freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for the people and their liberation.

On August 21, 1971 almost exactly a year following the slave rebellion at Marin County Courthouse, George L. Jackson, whose freedom was the primary demand of the Marin Rebellion, was assassinated at San Quentin prison in an alleged escape put forth by prison administration and the State to cover it’s conspiracy. Comrade George Jackson was a highly respected and purposely influential leader  in the Revolutionary Prison Movement. Jackson was also very popular beyond prison, not only because he was a Soledad Brother, but also because of the book he authored appropriately entitled “Soledad Brother.” This book not only revealed to the public the inhumane and degrading conditions in prison, he more correctly pointed to the real cause of those effects in prison as well as in society. A decadent capitalist system that breeds racism and oppression.

On August 1st, 1979, Jeffrey “Khatari” Gaulden, a Black Freedom Fighter and Prisoner Of War captured within the walls of San Quentin was a victim of a blatant assassination by capitalist-corporate medical politics. Khatari was another popular and influential leader in the Revolutionary Prison Movement.

An important note must be added here and that is, the Black August concept and movement that it is a part of and helping to build is not limited to our sisters and brothers that are currently captured in the various prison kamps throughout California. Yet, without a doubt it is inclusive of these sisters and brothers and moving toward a better understanding of the nature and relationship of prison to oppressed and colonized people. So it should be clearly understood that Black August is a reflection and commemoration of history; of those heroic partisans and leaders that realistically made it possible for us to survive and advance to our present level of liberation struggle. People such as: Nat Turner; Harriet Tubman; Gabriel Prosser; Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois; Marcus Garvey; Paul Robeson; Rosa Parks; M. L. King, Jr; Malcolm X; and numerous others in our contemporary period. It must be furtehr clarified that when we speak of “culture development,” we are not advocating cultural nationalism and/or merely talking about adopting Afrikan names, jewelry, dashikis, etc. Our primary interest lies not only in where we came from, but the nature of “why” we were forcefully brought here, understanding the character of “continuous” struggle with the recognition that it is a protracted struggle and developing the necessary lifestyles to guarantee it’s success.

In solidarity struggleUntil all oppressed are free…Mwalimu ShakurA servant of the people.

Mwalimu S. Shakurs/n Terrence E. WhiteCSP Cor 3A-92-144PO Box 3461Corcoran, CA 93212

Joshua Clover on Riots and Strikes

Joshua Clover on Riots and Strikes

Joshua Clover with a beard and shirt reading "Riot" next to a statue of Karl Marx
Download This Episode

Joshua Clover is the author of seven books including Riot.Strike.Riot (Verso, 2016), which has been translated into six languages. Scott and Joshua talk about proletarian resistance to the capitalist economy through struggles against circulation of commodities and to fix their prices (riots) and struggles against exploitation and to set the price of wages in the workplace (strikes), how these methods are not as indistinguishable as we are told and the future of struggle against capitalism and extraction, for a new communist world.

Joshua also has the forthcoming book  Roadrunner coming from Duke University Press. It’s about exactly what you think it’s about (but, if you’re not familiar with or from Boston, or haven’t ever seen a Stop&Shop at midnight from the beltway, it’s about placing one particular song from one particular band within a wide and fascinating context. This’ll be out in September!)

Here are some relevant links from Clover:

“I think the best writing on the George Floyd Uprising has been by Idris Robinson, How It Might Should Be Done, and Shemon and Arturo, Theses on the George Floyd Rebellion.

I am always trying to get people to read the poetry of Wendy Trevino and Juliana Spahr, both of whom take riots and insurrections as a main topic. Both of the books linked too are free.

Speaking of riots, people should always read Gwendolyn Brooks, RIOT.

I am always trying to get people to read Red Skin, White Masks by Glen Coulthard, which is a theoretical consideration on Indigenous struggle that eventually arrives at the fact and the logic of land blockades; it was written before Standing Rock.

I mentioned the work of Charmaine Chua on logistics, circulation, and decolonial struggle; here’s one useful essay.

Here is a link to the book I have coming out soon. Here is a link to the Introduction if anyone wants a sample.”

Announcement

Support Uprising Prisoner

David Elmakayes, who is being charged because of his participation in last summer’s George Floyd uprisings in Philadelphia, needs money to hire a new attorney. Currently, his public defender is trying to get him to snitch on other defendants to benefit his own case and David wants no part of it.

To learn more about his case, how to write him support letters and how to donate to getting him a new lawyer, you can visit https://gofund.me/53f3ddb1

. … . ..

Featured Track:

  • Roadrunner by The Modern Lovers

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: So you published Riot Strike Riot in 2016. And if anything, it seems like the last five years have really born out your analysis in many ways and that made me really excited to get to talk to you to hear about your perspective over the last five years of global uprisings. And so jumping into that, I wanted to set up the terms of analysis that you put forth in the book so we can get an understanding of the historical trajectory you trace, and then the theory of riot that you propose, which I think is super important for us right now.

So the historical context you focus on is broadly the time of industrial capitalism to now — the onset of industrial capitalism — with a dialectic you propose of transformation and popular resistance from riot to strike to a new or change form of riot, which you call “riot prime. You define strike and riot as different forms that I’m gonna quote you strike and riot are practical struggles of a reproduction within production, and circulation, respectively. So I was wondering if you could go a bit into the distinction and the texture of the two forms of riot and strike, the different terrain they use the different relation to time and space, or what it means the struggle for reproduction the terrain of circulation as opposed to production?

Joshua Clover: So this is the big ticket theoretical question, and I’ll try to answer it without dodging theory, but in a way that tries to make it sort of useful and accessible in relation to particular, which is one of the goals of the book, to have a sort of theoretical apparatus that can be meaningfully descriptive of concrete events that we’ve lived through and our friends have lived through, and people we know have lived through. Speaking of that, the publication history that you mentioned, even more strikingly, the original talk that this came out of where I started working through these concepts, which from 2012, so before, for example, the Ferguson uprising. And that was something that happened while I was puzzling through the book and I could see immediately that it was super important and I got myself to Ferguson as quickly as I could, and tried to be involved in what happened there and talk to people and so on. And that was sort of the first, I don’t know if confirmation is the right word it’s hard to think of that dramatic a political episode is like, Oh, well, good, it confirmed my theories” — but it was certainly a moment where I felt like the things I was trying to think about, and what was happening in the world and the United States were converging pretty dramatically.

So to get back to this theoretical sort of frameworkso the circuit of Capital in its entirety has these two interlocking spheres. And one of them is the sphere of production: that’s the place where capitalists bring together means of production, right? So if you make clothes, you’re bringing together textiles and sewing machines and needles in a factory and electricity, and bring that together with workers with labor power, and you make a commodity. And that’s the sphere of production. And then the commodity is launched out onto the market, it sort of makes its way to the marketplace, is exchanged, it’s exchanged some more, it’s consumed. That’s all the sphere of circulation.

So those two spheres are, as I said, interlinked, and neither can exist without the other. But interestingly, almost everyone in the world is in the sphere of circulation, that is to say, we’re what we call market dependent”: we have to go to the store to get food, or clothes, or whatever, that we need to survive. Whereas only some fraction of the world is dependent directly, at least on wages in production for survival. So those are the two different sort of moments in which we reproduce ourselves, our families, our communities — and here, I don’t mean biological reproduction, right? I mean whatever you do to be alive the next day as a person, as a community.

And so, if you have a wage, if you have a formal employment, as we say, often you struggle in production, so you struggle over the value of your labor, that is what a strike is, right? That’s not the only production struggle, that’s not the only way people struggle there, they do all kinds of stuff. They do sabotage and factory takeovers, and who knows, but those are production struggles.

But let’s imagine you don’t have formal employment, you don’t have access to the wage. But still, you’re pretty miserable, your life is pretty immiserated enough that you decide you want to fight back against that misery. Well, you’re not going to struggle in production, because you can’t, but you are out there in the space of circulation. You are still market dependent. And so that’s the other sort of large category of struggle that I look at in the book and that I focused on, which is circulation struggles more broadly.

So often, historically, these are over the price of market goods, right? So if you go back to even before industrial capitalism, the 16th, 17th, 18th century, you get these what get called riots that are persistently over the price and availability of market goods. So famously the bread riot — which a lot of people think of is like going down to the baker and liberating the bread — but even more commonly took the form of blocking the road and stopping grain merchants from shipping grain out of your county to somewhere else where they could make a higher profit because people in your county are hungry, and they’re like, “fuck that, the grain stays here, we need food. So that’s sort of the origin of the circulation struggle of which the riot is the most famous comic. But again, not the only kind, we can think about the blockade and the occupation, various other kinds of things. And that is the form that comes before the strike, which rises to prominence as the main form of production struggle, as you say, with industrial capitalism in the early middle of 19th century.

By the late 20th century — and here, I’m really talking about the early industrializing nations, sometimes called the capitalist core” — by the late 20th century, the strike, and the historical labor movement has started to recede pretty dramatically, in fact. While the riot begins to return to prominence, so much so that we talk about major political struggles in the West over the last several decades. Most regularly, we’re talking about versions of riots from the small local event to the George Floyd uprising.

So those are the two categories of struggle, production struggle and circulation struggle, and their relationship to those two sort of spheres of capital. I hope that wasn’t too extended a framework. But once we have that, we can maybe get more down into practical events that we’ve all lived through.

TFSR: That’s really helpful and breaks it down in a way that makes sense. One of the things that you do in the book that I find really interesting is you sort of look at the way that riot and strike have been put into opposition as opposed political actions. And this happens on all kinds of spectrums of political ideology, like left and right, or even just in popular representation, where riot is seen as a non-political act, it’s delegitimized. And strike is seen as maybe more worthyat least certain versions of the strike — and gets put in the toolkit of peaceful protest, etc, as a legitimate way to get what you want politically, but there’s also distinctions that we can see in how they bring down repression from the state. But what you do in the book is to show how these two forms of struggle have continuities, and therefore are more tied to historical moments, rather than an essential difference. So I was wondering if you could talk about that seeming opposition of riot and strike and where you think that they connect and differ from your perspective?

JC: Yeah that’s a really helpful question and I think it has, for me, two important pivots in it. And one is to think about the continuity between riot and a strike that’s often obscured. And the other is to think about their historicity or historicality, I’m never quite sure if the technical term.

So the first thing I’ll say is that the strike originally arises very much out of circulation, a circulation of goods, the earliest use of the term strike has to do with sailors on boats that are delivering goods, refusing to deliver and striking their sails, as it’s called, right, taking down the sails and waiting and refusing to deliver goods. So that’s clearly in the space of transport of goods to market, which sort of arising from the category of circulation struggles and that sort of era of merchants, but it’s the beginning of the strike.

Tthe strike really arises out of these moments of circulation, and then becomes a production struggle. And then as noted, the tide shifts the other way back toward the riot. And I think it’s hard to pin down dates, and I may have been overly specific in the book, but I don’t know, the 60’s, 70’s somewhere in there. So two things, right? One is that continuity: it’s not like anyone invented the strike, because they’re like, Nah, man, the riots no good. Don’t do a riot, do a [strike]. It didn’t work that way, historically, that opposition that arrives fairly late in the game. One emerges from the other in this real historical continuity, and/but as you suggested, really helpfully, they rise and fall and ebb and flow in relation to historical conditions. Again, some sort of, as we say, transhistorical idea that “X form of struggle is good, Y form a struggle is bad. Anytime you hear someone saying that, you should just say, well, that’s not that’s nonsense”.

The kind of struggle that’s going to emerge, whatever our sort of theoretical or moral judgments of it, the kind of struggle that’s going to emerged is going to emerge from concrete situations. So when you have a massive increase of industrialization, the rise of the factory, the expansion of the formal wage, of course you’re going to get increases in people struggling that way. And when that mode of organizing society starts to recede with deindustrialization, sort of disemployment, production of surplus populations at a global leveland I’m sure we’ll get to that technical term surplus populations” — then, of course, struggles in the sphere of circulation, where people who’ve been sort of kicked out of employment by automation, or offshoring, or whatever, but still are stuck in the spirit of speculation, well, they’re gonna keep struggling.

And my one great lesson that I’ve learned in thinking about these things is, it’s simple. I apologize for my simplicity, right. But it’s just: people struggle where they are. Period. People run up against misery, and they decide they don’t want to take it, they don’t want to take being bullied by their boss, they don’t want to being unable to afford to survive, they don’t want to take being killed by the cops, and they struggle where they are. And if you get a lot of people in production, you’re going to see production struggles. And if you get a lot of people in circulation, you’re going to see circulation struggles, it’s pretty straightforward, actually.

TFSR: Drawing off the way that themaybe the history is told to us in the way that it plays out in our imaginations — and perhaps this has to do with the fact that the strike came about also the times that these different kinds of liberationist ideologies of anarchism and communism are coming out — but the strike plays a out-scaled role in our imaginations of what revolutionary struggle means. And the the sense I got reading your book is like this, because you go “riot strike riot prime, the strike almost seems like an aberration in terms of its concentration of movement power. And that, at least today, I see that the romanticization of the strike seems to out exceed its effectiveness, like people still think that’s where we need to be doing our work, but it doesn’t really quite make sense.

So I was wondering if you have thoughts about why the strike, commands so much power over revolutionary imaginations? And then there’s also kind of poetry to the riot, of course. So, yeah, I just wonder if you want to talk about that, and the imaginative power of these forms of struggle?

JC: Yeah. Well, that’s, again, this is a great and complex, rich question. I think, I hope you’re right that the strike was an aberration. By which I mean, not that I bear the strike any ill will, but I hope that human history endures long enough, that we look back on the 150 year period where the strike oriented a lot of struggles in a lot of the world, as an aberration. I’m worried that human history is not going to last that long, and that we won’t have a chance to look back on that as an aberration.

But I think you raised an important point, right, which is that it is a fairly clearly bracketed period and so why did it take on the intense charisma that it did? And I think there’s good reasons for it, to be honest. Certainly, when the strike was on the rise, there was a belief — and a not unreasonable one — that was sort of moved toward an industrial society, a manufacturing society was just going to continue, that it was going to cover more and more of the globe, that it was going to organize more and more people’s lives, organize more and more of social production. And so the belief was that the labor movement, when it came into being, which we have our first strikes in the late 18th century, we have the first Workers Party officially in the 1870s in Germany. And at that point, it’s on, right? The labor movement is sort of where the action is, in the West at least. And the sense was to just continue to expand. And people thought that for that reason. It didn’t really turn out to be the case, it lasted for a while and not forever.

But during the period of the labor movement’s expansion and consolidation it won a lot of really tremendous victories. The strike, especially when there is high labor demand, is an incredibly powerful weapon. And you know sometimes people read the book as an advocacy book, saying Oh, you should riot not strike, which it absolutely is not, it never once suggests that. And the strike, in certain but not at all uncommon situations, is incredibly powerful. It won a lot of victories. It seemed like it was a route not just to better compensation and conditions for workers, but maybe to overcome capitalism. And for those reasons, it acquired a lot of charisma, so much so that I’m sure as you’ve noticed, people love to call things strikes now but just aren’t strike. They don’t involve withdrawing labor, don’t involve interfering with capitals production, but people will call them strikes because that term has a lot of charisma. Two things: one, it deserves that charisma for the victories that it won.

TFSR: Mhm.

JC: Two: I think people who are going to struggle get to call what they’re doing whatever they want. If someone wakes up in the morning, and is ready to go out and really try and fight against power as it exists, I salute them and they should get to call with their doing whatever the fuck they want.

TFSR: *laughs* Right?

JC: That said, I do think or hope that we’ll live long enough to see the charisma of the strike wane a little. It hasn’t been nearly so powerful, it hasn’t won nearly the gains it used to win since the 70s, or 80s. And meanwhile, other forms of struggle are coming to the fore. I think there was probably even a time a few years ago, just six years ago, eight years ago, when people were still sort of saying, well, the riots illegitimate, it’s not a real form of struggle, the strike is the only real form of struggle. At this point I think it’s only hard-line workerists, as we say, who hold to that position after the George Floyd uprising last summer. I think people are more ready to recognize that these other forms of social contest can really become a challenge to the present social order.

S: Right. Yeah, that’s an interesting point, just to see how that tide has shifted from just last year, where I think you hear less people talking about how what we need to do is organize workplaces.

JC: Yeah, I think if I can just intercede for a second, I think you use the word organize. And that’s really a crucial pivot here. So one of the reasons that the strike feels so politically powerful to people, is because of a fairly narrow definition of what counts as organization. Right? And so yeah, well, you have to be organized. And often that just means organized like a union, organized like a political party. And so the strike satisfies that, and a riot or uprising, insurrection does not. It will never work, it’s not organized. Now, that’s rubbish. There’s lots of other kinds of organization that go into an uprising, a riot, you know. Robin D. G. Kelley the great historian has written eloquently about the kinds of organizing that small social groups in Los Angeles did in advance of the Watts riots in 1965 that made it possible. Now, these small social groups often get called street gangs, but they’re community groups, right? That get together and figure out how to proceed from day to day. And they did a lot of organizing, but it’s not the kind that gets recognized by like, we need to organize. So that’s exactly the hinge I think, is understanding what counts as organization, as we think about political possibilities.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s a really good point. And we could probably draw a comparison to the George Floyd uprisings, the massiveness of them came, in the heat of the pandemic, when there have been mutual aid groups working in all these cities to try and take care of people while they’re losing work and losing access to the things they need to live. So in some way, that kind of organization which doesn’t get recognized in the same way a party or union does, was there at the same time that people started reacting to the continuous murder of Black people by the police. And that may have helped provide a leverage for the size of the movement. So that’s an interesting parallel that you draw from Kelley.

In terms of this, the way that you describe the predicament of the strike today, is really helpful for me to think about, like why it seems less successful. You call it the affirmation trap. And this seems to me actually to be super helpful, just in thinking about capitalism and what it produces in terms of how we can even imagine our lives and struggle. You say that all that workers can really struggle for is to reaffirm their position within the capitalist within capitalist exploitation, and that’s a game of diminishing returns. I wonder if you could talk about this affirmation trap and explain that larger arc of capitalist accumulation or financialization that leads to this narrowing of the purview of the strike.

JC: Yeah, absolutely. As a preface, I should note that the concept of the affirmation trap that I developed, one of the sources in thinking through which logic was the phrase and the idea of cruel optimism, which is drawn from Lauren Berlant. Lauren is a friend of mine, and she passed a couple of days ago, so I just wanted to mention that and remember her briefly while we’re together and I’m thinking through this problem, because a lot of my thinking is possible because of the brilliant people that I’ve known in my life and Lauren is absolutely one of them.

TFSR: Yeah that is a great loss.

JC: Lauren describes cruel optimism as this way of being stuck in having to feel optimistic about the very thing that keeps on reproducing your conditions that don’t change, right? In the optimism of believing you can get change from edifice, in fact, prevents change. I think in reading her book that maybe one of the main references would be something like voting, right? We’re told over and over again that voting is the only way you can change the world, and yet over and over again it turns out to be the case that we vote for people who keep the world the same. But for me the referent was really usefully labor, right? Which is to say, we’re compelled to be optimistic about labor, or at least to go to work every day, because otherwise we would starve. And yet it’s work that preserves us in a situation of subordination, of being at risk of starving, and so on. So when I started thinking about the affirmation trap, it’s as much as you described, right, it’s that thing of having to affirm — by showing up in the morning the very thing that keeps you subordinated, and doesn’t affirm but negates you as a human.

And that’s true for each individual, I think with work, but it’s also true for the workers movement in general. And that happened in very concrete historical ways. So as I said, the workers movement had a lot of substantial gains, often through the strike over the century, let’s say between 1875 and 1975. But in the late 60s, early 70s, industrial capitalism, global capitalism really enters into crisis. Profit margins essentially vanish. They’re still huge profits, but they’re matched by losses in other places, there’s no systemic growth. And so overall, capitalist profitability really plummets around 1972-1973. And many of the major industrial firms in the US it’s car companies most famously but there’s other examples as well face a sort of existential threat. They’re barely making any profit, or they’re generating a loss, and the government is propping them up because they can’t afford to have these major industries vanish.

And consequently, the unions find themselves in a very tenuous position, because if they bargain really aggressively and strongly, General Motors is just going to go out of business. And indeed, if the union wants its jobs to keep existing that it provides for union members it has to make sure General Motors continues to exist. So it has to bargain for contracts, not that, sort of, push General Motors around and win concessions, but that keep General Motors functional and profitable. And this is a huge transformation in the structure of organized laborespecially the United States, Western Europe, but other places in the world as well in which unions, in effect, cease being the antagonists, of industrial firms, and start being in effect collaborators, and both of them enter into the task of keeping each other operative and functional. And that sense that there’s a sort of historical struggle to overcome capitalism, that horizon starts to close, long before the collapse of the Soviet Union. We often date the end of the Communist dream to 89 or something. But that horizon where the labor movement was pointed toward overcoming capitalism, rather than preserving it, really, I think, starts to fade in the 70s.

TFSR: Yeah, It made me think about the problems that you come into when you’re organizing workers from the perspective of like, keeping them in work. So if you have a miners strike or something, or miners are trying to unionize to get better benefits, but the mining itself is under question now because of climate catastrophe, impending climate catastrophe. People aren’t going to necessarily get behind a miner wanting to keep mining, right? Because it’s doing damage to the earth. And so that’s one of those contradictions. And one of the things that keeps coming to my head it came into my head when I was reading the book, and I didn’t really have the language for it but I keep thinking about it while we’re talking — we were talking about the the realm of reproduction in a way it’s like, it’s just life, right? The ability to live and to exist. And this is what we’re struggling over and both riot and strike bring us there, they’re sort of an expression of the way that we are made dependent upon the market and state to survive, right? One is through work, and one is through having to rely on the goods that are produced through work to live consuming them.

And so we have all this language to talk about the things that we have to do to live but it’s just about…it’s this question of living right? That we don’t ever get to one thing is , I think about whatever work struggle we have to have within the horizon of getting rid of work, abolishing work as a relationship. But I don’t know if you have thoughts about that, like howmaybe this is like a later question, what’s this realm of living in relationship to struggle?

JC: Well, yeah, I think as it was formulated probably a number of times, but best known to me is in a bunch of writing from the 60s in France by the Situationist International, right with the goal to get beyond survival, right? So we needed to overcome survival as what our political horizon was. And in some sense, right, both the struggle that depends on negotiating for your wage, and the struggle that depends on the value of market goods the price at market goods — are both about survival, but neither of them is about overcoming the horizon of survival itself toward what you’re calling a living. Just reproducing ourselves without reference to some capitals choosing to pay us a pittance every hour, or some store that’s going to sell us low quality pasta. And the goal is to get to a place where we can reproduce ourselves.

Sorry, I keep falling into this technical language, I’m trained *laughs*. It’s unfortunate, though, to get to this sort of place where we can reproduce ourselves without reference to the wage or the market and that’s the goal. I think you raised an important moment, which is the sort of conflict now between ecological struggles and labor as a contradiction, we saw that really dramatically at Standing Rock, for example, right? Where the pipeline company never says, “Oh, you have to take down this blockade because we need profits”, they say “jobs”, right? They say, “if you shut down this pipeline with your blockade water protectors, you’re going to be putting a lot of good Americans out of work”. And it becomes a conflict between, on the one hand, people who want access to the wage, and on the one hand, people who want to avoid total despoliation of the climate and the lands on which they dwell and so on. And I don’t think there’s a way to overcome that contradiction. People try to sort of imagine, “well, we’ll have green jobs”. That’s the magic squaring of the circle, somehow, “we’ll have an increase in jobs, but it will be good for the climate not bad for the climate”. And I think that’s a bit of magical thinking, to be honest.

And so I think that really asks us to get back to your question about getting past survival to living. I think that asks us to really think seriously about the zero jobs demand. A lot of, for example, socialists, full employment as a demand. Obviously, full employment, I think, obviously, is A.) not possible and B.) a guaranteed route to faster and faster climate collapse.

TFSR: Right.

JC:
And moreover, work fucking sucks. I mean, I have a good job, I’m lucky, I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life, some better some worse, right now I have a good job. I’m very lucky. And I don’t like that job. I don’t like any jobs, work sucks. Having a boss sucks, having to show up sucks. And showing up doesn’t suck, having to show up sucks. And I don’t think there’s a route to planetary survival, that doesn’t pass through the No Employment position, rather than the Full Employment position.

TFSR: Right. And I mean, building off that, it makes me wonder, so all of these questions and struggles often don’t get at the meat of the things: we need to have the basic things to survive, which is: food and shelter and care of different kinds. And the struggles don’t tend to be actually over those things. And it’s hard to get out of the mindset that thinks about some entity, like the state, providing us that right? Which they certainly aren’t going to do and they never have.

So I was just wondering if you if you had thoughts on that, because part of the dream of like the labor movement in the 19th century, that we still have inherited today is that like full automation, the centralized state that controls everything and we can sort of live our lives freely within that, but that obviously never happened. It doesn’t look like it’s likely, and all that the state does is reproduce these forms of exclusion and surplus. So, I wonder, do you think that even shifting our gaze to those basic necessities as as the ground from which we can think of life could be approached as a aspect of the movement without replicating those structures?

JC: I think it could be. But I think that there are some real challenges and real warnings we need to heed. Certainly we’ve seen recognitions of this need, but they’ve often happened in fairly small scale ways. The United States, I’m old enough to live through hardly the first but a sort of substantial back to the land movement, and sort of the forming of what get called communes which is usually, 12 people, one of whom has a trust fund, moving to upstate New York and living together in a farmhouse. And, I say that slightly mockingly, I don’t think that’s a bad idea, but there’s a couple issues with it. One: it often doesn’t legitimately detach from the market and the wage, right? There’s someone who’s still got a job, or still has inherited a lot of capital, is sitting in a bank somewhere and is living off of that, or whatever. And so that’s not a true form of detachment. The other is, of course, it’s quite small scale.

But the real blockage to that is: imagine that started to happen with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of groups started to try and detach from the wage, detach from the market, and get into subsistence gardening and reproduction of their own communities. Without anyone working for a capitalist without anyone shopping in the marketplace. What would happen then? The state would come for you, the state would come for you immediately. The state would come for you first by probably jacking up taxes really intensely on that activity so you simply couldn’t afford it. And historically, as taxes were invented to drive people into the money economy, and force people to live that way. And so that would probably be the state’s first strategy to force people back into the money economy, to force people back into the labor market, insofar as they’re needed in the labor market. Which is to say, long story short: if people want to pursue this question of communal reproductionI’m just going to call it a commune, but I don’t mean again, the household, I mean, large scale things if people want to pursue the commune, they’re not going to do it just by withdrawing and it’s going to be cool. It’s going to be part of a sustained struggle with the state on behalf of capital. There’s no route there that’s peaceful, that’s groovy, that is just like, we’re just withdrawing, we’re gone. That’s not gonna happen.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s, that’s important. Yeah, thanks. That helps think about where, why that still…yeah we still have to struggle against the state that’s gonna interject itself in any relationship we try to establish outside of its purview. So I can’t now I guess we’ve sort of moved to the current situation, but one thought, and one question I had, sort of thinking about the current moment, and the phase of capitalism, that makes strike difficult, is how capital flight has worked, right? So we have technological advances that made internationalizing supply chains easier, but then increased the on demand nature of modern production, and that creates more opportunities for choke points in the circulation. Two recent examples of this have been the colonial pipeline that shut off its distribution because it couldn’t invoice the customers and bill them for the gas, but that ended up leading to gas shortages around the southeast. And then the Ever Given cargo ship blocking the Suez Canal created a sort of crisis, and that was like, also, that was accidental, apparently. It’s not, sure, yeah, these might not have been politically motivated in terms of limiting circulation, but they do point to issues of places like where we might think about struggle. So I was wondering if you had ideas about these kinds of circulation struggles from another perspective?

JC: Yeahhhh, you know what? I just want to hover over those two moments, that colonial pipeline and the Ever Given blocking Suez Canal, just because they were such extraordinary moments and glad you pointed them out. And it’s true: both events are political, but that’s different from saying both events were conceived of and executed with specific political goals. And, but there are extraordinary moments of sort of showing us vulnerabilities choke points is a very popular term, which I’ve sort of come to feel ambivalent about, but that’s fine. But so I think they do point to, sort of, possibilities for struggle, but I think what they point to is not just the fact like oh circulation, capitals more and more dependent on it which is true, right? Capital as industrial capitalism has become less profitable. Large firms have tried to really make their distribution of goods, their circulation of goods far more cost efficient. We’ve seen this massive build out of global shipping, especially since about 1985. Really dramatically trying to improve turnover time and cost per unit of shipping and cut down on those costs as a form of venture capital struggle, and those produce vulnerabilities. There’s no doubt about it.

I don’t want to exaggerate those because capital is pretty resilient, to use the technical term, right, which is pretty effective at having multiple routes to move things around, to be able to reroute, to evade a blockade or something like that. So I don’t want to exaggerate how vulnerable capital is. But it’s definitely a site of struggle, a site of contest. It’s important to note that when there was the struggle to try and bring down that Egyptian government in 2010-2011 — it actually starts with strikes in Mahalla in the textile region, then there’s massive riots and occupations around the capitol in Tahrir Square most famously — but the hinge event is the Suez workers threatened to go on strike. So that’s at once a strike and a circulation struggle, where they’re going to block circulation through the canal, and that’s the event that actually brings down the government, that proceeds by two days, the collapse of the government.

So this is sort of an interesting combination of phenomena. What’s most important to me here is who this indicates as the subject who’s involved in struggle. So if we say working class, I actually think that term misses some things: it assumes people who are working for a wage, who go to work in the morning, obviously, that’s inaccurate, because all of us do all kinds of work. And there’s reproductive labor in the home, we’re doing eldercare, we’re doing childcare, all kinds of things, right? But usually, working class sort of refers to wage wage workers. And the thing about a circulation struggle, the thing about blocking a pipeline is: you don’t have to be a worker, right? To shut down a factory with a strike, you have to be a worker and refute and withdraw your work. So it really limits who can take part of that option to workers in that site to the working class.

Whereas shutting down a pipeline, anyone in the entire proletariat which is not just the working class, but everyone who doesn’t own the means of production, isn’t a capitalist — can take part in that, anyone can show up in the pipeline. As we saw Standing Rock where any number of my studentsright, I’m a teacher any number of my students were like, I’m failing for a couple weeks, I’m going out to Standing Rock” and I was like, “Godspeed. And you can just show up and be part of it and take part and that’s I think what distinguishes circulations struggles, is they’re open as tactics of struggle to anyone, you don’t have to be a worker to take apart.

TFSR: That’s interesting, too, because of one of the brushes they use to tar the riot is the discourse around the outside agitator, right? So the strike has a kind of belonging to it the workers belong there, and because of thatbelonging, they have some sort of voice that demands to be heard. Whereas the riot can always be seen as be painted that way, like that its outside, that is not coming from here, that it’s someone’s neighborhood, but not theirs, whatever, that is being demolished, or even if it is, there’s the people who are doing it wrong. But what you’re saying, with circulations it’s actually this, more open form precisely because you don’t have to belong to be to participate in it. Yeah, I don’t know, that creates a different kind of space, I guess, for struggle.

JC: That’s really well said. I mean, I think you just did a better version of it than I did, right? But you’re right, right? The, for a variety of reasons, the strike can make these sort of moral claims, you know: I go to my workplace, I use the tools every day to make whatever I make at my workplace, and I have some sort of moral right of disposition over those tools, I can decide they’re not going to be used today, that the strike is on. Whereas that moral right doesn’t seem to transfer to the scene of the riot, the scene of the blockade, the scene of the occupation. At the same time, that space of let’s say, the blockade, truly belongs to everyone, right? To go back to Standing Rock as an example, which I find very useful — it was led by Indigenous people, water protectors, and rightly so, given their historical habitation on the land — but it was also open to anyone. That land, if we want to believe any of the promises that were made, even by governments, that land belongs to everyone. And it’s everyone’s right to protect it, possibly everyone’s obligation. So, in that sense, circulation struggle, I think, has a broader sort of ethical compass to invite people in, in that regard.

TFSR: Yeah. That is, yeah, that sort of, I think, puts it in a really interesting and important way. Because it maybe creates more possibilities of solidarity, too, to think that yeah, that your voice belongs there. But since you’ve brought up Standing Rock, I want to think a little bit about how you describe, the modern, or current form of riot, “riot prime in the book. Because you trace this back to a slightly different history than the earlier riots, to anticolonial uprisings and slave rebellions, or that’s like an additional part of it, a thread that comes into play in today’s riot. And you say that today’s riot is always racialized, a question of surplus, surplus population. So I wanted to hear you talk a little bit more about the effect of racialization in understanding the riot, the way it’s talked about, and then maybe if you want to bring that into play with the uprising after George Floyd’s murder, or the experience of Ferguson that you had, because that seems like a good examples for the racialization of riot.

JC: Yeah. So this gives me a chance to track back to our very opening discussion about sort of the technical and theoretical categories. And I’m going to try and lean on them again, but toward this very concrete experience of racial violence, community defense, and things like that. So there’s, I think, various ways of being excluded from the “formal economy as we say, the wage economy. One of the ways is sort of classic land dispossession, so we can think about Indigenous people in North America being dispossessed of their land. And not always just to be bargained for labor force as workers, but sometimes it’s just like, Get the fuck off the land, we’ll kill you if we have to, to get you to leave, you’re not wanted, we’re not even going to include you in the labor force. So that’s one way of being made rendered surplus to the economy.

Another way of being rendered surplus to the economy is you work in a car factory that goes fully robotic to compete with lower overhead firms in Japan or South Korea, and you’re kicked out of your job as you’re replaced by automation, by improved processes. And so that’s another way you can be sort of excluded from the wage and rendered surplus.

So these are different kinds of surplus, but they’re both super racialized, right? So for example, I talked about Indigenous populations, that’s racialized obviously enough. In the United States, to choose a single example, if you’re going to get excluded from a workplace by industrialization, Black workers get fired first. This is a long standing tradition, even has to do with union policies of last hired, first fired”. Unions were very slow to allow Black people into unions, and into productive labor, they tend to get hired later and then I’m fired earlier. So people who’ve been rendered surplus in that way are also racialized.

But this is not just true of the United States, if you go to look to both France and the United Kingdom, which is, you know this book also came in the wake of really massive rioting in France in 2005-2006, and then, quite famously, the the Tottenham riots in England in 2010, and these are profoundly racialized as well. You get large immigrant populations, often from the Mashreq, the Maghreb in England, often from the West Indies, as well. And these are again, far, like the unemployment rates in those populations are inevitably twice as high as they are among white Europeans. And so those are people who, by virtue of being unemployed, are not in production, but they are in circulation and that’s where the riot is.

So these riots of surplus populations are inevitably racialized in the West because of the ways that dispossession and exclusion are racialized, and dispossession and exclusion produced the population of riot. So they’re always going to function that way. And then, here’s the kicker: once you exclude people from labor, you exclude them from labor discipline. As you probably have experienced in your life, if you have a job that’s a discipline, you have to be a certain citizen, you have to show up in a timely fashion, you have to comport yourself in certain ways. The job forces you to be a certain kind of citizen. But if you don’t have that wage discipline, what happens? Well, what happens is you get policed much more dramatically to make sure that discipline is imposed, because there’s no wage discipline, there’s police discipline, the state discipline. So these populations are far more subject to state discipline and to state violence. And that’s what we see over and over again, that kicks off the riot. Almost inevitably. We look at the George Floyd uprising, and it’s a struggle with the state right? With the cops, against the police, because the police are the instrument of this discipline, the state of the instrument of the discipline and has to be, because there’s no wage discipline when you have very high unemployment, exclusion, dispossession…you know, where jobs were, the police are. And this is always the case.

TFSR: And also just listening to you describe that history, it makes me think about why the riot currently takes on such a bigger role than even seems more hopeful in a way, as a point of struggle. Is that the previous iterations didn’t, sort of, attack the whole, all the interconnecting parts of capitalism in the state, which relied on dispossession of Indigenous populations and enforced labor by enslaved populations that became racialized. And if that part of it isn’t addressed, we’re just doing a labor struggle, it’s never gonna fully lead to a liberation, because we’re still living off of that, those profits, right? We’re, whatever the fumes that still exist from those profits. And so, once the racialization of the struggle becomes apparent, it seems like then it’s actually being truthful, in a way, about where the enemy lies, or I guess, to put it in a simplified language.

JC: I think that’s right. I mean, I do want to avoid a anti-solidaristic account where strikes are for white people, and riots are for, are for BIPOC or however you want to phrase it. I don’t think that’s quite right. And moreover, I think that opens up the riot the uprising insurrection — to all those outside agitator claims. Well, here’s the right, the correct person to be part of this struggle, and here’s the incorrect person who shouldn’t be party to it and who’s just clearly an agitator. And I’m more interested in a possible sort of solidaristic politics. My experience of the George Floyd uprising was that it was led by Black proletarians but it wasn’t racially exclusive in any sense and I think that efforts to paint it as such are counter revolutionary

TFSR: Right.

JC:
-and that it was an important moment of a partial always partial — solidarity, which I think opens possibilities for the future.

TFSR: The narrative that I think was pretty generalized in my area,– when there was Black youthled uprisings in the street, in the wake of George Floyd the discourse of outside agitators white anarchists — came in and then the Black elder leadership also took on that role. But the fact of the matter in the streets was that it was a multiracial coalition led by Black youth who are innovating the point of struggle and talking about it differently than the people that have been shepherded through the movements over the last few decades.

But coming off that idea of solidarity — and this is perhaps what you saw, maybe in Ferguson, too you talk about it in a really important way. Because there’s the racialized surplus population that you just described previously, but I think the population that’s rendered surplus today, as production gets further and further withdrawn so, you’re a teacher, I’m a teacher too, teaching the students in university who were expecting jobs after a BA, leave with no jobs and horrible amounts of debt. And so in a way there’s no pathway for integration, even for white people who were promised a place in this system, that just doesn’t really exist anymore. So I was just wondering about how you might think about that, how that plays out on the ground, or how we can articulate that more explicitly to form bonds of solidarity.

JC: It’s certainly an interesting moment. We finally — after almost 50 years now of national decline have reached a moment where the possibility of national decline can be admitted. And the reason it can be admitted is because the consequences of it have finally arrived on the doorsteps of the white middle class, if we have to use the term middle class”, I think we all know that’s a deeply ineffective term. But we’re getting to the moment where we’re seeing declining life chances for white populations who never in the history of the nation have had anything but Improving life chances, increasing life expectancy, increasing income expectations. And now we’re seeing that moment where all life chances are starting to decline and diminish for that population of reasonably well off, not utterly impoverished white people. And so we can now talk about decline.

So the question is: is that population newly confronting political economic exigency able to enter into solidarity with the truly immiserated proletariat, especially the Black proletariat, Brown proletariat, and so on? Is that possible? There’s moments in which I do not have much optimism. You look at the data from the January 6th insurrectionists, right, and it’s all not impoverished, but middle class white people with a particular feature being they live in counties that either are or are adjacent to sites in which there’s diminishing white populations.

TFSR: Right?

JC:
That’s a really interesting study by Robert Pape at University of Chicago, who does really useful demographic studies of things like this. So in that sense, if we want to talk about a downwardly mobile, white middle class as a sort of significant demographic slice, the moment of January 6th is a moment of extreme reaction against extreme hostility toward — proletarians of color. At other times, we’ve seen lately more optimistic moments. I describe the Occupy movement and again, maybe optimistically, I don’t know, I think I should be allowed the occasional moment of optimism I described the Occupy movement as an effort, a failed effort, but an effort to find a solidarity or a collaboration between the downwardly mobile, white middle class, who just encountered the collapse of 2008, suddenly experienced vast amounts of indebtedness, as you say, really limited potential for future employment or advanced or anything like that. Trying to find a way forward with already immiserated populations, especially Black populations, others as well, it didn’t quite come off, but it was try. One hope for the future is if that can come off better next time. And if that short of alliance, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but if that sort of solidarity, starts to manifest, I don’t know, I think it’s on.

TFSR: Yeah, you put it really clearly. What we’re up against really is like the recruitment of those newly surplus white populations from fascists and the like and clearly that’s happening across the globe — but the anti fascist movements seem to be pulling out more people, at least right now. Like the George Floyd uprising was way bigger than the Open Up movements during COVID, and then the January 6th, whatever that was.

JC: Yeah, that’s important to remember, it’s important to remember the scale of the George Floyd uprising, which you put together all of these, alt-right, far right nativistwherever you want to call them — movements, and the George Floyd uprising dwarfs them. And that’s really important to remember.

TFSR: Well, thinking again, about the global context, when you talk about the racialization of the riot — and in the book, you are focusing, as you said, on Europe and the US — but in the current state of the riot, you describe how what was like a peripheral colonial conflict comes to the colonial center, to the metropole, but I’m wondering how you see the decolonial struggles continuing right now. And then how that might be tied in with climate stuff and Indigenous uprisings around the world?

JC: Well, I do want to be slow to comment on this, only because I’m not sure I’m an expert on anything, but I did a lot of studying and trying to learn things for the purposes of the book, and limited my field so that I could get some sort of handle on what was happening in the capitalist core. And I don’t consider myself much of an expert on the rest of the world, so I don’t want to sort of wax knowledgeable about things in which I’m still learning. There are people who are doing really interesting thinking about this, my friend Charmaine Chua works on logistics, but she’s doing really interesting work in relation to logistics, decolonial struggle, surplus populations, and try and learn from her and other people who are doing similar work.

I do think, when I talk about colonial strategies coming back to the core, I’m not the first to mention that, Aimé Césaire — who wrote Discourse on Colonialismtalks about that exact phenomenon, of fascism as techniques of colonial management being sort of adapted for Europe. And various other people have tried to sort of study this since then. And I think that’s right. And I think it goes back to Frantz Fanon is a really important moment in thinking about this. And I think it goes back to what I was saying before about the difference between wage discipline and police discipline or state discipline, right? So colonial management has — not in every case, but consistently — been a form of police management. Fanon described the colonized world as the world of the police station and the barracks — so the population gets managed that way, exactly because you colonize people as an imperial power, you don’t magically give them all nice paying jobs, and they want to be good citizens, it doesn’t happen that way. In fact, you’re just kicking them off their land and managing them via sheer violence. And those methods in which you have to manage a population with the police and the army, rather than with the paycheck, are increasingly the case in the core.

So that’s sort of what I mean about colonial methods coming to the core is that increasingly it’s good state violence as a mode of management and I think that remains true all over the globe. It’s just that we notice it in these so-called high wage countries more dramatically as a change over the last few decades. Whereas in lots of places in the world, it’s not a change at all. I was just reading George Manuel, who’s an important Indigenous theorist and historian who wrote a great book called The Fourth World. So he’s, he’s from Turtle Island what gets called Canada — but he makes a trip in 1971 to investigate Indigenous life in New Zealand among the Māori, and then Indigenous people in Australia. And he takes a very clear note of, particularly the brutality and state violence meted out to Indigenous people in Australia endlessly. So this is a global phenomenon, but I don’t want to say much more than that, because I don’t want to claim any expertise where I don’t have any.

TFSR: Yeah, no, and I appreciate that. But the way that you put it in the book that really stood out to me was helpful, was that you talked about the difference in the early time of the riot, was the state was far and the economy was near. And that now we’re in a situation where the state is near and the economy far, even though we’re like, the riot is still in circulation and the market and consumption of goods. But what we are facing, we can’t attack the producers of those things, we’re faced up against the police, which brings us basically back to that description that Fanon has of what what the colonial experience is, and that, in a way seems to me to be a just a kind of, I don’t know, in all my reading, it’s like, this is where the state goes, right? It goes to, instead of further subtilization of discipline of the population, it goes to literal brute force to keep people in order. And that has to do also with the diminishing returns of capitalism as a global structure of the economy. But yeah, that, again, I guess it’s good to not draw too many neat comparisons or analogies among things, because it is different in different places, and the climate catastrophes that we’re facing will make that difference much clearer.

JC: Yeah, that was well put that was. That was, I think, a clear description. And it’s a real challenge, right? I don’t want to be fatalistic, but this switch where once the state was far police are a relatively recent invention, right — once the state was far up, the economy was near, you could go right after the merchant. You could go down to the baker, you could go to the grain merchant and just fuck with them. And now much harder to do. And if you do do that, great, so you go down to the local department store if you live in a place where there’s a department store, a big grocery store and you loot it — and that’s great, I salute that — but even that, that’s only temporary. You get some supplies that’ll last you for a couple of weeks, that’s not a revolution.

And this is an actual problem, right, which is to say: I think you have to fight the state, I think you have to fight the cops, I think there’s no way out that doesn’t pass through that. And I don’t want to delude myself that we can somehow route around that moment. But you can’t get locked into a ritualistic struggle with the state. I think we saw that, like in Greece, for example, which, after the 2008 collapse, Greece popped off first. And for the classic reason: the cops shot a kid who was on his vespa and riots popped off, and they just kept going. And it turned into… I appreciate, again, I appreciate people who leave the house ready to struggle. There was a certain calcification where it just became sort of a march on the parliament and attempt to storm the parliament. Massive defence forces around the parliament building in Syntagma Square squaring off, this happened sort of repeatedly. And, it’s important not to get trapped in that moment, you have to figure out a way to get past the militaristic confrontation with the state, but you can’t route around it. So you have to figure out a way to get through it.

TFSR: It seems, in a way, that they were, in Greece, were able to, or in Athens, able to create at least a temporary zone of somewhat autonomy in Exarcheia, or something like that. And this is actually, leaving that specific example behind, going to my next question, just about where you’re headed in your analysis, because the dead end of facing of with the state is that we aren’t demanding concessions, right? Because they’re not going to redistribute — you say in the book redistribution is off the table” — and in fact, we’re the crisis for state and capital, but the population is actually their problem, and we’re not asking for anything.

So what you say in the book is, the next step is riot needs to absolutetize itself toward the commune. And you talked a little bit about the commune, but I was wondering if you had some more thoughts about are your current thoughts given the changes in what’s happened — on how the riot can produce the commune. Which you say, I think this is really important, is a tactic and a form of life’s, not the end goal of what we’re trying to achieve.

JC: Yeah, so that I mean, that gives me a chance to try and set forth a little bit of what I’m trying to figure out for book I’m working on right now, which I hope to finish over the next nine months or so, which is sort of specifically about this problem, or several of the problems you’ve mentioned about the limit which is the end of capitalist growth, it’s diminishing returns, but also the limit of climate collapse and sort of those as two limits that we confront as we try and figure out what revolutionary struggle might look like. And I am trying to think more carefully about the commune. Not so much as what the riot becomes I think I put it that way in the book and I’m not sure I love that formulation — but I think about what arises, in some sense, alongside the riot.

So I’m going to go back one more time to Standing Rock as a really useful example. So Standing Rock is not a riot, really, although there might have been a couple little riots in there. But it is what I call a circulation struggle, right? That larger category in which the riot is the exemplary form. So it’s a circulation struggle, it’s trying to stop capital from circulating, it’s trying to stop that oil from moving through the pipeline. But there’s also the camp right, actually, there’s a series of camps at Standing Rock I think in the end, probably around 10 distinct camps, each has its own name, they’re almost all founded by Indigenous women, they have various sort of makeup — but those camps are what I would call communes, right? Not in the sense that they’re sort of an achieved form, here’s our own self government now, now this is how we live, but in the sense that they took up the question of reproducing the community, “social reproduction to use the technical category.

Because if you’re going to have that blockade for months and months and months, you have to have food, you have to have shelter, you have to have care, you have to have medicine. And the camp arises alongside of that as a commune, and what’s vital here is that they’re the same thing, right? There’s no blockade without the commune. And there’s no commune without the blockade. It’s not like they’re two different solutions that you throw at a problem. It’s that they’re indistinguishable: the care work of the commune, and the antagonism, the direct antagonism of the blockade, are not two separate phenomena, and you sort of choose your adventure. It’s the same people doing both things. It’s a single activity that has as one side of it the commune and the other side of it blockade.

And I think that is my real source of optimism, right? Is that we see those circulation struggles, which are inevitable again, I’m not saying they’re good, I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m saying they’re inevitable the structure that capital takes is going to be in circulation now, and it has to be blocaded. And seeing that that inevitable blockade there’s going to be more and more of those — arises in the form that’s also the commune, this, I think, points toward a way forward. Because we have to eventually get to that moment that the commune promises without necessarily delivering, of breaking free from the things on offer from capital, the wage and the market. And that breaking free has to happen and the commune is the promise of that happening, and the effort to figure out how it can happen.

TFSR: Yeah, I love how you say that. And that makes me think, again, what I mentioned in the very beginning about maybe some of the strength of the George Floyd uprisings came from the fact that people were doing the care work of mutual aid at the same time that they were getting in the streets, fighting the police. And thinking back to the way that people talked about the Paris Commune or even May 68 in Paris, those are moments of lived experience that can then be drawn upon, right, of something, of another form of life even if it didn’t last — and replace whatever. But if you experienced being in the streets with people that forms a kind of community. But I really like that you put the care work and the struggle together. That’s something that I’ve been, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around too because it dissolves those divisions of labor that were sort of imposed upon us by the state, the market and the divisions of the spheres of life too, to say that there’s work and home or something.

JC: Yeah. So the thing I would add, right, is that that mutual aid that was practiced during George Floyd uprising, for example — so there’s a bit of a challenge here and the term mutual aid is a very common one. Anarchists I don’t identify as an anarchist but most of my friends are anarchists, and they probably all think I’m an anarchist too, so, and I would take it as a term of honor. And certainly in anarchist communities, the idea of mutual aid is an essential one and it has been for a very long time. But it’s super important to me to think about all the activities that already happened in communities that don’t identify as anarchists, that don’t identify as activist, but that are mutual aid, right? There was all kinds of mutual aid in Minneapolis. St. Paul already, in advance of people who understood that as a practice and had a theorization of it and had a commitment to it, roll up, and I’m glad they rolled up because I want as many people rolling up as possible there. But it’s important to recognize that mutual aid as a practical matter already exists in those communities and has to, it has to for amiserated communities, communities of color, to survive. In the current situation, there has to be a lot of mutual aid being practiced all the time.

TFSR: Yeah, I appreciate that. That’s so important. It goes back to what you’re saying, you could call it a strike if you want, whatever the terminology. And I think the same thing about anarchists, I identify as anarchist strategically, but it doesn’t matter to me. But the thing that even Kropotkin, talking about mutual aid is that it’s a spontaneous organization that happens, it doesn’t need to be imposed by outside or whatever. It’s what people do all the time. And that I guess, like care might even be a better word for the, going back to what you were talking about in the commune at Standing Rock.

JC: I think that one of the things that’s hopeful for me, I don’t know how it is where you live, but in the Bay Area, which is my home, there have been moments when there’s been a really aggressively contentious discourse that sets sort of care and militancy in opposition, often in gendered ways, but not always. In which like, we have a joke like look at that manarchist” that joke about manarchism, militancy. But if you think about that example I tried to suggest of the blockade and the commune being a unity not just two things next to each other, but a unity — you can see it sort of dissolves that opposition, the idea that like, Well, some people are committed to care as a practice and has these virtues, and some people are committed to militancy and has these virtues”. Eh. I think that like you look at scenes like Standing Rock — and it’s not the only example, it‘s just an easily available one from the last decade you see that that opposition is overcoming practice all the time.

TFSR: Right. I guess what I think that your book really helps do is to break through the sort of the false inheritances that we have from a romanticize narratives of struggle and revolution that create those kinds of divisions that that don’t exist or didn’t exist. And in that light, I guess, just to ask you a final sort of broad question: do you have any other insights that you might offer to the current modes of struggle or anything that you’ve seen lately as a kind of innovation that excites you?

JC: Well, I think there’s a highly specific and a highly general answer. The highly specific one is the great US innovation of the last year was burning police stations. It’s widely known as a global phenomenon, as I never hesitate to point out, on the first night of the Egyptian uprising that I referred to earlier — a decade ago, 99, police stations got burned. So that phenomenon is known globally. But it’s essentially unknown in the United States where the sanctity of the police and the sense of the risks of militancy, outweighing the virtues of militancy, are so powerful that that sort of breaking of that barrier, so that that was suddenly on the table. I think that’s probably good news. And two, three, a thousand Minneapolis’, that’s a specific one.

The general one is a way of dodging your question, right? Which is to say: I think what’s most important, to sort of wrap around to the beginning, is to understand why certain modes of struggle emerge. Not to say we should do this, or that’s good, and that’s bad. But to understand why people…like, prescriptive accounts, like this is the right thing to do I actually don’t think are very helpful. In part because I deeply believe in the proletarian struggle. I deeply believe in people fighting for their lives and fighting for freedom and fighting for emancipation, not as an enactment of theory, but as where theory comes from. You don’t say like, oh, here’s the right way to do it, I have a theory and then you deliver that to people. Anyone who does that can fuck off. The point is you’re attentive to what actually happens and actual concrete circumstances, and you try to understand why it’s happening. And that’s where I would want to end up, is on the team of trying to understand sort of the shape of history as it emerges, to understand what might be possible rather than sort of delivering some prescription about the best thing to do.

TFSR: Yeah, well, I’m really grateful for the work you’ve done to, sort of, to illuminate those things and I’m excited, I don’t know if you want share a little bit about what you’re working on now, because I’m excited to hear where you’re moving next.

JC: Oh, I probably gave as good as summary as I can give. So it starts with the fact that we still have the same two problems that Aimé Césaire says in the Discourse on Colonialism I mentioned earlier. He says that question civilization, by which I mean, European civilization has bequeathed us two problems that we have not been able to overcome, which is the problem of colonization and the problem of the proletariat. That is still true. We still have the same two problems, the struggle with those two problems now happens within two incredibly powerful limits: one is the end of capitalist growth, there’s no more growing your way out of problems. There’s no more increasing employment, there’s no more capital accumulation to redistribute, to sort of buy the social peace. So that’s one real limit. And then climate collapse is the other limit.

So two problems, two limits. And those are the conditions in which we are compelled to sort of struggle for freedom, struggle to leave the realm of necessity and enter into the realm of freedom. And I think that looking at the kinds of struggles we see emerging, the things that I’m calling pipeline blockades the things that I’m calling communes, and things like the George Floyd uprising, trying to think about these as ways that people are trying to figure out a path forward, against those two problems and within those two limits.

TFSR: I’m really excited to read that when it is published. And I’m, yeah, thank you for engaging these questions and bringing it to bear on, like, what’s happening now.

JC: I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and your giving me a chance to ramble on a little bit.

TFSR: *laughs* It’s wonderful. Thank you.

Max Fox on Chitty’s “Sexual Hegemony”

Max Fox on Chitty’s “Sexual Hegemony” 

Download This Episode

This week, you’ll hear Scott’s chat with Max Fox, editor of the late Christopher Chitty’s book, “Sexual Hegemony: Statecraft, Sodomy and Capital in the Rise of the World System”, published by Duke University Press in 2020. Max Fox is an editor of Pinko Magazine, a former editor of New Inquiry Magazine and translator of Guy Hocquinguem’s novel “The Ampitheatre of the Dead”. You can find Max on twitter at @mxwfx. Christopher Chitty was a phd candidate in the History of Consciousness at the University of Califronia, Santa Cruz.

For the hour they spoke on the failures of Gay Liberation, connections between sexual identity, class and the state and how sexuality ties into current liberation movements. Some of the thinkers mentioned during the chat include Silvia Federici, Karl Marx, Guy Hocquenghem, Michel Foucault, Samuel R. Delaney and Giovanni Arrighi.

Fox also notes that workers at the publisher, Duke University Press, are currently struggling to unionize. You can find out more about that struggle at DUPWorkersUnion.org

Announcements

Oso Blanco Postcards

Revolutionary, Indigenous political prisoner, Oso Blanco, is marketing the first in a series of full-color postcards based on his paintings to fund-raise for children’s schools in Zapatista territories and Turtle Island. More at BurningBooks.com

Certain Days Calendar Call-Up

The Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar collective (CertainDays.org) will be releasing our 21st calendar this coming autumn. The 2022 theme is “Creating a New World in the Shell of the Old,” looking at collective approaches at creating a more inclusive and fulfilling world through mutual effort. Read the invitation up at their website!

. … . ..

Featured Track:

. … . ..

Transcription

Scott: We’re talking today about sort of the current state of radical anti-authoritarian, queer liberatory movements, and the legacy of gay liberation, you know, from the 60s and 70s, and like, gay history. Before we get into it, can you introduce yourself and the kind of work you’ve done? We’re talking about, specifically, Christopher Chitty’s book and sort of your placement within that, and if you want to say anything else about yourself, and your pronouns, whatever you feel.

Max Fox: Sure, my name is Max Fox, I use he/him. I am the editor of this book that was written by Christopher Chitty. It’s called Sexual Hegemony: Statecraft, Sodomy, and Capital in the Rise of the World System. I’m also an editor at gay communist magazine called Pinko and the translator of short book by a French theorist Guy Hocquenghem called Ampitheater of the Dead.

S: Which is sort of that’s how we met sharing an interest in Hocquenghem. Do you want to talk at all about how you got involved in editing Christopher Chitty’s book and the project, and how you, yeah, how your work relates to it?

MF: I knew Chris when I was in college at UC Santa Cruz, he was a graduate student in the history of consciousness department, which is this kind of fairly unique, critical theory, Marxist philosophy, etc, etc, style graduate program that I, as a young, enthusiastic leftist was like, “wow, simply the coolest thing you could possibly be studying”. And so I like tried to sit in on all these classes in that department, which is sort of one of the ways that I encountered him.

But we met really organizing on this anti-austerity, anti sort of tuition hike, movement, in, let’s say 2009-2010.Like right after the crash, that became the sort of Occupy California, Occupy DC system movement, which was sort of like a precursor to the Occupy Wall Street stuff. And so he was someone who I met in this moment of kind of like, intense, you know, personal transformation, I suppose.

And he was also working on this very incredible sounding theory, that promise to, in my view, kind of revolutionize the understanding of the history of sexuality, sexuality studies, queer theory, etc. And I was like, very eager to have something like that, because I felt kind of dissatisfied with a lot of the sort of sexual politics that were ready to hand at the time, it was, you know, “gay marriage” moment. And I felt kind of unconvinced by a lot of the positions on both sides even, and I wanted something more like, whatever Marxist or rigorous or something like that, you know. And Chris was working on precisely that. So I was very eager for him to finish his dissertation and sort of get that out in the world.

And so when he died in 2015, you know, I was personally very devastated. And I attached that feeling to this thought that, like, the work wouldn’t be finished. And that was something that I could actually sort of put some efforts towards. And so I, I didn’t really think it’s gonna be such a long project, but I sort of assumed the responsibility of collecting his, sort of, the draft material that his family and his friends had access to, and finding a publisher and, you know, getting it through the revision process and things like that, and now kind of like seeing it through the publicity end or whatever.

Yeah, so you know, it’s like this, you know, I had an intense, like, intellectual response to this. I wouldn’t have done it, I don’t think, if I didn’t think it was worth thinking about or thinking with, but obviously, there’s a pretty significant, like, emotional component as well for me.

S: Yeah, thanks for sharing that history that you have, like connected with Chris Chitty. And I mean, yeah, it is, I think you’re right, back then, to say that the work is going to make a giant contribution. I’ve felt reading this, that it has really affected my way of thinking and also responded to some of my own frustrations. But also I want to like yeah, acknowledge that kind of like personal grief work there, that must have been part of your editing, but you like, brought this thing out, which I think is super important. If you’re ready to kind of move into some of these ideas, then like tease them out a little bit.

So, in your foreword to the book, you summarize the project, as, I’m quoting you, “an attempt to think through the failure of sexual liberation, by what Chitty described as returning the history of sexuality to a history of property”. And like we could talk about that as kind of combining his readings of Marx and Foucault as you do, and that’s a whole debate within queer theory. But, uh, I was wondering if you could sort of explain this argument the way that you sum it up, how would you articulate the relationship that he explores in the book between same sex practices, particularly sodomy, sex between men, and the development of the bourgeois state? And how is the figure of the homosexual or homosexuality helped consolidate the state?

MF: Yeah, okay. So he, one of the tricky things about this book, I think, is that it’s making two slightly different claims that they’re obviously related, but the relation between them is maybe a little underspecified. He is saying that there’s a way of grasping power that falls into the name of sexual hegemony, which is basically how a ruling class comes to install it’s particular sexual practices and norms in the intimate self conception of numbers of classes that don’t occupy the same position in society. So that’s sexual hegemony. And then secondly, he’s saying that the figure of male homosexuality kind of illuminates the particular history of how in capitalist society, sexual hegemony is an integral part of bourgeois rule or rule of capital sexual relations.

And he’s telling a story about how, in the earliest sort of capitalist societies and the earliest spaces in the world that you could plausibly claim are governed by capitalist relation to production — which he, following this economic historian Giovanni Arrighi, locates in northern Italian city states in 1400 or so, Venice in particular — he says that, well, okay. So first of all, in the Mediterranean basin, there is, in this moment, there’s a basically widespread and unremarkable just fact of men having sex with men. It’s just simply, it’s not, it doesn’t have its own name, necessarily, or it’s not, that doesn’t give you a sort of unique social status, because it’s so ordinary, you know. Basically relations of production, you know, apprenticeships and seclusion of women in the household, and even you know, things like, the type of ships that they use, all of this basically contributes to a public sphere that is exclusively male, essentially, where men and women don’t have any access to each other, except for within their own family. So that’s kind of prohibited by the incest ban, sex between these people. And so the only kind of sexuality you’re gonna have, if your man, is with other men who you will encounter, you know, on the docks, or in the marketplaces, or in your workplace, or in the cruising areas and in the taverns and whatever. And that’s simply what you do. It doesn’t give you an identity or whatever.

And so he’s saying that around the same time that capitalist relation to production began to take hold. There’s also a new form of Republican governance, where the laws of the city have some shared source of legitimacy. It’s not just a kind of feudal lord or whatever, but there’s some attempt at reviving a kind of like civic base of power. And that then obviously kind of comes in conflict with the actual disparate levels of power that people have. There are more powerful rich people and less powerful working people. And so you need a way of managing this conflict that doesn’t end up expressing itself in overthrowing this new form of government and installing rule of the many who are poor, instead of the few who want to have the legitimacy of consent or whatever. Anyway, sorry, that’s, that’s a bit of an aside. The point is that these governments start adopting a new way of enforcing or regulating sodomy, which as I said before, wasn’t really a sort of serious problem. But there are problems obviously when you have disputes between lovers or disputes between clients and patrons, right. And so instead of, you know, punishing sodomites with capital punishment — which was maybe, you know, a scary threat in the past, but wasn’t ever actually applied very often — what these governments do is they start a special police force that is just there to investigate accusations and issue fines, basically.

And so what this does is it incentivizes people to inform on each other. If you’re mad that your ex is going out with your rival, then you can call the police about it and say, these two sodomites, I saw them in the loggia the other night, and you should go find them 24 Florins or whatever. Or you’re a sex worker, and your john doesn’t pay you and you threaten to turn him in, or whatever. So it establishes a new way that power operates in these relations that were more directly mediated by personal sort of encounters with each other. So that’s in the first instance, that’s like a way that the emerging bougious state — or capitalist relations of production that need a form of government to kind of take hold — changes and kind of takes a new form in these ways of regulating sodomy, are ways of taking sexuality into itself and turning it into a new instance where the state like is a is a presence of people’s lives where it wasn’t before. I don’t know if that was actually a direct enough answer at all. Do you think that was good for your question?

S: Yeah. I mean, that really breaks it down in a helpful way for me. I mean, the first sort of historical chapter starts there when you’re talking about and like, the way you explain it shows, it’s like the first sort of capture of whatever becomes homosexuality, because you talked about how it kind of routes the relationship through this state. So like, you can have recourse to this concentrated form of power in that police force that will fine people. And so people then like, give up whatever relationship they have between each other to go to this other place to deal with their problems. And I think that, yeah, the way you explained it was really helpful.

And then the other aspect of it that I think is important, in what you’re saying, is that it becomes a way of trying to mitigate potential threat, right, from like, the many, or the lower classes. Yeah, there’s this framework of like, consent to be ruled, by getting your recompense, or whatever it could be, like if you’re jealous, or something’s taken from you, or you’ve been forced into a situation you don’t want. But then that also diffuses the possibility of rebellion in some way. I mean I guess that’s the definition of sexual hegemony and how that helps, like, work for state power. And there’s like this way that he traces the increased politicization of homosexuality to that history of producing the proletariat. So you were talking about the emerging forms of capitalist production, that goes from cutting people out of subsistence ways of living, bringing them into wage work, creating these urban centers, where people are living different lives and working different ways. And he often calls that like a kind of surplus population, or superfluous.

The thing that’s really interesting is that there’s these cultures of public practices of homosexuality, where the men are working together. The thing that really strikes me is how Chitty’s argument replay some of the old coordinates of talking about homosexuality, that can either be a kind of pro gay way of thinking, or a really homophobic way of thinking. So like, it usually centers around the kind of that superfluousness or uselessness or the non-reproductive aspects of sex as a form of decadence and disruption of a moral form. And I was just wondering, are we so inundated with this framework that, can we think about sex between men outside of that moral framework? Is it always going to be ambivalent? Like there was a way that like communist parties would say homosexuality was a was bourgeois decadence, and like, it’s true to a certain extent, right, like Chitty’s showing us that it’s tied to that, but it’s not, yeah, I mean, I’m to articulate this, if you want to jump in.

MF: So I mean, there’s a lot there. So there’s another thing that he’s trying to do in this argument, which is to say that this repression that we have come to identify with the meaning of sexuality, of homosexuality or queer sexualities, whatever, “deviant sexualities” that’s not a necessary feature, either of sexuality as such — which is like, maybe that’s not exactly what its objective investigation is — or sexuality under capitalism. Because, you know, he’s a good reader of Foucault, power is productive as well as oppressive, right. So you don’t want to have a concept that can only say, “sexuality is what the state takes from you”, or something like that, or stops you from having.

And so he aligns this history of kind of like, Arighian hegemonic centers of the world system, as capitalism kind of expands over the globe. So it goes first from Florence and Venice in northern Italy, and that goes to Amsterdam, is the next center, then London and then New York. This is the sort of world systems theory, according to Arighi narrative of caplitalist expansion. And Chitty says, “Okay, let’s find out what happens in the moment of transition from one center to the next, when the declining center is experiencing crisis or loss of its previous capacity to exert hegemony”. So he’s saying in these moments of decline, you can find increased depression and that’s actually what the repression means. It’s not that capitalism has this kind of like, inherently sex negative aspect, it’s that as a sort of cyclical crisis ridden system, it’s going to have these moments of dissolution that will have, you know, semi predictable effects. And one of the predictable effects that he asserts is discoverable in the record is that there’s this increased attention to male sodomy, or men having sex with other men, in these moments of crisis and dissolution of the hegemonic center.

So on the one hand, that’s one explanation for this kind of like moral valence, right? So like, capitalism only notice is that sex between men is even happening in this moment when it itself is going through crisis. So of course it’s going to attach a kind of pejorative meaning to it, right? Because it’s looking for reasons for its decline. And I think that’s, you know, relatively convincing. I have to say I haven’t done this historical research myself, so perhaps another set of archival material would be able to make a counter argument that says, “no this is actually constant, or actually it has nothing to do with the temporality of financial crisis” or blah, blah, blah? I don’t really know, I mean, this seems compelling to me. But I don’t think it’s actually necessary for his argument to be true.

I think that the point that he’s making…so capitalism is characterized by a kind of ceaseless drive to expand, and consume evermore arenas of human social life, right? Like that’s observably the case, that’s theoretically drivable, from, you know, Marxist analysis and from, it’s a classic tenet of most people left. And what that means is that historically, generally, what that means is people who are living in non-capitalist parts of the world, and basically subsistence forms of social production and reproduction, are severed from their capacity to live like this and brought into the circuits of capitalist production. And so a lot of the times that has meant then turning them into a kind of like industrial proletariat, putting them to work in factories, or on plantations, or, you know, sending people to die in armies or settle genocided territories or whatever. But something that that requires is that you have this kind of floating population that’s been severed from the means of reproducing their own life at the very beginning, so the premise of capitalist production is a surplus population, right? That is sort of not able to meet its own needs for survival without seeking employment on the market. Right, or in kind of non-waged areas, whatever in the household, internally, or in the gray market or whatever.

And so I think one of the useful things about Chris and his analysis is that he has a sophisticated enough reading of Marx and capitalism to sort of dispense with what a lot of the traditional Marxist — basically moral positions — on work are, and say, you know, “it’s not good, that people are productiv, in fact, that’s a source of domination”. These questions of like, “is homosexuality somehow intrinsically related to non productive modes of living?” I think he deals with it in a number of different ways. One of which is to say that the forms of direct production under capitalism produce homosexuality, you know? Like the classic form of capitalistic production is — this wasn’t always historically the case, but you know, in the fantasy — is the sex segregated factory, right? So, a bunch of men who all spend 8, 10, 12 hours a day with another 100, or 1000, whatever, some number of other men. You know, most of them often historically live in dormitories, or in workhouse style situations, they certainly don’t have enough money to start a family, you know. So oftentimes, historically, the only kind of pleasure they’re going to find is in each other. Or the other sort of like proto-typically capitalist form of productive activity is shipping, you know, where you have the same problem, right? And obviously, famously, these are like hotbeds of homoerotic intrigue.

And, you know, the same goes for the army. The same goes for, I mean, if you think about the fucking settler colonies, like on the frontier, all the men are either there alone in the wilderness, and out away from the social world that they were raised in. So it’s everywhere, once you start looking at this. You know, prisons, obviously, famously. Once you impose a kind of sex segregated route norm on the sort of productive social apparatus — which wasn’t consistently the case throughout the history of capitalism, certainly — but then you inevitably have the problem of proletarians are gonna have sex with each other. And so anyway, so that’s one of the sources also of this concern for regulating sexuality, regulating homosexuality is because it’s a labor discipline question sometimes, too.

S: Yeah. I mean, so like, this does a few things, right? Like in the earlier articulations of sexual liberation, and also gay liberation, like sexual liberation more generally, and gay liberation, there’s like that repressive idea that there are these forces that are making us not have sex we want and then gay liberation, like had the strategies of trying to find proof of like, the natural ness of homosexuality throughout history. And so in a way, what Chitty does is expanding on Foucault, like you were saying, who says, “Well, no, the homosexuals invented at a certain moment, and it’s not this eternal force of like, repression and sexual license” or whatever.

But in another way, I think what I like so much about what Chitty’s doing is like, he’s saying that we’re not asking necessarily the right questions when we are focusing on these things. So like, like you said, homosexuality as we know, it is created by the development of capitalism. But the other thing he keeps insisting on, Chitty, is like that it’s contingent, right? And that’s, I guess, the other kind of deviation from like, Marx, it’s like a contingent history. It’s not necessarily that it was this way. And so in a way, there’s, like, the ambivalence of homosexuality, which is also like, is a tool of rule and a tool of oppression. It’s a medium for us to like, find liberation and a way that we’re captured is like inherent to that process. And I don’t know, I mean, in a way, it’s like, I mean, I’ve seen this being articulated in various ways, but like, almost like an unresolvable paradox in a way. And so like, I guess what I’m interested in exploring with you a little bit is like, how it shifts the coordinates of what we think about when we try to aim for liberation.The way that Chitty, if I can quote from him, like the way he articulates that, and this is a line that you just mentioned to me before we start recording, he says that “queer would then imply a contradictory process in which norms of gender and sexuality are simultaneously denatured and renaturalized”. And that’s like the process of sexual hegemony, like using sexuality as a rule, a form of ruling. And like the threats are often public sex or cross class sex. So I was wondering if you want to help me unpack that, if you spent some time on that? Like, what does he mean by these norms, the sexual hegemony being “denatured and renaturalized”? And like, what does the double sided process look like?

MF: Yeah, so there’s another one that I find very helpful, that I think might also illustrate this a little bit, which is that…oh I can’t remember where it is so I’m going to try and just reproduce it from memory, but it’s probably gonna be slightly different: “sexuality could only become a problem for a society in which biological reproduction was decoupled from the reproduction of ownership”. So that, you know, that’s, maybe that’s a little complicated, but it’s an historical argument, which is about the dissolution of the kind of like, feudal world, where, let’s say, land title is passed down through the family, and, you know, on the peasant side or whatever, and, and sort of, conversely, political rule is hereditary inheritance as well in the aristocratic sense, or whatever. In that society sexuality appears as something that’s kind of natural, right? It doesn’t, it can’t really be an object of anxiety or control in the same way. And historically, it wasn’t.

You know, you had this kind of, I mean what Focault talks about, it’s like, the pastoral power versus that, whatever, the medical discourse or whatever. But, um, priests could tell you to confess, but like, there’s really not a lot of power to investigate whether or not people sex was taking place, according to the way that you wanted it to be, or to punish people for it. Because it’s very hard to, you know, provide evidence that a sexual act took place, in the absence of being there, compelling eyewitness testimony. Peasant marriage in feudal times was actually quite limited. So anyway, it just wasn’t a floating social problem that needed regulation the same way that it did, once, he’s saying, ownership — private property relations — become transferable, alienable. Which is the hallmark of capitalist relations of production.

So in that sense, sexual norms have become denatured, they once appear to be organic, natural expressions of the sort of unitary creative world., and now they appear to be an object of political contention and control. And so they’re renaturalized in this new way, by the reimposition of what appears to be necessity of socially objective meaning that’s enforced by, you know, state repressive apparatus, but as well as the kind of like private mechanisms of coercion and control in the workplace and family. So these new norms that say, in the past you may have been able to, like, whatever, fuck your friends in the field, but now there’s a different type of threat from the police. And so you become a different, a new kind of person. You become, your nature changes, right, and you’re suddenly apprehended by the state in a way. And so it’s this, it’s this kind of decomposition of a previously automatic organic expression of the social order, where sex is a kind of meaningless in that it doesn’t make a difference whether or not ownership gets transferred in the normal way, to something that might disrupt it. And it might disrupt it because there’s a new type of person in the world, and that is sort of, like, the subject of the hegemonic sexual norm, and the deviant person who fails to be protected by this norm. Does that help?

S: Yeah, totally. I mean, it’s interesting because, you know, where we are today, we get stuck on identity. And it’s like, the problem that you talked about, like sexuality becoming a problem for statecraft and like state rule, is like internalized for us as a problem, like, “who am I?” And like, “how do I figure that out?” But if we trace back those identity terms, they’re like police orders or whatever, like, that there were forms of controlling criminalization. And he also talks a lot about how, like, this is a history of policing, right? So the policing of homosexuals goes hand in hand with the policing of sex work and also the policing of vagrancy.

MF: Sure, yeah.

S: And so the other thing that I think this is parallel to, and maybe there’s something to articulate here, is like, within the Marxist theory there’s — this is another form of maybe primitive accumulation, in the way that Sylvia Federici talks about in Caliban and The Witch in terms of how the gendering of women forms a kind of enclosure around their bodies and sexuality — like this is another enclosure, which is like an identity type rather than whatever those organic forms are. That could have existed before. And if you’d think about those previous communities and like, maybe even pre feudal, right, like, it just wasn’t a problem. Or there were other norms in which it was like, acted out, but like, it’s not like, “yeah this guy sleeps with other men sometimes” wasn’t like a problem. There’s just like, “oh yeah, that’s a thing that someone does”.

MF: Yeah. Or it’s just like, yeah, that’s what men do they love to have sex with beautiful people, whatever, as long as they’re the active partner, or whatever. Like, it doesn’t have bearing necessarily on the social standing of the person doing it.

S: Well, that’s the other thing that I think is in the book that like, because it’s not to say that there were these previous sexual utopias where, like, men could have sex with other men freely, but they often happened along power lines of like, young and old or different classes, or like, how he talks about the kind of, like, workshops where a master and apprentice might have a sexualized relationship. But it wasn’t one, there was a discrepancy in power there between the master and the apprentice. So it’s not like these were old gay utopias.

MF: Yeah, I mean, that’s one of the interesting things that he does with this is, it’s like, there’s a liberal story, and it can basically take the same material that he’s looking at and say, like, “okay, there was this precapitalist utopia for gay people. Somehow, let’s say, the capitalists decided to chase them out of Eden and pursue them across these centers of financial power, up until the present, at which point they finally rebelled at Stonewall and now we’re free”. And that kind of posits, on the one hand, a kind of like, a single tradition and identity that was like, unbroken, again, that somehow cross all these social formations. And one that was unjustly persecuted, and one that would recognize itself in the present as kind of like, finally free, right?

And there’s a lot of things that don’t really hold up about that argument. One of them is that there were these sexual norms that we would now call violent, or abusive, or rape, you know, that was just simply how these practices happened. You don’t have to be like, “Well, you know, they really should have been persecuted by the state” or like, “actually was fine because they all really consented at some level”, or whatever. It’s just like, there’s a real heterogeneity to the social practices, that doesn’t really fit the kind of like, triumphant, oppressed past, liberated future, sort of arc.

And it also kind of flatters the present and says “and now we know better, and now violence doesn’t happen in sex. And all of our ways of conceiving of pleasure are totally fine for everybody involved, and we don’t have any contradictions that we still need to work out.” So he has this kind of like skeptical view of what was a very, very effective tool for people to win real, serious changes in their condition and the present. But like he’s not just saying, “well it wasn’t actually like and I’m here to speak the truth because I love academic freedom” or whatever. But because it’s actually a much more complicated question than we like to imagine.

S: Yeah, totally. Like, I guess,speaking personally in my relationship to this, like, so there’s a kind of double nostalgia that maybe falls into some of that liberal trap. Like when I first read Foucault, in The History of Sexuality talking about like, “before there was a homosexual people weren’t an identity, they did things” and I was like, “Oh, yeah, that makes so much sense.” That’s like liberating to be like, “I don’t have to be a thing I could just do whatever I want”. And l mean I don’t think that Foucault is necessarily saying that, but that was how I first received it, you know? And that kind of connects to the naive sort of sexual liberation, gay liberation discourse that gay sex, queer identity in different forms, like transness, whatever, are inherently disruptive and revolutionary, and will overthrow capitalism if we can just like, fuck whoever we want, wherever we want. And that was a line that people took strategically also, which is like, maybe on the other side of looking for recognition of rights and entry into the power structures of, you know, marriage and military, etc.

Okay, so there’s like an nostaligia, definitely, for me for like those moments of gay liberation, where like, the militancy was also paired with this kind of way of thinking, like, “Oh, are sex is revolutionary”. And I see that also, just like, generally today with radical queers kind of replaying a lot of those old moments. But and then, you know, with a lot of the academic stuff that tends to be pessimistic about the revolutionary structures, never were satisfactory to me, but like the way that he argues it, that Chitty argues it, does something that makes me, it helps me understand it a little bit more in a more complex way, than to simply be pessimistic about it. Although there is certainly a pessimistic line in it. Yeah, like one of the ways he phrases it is that “the ideas of liberation elevate a liberal bourgeois theory of the state into the constituent of principle of human desire and all other cultural formations”. First of all, how does he help us — in your reading and understanding — understand the failures of gay liberation? How does it like, help us articulate a new pathway for our liberatory movements, starting from the positions of like, gay, trans, queer, whatever you want to call, whatever, different ones that are sort of loosely linked? Like, how do we go from this critique to like articulating a movement that really wants to be, you know, revolutionary, that wants to tear apart these hierarchies and oppression?

MF: Yeah, no, that’s, I mean, that’s the trick, right? I mean I think that it’s so helpful and refreshing to have someone sort of, just say like, “here’s why this doesn’t quite work”, you know? Yeah, I too, find it unbearably romantic to imagine that the sex in the 70’s could have somehow fucked its way into a utopian universe or whatever, and the only reason it didn’t happen was because AIDS, maybe. I don’t want to dismiss the gravity of everything else that people were doing, it was in the context of like, pretty widespread, sustained, intense militancy. It wasn’t just just sex or whatever, right? I’m not being so Stalinist about it.

I’ve been reading this book that I’m pretty sure Chris was reading throughout early on or whatever, by this theorist, Moishe Postone, who taught at University of Chicago where he did his undergrad. And it’s this critique of what he’s calling “traditional Marxism”, “traditional theories of Marx”, that basically mistake what Marx was doing, for giving a critique of capitalism from the perspective of labor, so as to say like, “labor makes capitalism but then capitalists take it away, and if we just get rid of the capitalists and keep laboring in the same fashion, then we’ll have socialism and then everything’s going to be fine”. And Postone is like “no, that’s not really what Marx was saying. Marx was saying actually that because of these, the contradictory character of the sort of basic categories of capitalist society: abstract labor, commodity, etc, etc, abstract time”- I don’t wanna get into the details too much, but basically, like, “you can’t rely on a kind of like simple affirmation of your position that you find yourself in, within capital society to kind of like undo the problem. You need to find a way to self abolish, basically.” To kind of like, not so not simply just get rid of everything, but like, you know, transform the present such that you’re no longer reproducing your own domination.

And I think there’s a kind of a symmetry in the way that Chris was trying to treat these categories around sexuality. Sexuality appears as this potentially a standpoint of critique of sort of straight society or whatever. And you could imagine that all you need to do is get rid of the straight people who are preventing us from living out the free satisfaction of our desires and then we’ll be able to kind of like, you know, stop upholding the larger capitalist social order that we are convinced — and I kind of agree — that your sexuality is, like a really integral part of. And that’s basically, and it’s interesting, but that’s basically the kind of thesis of sexual liberation movement, right? It’s like, our desire is blocked or impeded from its full expression in the social, and what we need is to find a way of removing these barriers to its kind of full expression, and then the problem is going to be over. And to critique that position, and certainly not to say like, “no, it’s actually fine, everything’s fine. You’re complaining, you’re whining about nothing”. There’s serious vectors of misery and violence, obviously, you know it’s still going on much more intensely around gender and trans people right now. But there’s obvious enemies to be opposed by any kind of liberatory political formation.

The trick is to not let yourself be so mesmerized by them that you think that they are the only kind of danger, right? Like the whole of society needs to reproduce itself in your moment, somehow, through the mediation of these categories, and our movements have to have a delicate enough grasp of what presuppositions we might be affirming, when we are working out the kind of horizons that we’re going for, or the sort of strategies that we adopt or whatever.

S: Yeah, that makes me think of this line that really stuck out to me as like, it’s not something that is expanded upon in the book a lot, and it’s a place where I want to keep thinking, maybe you have some thoughts on it, where he writes, “the central contradiction connected with homosexuality, and by extension, with the category of heterosexuality and social power more generally, is that of consent. How various societies have understood consent as the basis of the exercise of power more generally”. Yeah, there’s, I just think there’s a lot contained in there. And also consent is a term that’s being used a lot within our movements to reframe our thinking around justice and accountability. But I was wondering if you have thoughts on unpacking that. Like how could a queer movement or gay liberation be articulate around this idea of like, consent on one hand, power on the other. Because there’s something here about being, it’s not just like, about consent, but like, being kind of pushed into consent to be ruled, too, I think

MF: Yeah, so that’s, yeah, I find it really suggestive and helpful. But I’m not positive exactly what he meant. I’ve only been thinking about this example for like, an hour or so today so I hope I’m not going to walk myself into a bad position. But there’s this interesting article today in the New York Times that was about touch hunger through the pandemic. And it was this person who was like, “I did sex work, I was like a dominatrix and I really liked it because I was able to kind of like, be much more explicit about the type of touch and interaction and shit that I was going to get in a sexual situation. Because, like lots of women, I had childhood socialization to, sort of, unwanted touch from all types of people. And this past year of like, touch hunger or whatever during the pandemic, has really made me reconsider how much I consented to touch that I didn’t want as a sex worker, and I like reached out to all these other sex workers. And I asked them about it too, and they’re all like, ‘yeah, I’ve consented to like”…basically the thrust of it was like, consent and desire are not the same. You know, you basically you can extract, like a sort of misogynist, you know, rape culture can extract consent quite easily from people whether or not that’s what they want or what’s good for their psychic well being, etc, etc, etc. Or has anything to do with kind of like, social equality, you know. Consent, in other words, is like actually a way of reproducing exploitative power relations, and it’s an integral part of a sort of misogynist in this world that operates on gender balance.

And I know I was reading that and I was like, “yeah, so then maybe consent isn’t really the question, is it?” Right?” If it can be the constant throughout all of these stories of like, not all of them are traumatic, but you know, shitty times that people had that stayed with them and affected how they continue to operate in the world and access pleasure and things like that, maybe it’s not the sufficient criterion that we are looking for to have a sexually free world. I think that kind of direction is what he’s going towards, and this question of the normative order, current sexual hegemony that we all kind of live in, carry out.

Yeah, so it’s a way of kind of like eliciting a kind of consent at a formal level, to this terrifyingly violent world. Like consent to be governed by social relations that run on gendered violence, you know, like, how could you possibly have a meaningful, discreet sexual encounter that’s separate from that larger context? And say “yes”, to that, but like, not to the rest or whatever, I think that’s kind of the direction he’s going in. And there’s a lot of feminist legal thinking around this, that I, unfortunately, I’m not as versed in as I’d like to be, but you know, it kind of extends this contractual idea that you can freely enter into some kind of relation with another person in an unequal society. And, sure, you can, in a practical sense, like, you know, in fact it’s necessary for the society to operate – you have to have this level of formal equality for its concepts of legitimation to operate. But if you don’t buy the presupposition, the sort of capitalist rule, like you’re an anarchist, or communist or anti authoritarian of some sort, then that’s just simply not sufficient to guide your interactions. Looking at the way these concepts are really deeply embedded in our capacity to think about relating to other people. It’s tricky, you know, I wouldn’t say, like, we need to get rid of this concept, you know, and just kind of figure it out later. But, you know, there’s some pretty serious contradictions that are worth following.

S: Yeah, you lay that out in a helpful way. So like, he talks about the norms of consent being part of the bourgeois development of sexuality, sort of like post World War Two I think in terms of like domestic heterosexual marriage. But you also connect that to like this sort of myth of like the liberal subject who consents to be governed, and that’s what we’re kind of taught ideologically. Of course that moment of consent is always pushed outside of our actual experience or history, it’s like this other time. Also going back to that kind of Edenic version of like, the gays being expelled. So that makes sense to me, and like sexual identity then consent can be used strategically, but if we get caught up in that as the thing itself, then we’re stuck in that discourse.

MF: I think that’s a good way of putting it.

S: And that’s why I think that’s interesting too, to think about in connection to, you know, there’s like, consent culture, but then also the kind of abolition movements and transformative justice discourse that goes around, like we often use the word consent to get at those things, but the thing that like, that transformative relations are getting at, isn’t about articulating consent, but articulating relations that don’t operate along those same power differentials, right.

Or it’s like, if we had to actually theorize consent in this way it would be infinitesimal, right? Like every moment would be having to consent to, and that’s like, an impossibility in a way. I don’t know. I’m also just like, kind of going off of this, the way that you kind of unpacked the example from that sex workers experience because it’s also been something that’s critiqued within like BDSM, where they’re like, Well, it seems this place where consent is made very explicit, and yet here, all these examples of like, where that explicit consent culture can be abused, by people who have various forms of power within that culture. So yeah, I don’t know if you had some thoughts on what I was saying there.

MF: It’s making me think of some things that I don’t think I’m capable of reproducing right now.

S: *laughs in understanding* Okay that’s fine.

MF: I know it’s a rich field of thought. And I’m just not going to pretend like I can contribute right now. *laughs*

S: Totally. No, I mean, yeah, I’m just getting excited about but like, yeah, that’s another conversation perhaps. So there’s like a couple more things that if you’re up for it that I want to touch on. You mentioned the kind of interruption that HIV/AIDS brought to queer movement. And that, you know, also coincided with further dismantling of radical movements like Black liberation and Indigenous movements. But you know, Chitty’s argument has some interesting things to say about how AIDS kind of like, replays histories of control of sexuality. So I wonder if you wanted to expand any bit anymore on like, the way the history of disease and epidemics is tied to our understanding of sexuality? Because like, it was preceded by syphilis and etc. Yeah, if you had some thoughts on that, or just expanding on AIDS in relation to gay movement.

MF: I put the finishing like the final edits on the manuscript, last like April? Like in the first month of lockdown. And I’d been working on the texts — that make sense, he died — since 2015, and I mean, not, you know, consistently, but I’ve been sort of going through it at various different levels. And that whole time, I didn’t quite catch how central disease was to his narrative. Until this last April, you know, what he’s pretty explicit, that, you know, the sort of like preconditions for a modern bourgeois concept of sexuality, a sexually free body, you know, a has to do with the kind of enclosures in the European countryside to bring all these new, uprooted, ex-peasants to the city, etc, etc, etc, social capital, social relations, production, blah, blah, blah. But also you need to have plumbing, and you need to have a sort of health infrastructure that can keep people’s bodies relatively clean. And this is the result of successive pandemics.

So it doesn’t go into a lot of detail about this. But like the vagrancy laws that are first used to criminalize sodomites in northern Italy, are passed in the aftermath of the Black Death, to kind of manage this kind of collapse in feudal social order, right? So like the feudal countryside is transformed in the wake of this plague, right? And so all of a sudden, these peasants can kind of travel in a different fashion. And they need to suddenly compel them to stay in place in a new way. So they pass all these vagrancy laws: you can’t be more than 100 yards from your local town or whatever. And these are the same vagrancy laws that they start using to threaten the sodomites with. And secondly, syphilis, the way that it’s transported from the New World kind of demonstrates the kind of the new global trade networks and relations of extraction, domination and violence, that are kind of putting Europe into a new kind of like orientation towards the rest of the rest of the world. In particular, exposing its proletarian populations to all kinds of new bodily conditions, basically. Syphilis, that kind of transforms the needs of the emerging state to kind of manage and have kind of like sanitary body around cities, so it’s not spreading pestilence.

Cholera obviously is a similar story, you know, when you have these kind of enormous swarms, where you’ve kind of just dumped the factory working population. But because they’re living on top of each other, they’re super liable to spread disease if it shows up. And so all of a sudden you need to invent plumbing and heating, you know, epidemiology and whatever. All these modern conveniences also go into a kind of reconceptualization of public sphere so that men are no longer free to piss on the street, he says, the story is bourgeois women start showing up in public once again after centuries of being secluded in the household and they’re scandalized by all these penises that are everywhere. And so Europe starts putting up these urinals which kind of hide the penises, but obviously also in this dialectical fashion that kind of concentrate, and eroticize…what does he call them? “Temples of urethral eroticism”. And so anyway, the point is there’s this whole thread of existence of disease as a kind of motor of this sort of social transformation of what sexuality means, in the story that he’s also telling that I didn’t quite grasp for the first number of years I was working with the text, only past year that it really hit me.

And then he has this whole other story where like, okay, so you have the sexual, gay liberationists in the 60’s and 70’s, who are like “we have a glorious past that we need to kind of liberate, ourselves and it, through us.” And then with the arrival of HIV AIDS, all of a sudden, the histories that these activists are telling are quite different. They are about the kind of like bodily practices that actually constitute material social reality of what homosexuality is, because that is where the virus lives. You know, that’s what’s salient for them, politically and essentially. it changes the sort of the way that they’re theorizing about themselves and about history.

And so he’s like, you know, both of these things are quite valuable contributions to the understanding of sexuality, homosexuality, particular. Now, maybe in 2013, or whatever, the kind of like, apocalyptic urgency of the HIV AIDS crisis is in the past somewhat. And so we can kind of be a little bit more critical or assess these histories with a bit more distance. And we’re no longer kind of under this injunction to tell politically helpful stories that will save our lives. And now we can kind of like look at why maybe these presuppositions of the political movements that made these demands which are quite productive. Also, on other moments kind of inhibited a total liberation.

S: What’s interesting to think about, Hocquenghem was an early sort of utopian liberationist — although I think he’s more complex than that, because he also includes an idea of like, overcoming homosexuality — but he was so concerned, and he didn’t want to disclose his status or whatever, with HIV, because he was worried that it would imperil the liberationist forms of sex that he had, that were so important to his vision of revolution. Which was like, you know, cruising and everything, but then that’s something that he’s been criticized for, for his unwillingness to avow his like, yeah. Or that paradox of like this sort of sexual liberation and in his situation. But then on the other side, I’m thinking like, he kept it separate in a way that is problematic for, it puts a limit on it’s like sort of contribution at that point.

That’s not really a question *laughs* but the other side I’m thinking of, like, this book, Sexual Hegemony, in a way, like it’s maybe a weird connection, but maybe this will say something to you. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but to me it reads like totally as a companion to Samuel Delaney is Time Square Red, Time Square Blue-,

MF: Oh, yeah.

S:
Where he’s writing in the height of the crisis in New York, of the HIV AIDS crisis in New York, and the way that’s used as a political tool to criminalize sexual public sexual activity under like public health measures.

MF: Totally.

S: While still maintaining this kind of utopian vision of sexuality in the midst of a health crisis. And yeah, there’s like a way that Chitty’s work kind of really resonates for me with the way that Delaney articulate sexuality, and he even gets these things about consent too, because he discusses masculine violence as a kind of effective a false scarcity that’s imposed on sexual availability — which like, really parallels the idea of capitalism enforcing sort of false scarcity or creating that. This is not also well thought out, I’m kind of like, going here in this moment.

MF: Yeah, that’s so funny that you say that. Yeah, I mean, he cites Delaney a couple times, I think. Definitely borrowing from it. But it’s so funny. Maybe this is just like, I mean, so this was an adaptation of his PhD thesis. So maybe this is just like how those things go. But um, I’ve read it so many times. And then I’m like, I’ll be reading another book that I know Chris also read, and I’m like, “Oh, my god he’s just…this is that argument”, or he’s just doing this, just kind of transposing that. So like, Hocquenghem in Homosexual Desire, in the first couple of chapters, I reread it, I’m like, ”Oh, my God, that’s exactly the form of argument he’s doing”. But then you’ll read Mario MIeli and you’re like, “Oh, that’s what he’s writing about”. And I mean, obviously, it’s like, he’s giving a direct response to Foucault History of Sexuality, Volume One. And then, you know, I’m reading Time Labor and Social Domination. And it’s like, oh yeah, that’s the form of argument he’s doing. And it’s like, whatever, maybe that’s just, like I’m saying, that’s just what a PhD is. You kind of process all this thinking and generate something that’s mostly digested, but still, it’s own new object.

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s very unique. Also, obviously, it would be very hard to kind of combine all of those positions and not have something totally new. But, um, yeah, the Delaney I think, because he’s like, he’s like a legit liberationist. For whatever reason, I was going back and reading this article by one the members of the GLF. And, you know, which is like, held up as, “Oh, in the past the gay liberationists were radical and now they’re assimilationist, or whatever, we shouldn’t be like the GLF, blah, blah”. And I was reading it, I was like, this is super misogynist, and transphobic and like pretty boring, actually. It’s like, you know, he wanted to go back to like, use like, some term from Byron, rather than the alphabet soup that current radicals have. And just like, “okay, man, like, sorry, that you got annoyed by some kids”. But, uh, Delaney is like, very much, I mean, I’m sure he has some weird cranky positions, too-

S: *laughs*

MF:
But at least in terms of his sexual politics, like about the sex that he has, and sex he writes about and puts in circulation, I mean he’s just like, he’s just free. He’s like, I’m here to experience pleasure in all types of bodies and write all about it. And like, I understand the sort of social and political dynamics that are flowing through the bodies in this moment, and it has a lot to do with, you know, capitalist development. That is such a valuable tradition, and not one that is always found in the kind of like, more properly political legacy works or whatever. I guess I didn’t, yeah. I don’t think, I don’t remember what the precise question was.

S: I didn’t really articulate a question. I was just kind of trying to put some pieces together. But that actually helped me because I think why I reached for Delaney, after talking about the interruption that HIV AIDS brought in to the liberation movement is that he’s still able, he writes in the 80s, about the work that was being done around care and support and health. But he also is able, within that moment, to still envision liberation as politics and sex as connected. And perhaps part of it is his fiction, that he’s a fiction writer, but he, in a way he can go into places — the things that I like about Hocquenghem is that he ultimately doesn’t want to hold on to any of these categories. And that’s why he upsets people who want to find liberation through these categories. And then that’s also what Chitty says, ultimately, and maybe this is where we can bring this to the current moment. The argument ends up, there’s a pessimism that’s like, “okay, liberation isn’t gonna be just gay, because the gay identity is a product of capitalism.” And we’ve known that for a while, but he articulates that in a new way that allows us to get more at the complexity of it.

So I don’t know I guess to get to a sort of final question: if the problem of queerness is created by the development of the modern state, right, then we can reach liberation without also overthrowing the state. So then the question I keep coming back to and I don’t think this has to be pessimistic or nihilistic is like, what’s left for gay liberation or radical queer movement? Does it need to be called that? Or another way maybe of putting it is like, where do we find points of solidarity that can keep like delinking gay liberation from identity and interiority, but open places to like work together? Because like, the power effects that Chitty traces historically happened to other people that wouldn’t identify as gay too, right? So I mean my basic question is like, where do you think this leaves us, radical queers who are also fighting for liberation?

MF: Yeah, that’s a hard question. Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have a great answer, like, practically, pragmatically. I think that we’re in a really weird moment. You know, I think that we’re living through some type of transition between, let’s say…I don’t know, historical period, I mean, you wouldn’t want to make a prediction about any epochal change from inside of it. But it certainly seems as if the kind of thing — you were talking about this a little bit earlier — the kind of social order that being gay or being queer was dissonant to, is kind of defunct. And you know, there’s a number of different ways you can characterize that it has, you know. Some people like to call it Fordism. Some people like to call it kind of, like the classical sort of, like, you know, post post-war capitalist period, where social reproduction is kind of like privatized in the hetero family. And that’s been in kind of a bit of crisis for the past forty years now, or more, right? You know, it was like 50 years since Stonewall a couple of years ago. And it’s obviously like, you know, a crisis that lasts that long…maybe you don’t call it a crisis after a certain point. You just call it a new sort of period? So there have been ways of stabilizing social reproduction even though that type of family organization is no longer hegemonic. But then that means because it’s not hegemonic, maybe it wasn’t necessarily a feature of this particular order of capitalism, like social reproduction still takes place, even if it’s like largely mediated by the market or debt financed, or even kind of effected through queer forms of chosen family or distributed sort of community care models, or whatever.

I think what is useful about the political position of queerness being the inheritor of a tradition of really serious attempts at grasping how these different orders of social reality connect and reproduce each other. Because, you know, it’s really easy to say like, “oh, sex has nothing to do with the economy, real material productive activity” or on the other hand it’s easy to say, like, “oh, it’s just like a kind of mechanical expression of class belonging”, and that gets you to kind of fucked up positions of proletarians aren’t queer, and then therefore it’s bougious give a shit about pleasure. That’s just never been historically the case.

So there’s a really powerful and valuable tradition of thinking that has been handed down to us, I suppose. At a great cost, against serious genocidal perril, for multiple generations. But we’re in this ambivalent position where the object of that tradition of critique has transformed in ways that it didn’t totally foresee. Which is, in some ways great, because then it’s like, okay, so some of the real horrible shit is taken care of, or like no longer as urgent. And in other ways, it means that we need to kind of rework those traditions and presuppositions and what we inherit in a way that’s kind of faithful to them, but still kind of gives us a way out of the present because we still need to get out. And I think, in particular, sorry that was a long way to say: one of the useful things that there is still on offer in the queer movement is this ability, is this repertoire that we’ve developed, of grasping how what appeared to be natural or extra-economic forms of social existence that have a kind of objective or necessary or compulsory character, right? You don’t choose whether or not you have a sexuality, you just choose whether or not to kind of live it out, or express it in a particular way. But it’s something that’s, you know, in the social world that we live in, it’s given to you. And there’s all types of ways of that that evolves, you know? But an interesting confirmation of this sort of objective nature, you know, whether or not you want it, it the kind of the larger, kind of political activity or asexuality, right? Like, this is a type of identity position that like, is clearly real and meaningful and valid in exactly the same ways as all the other kind of like, whatever, allosexual identities, but it doesn’t negate the existence of having a sexuality as a kind of imperative, as a social sort of unavoidable fact. And, in fact, it confirms it, in this kind of negative way.

So a queer movement would be one that is capable of grasping these imperatives as intimately related to questions of revolution, solving these imperatives politically, through some type of collective struggle means investigating why they take the form that they do in this particular society with this set of compulsory socially objective relations. And not just saying, like, “Oh, it’s natural”, or, “oh, you just want to do this because I feel like it” or, “it’s socially constructed”, or whatever, so that we just need to kind of tell enough people not to do this in this way that we can get out of it. Like, no, it’s actually probably going to take…and obviously, like, you know, some level of that tactic is successful, you know, it’s necessary to any kind of social movement, unfortunately. You have to kind of do the really thankless work of yelling at people or bothering them about stuff that they think is the reflex, but there’s also a different level that it exists on and we need to have a kind of way of grasping that. And that’s not at all a concrete answer. But I think that’s the kind of precious insight or tradition or whatever in the queer liberatory lineage that I think is really useful.

S: Since we’re forming our discussion around this book, if like, what this book does is “historicize the history of sexuality” — I think that’s something he says — like, I’m thinking about how Hocquenghem talks about, like, the leftists are always fighting the last revolution. And like, if we get caught up in the conditions that produce gay liberation — which was like, according to Chitty, the policing of sexuality, that led to confrontation, like fighting police in the streets, which led to Stonewall — if we’re fighting that, that war now, like, that’s the wrong war. Because, you know, homosexuality has been included it’s no longer a threat. And it’s not the node of control in the same way. It is in other places, I guess, like, particularly around transness right now is being articulated.

But the other thing is like, this book doesn’t give us a predictive thing, obviously, a predictive tool. But since he articulates all these moments around these times of financialization, like we’re in that moment, right? We’re in a time of like, sexual hegemony potentially changing. So that term can give us something to think about the way sexuality is politicized. Not as like a simple dynamic of like, “yes or no” or “repressed or liberated”, but like, it’s a subtle tool that we need to kind of, like, try to understand how to wield for ourselves and not for the state. But like, yeah, I guess we’re still inundated with all those slogans that are so intoxicating from that time when there was way more visible militancy, you know, and the social war was visible, right, like, a lot more going generally visible at that time. So.

MF: Yeah, people picking up arms in a different way.

S:Yeah. I like, get left in this pessimistic place of “gay liberation has been totally captured”. But that’s also an old story. And then still like a thing of how the new articulations of queerness are potential locations of solidarity. And seeing the work that pinko does too, in terms of the way that the journal kind of brings together different fronts, I think is helpful to think through those kinds of modes, you know? Like, yeah, there’s a lot and I think it’s expansive, right? Like in the two volumes, it brings together different movement work on different fronts, right? There’s stuff around sex work, there’s stuff like the Trans History Project, there is theories of sexuality, there’s a mix of old discourse, like reprinted texts from the old movement, there’s like new takes on things. I don’t know. I think I like that because it’s like seeing it as a coalitional politics.

MF: Oh, yeah. Interesting. Sure. Yeah. That’s nice. But it’s nice to think about it like that. Yeah. I mean, with Pinko, one of the fantasies that I had, when I started working on it was that we would have a kind of a venue for bringing together a bunch of different perspectives that don’t, hadn’t really been in conversation, but also kind of like, hopefully trying to consolidate what might be a new position that I don’t know that we have yet. I mean, I’m hopeful, and I’m sure that it reads differently from the other side, you know, it’s more maybe more coherent, or more like, all in sync or whatever.

But the other thing that I thought would be important, to have a magazine or some kind of a record going was of these struggles around sexuality as the current dominant, hegemonic mode begins to sort of transform. I thought it would be useful to have a kind of place that was attending to the different ways that people are trying to work out what it means to be militant with these problems, or these concepts or whatever.

You know I think one of my favorite pieces was sort of the first issue — and I don’t know, I don’t want to say this in like a too simple way — but it was the interview with these two trans people who went down to a coal ship, a coal train blockade in Kentucky, I think. And they set up a kind of classic like encampment-style protest occupation thing that has been a really dominant form for a lot of types of protests for the past decade or so. And we had this interesting conversation with them, while they were, you know, there at the camp. And they have this very hopeful, like, “we’re here to support the miners, but we’re also members of the community, we’re from Appalachia, and obviously there’s, maybe there’s some tension around our transness or whatever, but like, we’re able to talk with them in a kind of chill way and resolve this conflict”. And when it came to us, there’s like, this cool story about precisely that. This coalitional thing, or it’s like, wow, trans struggles and the classical worker militancy thing can come together in these wildcat places where they block circulation. It’s this perfect illustration of so many political trends, like, we love this fusion.

And then actually, what ended up happening was in between the interviews that we did and the publication of the magazine, some Trump dude showed up, basically, and took over the camp, or like, installed themselves in the camp, and the miners basically weren’t able to reestablish their own control. And so the trans people were like “thid is not a chill place for us to be and we can’t trust you dudes to kick out this fucking biker gang or whatever, so we’re leaving” which is a reasonable thing to do.

Anyway so we ended up having to run this kind of long intro paragraph about why they didn’t quite work. Like what they thought was the fissures in their previous assessment that they’ve been able to do this interesting coalitional thing. And like, I don’t know, yeah, I don’t want to tell the story like, “haha they were proved wrong” or whatever. But I thought having the space to kind of investigate, there’s quite a lot to be learned in figuring out the limits also, of these forms of political action and political sort of conduct and protest and thinking. And I was glad that we had this venue where we weren’t like, “Oh, we have to give this kind of posi story about, you know, the powerful moment of unity between the macho miner dude and the less macho trans people or whatever”. It wasn’t a kind of affirmative thing. Like, what was interesting was that like, we could actually take the time to take apart why this in particular, this one thing didn’t work. Because obviously that’s going to happen much more than winning, you know? And so like, there’s a lot in figuring out how to think about how things come apart? And what to do with that, and what to learn about that. What I find interesting about the potential for Pinko.

S: That makes sense. And that’s sort of like, with the kind of crisis theories, like, or we look at the sort of moments of crisis as potential openings for something, even though all the past moments haven’t been moments of winning, they’re like moments of loosening where other things can happen. And that’s, I don’t know, that’s where I’m at right now. Is that like, instead of thinking about that punctual moment, to like, look at the places where things are being done differently in the present, and work from there. I don’t know if it’s like, yeah, aggregate, or what, but like we can’t tell these deterministic histories, which are, like, kind of used both in like liberationist theories and repressive theories, you know?

MF:Yeah, totally.

S: Well, we’ve been talking for a while. So I don’t know if there’s like any final thing that you kind of want to touch on. Is there any way you want to like direct people to find your work, other than read Sexual Hegemony that’s put out by Duke University Press.

MF: Yeah read that. Exactly. Yeah, go find that on, I mean the Duke website as a good place to buy it from. I’ll put a plug: the Duke Press, the people who work there are unionizing. So you better support them if you have any kind of interaction with Duke. You know, maybe if you buy the book, you should add a note saying you recognize the union or whatever we find is effective about those things.

S: I signed today on their author’s support letter and I saw your name. *laughs*

MF: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, actually, that’s funny. You probably can’t buy, I think if you want to buy the Hocquenghem translation that I did, I think I will personally have to fulfill it because the publisher is sailing on a boat in the Arctic now and she dropped off all the remaining copies that are in my closet. So if you really want to order a copy, I guess I can put that in the mail. But I wouldn’t I wouldn’t count on that being like a prompt delivery. And then Pinko you can find it at pinko.online.

S: Cool. Well, thank you so much for taking all the time to talk.

MF: Yeah, thank you so much for asking such awesome questions. I hope it was coherent.

S: I think you did a really good job explaining the main ideas of the book, also in a way that like helped me think about it. Like, because I’ve read the book and probably a lot of people listening won’t have read it, but, so like, yeah you brought up new aspects of it for me. I think it was really clear.

An Anarchist View from Havana: Isbel Diaz Torres

An Anarchist View from Havana: Isbel Diaz Torres

volunteers at ABRA assemble the sign for the space
Download This Epside

This week on the Final Straw, we’re sharing another audio gift from comrades. Isbel Diaz Torres is a participant in the Taller Libertario Alfredo López / ABRA in Havana, Cuba, recorded in late 2018. In this chat, Isbel talks about the ABRA which is the only openly anarchist organization in Cuba at the time, about the LGBTQ movement and abortion rights which are both facing repression due to pressure from Cuban Evangelical and Catholic churches on the Cuban government, political discourse and difference, government co-optation, neoliberalism, animal rights, repression of dissent and the erasure of anarchist history.

In May of 2019, Isbel and his boyfriend Jimmy Roque Martinez were arrested on their way to the annual Conga Against Homophobia and Transphobia, essentially Cuba’s main Pride Parade and detained 24 hours in order to block their participation. As Isbel talks about in the interview, the state-run National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) had bowed to pressure from right wing Christian groups and canceled the event so activists were planning to hold an autonomous Conga resulting in several more arrests. A report with updates on the subject can be found at the Rosa Negra / Black Rose Federation website. You can also find an audio statement from Mario from the TLAL space on the subject in Spanish via BRRN.

To learn more about ABRA, they have a website at CentroSocialABRA.Wordpress.Com as well as a fedbook page as AbraCuba and one for Taller Libertario Alfredo Lopez. ABRA is affiliated with the Federacion Anarquista de Centro America y el Caribe, or the Caribbean and Central American Anarchist Federation, which can be found in Spanish at f-anarquista-cc.blogspot.com.

Check our show notes for some useful articles and a link to Frank Fernandez’s book, “Cuban Anarchism”, which you can order online or read for free online at The Anarchist Library. Another book suggestion is “Anarchist Cuba: Countercultural Politics in the Early Twentieth Century” by Kirwin Shaffer.

 

Sean Swain

Sean’s segment runs [00:35:56 – 00:42:36]. More info at

Off-Topic Announcements

We’d like to say a brief hello to our new listeners on Royalton Community Radio in eastern so-called Vermont, where this show will air every Saturday at 10pm following Nocturnal Combustion as well as Tuesday mornings at 5am!

If you’d like to hear two recent interviews with the hosts of the show, check out last week’s FE-Live podcast (audio or video) with David Rovics for Fifth Estate Magazine, as well as the final episode of the SoleCast from the end of 2020, soon to be renamed The Institute for Post American Studies.

. … . ..

Songs from this episode both performed by Eztafilokoko from Habana, Cuba (more by them at eztafilokoko.bandcamp.com):

  • En Mi Puto Barrio [00:00:00] as background
  • Hey Maxim [00:33:16]

. … . ..

Transcription of the interview begins below

The Final Straw Radio: I guess, just tell us who you are and what this space is….

Isbel Diaz Torres: OK, my name is Isbel Diaz Torres and I am a member of Taller Libertario Alfredo López which is, I guess, the only anarchist organization here in Cuba – but it doesn’t mean that we are the only anarchist people – who are organized and public as us from my knowledge. We’ve been working for almost 10 years as an anarchist organization but before that, we were one of the anti-capitalist organizations in general, independent ones, in Cuba. Eventually, we decided that we wanted to form an anarchist group, so we made it. And the space, although it is run by us, by the people of the Taller Libertario Alfredo López, is not exactly an anarchist space only. It’s open to communitarian activities, anything that we like because we feel it is coherent with our view of what life is and what development is, what culture is, etc. The space is ABRA, it’s just a word in Spanish that has about seven different meanings. Over there, you can see the word ABRA. It also means ‘open’, by the way, ‘open the door = abra la puerta’.

We started this place almost a year ago, in May 2018. We made crowdfunding on the Internet because first we were touring in France and Spain and the comrades there had all kinds of different libraries, cafes, physical spaces where they could gather and have meetings. They all the time asked us, ‘Do you have a place?’ We didn’t have a place. So the ideas started there: why don’t we create a physical space for us to meet.

With the help of all the comrades we met in France and Spain, we made the crowdfunding, the got the money and bought the house. It’s not completely ready yet, we are still working and deciding what kind of activities we want to do here. We don’t want to go very past, because we want to be inserted in the community more organically. We don’t want to look like aliens who come here and tell people what they need to think or do. We just want to be neighbors and propose activities, get to know what they need or want. We have pretty much the same needs because we live here, this is what we are trying to do with this space.

TFSR: The first thing that caught my attention was the big, rainbow flag. And also, we went to a sub-cultural event in Santa Clara at Mijunque. I couldn’t tell if it was a gay bar or just had gay nights, but there seemed to be some overlaps there. Is anarchism and counter culture very linked to the LGBT movement in Cuba? What’s the history of the relationship between them?

IDT: I don’t think you can say that anarchism and the LGBT movement have a link. A link in a way are some of us who are gay or lesbians, or queer people. But not because of the history of the movements. If we go to the history of the movement of anarchism in Cuba, it was pretty much anarcho-syndicalism. I wouldn’t say it has any relation to a gender topic or LGBT topic. The only link that I can identify is quite interesting: some of the anarcho-syndicalist groups in the 40-50s of the past century had these naturist groups who went to the wild naked and had this kind of interaction, it was very cool. It has something to do with sex or gender. But this is just something I want to say about, but this is not that they were really thinking in these terms like the LGBT movement or feminism.

The thing is that my boyfriend and I are a gay couple. So we are promoting this topic inside our group. In most other groups, the majority is heterosexual males, so, in a way, that is a process of learning how to break all the paradigms of hetero-sexism. The difference is that we have access, we’ve been in touch with people with different perspectives on it. When people come to the common LGBT movement in Cuba they receive the information that you can see on the Internet, but they don’t know about radical LGBT or queer people, radical feminism, etc. We have a lot of materials like that, we want to promote these ideas. In our library and the stuff that we publish, we have the materials that we want to be promoted. That is something different when you see the LGBT spectrum, you can see right-wing people, leftists, and us – we are more radical about it.

TFSR: What is right wing in Cuba? And also, you talk about being in anti-capitalist groups… what does being an anti-capitalist mean in Cuba? Does everyone think that they live in an anti-capitalist country?

IDT: I guess people don’t think in those terms anymore. That was part of our language 20 years ago but not anymore. People don’t think about it. That’s why we use the word anti-capitalist, and even for a Cuban it’s like, come on, man, what are talking about? Nobody cares about it. In fact, if you ask them, they will say they love capitalism. Although they don’t really accept it, they don’t say it in those terms. But they love consumption, international corporations that come and invest in Cuba, they agree with the credits or the whole economic structure related to capitalism. They don’t have questions about it. In fact, when they make demands to the government, it’s pretty much asking for that kind of economic liberties. So they like capitalism in many ways.

It’s very difficult, cause you have different discourses. On the one hand, you have the speech of the government and they would say that anyone who opposes them are right-wing. You just need to be loyal to the system, not to the idea of emancipation, etc. You have to be loyal to the government and its leaders, that’s the idea of what a leftist person is, of what anti-capitalism is.

On the other hand, all people recognize capitalism as what it is – a system of relations where people are alienated in many ways. From my perspective, everything is there, what social class you are, if you are a worker or an owner, but also your gender, race, the color of skin, where you come from, what part of the island you are, what’s your job, how much money you have. Everything has to do with being anti-capitalist. They don’t want to acknowledge that, of course. For us, we can identify right-wing movement or right-wing persons or collectives here in Cuba, both in the system and independent ones. For example, there is one organization here in Cuba named Estado de SATS, it’s pretty much the most prominent right-wing organization here. Of course, they are against the government, the government represses they as much as they can, and they are like think tanks, they propose designs of the colony?? that has to do with free-market or private property. They want to privatize pretty much everything, including the healthcare and educational systems. That’s obvious that they are right-wing in that sense, but when you try to find out what their position is regarding other topics like abortion, relationship… the position on LGBT people in society or racism, etc., they might have a progressive position about it.

Then you have other sectors in the society that… Maybe they are not promoting this kind of free market, but they have a very conservative position, they are members of very orthodox Christian churches, they are against gay, equalitarian marriage. We’ve been fighting with them last months. So, that’s another part of society. Maybe they are not organized politically, like challenging the government, but they do have the means and resources to promote these ideas.

And then, inside the government. I first mentioned the right-wing opposition, then I mentioned Church and all the families who are gathered around that. And the third place in my opinion, inside the government, there are a lot of people who are promoting the economic activities that include lifting any… Do you call it the opposition of protectionism? No taxes for foreign investors to come to Cuba and do what the want, or no workers unions inside those businesses, international corporations, that kind of design of economic relations – this is what they promote. And in my opinion, they are right-wing.

TFSR And is abortion legal in Cuba?

IDT: Abortion, yes. It is a struggle that we already won. We are afraid that it can be strictly regulated. I’m worried because the government is in constant dialogue with the Catholic church and with protestant churches. Both of them opposed the possibility of gay marriage to be included in the Constitution recently. They made strong statements saying that the people who go to their churches would vote NO to the new constitution if they didn’t change that, regarding the equalitarian marriage. And the government complied, accepted it and changed it. So they know that they have enough strength, to challenge the government, to do what they want them to do. And on the other hand, those conversations are never public. You never know what they are talking about. They have meetings but they are not open to the press. It really doesn’t matter, because the Cuban press doesn’t care what happens anywhere. So I’m concerned in that sense.

TFSR: I want to go back to the history of anarchism before the revolution…

IDT: I will do my best, but Mario is the one who knows it better. I could give some relevant…

TFSR: Yeah, a broad picture…

IDT: First, I recommend reading the book Anarchism in Cuba by Frank Fernandez. He lives in Miami and the book is both in Spanish and English. You can download it or buy it on Amazon. This is a good version of the history of the anarchist movement in Cuba before 1955, before the triumph of the revolution.

As I mentioned, it was mainly anarcho-syndicalist movement and there was this person, Alfredo Lopez, that guy over there (pointing to a poster) who was connected with the liberation movement in Cuba. But, of course, at some point, because of the link of the leaders – Fidel Castro and there were some leaders of the 26th of July Movement – with the Partido Socialista Popular (there was this party in Cuba who received direct orders from the USSR Communist Party), after the triumph of the revolution, most anarchists were sent to prison, were killed or sent to exile. So it collapsed. Mario has the exact date of the last public meeting they held to place maybe one year after the triumph of the revolution, that was the last time we heard about it. And there was no anarchist movement for decades. Maybe you can find on the internet some references to other groups, Zapata Group or something like that. But we don’t have any certainty if they existed during the 80-90s. You can have a look on the Internet, but we don’t have any direct information. As far as we know, we are who took the spirit of anarchism again and tried to make a movement with that.

On the other hand, I can say that the anarchist spirit in a way was present in the common sense of the people of Cuba. That’s part of the work that Mario does: trying to identify the anti-authoritarian structures of people who decided to organized beyond the government or with no relation to the government. For us, it’s a symptom of anarchist feeling. Maybe for you, it has nothing to do, but for Cuba, everything was related to the government for decades: we had no private property, the state checked every single activity you can imagine – economic of even your personal relationship, culture, art – everything was controlled by the government. So when you find something that tried to exist outside those barriers, then you consider it a symptom of anarchist spirit.

TFSR: I read the Frank Fernandez book years ago and it described anarcho-syndicalist unions that had tens and hundreds of thousands of members and wondering, where did they go after the revolution? He talks about some of them that were exiled or killed, but 10’s of thousands of members?

IDT: The activity of the Communist Party, because they infiltrated into those organizations and turned that into vertical unions and communist structures. So when we talk about people who were exiled or killed, we talk about the heads of movements, but common workers were the victims of the Partido Socialista Popular (the name of the previous communist party).

TFSR: That’s a good segue. I understand that the modern Cuban authoritarian state uses a subtle and soft touch in order to exert it’s influence politically, but what does it look like today, how the state influences dissent or alternative political organizing?

IDT: Well, they have an impact. When you are a member, you feel it. If you are just a neighbor, you say, “No, nothing is wrong, nothing is really happening”. For example, you can see this poster here, it was there facing the street. And we received an inspection, not a political one. It said you have no license to put that banner over there, so you have a ticket for 200 pesos and 2 days to remove it. And they inspect the whole house, cause they said that they received an anonymous complaint that we were illegally constructing here, which was a lie, just an excuse to get into the house, inspect the whole house.

For example, the most common thing they do is out of the structure of employment has changed in the last years, but maybe 10-15 years ago, I’ve been working for almost 20 years, all employees were state employees. So if you receive a visit at your workplace, and this political police talks to your boss, like, this guy is having meetings with counter-revolutionary people, you can be fired. My boyfriend has been fired, and he is an optometrist. So that kind of pressure is over us, but that’s for us who have a public face, we consider ourselves anti-capitalists and we have friends and comrades of different movements all around the world. But when you go small organizations (yeah, we are very small), the ones that just started, that have no history, it’s very easy for them to dismantle that, with one phone call they will stop them. It’s very real. And it’s not what they do, it’s also the history that still is in the imagination of people. It triggers something there that says, OK, I cannot say this or that in a public place because it can be repressed. And they say, there is no repression, but the people repress themselves, they don’t express themselves freely, and it will work.

So when you make a comparison, like you say there is repression in Cuba, but we never saw a policeman beating people on the street with rubber, with gas or anything like that. But what I think is much worse is that they don’t even need that. The control is so well-installed in the brain of people, in the common sense of the communities, that they don’t need that kind of stuff.

That’s the reason why people, very few of them have come inside this house. Most of them want to know what is happening, but they are not brave enough to come up here and see what’s inside.

For example, you need to be very careful with the things that we do because they can use anything against us any time. For example, we started this space, we painted it anew, you see the door and the wall here are painted. We did it ourselves, but the kids from the neighborhood, you hear them out there when they already came this morning. They say, “We want to draw something, we are bored, we have nothing to do”. And we were all the time proposing stuff for them to do, and they were involved in painting all these walls. The next day, a security of the state officer came to us and said, “I know who you are, what you are trying to do, and we won’t allow you to do it with the kids. We said, “Why?”. “I know you were taking pictures of the kids”. We were taking pictures of the whole process, because that is part of our history and we want to have a record of that. “Yeah, but you were taking pictures of black kids who are poor”, the officer said. We said, “OK, that’s what they are. I don’t know how you can change the color of the skin, but poverty, you can’t do anything about it”. The next day we printed all pictures and we went to those kids’ families and gave them the pictures as a gift. And everybody loved it, cause they cannot afford to print, to have a photo of their kids. With our money, we printed the photos, took it to parents and informed them that their kid, son, daughter was yesterday with us painting, and we took a picture, here are the pictures, is that OK? Everybody liked it, it was super cool. We have no problem with the community, parents or anyone, but that was a measure that we needed to take in order to face any demand in the future or manipulate using the image of children.

So, it’s there all the time, you need to watch every single step to not make a mistake. This is how repression is expressed.

But there are so many other ways, for example, they can stop you from leaving the country. A lot of people have been stopped at the airport for no reason. They just stop them, wait until the plane leaves and then release the person. What it means to means a flight, it’s a lot of money. They needed to pay for the passport, for the visa, to legalize all the documents, buy the tickets. And you can lose all that money just because of the security stopping them at the airport for no reason.

Or when you come back. For example, the first time I visited the US, I was stopped at the airport. They took Frank Fernandez’s book, I had a copy signed by him. They also took my laptop, all hard drives, pen drives, materials, books. Ten days later they returned everything, except Frank Fernandez’s book and a newspaper. But they checked all my information, my telephone. They kept everything. That’s the way they control and it works.

For people like us, who are a bit trained in this fight, we can deal with that, but for some young university student who suffers that for the first time, he will never come to this place anymore. That’s why it’s so difficult for us to grow in membership. It does work. For example, the environmentalist group “Guarda Bosques,” another group that is connected with this movement here, has approached young people saying that we receive money from the CIA. And they believe it, why not? This is the information they receive all the time on television in Cuba. Then five years later they come to me and say, “You know why I never came back to your space? We received a visit from an officer saying that you received money from the CIA”.

TFSR: How do people in Cuba become anarchists? How do they hear about it, how do they learn besides the CIA paying them? (chuckle)

IDT: (laugh) I don’t know, I don’t think people just become anarchists.

TFSR: Is there anyting about the anarchist movement in University history classes or anything?

IDT: No way. One of the members of our collective is a student at the history and philosophy faculty of the Havana University. Just yesterday we were talking about it. Because they started studying political movements in this course, and I asked him if anarchism was there. He said that his professor didn’t even know what it is.

TFSR: Camillo Cienfuego’s parents were anarchists I think. Cienfuego’s parents were in the CNT in Spain during the Revolution there.

IDT: In Spain, yes. But it’s not in the history. Cuban students don’t know that.

TFSR: Did Che and Fidel kill Camillo Cienfuegos?

IDT: (laugh) How can I tell? You know, Camilo is a very… We really love Camilo. I guess because he didn’t have the chance to become like the others.

TFSR: Like Rosa Luxemburg?

IDT: Exactly. But he was a very plain person, people from the street could approach him. He was not like an intellectual, he was nothing thinking in terms of ideology, I guess. But he was just a fighter, who fought for freedom, liberties, justice, whatever. So in that sense, I’m not saying Camilo was an anarchist, but he was a figure that is very close to the Cuban people, and that’s why we use his image in one of our… Let me show you: it’s a Bakunin, he has nothing to do with Camilo, but anyway. We have those bookmarks, that’s the symbol of Observatorio Critico, so we play with that. And we are in the neighborhood where Camilo Cienfuegos was born.

TFSR: Oh, really? Oh, yeah, La Avenida Cienfuegos is right there…

IDT: But nobody says Avenida Cienfuegos, Dolores Avenida and his house was there, and there was a plaque on the wall that was stolen about six months ago, and nobody cares.

TFSR: The government didn’t just put it on a plane and….

IDT: I don’t know. (laughs). What else?

TFSR: What kind of issues are you and your group tackling in the community? Do you mostly focus on the LGBT community or are there other things? In our communities, often projects focus on prisoner support or anti-fascist work.

IDT: When I say community, I’m talking about this community over here, this block and surrounding blocks, we are thinking in a very small space. We just want to develop the idea that you can do stuff by yourself, you don’t need to ask for permission to do anything. We don’t want them to think in any direction, we don’t want to extend any ideology for them to be part of, we just want to create spaces where they can decide when and where to meet, what to do.

We have a knitting workshop here, both young and adult women, kids of thirteen years old come together and spend time here. Every Friday afternoon we talk and knit. This is an example. They are exposed to everything here, but we don’t invite them to read or take anything. They are just here, we want them to feel free and eventually, they will ask or do what they want.

We also have been working on a corner, because all the trash over there is a huge issue for the community and we have transformed that corner because all that trash that was on the street was where the garden is right now. We built a garden together with the neighbors, so the trash is not inside the block anymore. It really has an impact on people, because they don’t wait for the government to come and fix that corner, we have to fix it by ourselves. Eventually, we are going to do something with it. We will start recycling, reusing. In fact, we used a lot of stuff from the trash, transformed it into something else, and neighbors started to do the same. They also take some herbs that we planted there and use them. Getting them involved in some direct transformation of the environment.

We also have movie, cartoons projections, and neighbors don’t go to movie theaters, most of them don’t have computers, tablets or laptops at home, so they watch what the Cuban television provides. So we provide something new from here. It’s very funny, it’s a huge screen at night, it dramatically changed the logic of the neighborhood. What’s that light? The sound is very loud, and we try to find Cuban films.

We also have the project, ion in here, but with other contents, we have LGBT nights, now we are planning to have another night in the month for anarchist films, or a night for environmentalist documentaries or films. With the space out there we don’t want to go with very political content because that will not attract people, so here come the people who are interested in the topic, member of LGBT community, students of the Havana University, researchers, environmentalists, whatever, they come directly to the film and talk about it.

We also have developed some dialogues or chats on topics related to something that the community feels necessary. For example, the Afro-Cuban religion. We promoted a dialogue between Afro-Cuban priests and environmentalists, animal defenders. Because these people make sacrifices of animals, so we create a space for both sides to talk about it, about the issue of sacrificing animals and placing the remains in the street, in the corner. And that idea of such conversations appeared because the neighbor that works with us in the garden is an Afro-Cuban priest. And we talked about the issue of sacrificing animals, how much we like animals, and we decided to make a serious conversation about it, let’s bring specialists from both sides to talk about it. It was very relevant for the first time in Cuba when environmentalists and priests were talking about animal protection. And then we discovered that there are some priests who made no animal sacrifices. They do the same ceremonies with no animals. It was something new even for some priests that were here, they were not accepting that practice but…

So this is what we are trying to do, to identify topics that have some connection with the community and make conversations. Sometimes they could be here or there.

TFSR: Is there ever a tension… you’re working with the community out here but I’m obviously a gringo, dressed weird. Is there ever a tension between it being a space that brings people who look like they’re not here here and being able to organize with the neighborhood?

IDT: Not that I know. I guess they will talk about but they haven’t told us anything. Nothing has changed, we have very good relations with everybody.

I guess people feel important when they get visitors from other countries here. Like they didn’t know that we were making anything so important, e.g. the garden – everybody goes to see the garden. And they think, ok, it’s important to have a garden, people are interested in that.

For other communitarian projects with a different perspective, sometimes it has really affected the whole point. Because it has become a place to develop something to show to tourists. We have something like that five blocks from here, it was supposed to be a communitarian project with art…

TFSR: Is that the building on the corner with all the art…. I was going to ask what that was…

IDT: That’s a perfect example. And the community is not there, they don’t go to visit or use the space, they just receive foreigners. That’s the danger. But I’m sure it will not happen here because we are very aware of that and we have a political perspective of our own and it’s not the same with those other spaces. They are looking away for survival.

TFSR: Is there ever a dynamic where if you are doing lots of communitarian projects like the garden or film nights, and someone from the government or the party comes over and says “Hey, you’re doing a lot of great things for the community, you should consider becoming the head of your local Comite En Defensa….

IDT: That’s been happening all the time with all the interesting projects. When they see someone who is really active in the community, they try to coopt and make him part of the system. But they won’t even try this with us. But that’s the logic, it’s been happening here forever. In any kind of thing you could imagine, hip-hop, rock, whatever, you will see that.

TFSR: I went to La Madriguerra and thought, I can tell from where this is placed that the government said “Let’s make you a rock club in the middle of a park, far away from houses, over here where you’re not bothering anybody…”

IDT: Exactly, they really know how to do it. They created a Cuban agency of rock, an agency of hip-hop, it killed the whole movement. At first, there were some divisions with some of the bands who wanted to part of the agency, and the others didn’t, they wanted to keep their autonomy, but eventually, they disappeared and the ones that remained are connected with the agency. And all political content, the real stuff in the lyrics was not there anymore. They have a magazine. Having a magazine here in Cuba, it has to be approved by the party. If you have a hip-hop magazine approved by the Communist Party, you really don’t know what’s that. That power of co-opting is always present.

TFSR: For anyone who comes to Cuba or anyone who hears this interview, what can they do to support ABRA and other anarchist initiatives in Cuba?

IDT: The first thing I recommend is when people want to approach the Cuban situation, try to look for personal collectives that they can identify. Because there is this idea of what Cuba is, an abstract idea with a focus on a rebel, an alternative for the world, and it is not. But you can find people who are really fighting, struggling against Cuban and international capitalism. So if you want to support, you need to identify to whom you want to be related.

On the other hand, for us, the best help that we have ever received is to be completely public. Since we are not that group of anarchists, we are not like insurrectionists, we don’t have the power, the number of people, we don’t intend to be violent, so we can be completely public. Because we want a communitarian transformation and do grassroots work. That is our protection – we never hide from the government.

Just tell them exactly what you think, and international comrades, organizations, helped when they also promote the ideas of ours, or any public statement that we publish, or a call that we make for an international event – it’s a very good help for us. It helps to build that shield that is transparency, being public.

TFSR: Are there vegans in Cuba?

IDT: That’s interesting. I’m having a fight right now on Facebook. There are, a few of them. It’s very difficult. In my opinion, in Cuba, that’s an option for only wealthy people. We eat whatever we can find, there is no option, if we want vegetables or… Everything is difficult: vegetables, meat, eggs, milk. If you find any of that and you have the money, you get it. I understand the need for being responsible or coherent with that topic, it’s important for us, as we are also environmentalists, it’s quite important. We promote this idea and for example on any event, gathering, meeting that we have here there are always vegan options. We don’t think that they don’t exist. On the contrary, we say, “There are people who are vegan or vegetarian, they need to have an option here”.

We also develop permaculture. We just started a permaculture workshop, we are learning about it, and most people related to it are vegan. But I don’t think that you can really demand from people to have this position because people don’t have means to have a balance. So we’ve been thinking about it, it’s not the subject that we ignore, but it’s something you need to promote carefully here, not demanding but saying how beautiful it is.

TFSR: On that subject, I was curious, it’s not the same as animal sacrifice but I wondered if anyone does anything about birds in cages? There are a lot of birds in cages, here.

IDT: There is a whole movement of animal protectors in Cuba right now. It’s something new, from the last three years. There are small groups all around the country, and they focus mostly on cats and dogs, also horses. Eventually, birds, but that is not very common. There is no protection for animals here in Cuba. These groups demand a law for protecting animals’ lives, but we don’t have it yet. We recently discovered a guy, who was in contact with an international network of people who torture and rape animals. They video-record them and upload it to the cloud. There was a Cuban doing that, and people in the US identified the person and sent the information to the Cuban protectors. They identified the guy, complained and the policemen arrested the guy and he was free three days later.

About 1-2 months ago, these activists went to his neighborhood and made a public campaign in a park very close to his house. They went to his house, he was not there, they went to the river and found a lot of corpses of dogs and cats in the river, probably killed by this man. And the guy is free. He was not violating any law.

TFSR: When they went to his house they did it as a demonstration to expose him?

IDT: They really didn’t know what to do. In Cuba, there are no real social movements or the practice of that. So they were very angry and decided to go and make this campaign for the protection of animals in the park. And then a couple of them decided, “Why don’t we go to the house of the guy”. They didn’t know what to do, they just went. Another part of the group thought it could be dangerous. Nothing happened, the guy was not there. But it’s a good thing. For the first time, this topic like the LGBT or the animal protection movement is emerging in a way. They are taking positions disregarding what the government thinks about it. So it’s important.

TFSR: It sounds like practicing some form of direct action, going to his house…

IDT: Exactly, but there is no organization yet. They don’t know what to do, they don’t plan anything, but it’s a good thing.

TFSR: When you said that it’s not common in Cuba for demonstrations to happen…. I don’t know if it’s modern Cuba or in Cuba’s past, but that often a practice of the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución is that they would organize a staged protest of just CDR members to make their repression look like a community action…

IDT: That’s what they do, but of course, they don’t do it spontaneously. There is an order from the political police, they prepare everything. In fact, we are very close to one of the dissident group, Damas de Blanco, I guess you heard about them, Ladies in White. They are four blocks away from here, they live with a police car in front of their house all the time. They organize demonstrations in front of his house, tiran cosas contra paredes.

TFSR: Yeah, throw things against the wall. But they’re super patriotic, the Damas En Blanco?

IDT: Damas en Blanco is a dissident group. They are mothers, wives, daughters of a group of dissidents that were put in prison, 75 of them. They were journalists, they were writing and put in prison for very long terms. So the women started demonstrating in the street dressed in white with a flower in the hand and walking in a line in silence. That’s all. They were repressed all the time, and now those people were released, some were sent to Spain, but the movement remained. I think they have connections with the US government and that’s the excuse of the Cuban government to repress them. Although what they are doing is just manifest in a peaceful way. But they have support from the US government.

TFSR: It sounds very parallel to the Argentinian Madres de la Plaza de Mayo…

IDT: Also, the Cuban government never recognized that it wasn’t fair for them to be in prison. If there is a similarity with Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, we are at a very early stage.

TFSR: Yah, the government changed there…

IDT: Yeah.

TFSR: Thank you!

IDT: I’m sorry you just had to listen to my opinion about it. Ask people in the street, and they will tell you a different story. You will have a more complete picture of the Cuban reality.

Class Power on Zero Hours: A chat with Angry Workers

Class Power on Zero-Hours: A chat with Angry Workers

"Class Power On Zero Hours" book and a molotov, classy
Download This Episode

This week, you’ll hear Kiran and Marco of the Angry Workers, a collective of anti-authoritarian communists struggling to think through and build workers autonomy from the UK. For the hour, they talk about their organizing and the book they just published, “Class Power On Zero-Hours” (available from PM press and currently 50% off if you purchase from the publisher using the discount code ‘GIFT’).

Over 6 years, the Angry Workers got jobs in West London in factories, warehouses and logistics, building relationships with coworkers and neighbors from origins worldwide, and getting their hands dirty building working class power alongside other precarious and gig workers. The book documents attempts at building a solidarity network, their newspaper to open dialogue (called Workers Wild West) and engagements in workplace action and organizing. They worked inside and outside of trade unions and the IWW, assessing victories, defeats and lessons to move forward with and sharing glimpses into the struggles and ideas of the people they worked and lived with. This book is an amazingly detailed exploration of building solidarity, learning from mistakes and working towards a collective vision for liberation amongst the labouring classes at the points of production and reproduction.

Announcement

Jason Renard Walker Parole

Incarcerated journalist and author Jason Renard Walker, minister of Labor for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) will have a parole hearing coming up soon in Texas. Jason has faced serious backlash from white supremacist gangs and guards due to his activism and reporting while held by the TCDJ, so much so that he was recently transferred to a new prison, apparently because of the threats he was facing at Clements Unit. Jason’s book,about which we got to interview him earlier this year, “Reports from Within The Belly Of The Beast: Torture and Injustice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice”, is now available in paperback as well as digital via Amazon, and his writings have regularly been published by the SF Bay View National Black Newspaper. Letters of support for his parole will go a long way toward getting the parole board to release Jason so that he can finish his Federal stint and get back to the outside. Check our show notes for details on where to write and suggestions on content.

Here’s some information about supporting Jason in this effort:

Dear Supporters of Jason Renard Walker,

Jason’s parole hearing is coming up and we urgently need your help with writing letters. Here is a guide on how to write a persuasive parole letter if you need it:  https://pigeonly.com/pigeonly-blog/how-to-write-a-parole-support-letter/

Letters should be sent right away to:

Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, TX 78757

Things to mention (per Jason):

* Your relationship to Jason,
* Any credentials you have,
* Positive things you know about Jason,

When Jason is paroled from Texas he will immediately begin a minimum six-year federal prison sentence.

Jason said that the most common reason for denial of parole is that the prisoner is a threat to the community, and that his continued incarceration will prevent him from any contact with the general community. He is also worried because TDCJ has poor covid prevention measures.

As many of you know, Jason was facing problems with a white supremacist gang recently and in response, he has been moved to another prison. Jason’s current address is:

Jason Renard Walker #1532092

Michael Unit

2664 FM 2054

Tennessee Colony, TX 75886

. … . ..

Featured music:

  • Anotha One by Apollo Brown from Trophies (instrumentals)
  • Class War by The Dils

Uncovering Spy Cops in the UK

Uncovering Spy Cops in the UK

A collection of posters from the #SpyCops campaign
Download This Episode

This week, I spoke with Dónal O’Driscoll, an animal rights activist and anarchist from the UK talking about the work of the Undercover Research Group to investigate possible SpyCops in the UK, share resources by those harmed by the lies of long term undercovers in activist communities and the current Inquiry that activists are using to unearth the legacy of police infiltration since the 1960’s.

Helpful sites:

. … . ..

Track Heard In This Episode:

SpyCops by Armoured Flu Unit from Crusading Nations