Category Archives: Communism

The First International and the Birth of the Anarchist Movement (with Robert Graham)

The First International and the Birth of the Anarchist Movement (with Robert Graham)

book cover of "We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It!" featuring a woman holding a torch and red flag in what appears to be a scene of chaos
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I’m happy to share this interview with anarchist author and historian, Robert Graham about the split in the historic left that led to the birth of the anarchist movement. Robert published the book We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It!: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement with AK Press in 2015.

As I say in the interview, I was excited to have this conversation with Robert since the 150th anniversary of the first anti-authoritarian International hosted by the anarchist watchmakers in St-Imier, Switzerland. I’m definitely not a history or theory head, so I’ve been pleased to take this opportunity to broaden my horizons and areas of study. To hear about the 150th Anniversary gathering, check out the segment by comrades at A-Radio Berlin from August 2022’s Bad News podcast. And check out Anarchy2023.Org for info on next year’s gathering.

Part 1: [00:11:45 – 01:11:58]

Part 2: [01:14:32 – 02:13:22]

The interview begins at after Sean Swain’s segment on the protests in Iran [00:03:20 – 00:11:45]

The book is available from Firestorm at the above link, also from the publisher at AKPress.Org, and you can check out an online version from Archive.Org for free as well. Or now at TheAnarchistLibrary.Org for easy & free download.

Here’s a link to an archive of Open Road, the anarchist journal Robert participated in in the 1970’s

For a related historical interview we conducted in 2014 with Andrew Zonneveld of On Our Own Authority! on an anarchist historical compilation called “The Commune: Paris, 1871”, linked in our show notes. Also of note, Coffee With Comrades just conducted an interview Jim Yoeman on his recently published AK Press book, Print Culture and the Formation of the Anarchist Movement in Spain, 1890-1915

Next week….

Next week, I hope to air voices supporting prisoner struggle in Alabama and anarchist prisoner struggle in Italy, particularly Alfredo Cospito.

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

  • The Internationale by Ani DiFranco & Utah Phillips
  • La Internacional (Anarquista) by anonymous

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: So I’m speaking with Robert Graham, anarchist, historian and author of many books and articles, including the three volume collection from Black Rose Books and titled Anarchism: a Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. And more recently, We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement from AK Press in 2015. Thanks for joining us, Robert.

Robert Graham: Thanks for having me.

TFSR: So I wonder if you’d be willing to say a bit about yourself, maybe how you became an anarchist? And if you do any organizing, what sort of organizing do you do?

RG: Sure. Well, I was a college student back in the late 1970s. So I got involved in a local anarchist publication called Open Road, which was an anarchist news journal that came out from 1976 to 1990. It was meant to be informal, non dogmatic and in tune with the times, and there’s actually a Facebook web page, you can go find their back issues. So I think just Google: “Open Road, anarchists, news journal” and you’ll probably find it.

Mainly I’ve been doing research and writing about historical stuff. Since then, I edited a three volume anthology of anarchists writings from ancient China to 2012 — when the last volume came out — covering anarchists movements, well, ideas really, across the globe. So not just your standard European kind of North American stuff, but also material from Japan and Korea, in China, India, and Africa, and in Latin America. So, I mean, there were interesting anarchist ideas popping up all over the place, and of course, anarchists movements across the globe. And up until the Russian Revolution, the anarchists were actually the most significant revolutionary socialist group. The Bolsheviks were a minority until after the Russian Revolution, so the anarchists basically were the far left of the socialist movement, up until then, despite historical misrepresentations by a variety of people that try to make it sound like anarchism was a petit bourgeois ideology and all that other stuff. Yeah.

I also have a blog, robertgraham.wordpress.com, where I added a bunch of stuff that I was unable to include in my anthology, and occasionally update. And currently, I’m working on an intellectual history of anarchist ideas, again, going back to ancient times and bringing it up to the 21st century,

TFSR: Do you have an idea of who you’re going to be publishing that through? Or what the sort of timeframe is on that?

RG: Hoping to publish that through AK press. And unfortunately, I haven’t finished it yet. So I’m not sure when I will. I have not had as much time to spend on it as I would like, but it is going more slowly than anticipated.

TFSR: It sounds like a daunting task, trying to grab that many ideas from such a timeframe.

So, I reached out to you because a network that I’m involved with, the A-Radio Network, which produces the monthly Bad News podcast, was talking about attending the 150th anniversary of the gathering in St-Imier in Switzerland, of the Anti-Authoritarian International. Organized by the Jura Federation — which this event actually just passed. As I understand the events were scaled back a bit this year, because of COVID concerns, but there’s a hope to have a larger event in 2023. And I’m hoping to attend. But because of this, I thought I’d learn a bit more and I reached out to Mark Bray, who suggested reaching out to you about the first International because of your book, which I already mentioned, the We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It.

First up, could you kind of describe what the International Working Men’s Association or the IWMA was, who participated in it and what its founding purpose was? For instance: was it a group of organized worker groups seeking to network, or was it revolutionaries seeking to institute themselves as a vanguard? Or some sort of mixture in-between?

RG: Right, yeah, it was basically a broad coalition of working class European people. There were some women involved in the International, but as with many 19th century organizations, it was effectively run by male workers and intellectuals.

They came from primarily two groups: the English trade union movement, which had been going on since at least the Napoleonic era. In fact, it was in the 1790s in England, they brought in legislation essentially banning trade unions and strikes. And that was still the case in the 18th…well, it was starting to liberalize a little bit in both France and England in the 1860s. But trade unions were originally considered to be “illegal combinations against trade.” And in England, they had something called the Chartist Movement in the 1830’s and 40’s, which was really quite radical. That’s when the idea of the general strike was proposed. It was called the Grand National Holiday, and some of the Chartists as they were called, wanted to abolish the monarchy and bring in a republican form of government.

And so there were veteran Chartists involved in founding the IWMA, but also younger trade unionists who were interested in creating a network for international working class solidarity, where the international organization would provide things like strike funds, and other financial support and political support to workers, across the world but primarily it was being organized in Europe.

Then the other major group was the French workers, who were predominantly followers of the French anarchist socialist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who had advocated something called “mutualism”. Mutualism is a form of socialism where, in contrast to state forms of socialism — where it’s the state that kind of owns everything and controls the economy — in a mutualist system it’s an interlocking federation of worker and producer and geographical groups.

So the idea was that the workers would create their own credit unions, so that they wouldn’t have to deal with national and capitalist financial institutions. And they would pool their resources to create their own cooperative enterprises. And they would exchange goods between themselves through these cooperative enterprises and arrange for their distribution and sale, with everyone getting fair compensation for their work. And essentially, everything being collectively owned, and then managed by the workers themselves.

Those were the French mutualists. And they really wanted the International to serve as a vehicle for creating mutualist organizations and associations throughout Europe, so that they could eventually abolish capitalism, but through this gradual process, where the workers would — through mutual solidarity, sharing of their resources — create their own kind of alternative political economic system. And eventually, the state and capitalism would kind of just collapse.

That was their approach. And it took many years for the International to finally be founded. There were attempts to create an International in the 1850s, and there was a predecessor organization, but it didn’t last very long. And then these attempts were renewed in the early 1860’s, resulting in the foundation of the International in 1864.

There weren’t really any vanguardists in the International when it was founded. At the time the most significant vanguardist group were the followers of Auguste Blanqui in France. He was a French revolutionary veteran of the French Revolutions of 1830-31, and 1848 who was kind of like a Jacobin. The Jacobins where the French revolutionaries during the French Revolution in late 1780s and early 1790’s, who, for a time had control of the French state, but people who were called Jacobin’s by the 1860’s were the ones who agreed with the Jacobin approach of having a centralized leadership and political organization. And also they were quite in favor of having a Committee of Public Safety, and this comes up again later during the Paris Commune, which would suppress subversives and counter revolutionaries by force.

And so the followers of Auguste Blanqui believed in that approach with a vanguard group that would foment and create a revolution. They would establish a revolutionary dictatorship that would then go about transforming society. But they didn’t get involved in the International until about five years after it was founded. And then interestingly, they allied with Karl Marx, in order to basically neutralize or force out the anarchists and Proudhonist elements and the International.

TFSR: So the Blanquists kind of strike me as like the Bolsheviks before they were Marxists sort of.

RG: Yeah.

TFSR: Yeah. And so at that point, then, of those three elements: the Blanquist and the mutualists and the trade unions out of the UK, or from that influence from the Chartists, none of them — I guess, maybe the Blanquists might be called revolutionary — but the other two don’t necessarily sound like they would be considered revolutionary in the sense of overthrowing state power as much as. Unless I’m misunderstanding — the mutualists were more trying to overthrow the state from within, build counter institutions from within dual power and then just sort of dissolve the state.

RG: That’s right. The mutualists were really gradualist. But they did regard what they were advocating as a form of social revolution. But they thought that it could be achieved through nonviolent means. And that was something that Proudhon had argued after the 1848 revolutions, which he participated in, in France, basically that the workers couldn’t defeat the capitalists and the state by force of arms. And that was based on the experience of the revolutions of 1848, which were across Europe, they had revolutions in France, in Italy, various parts of what’s now called Germany and the old Austro-Hungarian empire, all of which were defeated by the power of the state.

In France, there was a worker’s insurrection in June 1848 that was very violently suppressed by the now Republican French military forces. And this caused a couple of different responses. So, for Proudhon, the answer was: we have to destroy the system from within gradually, by organizing ourselves into counter institutions.

For other people the answer was: we have to smash the state and expropriate the capitalists because otherwise they’re just going to crush us. And so there’s going to have to be a revolutionary contest. And within those groups, which included Marx and Engels, and Blanqui and other people, but it also included future anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin… Bakunin did not agree with the concept of revolutionary dictatorship, he was opposed to it. He felt it would become self perpetuating, and that this so-called, you know, “dictatorship of the proletariat” would become the dictatorship of the Blanquists or the Marxists and that what would happen would be what he described as a barracks regime where people would eat, live and breathe by the drumbeat of the state.

So, there were a number of people, not just Bakunin, but a number of people who drew a revolutionary anarchist lesson from the defeat of the 1848 revolutions. Which was: one, there has to be a revolutionary contest with the state and the capitalist. The workers must organize themselves into bodies that are capable of taking on the state by a variety of means, general strikes, also expropriation and unfortunately, armed struggle. And that the capitalist state system could never be gradually destroyed just through the establishment of cooperatives and credit unions and so forth.

And so in addition to Bakunin, there were some self-identified anarchists who agreed with that approach. Certainly they were a significant minority among the French refugees who had to leave France after the early 1850s, when Napoleon III, essentially established a dictatorship in France, and they went to England, some would go to Belgium and Holland and then a few went to the United States.

The most significant of that group was a fellow named Joseph Déjacque , who ended up in the US for many years. And he wrote a number of very interesting pamphlets, including a critique of Proudhon who was a patriarchal, anti-feminist. Joseph Déjacque was firmly in favor of women’s liberation and was also a proto-anarchist communist. He believed that the wage system should be abolished and that there shouldn’t be any private property, whereas the mutualists believed in some kind of market exchange system. Which today would be described as a form of market socialism. And so I mean, the French refugees in London rejected any cooperation with the Republicans because of the June 1848 massacre of the workers when they rose up against the provisional republican government. And this was an approach that was also endorsed by Bakunin and which he championed when he joined the International in 1868.

TFSR: You’ve drawn out some of the beliefs at the time of Proudhon and people that might be called Proudhonists, Bakunin’s sort of political development around this time, we’ve talked about Blanqui…if you would talk about I mean, just give a very basic rundown, just to set the other pieces on this side of the board, so to speak, of what Marx and Engels were arguing at this phase of the early phases of the International? Of what they were proposing, at least publicly, would be the development of a revolutionary International Workers organization?

RG: Yeah. And so this brings up kind of, we could call it a third current or faction, which I haven’t really spoken of yet. People later became called Social Democrats. And they believed that you could run candidates in elections, where elections were held and where workers had the vote [laughs] — and one thing to remember is that in the 1860’s working class people didn’t have a right to vote. I mean, women didn’t get the right to vote until the 20th century, but working class men didn’t have a right to vote either in the 1860’s. And so, there were campaigns for universal manhood suffrage, and you have to include the manhood part because they were campaigns for a right to vote for working class men, not women. I mean, of course, there were other people who were campaigning for actual universal suffrage where everybody would get to vote, but the predominant campaigns were for working class men to be able to vote.

Some of the mutualists were prepared to engage in that activity. They ran candidates in the elections in France in the early 18th and mid 1860’s. Proudhon himself was still alive and wrote a lengthy open letter to them saying that this was the wrong way to go, that they would accomplish nothing through the electoral process. And that was a view shared by Bakunin.

But some of them were willing to run for office, they weren’t very successful initially. And they wouldn’t have had much power because even though they had elections in France, Napoleon III was still firmly in charge. But Marx and Engels, they had a kind of ambivalent approach. They supported electoral activity from the beginning of the International. Marx, in his correspondence and his other writings, clearly was in favor of creating working class political parties that would run candidates and elections. And the hope — I mean, for him it was the destiny based on his theory of historical materialism — was that the working class would eventually obtain a majority control of the government, and then they would be able to create socialism, using the state which they now controlled as a result of their electoral victories.

And so on the other hand, Marx and Engels like to pretend that they were still in favor of revolution, as they had been back in 1848. And they were very active in the 1848 revolutions in Germany. And so it was kind of an ambivalent stance that they took. They seem to think that revolutionary activity was justified. Marx was publicly a big supporter of the Paris Commune, and that created a lot of conflict between him and the British trade unionists and the International who were not revolutionaries by any stretch of the imagination.

But at the same time, Marx was campaigning to impose on the International an obligatory policy, that the International sections in the various nation states would create working class political parties which would then strive to achieve state power. And whether it was through elections or revolutionary means was unclear in Marx’s writings. In his essay on the Paris Commune, he seems to be in favor of revolution. But in much of his other discussions, particularly within the International, it appeared that he was advocating a social democratic approach of obtaining power through electoral participation.

TFSR: I was trying to find in the book where it referenced it, but it’s kind of funny, just to jump back to Proudhon would be advocating that gaining electoral status wouldn’t make a change, because didn’t he hold public office at least a couple of times?

RG: [laughs] Yeah, that’s right. And it was based on his experience as a… During the 1848 revolution he actually got elected to the new Republican National Assembly, and found that he was completely incapacitated, he referred it to being exiled into the Sinai desert or something like that. And that he was completely cut off from what was going on on the streets. When they had the 1848 June workers uprising in Paris, Proudhon didn’t know anything about it because he was busy in the National Assembly trying to make speeches and get motions passed. I mean, he did try to get the assembly to vote in favor of a kind of mutual assistance. And then he gave a famous speech where he said if they didn’t vote in favor then the workers would go ahead with the so-called social liquidation without them. And then there were very outraged cries, “this means class war!”, and you know, “who are you speaking of when you say ‘we’?”. And Proudhon said “when I say ‘we’ I mean the working class, and when I say ‘you’, I mean the capitalists’ ‘. And so, you know, he was able to make a few speeches, but he was unable to accomplish anything positive, his motion was voted down by like over 600 votes to 2, him and another guy [chuckles].

So, his opposition to electoral activity, running candidates and voting, was based on his own personal experience of how ineffective he was as an elected representative. And also, people don’t know but Napoleon III became the dictator — and Emperor, later he called himself a France — by holding a referendum. So he had a referendum, and at the time they had a kind of close to universal manhood suffrage at the beginning of the 1848 French Revolution into around the time of his referendum. And he got a big majority in favor of basically making him the dictator. And so that’s why Proudon at the time made a quip that universal suffrage is the counter revolution, because Napoleon III manipulated that broadening of the voting base, to basically trick and bribe the workers into voting for him to give him dictatorial powers.

TFSR: [sighs] Politics hasn’t changed.

RG: [clicks tongue and laughs] Yeah.

TFSR: [laughing] So I want to get back to the electoralism that was being pushed by the Marxists in the International, but because we brought it up and because there’s a lot of moving parts and ideas and events occurring simultaneously: you brought up the Paris Commune, can you talk a little bit about that? Who participated and sort of setting context on its impact on the International?

RG: Sure. So the Paris Commune was in 1871. And prior to the Paris Commune you have to take into account the Franco Prussian war which started in 1870. And Napoleon managed to get himself into a war with Prussia. Prussia quickly defeated the French forces and then there were different reactions to that among the various camps within the International. Marx, for example, thought that the workers should support a provisional republican government that was essentially controlled by the bourgeoisie. Bakunin argued that the Internationalist and revolutionary socialist in France should take advantage of the chaos that was being created by the Prussian invasion, to create popular militias, to seize power on a commune by commune basis, and to basically have an insurrectionary guerrilla war against the Prussians, and at the same time against the French bourgeoisie.

And he’d been making these kinds of arguments for quite a while, he said that there was no point in the workers allying with the Republicans and the capitalists to drive out the Prussian invaders because, at the end, they would be left exactly where they were at the time: exploited wage slaves. And that they needed to use this opportunity to create a real social revolution and popular movement that would not only fight against the Prussians, but would seize control of the means of production and create a Federalist socialist system based on the Proudhon-and-Bakunin-advocated organization from the bottom upward, they called it.

You would have base units, like a factory or cooperative and local town or a district in a bigger city, and voluntary associations of different trades and professionals and so forth. And that this would create a complex interlocking network of organizations that would create the new economy. But in order to achieve that, he was of the view that the workers needed to arm themselves and engage in armed struggle against not just the Prussian invaders but also against the French bourgeoisie. And it was only through that process that you could actually abolish capitalism and the state.

So that was kind of the scene. And there were a number of Internationalists, predominantly at this time, the French ones, who were advocating pushing the struggle against the Prussians into more of a social revolutionary direction. They created committees in Paris. So Paris was under siege by the Prussians and the Internationalist’s created councils and neighborhood kind of committees throughout Paris, to organize war relief and to prepare to defend Paris against the Prussian invaders. But also they issued a number of manifestos before the Paris Commune was created, advocating that the workers take over the workshops and take control of them, and begin the transformation to a socialist economy through their own direct action.

Then, we get to March 1871 and there was a skirmish between the National Guard and a group of Parisian revolutionaries over some cannons. An officer, or I think he might even have been a general, got shot and killed. And then that was it, now Paris was in conflict with the national government, which had moved to Versailles, France, which was the seat of the old royal palaces, and it was kind of like the royal capital of France. It’s very close to Paris, basically a suburb of Paris now, but the Provisional Government of France had moved there and controlled the National Guard and the Army, which had been largely defeated by the Prussians. But in any event, the Prussians were happy to leave the Provisional Government in control of their National Guard so that they could suppress any kind of revolutionary activity, which they let them do.

The Paris Commune was proclaimed. The manifesto was largely written by a French Proudhonist, and therefore it includes within it an advocacy of a Federalist system. And the important thing about federalism is this notion of organization from the bottom up. And so the manifesto proclaiming the Paris Commune advocated the creation of revolutionary communes throughout France, and that they federate with one another and create a new system with basically a mutualist kind of economy. And that’s something that Bakunin had been advocating since the beginning of the Franco Prussian war.

And so it was starting to happen. There were attempts to establish revolutionary communes in other parts of France, including Lyon and Bakunin went there to try and do that. That was very unsuccessful. But contrary to Marxist myths, Bakunin didn’t show up one day and proclaim the abolition of the state. He actually had been working with his confederates for quite some time before he showed up, and he’d spent a couple of weeks there. But the attempt to create a revolutionary commune was quickly suppressed, as it was in a variety of other cities throughout France, but it wasn’t just in Paris.

So after that commune was proclaimed, the majority of the Internationalist were Proudonists — although more revolutionary than Proudhon, obviously, because now they were participating in a kind of revolution and they weren’t taking a pacifist or gradualist approach — but the commune itself had a fairly conventional form of government. They elected deputies to the Paris Commune. So it was a representative form of government. It wasn’t a direct democracy.

And that’s the other thing I should contrast at this point. Is that the Proudhonists and the more revolutionary Internationalists, in France for sure, their organizations were directly democratic. So the concept of organizing from below upward isn’t just about how you organize the groups from the local level and the factory level up to regional and national and international level. But it was also about how the base organizations were organized. And they would have assemblies of the workers where they would all get to vote on the policies to be adopted. And then they would elect delegates who would then have meetings with workers from other factories or neighborhoods, so at regional and national conferences.

And this is also how they organize their delegates for the Internationals congresses, which continued up until 1869. And there was a three year interregnum because of the Franco Prussian war in the Paris Commune. But they would elect delegates with something called “irrevocable mandates”, that is they would tell their delegates, “you have a mandate, when you go to the Congress” or conference with the groups from the neighboring municipalities or workers from other areas or the International itself, “you have a mandate to vote in favor of these policies, and none other. And if you don’t follow the mandate, we can immediately revoke your mandate and recall you as a delegate and replace you with somebody else.” This was an idea that was meant to ensure that the workers at the local level actually made the decisions affecting them, rather than electing a representative or delegate who would then be free to politic and adopt whatever position that person thought was best for the workers he was representing.

This was also a conflict within the International, which came to the fore after the Paris Commune, but the seeds of it had been planted much earlier. But after the Paris Commune, a number of the French refugees tried to make clear that the International should have a system of delegates with revocable mandates; they could be recalled if they didn’t adhere to their mandates from their local organization. Marx opposed this, as did Engles. They were on what was called the General Counsel of the International, which they wanted to function like an executive government. And they were quite clear in the internal debates on the General Council, that they were opposed to having a system of direct democracy, where the delegates from the national federations of the International could mandate what their members on the General Council could do. And so that’s a very important distinction between the Marxist approach at the time and the mutualist and anarchist approach regarding how the base units are going to function.

So getting back to the Paris Commune, you had the majority of the Internationalists who were in favor of that form of organization with delegates with irrevocable mandates. And then you had the Blanquist, and other kind of, we’ll call them Neo-Jacobins, who unfortunately formed a majority on the Paris Commune Council. And of course, they weren’t in favor of recall-able delegates, they believed that they acted as representatives of the people, many of them still believed in the concept of a revolutionary dictatorship. They established a committee of public safety, which the French Internationalist, or the majority of them actually denounced as counter-revolutionary.

There were internal conflicts in the commune between the Federalist socialists, and mutualists, against the Blanquist and the other Neo-Jacobins who were in favor of establishing a committee of public safety and essentially, a revolutionary dictatorship. They would suppress the counter revolution within the commune and, you know, organize the defense of the commune against the French state and the national guard.

Unfortunately, for all concerned, the commune was brutally suppressed. Tens of thousands of people were killed. And then the French International was decimated. The Internationalists who’d been in Paris during the commune, most of them were killed. So some of them were able to escape. And many of the ones who escaped many of them became anarchists. Quite a few of them ended up in Switzerland, where they established or tried to establish their own section of the International as a kind of refugee section of the International. And they took away from the lessons of the Paris Commune, the idea that Proudhon had already expressed based on his experience of 1848, that spending time creating an electoral system and holding elections, and then having basically an executive authority directing the revolutionary forces is actually counterproductive. And that the approach that should be taken is a direct action approach, where the workers don’t spend time in committees and arguing about stuff, but actually do things like take over their workshops, and set up revolutionary committees to organize distribution of food, which is what they did during the Paris Commune.

Nathalie Lemel, who was a female member of the French International, she was very much involved in the cooperative movement. She and Eugène Varlin, had established a cooperative workers restaurant, and during the commune they used it to distribute free food to people and farmland. He was an advocate of what he called “non-authoritarian communism”, which was essentially this idea of a federalist socialism without a central authority controlling the economy or any kind of political system but organized from the bottom upward. He was executed during the commune. So the refugees, the survivors of the commune, who became anarchists said, “this is what we needed to do. We had to, through our own efforts, seize arms, defend ourselves and take over the workshops and have a social revolution”. That was the lesson that they took from it.

It was the same lesson Bakunin took from it. Of course, he already was in favor of that approach. But he was quite clear that the problem was that, essentially, the revolutionary activity was dissipated and incapacitated, even, by people focusing on the electoral activity. Trying to get a majority on the Paris Commune Council, and then passing legislative measures, instead of, the basically, the idea of Bakunin and the French refugees is “we don’t need to ask a Council to pass an order or a directive saying that we can take over the workshops, we’re just going to take them over”. That was their approach.

And, on the other hand, you had the Marxist. And again, it’s kind of contradictory. Marx writes this essay about the Paris Commune where he says “you can’t just seize the state, you have to kind of smash the state bureaucracy,” which was the anarchist view. And then he pretended that he was in favor of recallable delegates with revocable mandates, well irrevocable mandates, but then you would be recalled if you didn’t follow the mandate. But within the International itself, he was completely opposed to that kind of an organization, and Engles was even more clear, he basically said that a revolution is the most authoritarian thing you can think of, and the only way you can defeat the counter revolution is by having a centralized political apparatus that will organize the forces of the proletariat to crush the bourgeoisie.

So, that was their real view, which came out after the Paris Commune, when they held a conference in London in September of 1871, which Marx and Engels have packed with people in support of their position. There were a few Federalists there, who tried to argue in favor of having a delegate system of people with irrevocable mandates, subject to recall, representing the various sections and Federation’s of the International. That was shot down and Marx and Engels had a motion passed that requiring the Internationals members and organizations to create working class- when I say political parties, really what they’re advocating was the creation of one working class political party in each country. And that one party would then somehow seize power either through the electoral process or possibly through more revolutionary means. And that’s the policy they forced through at the London conference in September 1871. That was clearly different from the approach that had been advocated by the Federalists and anarchists and the International, both before and after the Paris Commune.

And just going back, the last Congress of the International before the Paris Commune was in 1869, in Basel, Switzerland, and there essentially a majority of the delegates voted in favor of a form of anarchists syndicalism. They said, “we should have dual organizations, workers should organize by trade, and industry, and then we should also have local communal organizations. And through these dual organizations, we will abolish the wage system and create the free Federation of free producers”. That was the motion that was passed at the Basel Congress. And so that was essentially revolutionary socialist Federalist anarchist kind of position that was agreed to by a majority of the delegates to the Basel Congress.

Before the Paris Commune, and after, the Federalist socialists and the anarchists were advocating that kind of a system. Marx was opposed, despite his essay after the commune. As Bakunin said, he had to say good things about the commune, because otherwise people would have thought him to be a monster. But in reality, he wasn’t really in favor of any of that stuff, as he proved a few months later at the September 1871 London conference where he pushed forward this kind of amalgam of a social democratic and Blanquist approach, where you have more of a centralized organization with representatives rather than delegates, making the decisions with an executive form of government and creating parties to contest elections and trying to achieve power through those means.

TFSR: So yeah, there’s a lot in there in terms of… The remnants of the French sections, the sections, which were mostly at some point deeply influenced by Proudhon, that were based out of France and were some of the most militant had been greatly repressed, because of the aftermath of the commune and the repression of the commune. Also, it’s notable that while the Franco-Prussian War was pitting these two nation states against each other, when the threat of a working class uprising that would undermine the highly centralized, bourgeois government and ruling method in France, when that posed a threat in the form of the Commune, both those governments were willing to work together to allow for the suppression of the radical Parisians.

One thing that, when people think about or when I’ve thought about the International and the split between the Marxists and the anarchists, for years I’ve heard from people on both sides of that, the schism that happens in the left that can be pointed back to the IWMA, was sort of an interpersonal conflict between Bakukin and the Bakuninists on one side, and Marx, Engles and the Marxists on the other that 150 years later, we should really get over.

But what you’re what you’re talking about when you’re referencing the Jacobins, Blanquists and the Marxist saw sort of engaging with this position that there should be mandatory leadership that is not revocable, so that they can make the right decisions, and that all of this authority needs to be centralized. That instead of having it as it had been before the Central Committee had pushed this mandate that countries sections be involved in political parties beforehand, there had been an openness to different sections could participate in politics if they wanted to, but there was no mandatory position from the International that that everyone had to it was sort of left up to the locals.

There was also push by some sections the requirement that delegates to the International, had to actually be working class. Which is not the position that either marks or Engles fulfilled, the latter as a factory owner, the prior as an academic.

So you see the manipulation of this organization in order to create, not only, mandated political parties that follow the same format in all these countries, but a central committee that would have agency and that would not be revocable, and that would actually be able to determine its own membership, orchestrating all of these various chapters or parties in these other countries. If I’m not misunderstanding. Can you talk about this idea of it being personal…these two bearded dudes going at it, sort of thing, versus the ideas?

RG: That’s a myth. And the first point I want to make is that the only Marxist in the International are basically Marx and Engels themselves, and a couple of acolytes. But, you know, the British trade unionists were not Marxist, most of them were reformist, and that’s why quite a few of them were kind of appalled by his essay on the Paris Commune. Because they didn’t advocate violent revolution and wanted to distance themselves from that. In fact, Marx had the International organized so that the English didn’t even have their own Federation in the international until after the Paris Commune. And then there was a split in the English Federation between those who supported Marx and those who didn’t.

So the fact is, in the International itself, anything that could be described as a Marxist, they were few and far between. The primary groups remain the English trade unionists, and the French members of the International who, by the time of the Paris Commune, included Blanquists. They had not originally been involved in the International but then the Revolutionary Socialists and the French mutualists, that was an interlocking kind of group. There were still French mutualists, who were kind of conservative and definitely not in favor of anything that would be considered armed struggle or violent revolution. But they definitely also were not Marxist.

So, that’s the first thing. The second…I mean, Bakunin did refer to them as the Marxians, and so forth, so he actually helped create the myth that Marx had a significant following in the International, which he didn’t. And in fact, the first explicitly Marxist political parties didn’t emerge until the 1880s in France.

But anyway, the idea that this was a conflict between Marx and Bakunin is nonsense. As I mentioned in the 1869 Basil Congress, a majority of the delegates — primarily the French, Spanish and Italian ones — voted in favor of an anarcho-syndicalist kind of program. And at the very least, Federalist socialist program, where you would have organization from the bottom upwards, and a system of men dated recallable delegates, and the creation of a socialist economy under workers control or worker self management. That was pretty clear that that was the majority point of view.

And it was also pretty clear that Marx didn’t actually support that approach. At one point, he basically said that the anarchists had things backwards — and Engles said something very similar — you can’t abolish the State and Capitalism through a federal style of organization, you can only create that after you’ve abolished the State and Capitalism. Which illustrates their approach which favored a form of centralized leadership, and also hierarchical organization. And then somehow miraculously after the revolution, as Engles once put it, the state would wither away.

It’s kind of the inverse version of the old French Proudhonist mutualist thing, where the State and Capital would kind of wither away as the mutualist organizations became more powerful and predominant. In the Marx and Engels version after the Revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is created, somehow that organization is going to wither away. But then there’s no kind of counter organization to cause it to wither away because everything’s been centralized under the State.

In any event, you had these currents within the International before Bakunin got involved. He didn’t officially get involved in the international until 1868, although he probably had joined it a few years earlier, but wasn’t officially involved. The first Congress he went to was the 1869 Basel Congress, where he advocated a form of revolutionary socialist anarchism; he didn’t use the word “anarchy”, because that would scare people. Bakunin was actually quite clever as a public speaker. Apparently, he could be very persuasive. And he knew how to talk to people and inspire them, but also not frighten them at the same time.

So up until that time, and it was at that Congress that the delegates, the majority voted in favor of an anarchist Federalist kind of approach. Bakunin wasn’t the one who swayed them into that, his main speech was in favor of abolishing the right of inheritance. Although he obviously spoke in favor that the International should be the embryonic form of the future society that they were trying to achieve. And this idea had been expressed before the Basel Congress, by delegates from Belgium and from Spain, and it became a very popular idea. So, the idea is that the revolutionary organization that’s going to try and achieve the social revolution, the social transformation, has to mirror or prefigure — that’s the word people like using now — the future organization after the revolution has been successful. And that was a position that was adopted before Bakunin became involved in the debates within the International, and it was the position that was endorsed by a majority of the delegates at the Bassel Congress in 1869.

It wasn’t Bakunin who got those people to do that. They did it themselves. And then there was a conflict between that idea that the pre revolutionary organization should prefigure the post revolutionary society. Marx and Engels were very vociferous in their opposition to that idea. Engels claimed that what the anarchists and the Federalists were advocating was that the workers lay down their arms, even before there’s a revolution, and act as if utopia had already been achieved [chuckles]. That’s what he said. And he said there’s no way we can defeat the bourgeoisie without a centralized form of party organization that will direct the workers and achieve military victory. Engles was, you know, an amateur General, he liked to think of himself as a great military tactician.

TFSR: I did point, just to step back to something that I said shit talking on Engles and Marx, neither of them being of the working classes, Bakunin himself was a prince so-

RG: Well, he wasn’t a prince, he was just an aristocrat.

TFSR: Oh! Okay.

RG: Kropotkin was a prince.

TFSR: Oh okay. Correction.

RG: But yes, he came from the Russian nobility, there’s no question about it. And it was actually at the founding Congress of the International 1864…no, sorry, I think it was in 1866. Anyway early on in the organization’s history, there was a debate as to whether or not non-workers should be allowed. And someone actually pointed to Marx as an example of “well, we should have people like Mr. Marx in our organization, and if you pass this motion here, he won’t be allowed in”. So the motion was defeated and the non-workers were allowed to join including Marx. Engels didn’t join the International until 1870-71. But yeah if they had passed that motion Bakunin wouldn’t have been allowed to join either [chuckles].

But the thing is, the most important opposing currents within the International from an ideological point of view are the Federalist anarchists, in favor of prefigurative organization, means being consistent with the end and also a Federalist form of organization from the bottom upward. Versus the centralist not just Marx and Engels, advocates of revolutionary dictatorship, advocates of social democratic electoralism. They were themselves an uneasy coalition which disintegrated in 1872 after Marx engineered the expulsion of Bakunin from the first International at the Hague Congress.

But Bakunin simply gave expression to ideas that were already widely accepted by the Spanish, Italian and French members of the International. Now he had a role in convincing the Spanish Internationalists to adopt a kind of anarchist approach…

TFSR: And the Italians too, right?

RG: And the Italians. In fact, his most important work in Italy began before he joined the International. He tried organizing revolutionary socialist groups in Italy, beginning in around 1864-65. He lived in Italy at the time, for a while, in the mid 1860s, ended up going to Switzerland because he was too radical and was going to maybe get arrested if he stayed in Italy. So he ended up in Switzerland, where many political refugees ended up after the Paris Commune. It was a lot easier back then for them to get into Switzerland and is for a refugee today.

Interestingly his most important work in Italy was after the Paris Commune, where this famous Italian patriot who was in at the time — Italy was going through this process of national unification. It was divided up into these various principalities, part of it was controlled by Austria, the Pope’s still controlled large pieces of territory. And so you had people, Garabaldi was one of the famous Italian Patriot revolutionaries who tried to unify Italy and the other guy was Mazzini. After the Paris Commune, Mazzini denounced the communist and atheist materialist kind of thing, which created outrage among his followers in Italy, who thought he was a revolutionary Republican, and maybe even a socialist. Bakunin wrote a couple of famous pamphlets in answer to Mazzini in 1871, where he basically said, “how dare you denounce the Commune, and after all these people were massacred, and advocating a materialist, revolutionary socialist approach”. And that just resonated with the Italian Republicans and revolutionaries. And that’s how many of them ended up becoming anarchists.

But that was in 1871. So prior to then, you had the anarcho-syndicalist program already adopted by a majority of the delegates back in 1869. And amusingly, Marx and Engels at one point thought that Bakunin could help their cause in Italy. They found out that he was advocating revolutionary anarchism, which they were never in favor of, despite, you know, some people’s attempts to make it sound like “no, really, it was just a personality conflict”. No, it wasn’t. And so they tried to recruit people to counter Bankunin’s influence in Italy, once they found out that he was trying to and successfully persuading people to essentially adopt a revolutionary anarchist approach.

One of them was a fellow named Carlo Cafiero. He was an Italian internationalist and Marx and Engels wrote him a bunch of letters, particularly Engles, basically telling him to try and discredit Bakunin and persuade people to adopt a Marxist approach. And Cafiero was so appalled by Engles personal attacks on Bakunin that he basically said, “Well, if this is what you mean by socialism then I don’t want to have any part of it”, and then the ended up by becoming an associate of Bakunin and adopting a revolutionary anarchist perspective.

Meanwhile, he did become kind of an informant or spy for the anarchists in Italy because he would tell them, “Oh look at this latest letter I got from Engles, this is what he wants me to do”. So at least the Italian Internationalists had some idea of what Marx and Engels were really up to, because they were being very frank in their correspondence with Cafiero about what they wanted. And it was not revolutionary anarchism, that’s for sure.

TFSR: I mean, we could do a whole podcast just on the myths that were spread by Marx and Engels and Associates. Some of which had some grain of truth, like around antisemitism or around secret societies or these sorts of things. And as well as like crap talking on Bakunin because of his advocacy for women’s liberation and equality.

RG: At one point Marx, in one of his notes, described Bakunin as a hermaphrodite because he was advocating equality of the sexes.

TFSR: If you can’t see past your own nose and say that someone would advocate because they feel someone else’s equality is good, as opposed to something that serves you personally…

In any case, with this split — as you make the very poignant point in the book — the split and the eviction of a lot of the anti-authoritarians or the anti-authoritarian splitting from this sort of toxic atmosphere that the authoritarians were fostering in the International was a growing moment for anti-authoritarians. There was the first anti-authoritarian International which was hosted by the Jura Federation in 1872. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how that sort of helped to shape the anarchist movement — not that everyone that participated in that were anarchists, but — the anti-authoritarian and the anarchist movement moving forward in terms of its rejection of the political or its anti political, its anti-state and at times anti-organizationalist approaches.

RG: Sure. So, after the September 1871, London conference, where Marx and Engels got a majority of largely handpicked delegates to vote in favor of each national section, create a working class political party to try and achieve power, the Jura Federation issued something called The Sonvilier Circular, which denounced that approach and said that the General Counsel couldn’t dictate to the International Federations — the national and regional federations — what policy or approach they should take to politics. That it was up to each Federation to determine their own approach. But they also did talk about pre-revolutionary organization should be organized in a way that’s consistent with what was hoped to be achieved in a post revolutionary society.

And so they rejected a central governing body within the International and said that it should be a genuine Federation, where each group would be free to decide what approach it wanted to take. And they use this phrase that had become popular and it was originally, I think, used by the Belgians in 1868 and 1869, that the International should be “the embryo of the human society of the future”. And so that was a popular view. And it wasn’t one that Bakunin made up, as I said, it came from the Belgians, originally. But I mean it was consistent with the approach that most of the French Internationalists and the Spanish and Italian ones too.

So that was the beginning of the kind of creation or coalescence of an anti-authoritarian wing of the International. That they were now organizing in opposition to this policy of having political parties attempt to achieve state power in order to bring about reforms for the working class and also ultimately create some kind of socialist society. Of course, that was not something that Marx and Engels were going to tolerate and they were involved in trying to defeat the Federalists within the International in France, in Spain, in Italy. In Italy they were unsuccessful because Cafiero went over to the the anti-authoritarians. In Spain, they were only able to attract a few adherence, and they did stuff like release the names of the Internationalist to the police, putting them at danger of being arrested and many of them had to go underground.

But they engaged in some pretty dirty tactics. In France, they would try and get their people elected as delegates, if they were going to go to the Hague Congress, and were able to do so in some cases. In other cases, they weren’t. But then at the Congress, they persuaded the delegates to support their position.

After they had Congress in 1872, you had a bunch of French sections of the International which were basically underground organizations, because the International was illegal in France and you could face certain imprisonment, exile and possibly even death if you were arrested as a member of the International. This was still during the immediate aftermath of the suppression of the Paris Commune where the French state had shown it would show no mercy to people it felt posed a threat to the existing system.

So, you know, after the Hague Congress, you had French sections denouncing their own delegates because they hadn’t adhered to their mandates and had voted in favor of things like expelling Bakunin from the International and adopting this, basically, mandatory policy of creating a working class political party that was going to attempt to achieve power within each nation that was affiliated with the International through its own organization.

That’s what ultimately led to the St. Imier Congress in September of 1872, it was held within, like, less than a week and a half of the Hague Congress. Now, prior to the The Hague Congress, which is the one where Bakunin and also his associate from the Jura Federation, a guy named James Guillaume, who was like a real proto anarcho”syndicalist and advocate of also a revolutionary commune. He wrote, during the commune before it was suppressed, that this was basically anarchy in the positive sense that Proudhon had always advocated. He was a firm supporter of it, and also helped many of the surviving Internationalists escape France to Switzerland. He also got expelled.

The pretext for Bakunin being expelled was that he had received an advance from a Russian publisher to translate Marx’s Capital into Russian, and then had abandoned the project. And he had an associate from Russia, the notorious Nechayev who was an unpleasant person. He murdered one of his fellow radicals in Russia before fleeing to Switzerland. Anyway, he sent a threatening letter to the publisher basically saying, “don’t try and get your money back from Mr. Bakunin”.

TFSR: This is his “little tiger cub?”

RG: Yeah [laughs], that’s right. And so Bakunin was essentially expelled from the International because of the threatening letter that Nechayev sent to the publisher in Russia, and also for having a secret society, the International Alliance. In fact, the International Alliance was admitted as a section into the International 1868. So it wasn’t really a secret organization. Of course Bakunin had his own inner circles and stuff, but so did Marx and Engels. Both of them were busy writing letters to people trying to get them to support their side. I mentioned how they, Marx and Engels, tried to use Cafiero in Italy. They also used his [Marx’s] son in law, Paul Lafargue, in Spain and in France.

So anyway that was the pretext. But why was Guillaume expelled? There was no rational justification for him to be expelled. It was just because he was a revolutionary Federalist socialist, who is associated with Bakunin, so he was out too. But before the Congress had even been held the Italian International was saying, “look, let’s boycott the Congress and have our own Congress. Obviously we know that the delegates are being stacked for the Hague Congress, so we might as well just boycott it and set up our own Congress”. But Bakunin didn’t like that idea. He didn’t want to be expelled from the International, it would make him look bad. And he was right, in the sense that after he and Guillaume were expelled, many historical treatments, particularly the Marxist ones, of course, make it sound like that was the end of the anarchists, right? Guillaume and Bakunin were expelled so that’s the end of them.

Now finally Marx and Engels had control of the organization, but then they they engineered a motion to the chagrin of the Blanquist who were at the Congress to move the General Counsel of the International to New York, where it soon became an irrelevant rump, and the Blanquists quit the International in disgust and essentially the so-called Marxist International, just collapsed. Whereas the people who were opposed to the more authoritarian approach that was being followed by Marx and Engels held the Congress in St. Imier — after, not before as the Italians have wanted to do, but after — to reconstitute the International, without having a central control, a central governing body. Where each group would be free to adopt whichever policy or approaches they wanted in relation to things like participation in electoral politics, revolutionary socialism, internal organization and so forth.

That’s what they did. And as a consequence the new anti-authoritarian International — I mean, it’s not really new — it comprised the majority of the former members and groups belonging to the International prior to the Hague Congress. The Belgians ended up joining, the Spaniards, the Italians, a large group of French delegates, either as refugees from Switzerland, or some of them actually joined from within France. This was a difficult position for them, because basically they were having to work underground. Many of them ended up going to Spain, where they became involved in the International as well as in the Spanish revolutionary movement.

Just as an aside, there were attempts to establish revolutionary communes in Spain in 1872, that the Spanish Federalist anarchists were heavily involved in, and also an attempt at a general strike in Barcelona. And so, in Spain, things were very unsettled, if I could put it that way, in 1872 as well. But it was the Spanish Federalists, as they were called back then, but many of them were anarchists that were involved in those activities, and they were members of the International. And then there were the French refugees and Spain and Switzerland who were also involved. And so the International that was, I say, continued or reconstituted at that St. Imier Congress in September 1872 after the Hague Congress, it was a pluralist organization. It was not a revolutionary anarchist organization. Even some of the English delegates who had broken with Marx ended up participating in the reconstituted International.

In their subsequent Congresses you also had some German Social Democrats who participated in some of the reconstituted Internationals Congresses. James Guillaume, who I mentioned a moment ago, he was very much in favor of this pluralist approach, and tried to get the Germans to formally rejoin the reconstituted International. Of course, Marx and Engels heard about that and told their followers in Germany — who had never played a significant role in the International even before the Hague Congress — “no way, there’s no way you can participate in this anarchist organization”. So there were no further attempts at that.

But what happened in the reconstituted International is that you continue to have these very significant debates over revolutionary tactics and goals and strategy. And so there were big debates about the General Strike, and whether that was an effective way of taking on the capitalist economy. Many of the Italians were of the view that no, that’s insufficient. Errico Malatesta was one of the Italian Internationalists who later became a very well known anarchists revolutionary, and even back then, he was taking the position that a General Strike wasn’t enough. There would have to be some kind of insurrectionary activity as well. And that was a common view among some of the Italians and some of the Spanish delegates because they were basically either going through revolutionary struggles already, or had recently been through them for the Italians. They’ve been through these decades-long attempt to unify Italy. And it wasn’t just unifying Italy, it was achieving Italian independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire from France and the Vatican.

So both of those groups have been involved in, and there was ongoing involvement in real revolutionary activities. This continued through the early 1870s in Italy and Spain. And so there were these debates about what kind of tactics would be successful. What did they hope to achieve? And the Belgians initially continued their support for a bottom up approach where the International and prefigure the future, free society. But then some of them, the most well known being a fellow named César De Paepe, he had been the guy who had written the pamphlet before the 1869 Basel Congress about the International being the embryo of the future free society. But he was in correspondence with Marx after the split and was persuaded, I think, by Marx that, “no, we really need to pursue an electoral strategy, and then we’ll be able to bring about the social revolution”. So basically, from the top down.

Where this came up was in there was a debate over public services initiated by De Paepe. And he said, “We shouldn’t let the workers control public services,it shouldn’t be a form of worker self management. Because then they’ll have their own agendas and they won’t be fair to people. And the thing is, there’s all kinds of issues that go beyond local boundaries.”

TFSR: How does this mean this municipality relate to this one? And how do they coordinate between one another?

RG: Right. How are we going to build a road from Paris to Lyon and set up an international railway network and communications networks and all these other things. Saying we have to have a kind of public service state that’s going to organize everything. And then the anarchists said, “No, the workers can manage things on their own. We don’t need to create a state bureaucracy to do it, that will just lead to more conflict, again, between the state bureaucracy and the workers. So instead of the conflict being between the capitalist class and the workers, it will be between the state and the workers.” And so they were completely opposed to that idea. And this is a thing that I should mention, it came up at the Hague Congress, it was a concept that Bakunin really originated in his critique of Marx, is the concept of the new class.

TFSR: The “Red Bureaucracy.”

RG: Yeah, the Red Bureaucracy. And it was Bakunin, not Marxist dissident intellectuals in the 20th century disillusioned with the Russian Revolution, it was Bakunin in the aftermath of the Paris Commune, and his ideological disagreements with Marx. And even before the Paris Commune he was writing about if you set up a revolutionary dictatorship, it will become self perpetuating, and we’ll have a new class of intellectuals and bureaucrats who will pretend to rule the People in the People’s name. And the people won’t feel any better when the stick they’re beaten with is labeled the “People’s Stick” [laughs].

And so he came up with the whole theory of the new class, and that the Marxist theory that once you abolish capitalism the state would wither away was nonsense. It’s not going to wither away, it will become self perpetuating, because you have a class of people who benefit from having this kind of a state socialist system, who won’t want their jobs to disappear, and will want to keep the power that they enjoy. There’s not going to be anything that’s going to wither away in that regard.

And James Guillaume at the Hague Congress actually made that argument about the new class. He referred to the Manifesto of the Communist Party that Marx and Engels had published way back during the 1848 revolutions, and said how it described how the State would create industrial and agricultural armies and that there would basically be this central government that was going to dictate to people how they were going to live their lives. This would create a new class of political functionaries and bureaucrats who would then seek to maintain their privileged status, even if you abolish capitalism.

That was an idea that was developed even before they got kicked out of the Marxist-controlled version of the International. And it was also one that was debated within the post Hague Congress and St. Imier Congress, congresses of the anti-authoritarian International. And so that gave rise to the debate between what Malatesta and others described as the “organizationalists” and the “antiorganizationalists”. And so there were some people who said, “Look, we shouldn’t even have like a central bureau of communications to coordinate our activities, because it will end up basically making itself into a governing council like Marx and Engels did with the General Counsel in the original International”. And then there are others who are saying, “well we have to coordinate our activities. Somehow we can set things up so that some kind of central correspondents bureau doesn’t become a political power unto itself, by making sure that we rotate its location between Federation’s every year and that the people on it are themselves recallable, mandated delegates from the from the different Federation’s”.

This also led to debates about trade unions and their usefulness. And whether strike activity served any purpose if it didn’t amount to a general strike, with some saying we should focus on insurrectionary activities, Guillaume argued that just being involved in a trade union and fighting for better working conditions and having to go on strike would increase class consciousness amongst the workers, and that this would make them more radical rather than less radical. And I mean, those debates have gone on for decades now. But it was something that happened within the International.

If you look at the debates within the anti-authoritarian, reconstituted International, they basically gave rise to virtually every anarchist tendency that’s followed since. You had the organizationalists who continued to advocate Federalist bottom up organization; you had anti-organizationalists who are worried that even those kinds of organizations would somehow be corrupted, and would end up becoming top down organizations. You had ones who advocate insurrection, others who thought the General Strike would be sufficient unto itself to achieve the social revolution, including the Belgian Internationals. That was their position until De Paepe convinced a majority of them that they should actually try and create a public service state through electoral means. And you had advocates of legalism, Cafiero who I’ve mentioned a few times, he advocated insurrection, along with Malatesta and many of the Italian delegates for many years, but then ended up as result of persecution… So the Italians, they did try an insurrection in Veneto Italy, in 1874 I think it was, which was quite unsuccessful, very poorly organized. But not because they’re anti-organizationalists, they were organizationalists at that time.

As a result of that, and other activities, the Italian authorities started really clamping down on the anarchists, they were arrested and persecuted, put in jails and in exile and stuff like that. So, Cafiero said, “Look, even having an international organization is counterproductive, because it simply publicizes our involvement in these revolutionary activities. We should go underground, like the Narodnik radicals in Russia” who at that time were basically mounting assassination campaigns against the Tsar and the Russian police state and the aristocracy. He said, “we should go underground like them. We’ll have these decentralized kind of cells or units, and we’ll just use whatever methods we can to achieve our ends”. So he basically was advocating an ends-justify-the-means type thing. He said “it could be illegal activity, but we could even run candidates just as a protest against the electoral system”.

The idea was — and this went back to what happened in France during the Napoleon III era — that people who were imprisoned for their political activities would be nominated to run for office [chuckles], to illustrate the repressive nature of the current system. In fact, I think Blanqui himself, they tried to put him forward as a candidate in France during the Napoleon III Era because he was in prison for most of that time for his revolutionary activities.

So what Cafiero basically advocated was now called illegalism and going underground. And then you had the anarcho-syndicalist kind of groups within the reconstituted International who advocated the general strike, sometimes insurrection to go with that. And that’s certainly what the Spanish anarchists advocated, not one or the other but both, and attempted it in Spain in the early 1870’s. And you had the communalists, one’s who wanted to focus more on organizing on a commune-by-commune basis, which is really a town-by-town basis. We’re not talking about hippie communes, if anybody remembers those [laughs].

Revolutionary communes are basically municipal geographical units and the idea is to create socialism on a kind of commune-by-commune basis and have a general uprising of the towns and create the revolutionary commune. One of the big advocates of that was Paul Bruce, he eventually ended up advocating something similar to Murray Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism. That they should try and achieve power on a local basis and then as people saw what they could do on a local basis, this would lead to people adopting radical socialists getting elected all across these different cities, and then they’d be able to abolish the state.

But the anarcho-syndicalist advocated trade union organization. Federation’s of trade unions and the trade unions themselves would be revolutionary organizations, so they wouldn’t just be trying to get better working conditions and higher wages, but they would be trying to abolish capitalism and organize themselves for the great revolutionary contest, or the social revolution.

The other thing that was important in the debates within the reconstituted International was what kind of social organization or economy would be achieved through the revolution. There was a debate between at that time they are called “collectivists”, but today they wouldn’t be called socialists, or market socialists, who believed in keeping some kind of system of individual remuneration. People would get paid somehow, based on what they’ve contributed to the economy, we’ll say, because you can be involved in production and distribution and all kinds of things. You can be a school teacher, and all that stuff.

So there is a debate between those who felt there has to be some system of remunerating people for the work that they perform, and then there were the anarchists communists who said, “No, that’ll still lead to inequality and conflict, because some people will be in a better location. If you look at it from an agricultural point of view, somebody could be in an area where it’s very easy to grow things. And so their productive activity would generate much more economic benefit than somebody else. And other people, it wasn’t their fault that they lived in a more arid area”, and that sort of thing.

They didn’t want to have a division arising between the haves and the have-nots, and they said, “Look, everybody makes their contribution to the productive process, to the economy, as best they can and in accordance with your own talents and inclinations. It’s really impossible to put any kind of moral value on each person’s contribution because it’s a collective process”. And other than using a wage system, which itself is something that they weren’t prepared to support, there’s really no way of providing a fair determination of the value of each person’s contribution to the economy. So, we should have a communist system where basically people should be free to take what they need from whatever has been produced in order to feed and clothe themselves and provide themselves with housing and so forth. It shouldn’t be based on how much you’ve been able to earn through your individual economic activity. So that was the big economic debate.

There were also debates about the transition. Okay, well, even if you want communism, right now we’ve got this capitalist system, so how are we going to transition from a capitalist wage system to communism? Some advocated a transitional period, but it’s different from the Marxist one. You don’t have a transitional state doing it, but the workers agree to maintain some kind of way of remunerating people based on their contribution to the economy. But as production increases, and goods become more abundant, then it will be possible to transition to a system where people will be free to satisfy their needs without having to earn a wage or have their contribution to the economy measured and doled out to them.

James Guillaume was one of the advocates of a transitional period. And then other people, including ones who ended up becoming reformist socialists like Paul Bruce and Andrea Còsta, who was in Italy. They said, “well, we should just move to a communist system right away”. Malatesta at one time felt that way, but quickly came along to the arms view that there would have to be a transitional period. And Peter Kropotkin, who was famous as a Russian anarchist, joined the reconstituted International in about 1876 after he made a spectacular escape from Russian prison. And he initially agreed with Guillaume’s approach of having a transitional period, but then joined with the more radical anarchists communists, which I think at that time also included Cafiero, in saying, “Look, there can’t be any transitional period, it’s not going to work. It’ll end up becoming interminable. We need to introduce anarchist communism immediately”.

Cafiero’s solution to the problem with some goods that would not be abundant was that “well, then we still share based on need, who has the greatest need?” His example was in a family where you have an old person incapable of any physical labor, like an elderly grandparent, well that person needs food just as much as anybody else, and because of their frail health we should give them the food first. They’re the one who is most likely to expire if we don’t feed them first. So, he said we still do things on the basis of need, but we just agree that some people’s needs are greater. It’s all through voluntary agreement, no one’s imposing these views. You just say, “Okay, we have to decide if there’s a shortage in something, how best to meet the needs of those people in most desperate need first?”

TFSR: Yeah. And the approach also undermines the valorization of certain kinds of labor over others. For instance gendered sorts of labor. The wage system gives wages to people for doing certain kinds of work but the people that do the reproductive labor in our society aren’t paid for tending to kids or cooking the food or doing the wash at home unless it’s a privatized approach.

RG: Right. Yeah, that’s right. And just as an aside, Kropotkin wrote a book about anarchist communism, called The Conquest of Bread, and really the genesis of that book was the debates in International about socialism and communism, and what kind of economy people wanted to create after the revolution. And in that book he took on Marx — if you read Capital and other works by Marx — he argued that the wage differential between, say, an engineer and a janitor was justified. And he had a theory, using his theory of surplus value, was able to say why this was so. And Kropotkin in The Conquest of Bread just says, “no”. He compares the work between the coal miner and the engineer. He says, “Why should the coal miners endangering his life everyday and getting black lung disease get paid less than the engineer?” And he said access to that kind of higher education right now is clearly class based. But in any event, the idea that somehow the white collar jobs have greater value than the blue collar jobs is nonsense.

TFSR: As a sort of wrap up, because we’ve been speaking for a while — and thank you so much for that wealth of information — I can see that some of this has bled out of the book that I initially started talking about to the one that you’re still working on for AK Press, the development of anarchist ideas, or at least some of the thoughts, some of the ideas and some of the history are not stuff that I had come across in the 2015 book, so I’m excited to get to hear this.

RG: Great.

TFSR: So since the authoritarian International, as it became, sort of toddled on for a little while and then expired, there were various other Internationals that were called the Second, Third, whatever, afterwards. I wonder if you could kind of address like the legacy of those? Because people will have heard “Oh, the annoying person in my class claims ascendancy from the Fourth International”, or whatever. And then simultaneously, the anti-authoritarian International didn’t continue in that form afterwards. There were some attempts to sort of create new fusion spaces where authoritarians and anti-authoritarians as anti-capitalist could organize together in that same sort of format. But also since then there have been things, like currently there’s the International Workers Association, IWA-AIT; there’s Anarkismo; there’s the International Confederation of Labor; Rosa Negra; there’s an International of Anarchist Federations. There’s all these other formations that are around that come from the anarchists tendency too. Can you talk a little bit — you don’t have to go through each of these examples if you don’t want to — but just about sort of that trajectory and the attempts at international anti-capitalist organizing today?

RG: Well, just for the history the anti-authoritarian International’s last congress that had participation from the various national federations was in 1877. And then things just kind of petered out a bit, mainly because the Belgians decided to get involved in electoralism. And they ended up participating in a Congress — I think it was in 1878 –which was to reconstitute or create a kind of social democratic International of socialists who were interested in electoral activity. And that’s what became the so-called “Second International”.

Some anarchists thought it was important to participate in the so-called Second International because, by this time, the Marxists were becoming fairly successful in their propaganda to claim that the anarchists weren’t even socialists, that they were either individualist or they were just petit bourgeois. That was the common refrain about Proudhon, that he was petty bourgeois. In fact he was actually way more proletarian than Marx, he worked as a printer by trade before he was able to kind of support himself through his writings. He would tramp from town to town trying to get work and in different printing presses and so forth. In fact he helped typeset the work by Charles Fourier, who’s one of the so called Utopian Socialists.

Anyway, the people like Malatesta thought “we can’t let the Social Democrats hijack the concept of socialism by saying, one: anarchists aren’t socialists. And two: creating this organization, supposedly, of socialist groups and parties, and excluding us from it”. So, he was an advocate of participation in the Second International. And the anarchists like him tried to participate up until 1896, when they were officially banned [chuckles] from the Second International because [mimicking in a snooty voice] “you’re not really socialists and you have to be in favor of electoralism if you want to belong to this organization”. That’s what happened with the Second International.

Malatesta also continued to try and kind of keep the reconstituted International going, along with others, particularly the Spanish Internationalists, but some of the Italians and the French. They had a congress in 1881 in London, which is sometimes referred to as an anarchist congress, the so called Black International. That’s not accurate, because the congress actually included people who did not consider themselves anarchists, but rather revolutionary socialists, some of whom were in favor of revolutionary dictatorship.

At that congress, what Malatesta participated in that congress and what he wanted to do was try to create something sort of like the reconstituted International, a pluralist organization, but this time of revolutionary Socialists who may or may not be Blanquists, may or may not be anarchists, but revolutionary Socialists who were united, at least, in their view that capitalism could only be abolished through revolutionary activity, and that electoralism wasn’t going to work. So, it was more like an antiparliamentarian socialist congress than an anarchist one. It didn’t pan out, nothing really came of it.

You can see that despite Malatesta’s hopes that people who all wanted to abolish capitalism, through some kind of revolutionary activity would still have some pretty significant disagreements about anything. It was kind of an abortive enterprise, in my view. And then after the attempts to at least have a presence in the so-called Second International — based on the anarchists solid revolutionary socialist credentials, despite everything that Marxist were saying — there then began attempts to organize internationally, coming out of what I call the renewed kind of syndicalist movement.

A lot of history’s referred to it as the emergence of the syndicalist movement but in the 1890s, in France, you had people like Fernand Pelloutier who said, “Look, having anarchist action groups, underground cells and stuff like that which had become popular, or engaging in individual acts of propaganda by the deed”, as some people call it, assassinating political figures and so forth. And this had begun to happen in the 1890s in Europe,… [Pelloutier said] “we need to go back to the workshops, and organize the workers into revolutionary trade unions”. Which was what had been advocated by a significant number of Internationalists back in the late 1860s and then during the reconstituted International.

And so what we had was basically the creation of a syndicalist movement in France. But in places like Spain, they had never given up on that idea. There were various versions of workers Federation’s in Spain that were revolutionary and anarchists from the end of the reconstituted International, which was around 1881, throughout the 1880’s, and into the 1890’s. They would have to go underground at times, but they wouldn’t just go into revolutionary cells and stuff like that. Of course they would have to maintain a network of communication, but they would continue their work within the labor movement.

So in Spain, there was basically one kind of anarchist trade union type Federation or another from the time of the International through the 1890’s. Ultimately resulting in the creation of the CNT in 1911. This was going on all over the world. You had anarcho-syndicalist type organizations in Latin America. Malatesta lived in Argentina for a while, and he organized some of the first trade unions there. So that wasn’t something that was new or invented by the French syndicalists. It had continued on from the International by people who had been veterans of the International.

There were other Internationalists, Spanish ones who ended up in Latin America who helped organize trade unions in all kinds of different countries, Cuba and Brazil, in addition to Argentina. You had these working class movements, anarchists movements, developing all over the place and they tried to create another International. There was an attempt before World War I to create a new kind of syndicalist anarchist International…that didn’t pan out, then the war interrupted everything. Basically destroyed the syndicalist movement in France. There was a big split between those who said, “Well, we have to defend the country against the Germans” and others who said, “No, we’re not going to support the war effort of the French state”.

And then there was a split within the International anarchist movement. I mean, they weren’t holding congresses, but there was an international anarchist movement where people were very familiar with each other, they would share their newspapers and write letters to each other. And then during World War I, Kropotkin, and Jean Grave — who was a prominent French anarchist communist — said, “Oh, we have to support all the countries fighting Germany, because the Germans are going to impose an autocratic, authoritarian state that’s even worse than what they’ve got now”. But a majority of the anarchists in Europe said, “No, we’re not going to support that”.

Oh, I should also say there were anarchists in Asia who were organizing trade unions as well, before World War I, in Japan, and China, primarily. So, I mean, syndicalism was becoming a worldwide phenomenon before the war. Then there was this horrible split during the war with Kropotkin, and Jean Grave, and a few other people, about 15 or 16 of them, signing this kind of pro-war manifesto. Far more accepted the anti-war manifesto that was signed by people like Malatesta and Emma Goldman, which came out saying that there’s no way we should support any side in this case. It’s basically a class struggle, why should the workers kill themselves fighting to protect a capitalist economic system with one form of government or the other.

And so the syndicalist movement in France just kind of destroyed by that. And then after the Russian Revolution was taken over the CGT, which is the pre-war syndicalist organization, was taken over by the communists. But there was a big minority who wanted to continue a revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist type path. And then there were, as I said, syndicalists all over the place. So they had their own International Congress in 1922 and they created a kind of anarchists syndicalist International. And that is what is now known as the IWA-AIT. And I can’t get into debates as to whether they’re truly representative of the original IWA-AIT that was founded in 1922. But they still adopt the same principles as were adopted back in 1922.

But they’re, as you said there’s a bunch of different groups that advocate creating International organizations of one kind or another. And the problem is that there’s a multiplicity of them. And then it’s like Malatesta, said, when he was debating Peter Arshinov and Nestor Makhno after the Russian Revolution, with respect to something called the “Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists”, I think was the title of the pamphlet, it’s fairly well known.

Malatesta engaged them in a debate and he said “yeah, I supported the International and stuff like that. But the problem is you can’t hope to create some kind of unitary, international organization, because then you get into fights over the policy. You’ll have disagreements, then people will have to quit. You’ll have splits, and either you’re gonna have to adopt authoritarian means like the Marxist did to ensure ideological uniformity, and then everybody does what the congresses mandated, or you’re gonna have a multiplicity of organizations”. And so basically said, “Well, we’ll just have to have a multiplicity of organizations. No one organization is going to be able to claim paramountcy”.

So, that debate I included in Volume One of my anthology, the debate between Malatesta and Pierre Monatte. There was an International Anarchists Congress in Amsterdam in 1907. It didn’t lead to the creation of formal organization, but it didn’t really need to because anarchists already organize themselves internationally, right? [chuckles] They were in constant communication with each other.

To give you an example: in 1905, I think it was a kind of anarcho syndicalist type fellow who wrote a pamphlet about the social general strike and how it was different from a general strike that was just limited to achieving something like, say, manhood suffrage. And that pamphlet ended up getting translated into Japanese and Chinese and Spanish. And I think it was written in German to start off with. And so the stuff that the anarchist press was putting out would be distributed all over the place, translated all over the place. And the people who are writing these ideas were corresponding with each other.

In China, Ba Jin, who was a famous writer — who wrote a book called Family which is considered a classic of Chinese literature — he was in correspondence with Emma Goldman, right? There was something like an international organization, it just wasn’t a formal one. So when something big happened, like World War I, it wasn’t that difficult for Malatesta and Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman and Luigi Fabbri, in Italy, and a whole bunch of other people to organize an anti-war statement and put out a manifesto against the war. Because they had these networks, these informal networks — which are a form of organization — they just don’t have, like, an executive body, or even a corresponding bureau. But they’re still a kind of organization, it’s an organization which is like a network.

It’s very similar to what more contemporary anarchists like Colin Ward advocate, which is that instead of a kind of pyramidal, bottom up kind of structure — where you’ve got the base units who are supposed to make all the policy decisions, and then have these recall-able delegates going up to the national and international congresses — you just have an interlocking web of people and organizations who coordinate their activities. This can also form the model for a post revolutionary society: basically an interlocking web of voluntary associations, which will arise and disappear as people’s needs and wants change.

That’s basically what Kropotkin also advocated. He also supported the anarcho-syndicalist kind of activity, but both he and Malatesta said what anarchists need to do is just to be involved in any kind of emancipatory movement. They were focusing on the workers movement back then, because it was still the most radical and largest anti-capitalist movement.

He said work with people and help them to create their own organizations because that’s what’s going to happen after the revolution: people have to work together, create their own organizations, and to ensure that you actually achieve something called self management. Where people through their own voluntary discussions and agreements come up with ways of reorganizing life so that people can live without starving and being exploited and all those other shitty things [laughs] that happen under capitalism.

That’s kind of the contrary approach. Within the people who like having International organizations there is a big difference between, say, a Platformist who wants to have a unitary program that everyone’s supposed to follow — I think they call it collective responsibility and all that other stuff — and one’s who are in favor of an International organization that’s more like the anti-authoritarian International. Which was quite clear, when they reconstituted it in St. Imier, that any policy that was endorsed at an International Congress would have to be endorsed by the individual Federation’s. Even at a congress with recall-able delegates, those delegates couldn’t dictate or make a decision that was binding on the regional and national federations. It was up to each one to decide.

Some of the organizations you mentioned, I believe, still follow that approach. And others are more Platformists and say “no, we have to have ideological unity, otherwise we’ll be ineffective” and all that other stuff. I have my own personal views that Malatesta was right, that just leads to a whole bunch of schisms and splits. The important thing is just: you do what you got to do, and we’ll do what we got to do. I’m not gonna force you to believe what I believe. I always thought Murray Bookchin’s writings against anarcho-syndicalism are so pointless. One, because anarcho-syndicalism didn’t really exist much as a movement when he was writing this stuff in the 70’s and 80’s against anarcho-syndicalism. And even up until he died, basically. But “okay, Murray, you do your thing and let the syndicalists do there’s and we’ll see what works”, you know? Throw some spaghetti on the wall and hope for the best. That’s kind of my view of things.

TFSR: Yeah, that seems like a really reasonable approach, assuming that we all don’t know the answer, like the big capital “a” Answer.

RG: Right.

TFSR: Robert, thank you so much for this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. I think the listeners are gonna get a lot out of it. So you mentioned your blog where people can find your writings, you’ve got that upcoming book that doesn’t have a release date yet, but people can pay attention to AK Press for that.

RG: Yeah. Mostly my blog is where I post translations of stuff by other people that didn’t make it into my book.

TFSR: Okay, that’s helpful.

RG: But I have been posting some early chapters from the current book I’ve been working on. And I have a summary of my book We Do Not Fear Anarchy on my blog as well. Recently I posted something about Gerrard Winstanley on my blog that I wrote. He was a radical during the English revolution in the 1640’s, who I think advocated anarchist communism, some people disagree with that.

TFSR: The Levellers?

RG: He was more radical in the Levellers, he was part of the group called-

TFSR: The Diggers!

RG: The Diggers. They advocated direct action, they said, “look, there’s all this land that we’re not allowed to farm or occupy” usually because it’s owned by the nobility, but they’re also there were these things called “wastelands” that would be in a town or a village that weren’t being cultivated, and he and they just advocated, “okay, we’re just gonna go into that land, we’re gonna clear it, we’re gonna start digging it, we’re gonna plant crops, and we’re just going to share everything”. He talked about how everyone should be free to “take from the common treasury what they need.” Yeah, so he’s quite a radical guy. Anyway, yeah. So that’s one of the things I put up on my blog recently.

TFSR: That’s so cool. Can people still get — I know there’s going to be a lot of what’s in the new book and the chapters that you’re posing now, that was in the Black Rose three volume series — is that still available?

RG: Yeah, that’s still available. I think it might be hard to find Volume One, but of course you can find it on the internet. Someone’s done a PDF version that’s pretty easy to find. But as far as a paperback version, definitely Volumes Two and Three are readily available. Volume Three has a 100 page essay, by me, at the end of it, an afterward where I kind of sketch out my views regarding the evolution and development of anarchist ideas from, basically, ancient times up until 2012 when I published it.

TFSR: [sarcastically] Just a little thing [cracks up].

RG: Yeah, that’s right.

TFSR: Well, thanks again so much for all the work that you put in and for having this conversation. I really appreciate it.

RG: Okay, well, thanks for talking to me. See you later.

TFSR: Yeah.

Wayne Price on Anarchism and Marxist Economics (rebroadcast)

Wayne Price on Anarchism and Marxist Economics (rebroadcast)

Book cover of “The Value of Radical Theory” by Wayne Price with the notes “TFSR 9-18-2022”
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This week we’re re-airing our 2020 conversation with Wayne Price, longtime anarchist, author and then-member of Bronx Climate Justice North and the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, or MACC, in New York City.

From the original post:

After reading his book, The Value Of Radical Theory: An Anarchist Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy (AK Press, 2013), I became excited to speak to him about his views on anarchists engaging Marxist economic concepts and some of the historical conflicts and engagements between Marxism and Anarchism. We talk about his political trajectory from a pacifist Anarchist in high school, through Trotskyism and back to anarchy. Wayne talks about common visions of what an anarchist economy might look like, how we might get there, class and intersection of other oppressions, critique of State Capitalism. Wayne sees the oppressed of the world having a chance during this economic freeze to fight against re-imposition of wide-scale capitalist ecocide by building libertarian, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and heterogenous future societies in the shell of the old.

You can find his books Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution? available from at AKPress.Org and The Abolition Of The State: Anarchist & Marxist Perspectives (AuthorHouse, 2007) or through a fine, independent radical bookstore in your area that could use support. A reminder that AKPress published books, such as “The Value…” can be purchased in e-book format for free from AKPress.org. You can find some of Wayne’s writing at this mirror of AnarchistLibrary, as well as at the site for the Platformist Anarkismo Network, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, and The Utopian Journal (seemingly out of print).

A transcript of this interview will be available soon at our website

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Featured Track:

  • I’m So Bored with the U.S.A. by The Clash from The Clash

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Transcription

TFSR: I am speaking with Wayne Price, a longtime anarchist author and currently a member of the Bronx Climate Justice North, and Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council or MACC in New York City. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat.

Wayne Price: Oh, you’re welcome, I am delighted for a chance to talk to people.

TFSR: Can you share a bit about the political trajectory, your political development?

WP: I’ve had to change my mind more often than I to admit. I began in high school as an anarchist pacifist. I was a great admirer of Paul Goodman and Dwight Macdonald at the time. I was persuaded of Trotskyism of a radical democratic variety, a wing that rejected Trotsky’s notion that the Soviet Union was somehow socialist or a workers’ state because it’s still nationalized property. And over time, I went through various upheavals and eventually became a revolutionary anarchist as I am today. Although I think that I still am much influenced by libertarian and humanistic tendencies and Marxism. That’s where I am today.

TFSR: I think it’s really interesting how the Revolutionary Socialist League actually transitioned from an unorthodox Trotskyist group into basically an anarchist group before self-abolishing. Is that an okay description of what happened?

WP: Yeah, although we were orthodox in an unorthodox way. That is, we never accepted, as I said, the notion that the Soviet Union had become a workers’ state. The various orthodox Trotskyists believed that this workers’ state that didn’t spread to other countries was not even a workers’ revolution. So that says, we were unorthodox and regarded the Soviet Union correctly as a state capitalist, but we also were motivated by a desire for freedom. We always gave Marx and certainly Lenin and Trotsky the benefit of the doubt, anytime there was a question of whether what they said could be interpreted in a more libertarian democratic fashion or in a more authoritarian fashion. Until we stopped doing that. We were very much influenced by the gay liberation movement and women’s liberation movements. Not just for the content of that, but the very spirit of libertarian perspective. At a certain point, we started thinking that we were interpreting Trotskyism and Leninism and Marxism in a libertarian democratic and humanistic working class fashion, and just about everybody else who was a Trotskyist, not to mention the Leninists and Marxists, interpreted them in a more authoritarian fashion, and in a way that they were good. So we thought, “Gee, is everybody wrong? Is everybody marching in the wrong way except us? Or is it maybe that we’re wrong? Or, perhaps, we’re both right. Maybe there are authoritarian sides, aspects, routing in the ideologies and all the Trotskyists and Leninists around us.” This let us reevaluate and certainly in my case, go back to my anarchist roots. As society generally swung to the right after the end of the 60s and 70s, most of our people that were in the Revolutionary Socialist League dropped out of politics, but a few of us turned in an anarchists direction.

TFSR: When interacting with anarchists, did you find that they would bring up, any of Paul Avrich’s writing, or Maximoff, or Voline, or any of these anarchists that either had been present during the repression of anarchists and the libertarian tendencies in Russia during the revolution or other countries where state socialism or state capitalism had been imposed?

WP: Sure, of course, and we also read some of that stuff. Avrich, who, by coincidence, had been a professor of mine in college. We read his stuff about Russia and started learning more about the Russian Revolution. Going back to reading Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman’s accounts, as well as Voline’s account of the Russian Revolution and the Ukrainian Revolution and Makhno and so forth. And we got to see that we haven’t given Lenin the benefit of the doubt, but in fact that Lenin had created – Lenin wasn’t Stalin, he hadn’t intended to create a totalitarian state – what he created was a one-party police state, he and Trotsky. Nor did they say, “Well, this is something we have to do because of objective conditions, objective circumstances, civil war and so forth,” but rather they came to see it as a principle, the one-party dictatorship. We thought, “This is not what we want. This is not our conception.” And so we started reanalyzing what was it about Lenin and Trotsky that had led to this? If you don’t give them the benefit of the doubt on everything, you start to see also the authoritarian aspects.

TFSR: So you’ve gone through this long trajectory in your personal development over the years and you still believe that there’s a lot to be learned from at least their progenitors, at least from Marx and Engels and their teachings on economic concepts. For instance, the book that you wrote, The Value of Radical Theory, I thought was quite enjoyable and really accessible.

WP: How nice! Flattery will get you anywhere.

TFSR: Can you talk a bit about Marxist economic theory in brief, and what you think a better grasp and engagement among anarchists could bring to our movements and our organizing?

WP: From the beginning, anarchists thought there was something valuable in Marx’s economic analysis. More precisely, his critique of political economy. Starting with Bakunin. Somebody has referred to Bakunin as the first anarcho-Marxist, particularly the historical materialism as a broad analysis of how society functions, and specifically the economic analysis of how capitalism functions, and how capitalism works. And it lays the basis for a working-class orientation, for an understanding of the weaknesses of capitalism and the potentialities of the working class for creating a new society and making revolution. And it shows the positives and negatives of capitalism, what causes prosperity and productivity, and on the other hand, the crises that it’s gonna go through, and crises which we are now living through. We analyzed capitalism as having gone through a period of big prosperity following World War II for various reasons, including the destructiveness of the war, the reorganization of world imperialism, the arms economy, the looting of the environment, trading oil, and so forth as the basis for the economy, but treating it as something cheap and not having to pay for the full costs. We could see that this would come to an end, as it did in the late 70s and a general downturn of the world economy began, with ups and downs. And we’re now living through one example of the crash of the economy, although it doesn’t show itself simply as the economic fracture. The economy is interrelated with other factors, particularly ecological and health, as we see. So I think it’s very valuable to understand how the system works. And there really isn’t an alternative to Marxist economics, except bourgeoise economics. So we regard that as very useful as long as we don’t get lost in various aspects of it that turned into an authoritarian direction.

TFSR: I think that the term late-stage capitalism has always rankled me a little bit as a wishful phrase. But I guess if you think about capitalism as cancer, and if we find ourselves in the world that we live in suffering from its latest stage, then that could mean that it’s terminal for all of us, or maybe as real existing Marxists claim we’re ready for the next dialectical shift of the inevitable end of history. But what can you say about what is coming? In your crystal ball, what do you see coming next, or what do you think we should be digging for?

WP: Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, of course. What’s the phrase… “Marxist economic analysis helps predict nine of the last four recessions.” Tools are no better than the workmen using them. I also don’t like the phrase late-stage, in the sense that it’s often used by the Marxists to say that this is the end of capitalism. And we know that it’s the end of capitalism, and we’re right around the– And partly that was because they were so inspired by the spread of Stalinism, of state capitalism throughout the world and felt that’s gonna keep on spreading until this is over, we don’t know. It’s ridiculous, we can no longer say that socialism is inevitable, that the capitalist system will turn to socialism, before there’s a nuclear war or before climate change disaster hits the world, or before the total collapse of the economy. Nobody can really make that claim now, that would sound absurd. I do think capitalism has a tendency towards its destruction, I think it has reached its limits, in a basic sense, but that doesn’t mean that you can predict it. It’s like saying that we can predict there’s going to be a humongous earthquake in California due to plate tectonics. But do we know when? We don’t even know what century it will happen in? Unfortunately, the greatest immediate threat is climate change. And that’s bearing down upon us like a railroad train coming down on us in the tunnel. But we can’t know exactly what’s gonna happen. The system is very flexible, it has been very able to revive itself before every crash. Lenin once said that there’s no crisis that the capitalist can’t find a way out of. In theory, we don’t know. I expect it to get really much worse. I expect that we’re facing crashes and collapses due to the climate, health, as well as economic collapse, which we’re now seeing. If there’s a revolutionary change, I don’t know how drawn out it is going to be. That’s really impossible to say.

TFSR: Many anarchists avoid painting a clear picture of their visions of alternative economic systems. In fact, many of the most inspirational pictures of anti-authoritarian post-capitalist alternatives that I’ve come across come from science-fiction stories like The Fifth Sacred Thing or Woman on the Edge of Time. Drawing back to reality a bit though, can you paint a picture of what you think an alternative post-capitalist economy that you imagine happening and functioning might look like? What some of the moving parts in it might be? Or how it might relate geographically?

WP: We have some ideas. I expect people to in some way form a federation or association of self-managed industries, workplaces, communities, and coordinate with each other and build democratic planning from below, through voluntary associations. Exactly how, I don’t know because the key part of the vision is that it’s going to be experimental, pluralistic, and decentralized. So people will try out different things, different places, and some places might try to go immediately to full communism. Others might try to use market mechanisms, some areas or regions will be more centralized, others more decentralized. It’ll be an experimental kind of society where people are using intelligence and seeing how it works out. The key thing is that it will be self-governing, self-managed, cooperative, organized by the people from the bottom up, flexible, and spread throughout the whole world. At first, of course, the working people will have to take over. I am not against the notion of saying that workers will take power, I am against the notion of the workers taking state power, that is what will replace the existing state will be the self-organization of the people, of the working class, and all oppressed as they move to build a society which has no division between classes, no specialization of who’s a manager and who’s managed, rulers and the ruled. So, we can think in terms of federations, networks of consumer/producer cooperatives and self-governing communes economically and coordination through councils and assemblies from neighborhood assemblies and workplace councils, replacement of the police and military by a popular militia and armed people coordinating through their councils for so long as is necessary. Something like that. That’s very vague. I know what I’m saying is very brief, but that is basically the vision of a stateless, classless, revolutionary, new society.

TFSR: It seems there’s a pragmatism for materialists of various sorts to be pointing to working people as one of the main groups of people that have agency because of their ability to either put down their tools or immediately block production from occurring. But in an economy currently, where so much of the employment that people engage with is not economic. It’s not producing food, a lot of that’s automated on large farms. It’s not manufacturing, where a lot of that is automated or is so globalized that the production doesn’t occur locally. Do you think that there needs to be a shift in people’s understanding; what’s the working definition of the working class or proletariat that you would use?

WP: 80% of the population lives paycheck to paycheck, takes orders from somebody, and doesn’t give orders to anybody else. True, the industrialized sector in terms of employment has decreased, though it’s hardly gone. Nevertheless, they still produce as much as we ever produced in this country, as you say, partly because of automation. The main point here is that people who don’t work in factories work in service industries. The people who work in Amazon, you won’t call it a factory, but their work is concentrated in large industrial sites, where they’re pushing goods around. That’s not counting such things as– A major thing in the news now is the coronavirus spreading to the meatpacking plants, which are big factories and which are central to the diet of the American people. So yeah, a lot of people work or did work in restaurants in small places. But still, most people work for a living, and they work for a paycheck that either is called a salary or wage. And that’s still true for most people. Even for those who don’t work, the blue-collar or white-collar, or pink-collar for women’s categorized work, that’s still true and hasn’t changed. So we don’t have robots running everything just yet. Meanwhile, on a world scale, as you say, one of the reasons for the decrease in certain industrialized jobs is that jobs are going elsewhere. This is not the end of the working classes. The working class has been restructured. Whereas it used to be that most of the world was peasants, today, most of the world is urban, including the vast expansion of the international working class. That doesn’t counter the working class analysis to say that the growth of the working class throughout the world in China, Vietnam, Mexico, Bangladesh, and Africa and so forth. There is now an international proletariat in a way there hasn’t been before.

That’s not to say that this is the only issue – the exploitation and oppression of the workers – because all issues of oppression are relevant. Just as in the past, in Marx’s or Lenin’s day, they not only preached or mobilized the workers but also said “the peasants” or “oppressed nations.” So today, every issue of oppression and suffering is relevant, that has to be brought into a revolutionary movement, oppression of women, gay, lesbians, bisexual and so forth people, youth and, of course, the issues of ecology – all these issues. Everything is relevant. But part of this is, it’s not a moral thing, that workers are more oppressed than, say, deaf people. If there is a strategic point, who has the power to change things, who has their hands on the means of production and transportation? The state has most of the military power, obviously, although the rank-and-files of the military are sons and daughters of the working class, the workers also can shut things down and start things up again in a different way. So this particular strategic aspect that ties in together with and overlap with every other oppression, it’s not like an African-American woman worker, a postal worker is oppressed a certain number of hours as a worker, a certain number of hours as a Black, and a certain number of hours as a woman. It’s altogether to one ball of wax. Even when she’s not working, she’s depending on the income she gets from her job. So these aren’t separate issues. They’re all interconnected and essential. But the central thing that holds it all together is capitalism and its exploitation because, without the surplus that it squeezes out of the working population, there would be no capitalism, there would be no state, there would be no male oppression, there would be no nothing. So this is, for strategic reasons, a central issue, the class issue.

TFSR: You mentioned ecological destruction as a product of capitalist industrial production. And definitely, a critique of so-called socialist economies was that they were similarly widely polluting, damaging, extractive – or continue to be in the case of China, which still causes half that – and poisoning of human and non-human life. Why would anarchist models of the economy be any different being sprouted from the same soil, even in rejection of liberal capitalism, and same concepts of extraction and looking at the world around us as resources? Are there any more modern anarchist thinkers or tendencies or groups that you feel influenced your thoughts on this?

WP: The point is not the industry as such, the point is capitalism. Capitalism has a drive to accumulate, to quantitative growth, accumulation of value, and surplus value, to reduce everything to the same metric, devalued money, and commodities. And a drive to accumulate, Marx says, “Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets of capitalism.” And that, on one hand, gave it progressive sides, especially in its early days, producing machinery and the possibility of a life of plenty for all. But on the other hand, by definition, it does not fit in, it contradicts the need for an ecologically balanced society, with human beings living in harmony with nature. Under a society of socialist democracy, of anarchy, where the working people run society, they may make mistakes, and they may have areas of conflict with the environment. But there’s nothing inherent in the system that drives it to conflict with the environment. There’s no drive to accumulation, greater quantitative growth, and so forth. So it certainly becomes possible to reorganize the technology and the economy in ways that fit in with the environment. There will be things that have to be produced. Certainly, we will want to bring parts of the so-called third world – Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America – out of the dire poverty, at the same time, the overproduction of commodities, the production that exists in the imperialist countries, the military production – all that will be unnecessary and can be reorganized. We’ll have to reorganize the technology. We start with what we have on the day of the revolution, but then the working people will have to decide how they reorganize. One thing, we want to reorganize it so it’s no longer run from the top down by a minority of capitalists or bureaucrats, how to create a democratic self-managed economy. On the other hand, we want to rebuild the poverty-stricken parts of the world, but we also want to create a technology that fits in with the ecology, that makes a cycle where what we use is recreated. The last thing I’d say is that I don’t regard the so-called socialist countries as socialist, I regard them as state capitalist because the basic drive to accumulation of capital existed even though there were no stocks and bonds, but there was a collective bureaucracy that served as a center for capital accumulation, and using the state for capital accumulation, which exploited the workers in essentially the same way as the workers have been exploited in the West.

TFSR: And it’s interesting to see what the dissolution of those nation-states and economies proper under those terms of being socialist into the post-Soviet era, how much it’s a lot of the same people that run the factories.

WP: They just changed one variety of capitalism to another. That’s right. And we can see also it fell apart in the so-called Soviet bloc, and the same thing in China, although there it was done more deliberately under the control of the so-called Communist Party. They have a Communist Party, they have a People’s Liberation Army, and they have a great deal of government ownership that still exists. Nevertheless, it’s so obvious that it’s now run through the market and through a capitalist system. It was all done without an explicit revolution. If this had really been a socialist society, and it was counterrevolution occurred to capitalism, then we’d have had some great upheavals and revolutions and it didn’t happen in either of these countries.

TFSR: Switching gears a little bit, I’d like to talk a bit about platformism and how it developed, and what it looks like today, particularly in the US. I bring this up because you’ve written for a while for a website called Anarkismo which is a part of a network. And I’m not sure if you affiliate with Black Rose Federation or any other platformist or especifist organization. But I’d like to learn a little bit about what ways forward to that alternative economy do you see coming from this tendency?

WP: From the beginning of anarchism, there’s always been an internal conflict between those who just see themselves as loose individuals and those who see the need for organizing anarchists into a specific grouping, an organization that would raise and fight for a particular program. This goes back to at least Bakunin, who formed the Alliance for Socialist Democracy when he was in the First International. And in fact, that was a major complaint of Marx against Bakunin – the formation of an anarchist grouping inside the organization. And ever since then, there have been those who aim to form an anarchist organization. The question is just how to do it and how decentralized it would be and how federalized it would be. I believe in the need for those revolutionary anarchists who have a general agreement should form themselves into some democratic federation in order to develop their ideas better, in order to coordinate their activities, in order to fight for that particular program. As against, after all, the fact that all the bad guys are organized, the various Stalinists, the Marxist-Leninists, the liberals, the fascists, the reformists – everybody is organized and fighting for their program. And I think anarchists should do that too. Sometimes it’s called pro-organization anarchists or dual organization anarchism. Dual because anarchists should organize themselves, as well as participate in broader organizations and groups like unions and community groups, and anti-war movements. So this was the idea raised by Makhno and Arshinov sometime after the Russian Revolution when some of the anarchists got together and said, “Why were the Bolsheviks able to beat us out and create their system? While anarchists were influential in various ways during the revolution. One of the reasons, if not the only one, was because they had organized themselves and it was important we should be organizing ourselves.” This is a key idea, they wrote something that they call a draft platform for anarchists. So those who agreed with that were known as platformists, other groups have done various arguments about this proposal. But the basic idea of anarchists organizing themselves, those who agree with each other, the revolutionary anarchists who fight for a program is, I think, an essential point of view. It’s, in this country, particularly raised by the Black Rose Federation. Right now I’m retired, so to speak. I’m not a member of any organization, but I generally support their activities. And I think they’re going in the right direction as far as that goes.

TFSR: Love and Rage, which you were a part of, another federation, did it consider itself a cadre organization? And how does the idea of the cadre relate to shared points of unity around a platform?

WP: We never use the word cadre. Partly, if what you mean by cadre is militants, people committed to revolutionary anarchism, then yes. On the other hand, if you mean people who are highly disciplined and top-down organized, then certainly not. We were a loose Federation, somebody wanted to make it even looser and wanted to make a network, we said we wanted to make a federation based on a program. We put out a newspaper regularly, continent-wide, that went from Mexico throughout the United States to Canada. But there were various political disagreements, and it was a very loose grouping. And the problem with anarchists, of course, is theoretical unity. There were disagreements on that, and also the movement started going downhill for a while. And it fell apart. Some people in Love and Rage decided to look in direction of a more centralized and authoritarian perspective, abandoning anarchism for Maoism. We had a faction fighting side about that those of us who objected to that. So it fell apart. But that was after nine years. For nine years, it was successful, at least in having an impact on the scene. So I’m rather proud of that. And the movement continued on after that.

TFSR: I’m sorry for the mischaracterization of cadre, that’s how it had been explained to me by someone that I knew who was affiliated with it at one point, that’s the term that they had used, but maybe they went towards the Maoist direction themselves.

WP: I think that’s somebody’s conclusion looking back on it. I don’t think at the time we used the term.

TFSR: So you said that you’re retired. Was I incorrect in saying that you affiliate with MACC?

WP: Yes. Although MACC is so loose an organization that doesn’t have official membership. So I support it and go to participate in it. Study groups and various discussions and activities.

TFSR: Would you call it a synthesist organization?

WP: I don’t know, the term implies integrating different perspectives, or even trying to. There is no clear MACC ideology or program. If you regard yourself as an anarchist, you should join MACC. I think we would draw the line and say no anarcho-capitalist. Otherwise, it is pretty open. It’s not that there’s a deliberate attempt to synthesize different perspectives. It’s just a de facto, who joins. It’s too grand to call it a synthesis.

TFSR: You mentioned reading groups. What other projects does MACC affiliate with?

WP: They’re involved in this support for immigrants, support for prisoners, support and involvement in at least one labor struggle in the city. That’s off the top of my head right now, trying to help the formation of mutual aid groups to help people in this time of crisis, spreading the ideas and concepts of a rent strike, there are individuals involved in podcast production Rebel Steps. And a bunch of other things. People try to put together a collection of writings on anarchism, it is a propaganda grouping. A wide range of activities.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I was gonna bring up your recent piece about the US presidential elections for the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review entitled “An Election in Hell.” It took a pretty traditionally anarchist stance on electoral participation, which is promoting abstention and, alternatively, direct action. So while many anarchists say that the parties are the same and that participation doesn’t matter, it seems clear that elections deeply affect the people who are most marginalized in our society, whether because of the effects of racialization, gendering, ableism, and neurodivergence, the nation of birth, ethnicity, etcetera and the ways that those lines intersect with class. We also see that the more conservative and reactionary wing of politics in the US, namely the Republicans, is constantly pushing to divest the vote from those groups that I named above in favor of white Christian property-owning straight and cis-men. So it’s not really fair to say that elections don’t have an impact, right? So I’m wondering if you could bring out a little more about your perspective around the impacts of elections, what participation means, and if it really is unwise to just vote for the least threatening possible, potential enemies as in if we got Sanders and or if we got Biden in, they might be easier to push against or organize against than, say, a Trump?

WP: First of all, I need to be clear, I do not tell people not to vote. That’s up to them. What isolated individuals do, whether they vote or not, I really don’t give a damn. The likelihood of your individual vote making an impact isn’t all that much. And I certainly don’t argue with my friends and family and co-workers, when I was working, saying “Don’t vote.” I certainly wouldn’t deny that the Democrats are the lesser of two evils. My argument is really about what should mass groups do, large progressive groupings of the population, let alone mass organizations, what should the unions do? What should the black community as a community do? Other communities of color, Latinx, and organized LGBTQ people? What should the organized environmental movement or the organized women’s movement do? These groups put a lot of money and human effort into campaigning and phone-calling and phone-banking and contacting people. Much of the effort, in fact, is pretty much the basis of the Democratic Party. I would say they are the Democratic Party, except for the fact that Democratic Party does have a membership. But in fact, it’s run by politicians and big donors. I advocate for them that what they do as organizations should be to stop supporting the Democratic party or any electoral party and put their efforts into direct action, mass action, union organizing, community organizing, mass strikes, demonstrations, and civil disobedience.

Most of the progress that this country has made has been done through outside of the electoral system, through non-electoral activities. When you think of the 30s’ labor struggles, mass strikes that brought us the progressive aspects of the New Deal and the unionization, or the civil rights movement with mass civil disobedience, which is a nice way of saying law-breaking and the so-called riots, or the anti-war movement, which was mostly mass demonstrations and college strikes and civil disobedience and virtual mutiny inside the army, and so on throughout history. These are the direction that I think was more useful than elections or Democratic Party in particular which is the place where mass movements go to die. That’s what happens to most mass movements when they get sucked into the Democratic Party to be efficient, and then they’re killed off. It’s one reason why it’s been so hard to build anything right now. I certainly don’t deny that the problem with the strategy of voting and supporting the lesser of two evils is that things just keep on getting more evil. The history of politicians in this country, of presidents has been viewed as one reactionary Republican, who then is defeated by a Democrat who is more or less moderate or liberal or whatnot, who is then followed by another even more reactionary Republican, who’s then defeated by another Democrat then followed by another reactionary Republican. And we’ve now gotten ourselves into this whole system, this whole approach is produced now, the very worst of all. This is not a viable long-term strategy. I agree that elections in the short-term could make a difference, but in the long term, this country is not run by elections. It is not elections that make the final difference. It’s whether or not there’s gonna be a mass movement to fight against the reactionary aspects of society. The Republicans are the cutting edge of the knife of the attack on the working class and oppressed people and black people and women and so forth. But the Democrats are up there on the ballot, they’re up there on the knife also, just behind the Republicans. Did I make myself clear?

TFSR: No, I think that’s perfectly clear. If you have anything else that you want to talk about, I’ve kept talking for a while. I really enjoyed the conversation, but I was gonna ask where people can find your work. Is there a platform that you specifically publish on or where people can follow you?

WP: A lot of my articles have been published on www.anarkismo.net. Some articles are published in the Anarchist Library under Wayne Price. I also write for the Utopian journal, and also for the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review. And I have three books that have been published: one book on the political economy and two other books that can be looked up.

TFSR: Thank you very much. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about that you’d to mention for the audience or discuss?

WP: I can’t think of off-hand. There are so many topics to talk about. Right now we see the system collapsing, for the moment. We’re in very bad days. If I thought that the system was going to restore itself, and get back into balance, I’d say that the chances of making a revolutionary change are pretty small. But I don’t believe that. I think things may improve, but they’ll collapse even further. It’ll go up and down. But the long-running trend is one catastrophe after another. And the politics of this country have been showing, reflecting the basic crisis, the middle is falling away. So on the one hand, you have fascists marching in the streets, and a president who can’t even bring himself to directly criticize them. And on the left, you have the growth of people calling themselves socialists. Polls are showing that up to about 30 to 40% of the population identifies themselves as being socialist, or pro-socialist. And we saw with Sanders is running a large number of people who were either socialist or at least were willing to vote for somebody who calls themselves socialist. They’re pretty vague about what that means. To the extent that there’s an actually developed program, it’s reformist state socialism, which I think is totally inadequate for the crisis, and at its worst, could lead to state capitalism and oppression. But it shows us a change. There’s an opening for a far-left, for revolutionary anarchist socialists, revolutionary libertarian socialists, and libertarian communists to make a point, to argue for their position and organize. If we put ourselves together, if we have an organization, if we build movements to build a really revolutionary perspective that can make a difference. So there’s hope. There’s great danger, and I have no idea whether this will happen in the time before some terrible collapse or calamity, but there’s certainly hope and there are certain things that open things up in the direction of change. So we should look at that positive side as far as that goes.

TFSR: Yeah, the idea of trying to restart the economy, whatever the hell that means. I don’t think it’s ever really been done from a full stop before, but it seems to open up a lot of possibilities.

WP: That’s right. Yes, I think so. People are reconsidering what they mean and what kind of life they want, how society should be organized. And because most people will try to get back to “normal,” except it’s never going to be another normal. That’s what it means, what Biden says like he’s gonna get rid of Trump and we go back to normal. Of course, it was that very normal that caused many people to be dissatisfied and to be channeled into support for Trump in the first place. But it isn’t going to go back to normal, crises will continue. And that people are looking for alternatives, and it’s very important for revolutionary anarchists to be raising their alternatives, to be talking about the possibility of a different way of living, a different way of human beings relating to each other, a different way of organizing society. That is what gives me hope.

TFSR: If there are people that might think about a UBI [Universal Basic Income] -type idea as being an alternative or as a positive step forward, we’ve seen little bits of this with the small portions of the population that have actually gotten a stimulus check. But even in the name, it says stimulus, it’s meant to be spent in order to get small businesses running. But do you think that a UBI is anything that actually could get passed? It doesn’t seem to sit very well with the revolutionary perspective, does it?

WP: Revolutionaries shouldn’t be against all reforms. A reformist is not somebody who’s for reforms, a reformist is somebody who thinks reforms are sufficient, who thinks that if we just keep on doing reforms that either that’s good enough, or that somehow, by gradually doing reforms, they will evolve into a new society without ever having to make a revolutionary transformation. I am for reform, certainly, the idea of a guaranteed income for everybody is a basic communist concept. For that very reason, I don’t think it would pass in this society, such as it is. We can’t even get universal health passed. Even Biden was not for a universal health plan. But I’m all for it. We certainly call for it, they can barely get past this little inadequate lump sum payment to the population, while they’re putting on vast sums of money for the rich and the big corporations.

TFSR: And all the while the numbers of death in the United States are outpacing everywhere else in the world. We really are the greatest.

WP: We have got the most incompetent government that we’ve had in decades. It’s not inherent to capitalism that such an incompetent government but on the other hand, it is consistent with the history of this country, especially recent history. We’ve gone from Reagan to Bush, who was not the sharpest pencil in the block to this idiot. So that’s been really compounding this disaster.

TFSR: On that happy note. Thank you so much for the chat, I really enjoyed it.

WP: Me too. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

TFSR: I hope you stay healthy, you and yours.

WP: Stay healthy and happy.

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Sophie Lewis and text "Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis | TFSR 07-10-22"
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This week, Scott and William talk to Sophie Lewis, author of Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family and the soon-to-be-released Abolish The Family A Manifest for Care and Liberation (out in October, 2022) about the current political moment that is characterized by attacks on trans people and peoples reproductive abilities. They also talk through what creates this moment, where trans people come into the target of State power being weaponized by the far right, as well as the connections among these attacks against LGBT education, access to transition, access to abortion and critical race theory. Also discussed are some limitations of a legalization framework around abortion, as opposed to a decriminalization, the limits of liberalism (particularly liberal feminism), and also the ways that certain strains of feminism contribute to an anti-trans discourse. Finally, there is chat about how to approach people needing support people who need access to healthcare, whether it be transition or abortion, outside of the hands of the state.

You can find Sophie on twitter at @ReproUtopoia and support her on Patreon at Patreon.com/ReproUtopia. You can find a children’s book Sophie co-translated called Communism For Kids or a compilation she contributed to on the ecological crisis called Hope Against Hope.

Opposing Torture

[01:11:19 – 01:17:44]

In Sean’s segment, he mentions his new book, Opposing Torture, available from LittleBlackCart.Com

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Transcription

Amar: Thank you so much, Sophie, for coming onto the show. I’m super excited that you’re here. Would you, just to get us started, introduce yourself with your name, correct gender pronouns, if you wish, and speak a bit about what you do and what your interests are?

Sophie Lewis: Thanks so much for having me on. My name is Sophie Lewis, I’m a they/she pronouns person. I am a writer living in Philadelphia since 2017. I also teach courses on critical theory online at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. And I’m also a recovering or ex-academic. I’ve got British and German dual nationality, but I grew up in France. I’m very placeless in my background, and I’m trying to make Philly home in a meaningful way. I recently heard someone say that “small C communists” are just anarchists that went to Grad School. I felt read to filth by that, I’m not gonna lie. I am interested in anti-work theory, unorthodox Marxisms, and critical utopianism. I’m interested in trans, disability, and health liberation frameworks. I’m interested in reproductive justice. And I’m interested in the destruction of properterian kinship. And I share with my beautiful partner Vicky Osterweil – who I believe is a friend of your show – a strong interest in film and literature. I’ve never seen a dumb heteronormative reality TV show I don’t want to wax theoretical about.

Amar: That’s beautiful.

Scott: Thank you so much for coming on. I’m so excited to talk to you. Your views and analysis on things are always super insightful and helpful to me. So I’m really glad that you’re willing to come to talk to us.

Amar: I know that we are going to ask for another interview with you about your work on abolishing the nuclear family unit, as we know about, but would you speak a little bit about some of your past work, as well as some influences that you have or inspirations you had when writing or conceptualizing those works?

Sophie: Yes, great. My work in the past is varied. It’s funny, the thing that some people nowadays associate with me the most, i.e. more so than my book that you mentioned, is my essay “My Octopus Girlfriend”, which is to say, I got in trouble on social media a couple of years ago for my feelings concerning the queerness of octopuses. And we can talk about that another time if you want. But I do think it’s interesting to bring this up, partly because my more-than-human commitments and my commitments to the erotic do seem to be one of the reasons why there are plenty of people in the so-called normie left, at least online, who consider me in this moment of red-brown triangulation in so many words a degenerate.

But anyhow, in 2019– I guess… Full Surrogacy Now was published by Verso Books in 2019, and that book loosely represented my Ph.D., which was in geography, and what the hell is geography anyway? At the University of Manchester in England, I think geography is a place for all the odds and ends and ragtag misfits of academia and humanities disciplines to end up if they want to be abolitionists or anarchists or Marxists. Anyway, it’s called Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, and to be honest, I don’t think Verso Books or I expected anyone to read it. And things did turn out differently. It’s not a book, as they finally understood around the time that the paperback came out two years later, about the service or arrangement commonly known as surrogacy, so much as it is a family abolitionist manifesto for gestators. But that part about family abolition was a cause of much interest and so in October, I have a clarifying follow-up about that part of the politics, coming out. It’s very short. It’s called Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation, also with Verso or Salvage editions. I clarify this family abolition component. And especially, I extend its anti-racist dimensions a lot more. So I’m excited to talk to you about that in a future episode.

In general, I write a lot about reproduction and critical utopianism, which is why my handle is reproutopia. Although I guess once upon a time, I thought that that would be some professional handle. Whereas my rabble-rousing one would remain @lasofa or whatever, but I just can’t I can’t split myself that way. I just can’t do it, which is probably one of the reasons why I don’t have a job. Sometimes, I think I’m not even sure I believe in reproduction. Because maybe there’s no such thing. Maybe there’s only cogenerative coproduction, but you get the idea. I write against private property, I write against biogenetic property, I write against eugenics, I hope, and against patriarchal motherhood, the private nuclear household, and the privatization of care.

You might be interested to hear that I cut my teeth politically doing climate justice, direct action, and anti-austerity student stuff while I was an undergrad between 2007 and 2011, I was hanging out with anarchists and anarcha-feminists in the UK. And after that point, I was quite traumatized by getting beaten up by riot cops in Copenhagen where we were mobilizing for climate justice at COP 15. And I became really unable to think about climate individually or write about it. Instead, I’m part of a collective called Out of the Woods – which is not very active right now – but which published a book called Hope Against Hope: Writings on Ecological Crisis with Common Notions Press. And basically, it’s only when I’m being with them that I can bear to think about ecocide head-on.

You also asked about my influences. I’d say my big theoretic influences include decolonial and ecological sex radicals like Kim TallBear and Angela Willey. And then obviously family abolitionists, like the inventor of the word feminism Charles Fourier, the 19th century French Socialist Utopian and the left Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai, and then sex worker liberationists femi babylon and Amber Hollibaugh, and anti-work philosophers like Kathi Weeks and Tiffany Lethabo King, problematic faves like Shulamith Firestone, and the early Donna Haraway, I’m just listing all my favorites. So the insurgent social reproduction theorists, basically, I’m thinking Francis Beal of the Third World Women’s Alliance, or the Black women of Wages for Housework, Wages Due Lesbians in the 70’s. I do visit the 70’s quite a lot. And at this point, I’ve written a ton of essays for magazines and journals, since I’m trying to earn my living as a freelancer. Albeit I wouldn’t be making ends meet if I didn’t also teach. And I wouldn’t be making ends meet if 250 people didn’t kindly patronize me. I get $1,000 a month on Patreon. That’s my only dependable source of income. Thank you to people who do that.

Amar: That’s lovely. And will probably ask you how people can support you on Patreon at the end of the show, or if you want to say it now.

Sophie: Oh, bless you. Yeah, it’s patreon.com/reproutopia. I appreciate it.

Amar: Hell yeah! You said you draw a lot from the 70s. And I think the 70s just gave us so much emergent thought crafting. I listened to an interview that you gave on This is Hell, that podcast in which you mentioned a friend of the show, the novel Woman on the Edge of Time, which I was really sparked by and very interested to– Maybe we’ll save that as a teaser for our discussion on Abolishing the Family and such topics.

Scott: I’m really excited about the way that you’re picking up on some of those legacies from the radical movements then, and one of the things that you just said that maybe could roll into the discussion and something that we can talk about is your intervention seems to be within what is called, in feminism, social reproduction theory. But I like how you were backing away from that term and talking about cogenerative. When we talk about social reproduction, we get caught in reproducing the same over and over again. And I really think about how the things that we do right now maybe can stop that endless repetition. But it does seem to be what is on the hook right now – what kind of world is being reproduced? Can we end that? And is it going to be ended in a good way or a really scary way?

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. Pretty much agree.

Scott: Maybe you can transition to the point of our current discussion, though, I’m excited for the future one. It is thinking about what’s happening at this moment socially, and legislatively, with ramping up attacks on trans people and reproductive self-determination. Why do you think this is happening right now? What created the conditions for trans people to be under the target, youth, in particular, is weaponized by the far right, and why is this the moment that finally we’re seeing the culmination of decades of work against abortion?

Sophie: Really great opening question, albeit quite difficult, I’ll do my best. And thinking about the process of hollowing out of the political center that we’ve been seeing, I think, for some time. And the hollowing out of the center creates conditions in which marginalized groups can be flung sacrificially under the bus. This is complicated, but it seems to me that because of the extraordinary success of Black Lives Matter the establishment wants to– it’s not that they ever had to choose one or the other or their white supremacy isn’t still part of the DNA of every political maneuver by the ruling class in this country… But I think there is a pivot towards the sex panic specifically. And again, just to be clear, it’s always racialized at the same time, but I think the marginalized group to be scapegoated and panicked morally about is– You can think about Hillary Clinton’s “Black thugs.”

I think currently, the same people are worried very much about these two figures, the predatory trans woman and the mutilated child. And there are other reasons: the crisis of care throws up these specters. The end-of-empire panic about futurity expresses itself via demographic anxieties, right? On the far-right, it’s replacement theory and white genocide. That same anxiety is across the political spectrum. And that demographic anxiety about the survival of America as a settler colony enacts itself on the bodies of children whose fertility becomes fetishized.

What else? Capitalism needs to discipline the non-reproductive and the inadequately or incorrectly reproductive. I’m not doing a great job and just throwing out phenomena that I think are relevant. We are living inside the legacies of the pedophile industrial complex of the 80’s. The really significant reconstruction of the political landscape in the US around the carceralist figure of the innocent child, the figure to be protected at all costs on the basis of a-sexuality and, weirdly, fertility. This is the part that I think people don’t get enough about the figure of the cisgender or cissexual child that everybody wants to save right now. It’s creepy. It’s an avatar of fertility, that child, it is an avatar of the future.

In your notes to me before we began this talk, you mentioned Lee Edelman’s book, which is justly criticized for its slightly nuanced opposition to the maternal or the reproductive or whatever. But Lee Edelman’s book, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive talks about the “fascism of the baby’s face”, or the way in which all Politics requires this figure of the child to transmit and defer and displace any possible transformation into the future. I’ve been trying to think about whether that’s all that’s going on. Very specifically, in a time of demographic crisis and weird replacement-theory type panic, weirdly, it’s literally the genitals and the reproductive organs of literal cisgender children that become spectral-ly present at the front and center of so much political discourse. How’s that? What do you think?

Amar: It is just deeply creepy. As you said, when it’s broken down that way, when we’re fixating so heavily on the reproductive capability of, in some cases, literal babies, infants, and it just reminds me of the very profound extent to which cisheteronormative society just really thinks about children as property, which is codified into law too. It’s just very disturbing and creepy.

Scott: I was just thinking, it’s interesting, in my studies of gay Liberation stuff from the 70’s, reading Guy Hocquenghem, he’s saying that the price for a certain gay man to get some rights and acceptance in society would basically necessitate the casting out of figures of the trans woman and the pedophile. And he had this prescient view of it in the very beginning of gay liberation, and I feel we’re seeing the combination of it. But the way that as people, the three of us raised in this pedophile industrial complex, it’s always very strange to me… How it creates this weird situation, where children are unnecessarily sexualized, and all these moments where things don’t need to be fraught or weird at all. And people are worried about this stuff. And it’s actually, to me, always ends up pointing to the family as this really creepy scenario where there are parents obsessing over their children?

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. There’s so much to say, I’m just worried that if I jump on your points about parental rights, we’ll rhizomatically follow who knows what kinds of paths. The very fundamentally racial character of the institution of parenthood should probably be noted, at least in passing. This goes back to elemental Black feminist theorizing around how Black gestators under chattel slavery in the United States were cast out from the domain of dyadic cisgender, precisely because they could not be inscribed in the social order as mothers. They were not the mothers in the sense of motherhood, the institution of property, really, of parental ownership over the product of their gestational labor. And that casting out from parentality also meant an ungendering of enslaved racialized Black “flesh.” To quote Hortense Spillers who actually uses that language of “ungendered flesh”. And this is still deeply relevant, the eugenic entanglements of all mainstream discourse about who should and should not reproduce in the United States today. It’s interesting to think about the intersections between that almost racializing definition of proper and improper parents. And there’s a contradiction that we’re seeing right now, the very same politicians who advocate parental rights, when it comes to things white parents on school boards banning “critical race theory” or anti-racist materials, they then willingly embrace separating trans kids from their parents. Anyway, I’ll pause there.

Scott: That’s a great transition. And this is something we wanted to talk about. It was really important that you brought up that racialized history of the property and also of the gendering and ungendering according to your racial positionality of parenthood. This is one of the things – that’s linking the current fascist agenda. You brought up critical race theory, we’re seeing all attacks against any education around queerness in whatever form, the access to transition, or care around transition, for youth in particular, but it’s also extending to adults, and then abortion more recently. And this idea of parental rights seems to be one of the organizing ideas. So if there’s more that you wanted to say around that, I’d be interested just because it feels like such a strange invocation. Also, drag shows as a particular focus. The youth drag shows is something that people are getting really worked up about right now.

Sophie: Yeah, as you say, these links are among the prongs of attack. It is a successful and well-organized banning of anti-racism and queerness appearing in school spaces. Who is the congressman who was brandishing just a couple of days ago Anti-racist Baby, the infants’ book? There’s a real obsession with the idea of the infant, even not the child, but literally the neonate learning about America’s history in school. And there’s a criminalization, as you say, at the same time, of trans-affirming childcare and abortion, of gestational labor stoppages – as I would also encourage us to reframe them, or at least also think of them as. All of these, as you say, can be linked directly to the project of parental rights. And they reflect specifically a vision of patriarchal familist authority that cannot be disentangled from whiteness and from a totally triumphalist flattened ahistoricism – a version of history that is entirely made up.

We need to pay more attention to the way that this Republican-allied Christo-fascist series of maneuvers going on all these fronts that you mentioned are part of a project to reinstall the supremacy of the family. I was reading a dialogue between Andrea Long Chu and Paisley Currah in Jewish Currents today. They were right to highlight together the Christo-fascist series of associations, which in a way– I almost want to say they’re right, it’s annoying to have to constantly almost want to say that our very worst enemies understand the material stakes of the private nuclear households’ links to all of these historical forms of domination: from enslavement and colonialism to patriarchy and so on. They understand that better than the liberal establishment, they understand the stakes. Andrea Long Chu and Paisley Currah we’re talking about the line of connection in their minds, the Christo-fascists’ minds, between abortion which disrupts the family and things like marriage equality or whatever, and the specter of trans freaks molesting YOUR kids in public bathrooms. They are linked in our enemies’ minds. They are all assaults on the– Angela Metropulos is another theorist I’m thinking of, who I am, unfortunately, not as acquainted with as I would like. But I think her theorization of this is probably more and more needed right now, as Christo-fascism spirals into more and more power in a way on this territory. She talks about the oikos and how capital and settler colonialism discipline this sphere by very violent attacks. On improper bodily pleasures that fall with outside of the domain of productivity and reproductivity. That’s why all of these different fronts at the same time, although they are insufficiently linked in the mainstream conversation.

Amar: Absolutely. When you were talking and using the very correct framework of Cristo-fascism to politically frame the dominant shift that’s going on right now, I couldn’t really help but think about how The Handmaid’s Tale is used to describe this and the shortcomings of that analysis. Do you have any ideas about that?

Sophie: It’s actually interesting because you probably know that I had for several years a real bee in my bonnet about The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s fertility apocalypse, or sterility apocalypse rather. But I want to actually say but, I’m beginning to think that I might have almost gone a tiny bit too far, there might have been an element of overreach in my annoyance, because Angela Metropulos pulled me up a little bit on this, because I’m broadly speaking, and I’m also not the first to say it, but beginning in about 2017, I began to lose my temper. The Handmaid mania of liberal feminism. And so I actually wrote several pieces, and there’s a bit in the very beginning of Full Surrogacy Now where I expressed this distemper about the bizarre psychic under tow of handmaid mania. I say provocatively that it’s a utopia, not a dystopia in a sense because what all the people cosplaying as handmaids in Gilead are unconsciously acting out is a desire for this world where women herd has been flattened back into pure gestationality. And wouldn’t that be nice because then you wouldn’t have class-conscious or decolonial or trans or Black feminists critiquing you all the time? Because as the op-eds kept saying, “We are literally living in Gilead.” If that were true, then you would be, as a cis pregnant white woman like Elizabeth Moss in the Hulu adaptation, the very most oppressed subject of America, right?

And it’s like “Okay, that actually happened. It happened to enslaved Black women, forced surrogacy is not made up.” And to some extent, Margaret Atwood was constantly saying that everything in her dystopias has happened before, but that’s very much not how it’s taken up. It’s not taken up as an anti-racist consciousness. It’s not taken up in a way that connects to reproductive justice struggles or centers the reproductive justice concerns of organizers from the South. But the thing that really is still number one, as enemy in women’s lives, is capitalism. It’s not theocratic fascists with guns. I feel now that Angela might have been right that there’s no need to downplay the danger of the Christo-fascists in order to criticize the de-racialized slave narrative that is The Handmaid’s Tale.

Scott: I love the way that you analyze that, but I see what you’re saying. Going back to the family, we’re in the last however many decades in a place where people are living perhaps less and less – and what I mean by people is people typically within the dominant form, in the more represented white suburban situations are living less than less – in that typical nuclear family. And yet, the idea of the family hasn’t really been knocked down as a controlling image, especially within TV, sitcoms, even if it’s a work show, it’s a family structure, right? It’s everywhere, but we’re not living in those things. And likewise, with the issues around abortion, there’s this idea that we’re progressing away from these really oppressive things. And I feel even for leftists and anarchists, there’s a blind spot or an unwillingness to let go of the roots of our society that we live in, that is structuring all this oppression that we’re living in now, because of this faith in a progress, that we’ve made some strides away from the thing.

The Christian fascist thing really points out to me, that what we’re seeing right now is a minority group taking power. The system that is in place that ostensibly holds checks against them, the people who are inhabiting those positions are completely unwilling to check them. They’re letting it happen. All the people, the president, they’re not doing anything. So on one level, Christian fascism seems ridiculous, but we’re literally seeing these peoples seize power, and no one is really doing anything about it. I can see also why that’s utopian to be “Oh, we finally understand what woman is, it’s reproduction” or whatever. Maybe you have some thoughts about the progress narrative and the way that facts are negating that.

Sophie: I think you’re absolutely right. The liberal mainstream is almost capable of noticing or saying that there’s a civil war right around the corner, but they literally do not intend to fight in it. It is so cognitively maddening. It’s almost as though that liberal establishment doesn’t intend to do a single thing, just as it didn’t in order to defend abortion because it imagined that its Republican dancing partners would play fair against all evidence to the contrary. Progressive narratives are an epistemic canker, it’s so difficult to completely get rid of, even when one knows better. We’re just swimming in this idea of “history as progress,” and you can never overstate the importance of unthinking it, unpicking it.

It almost gives me hope that there is so much rage right now against the Democrats and their non-response to the striking down of Roe. What could be done is to frame the fight back in terms of very much politics, not ethics – mass gestational labor power, prole power, not individual personal freedom, in a sense, and not individual tragedies, and also, not these terrible spectacular rising tactics that some pro-choicers are using right now, where they’re brandishing blood-stained white pants and coat hangers, and talking about “we won’t go back” and insisting that “thousands will die and backstreet abortions”. Why is that the imaginary, it’s not actually helpful? We are actually in a historically different era. They can surveil and police and incarcerate, and we need to get really good at organizing against that and de-arresting people and blocking their ability to charge people. We need to get really good at evading and operating undercover.

But it’s also really important to think about the time we are in and the future we could build, rather than– I feel we won’t go back imagining that the reproductive status quo ante was okay. Abortions are overwhelmingly safe today. Regardless of whether or not they’re legal. I feel that there’s this bizarre attachment to a Margaret Atwood-flavored catastrophe. We’re literally going to all die because of the abortions themselves. But no, actually, that’s not what’s primarily going to happen. It’s much worse in a sense. I’m not saying incarceration is worse than death. But the real story that this is is a prison abolition story. Yet again, this is an abolitionist lesson. The problem of abortion being criminalized, is an over-criminalization problem, it’s a prison industrial complex problem. It’s a police abolition problem. I’m not sure that really links to your progress narrative point, but it links it to one of the big movements that have swept the “national conversation” in recent years, which is “one thing has to change, which is everything”. It’s not a question of making little meliorative steps towards a better world.

Scott: That’s really important what you said, I just wanted to pick up on it. The way that these laws are being crafted, that is increasing surveillance, increasing criminalization, increasing the possibilities of incarceration, so there’s increased state power there, which is maybe also why the liberals and Democrats in power are not so against it because it’s a boon for the State. But then the other thing that I’m thinking about is how all these laws are deputizing citizens to be informants. That also, to me, speaks to the nascent fascism, which leads to vigilante groups or paramilitary formations of people seeking out who’s doing this, or crossing state lines to track people down? So, I just thought that was really important that you brought up the way that the criminalization aspect of it works. And it shifts the focus around the liberal reaction of performing grief around something that’s not actually live for them at the moment, too. I just wanted to pull that out.

On the other side of the progress narrative, there’s the long-running anarchist or anarchistic critiques of legalizing abortion because of the way that incorporated the grassroots formations of caring for gestators and childbirth and ending childbirth outside of professionalization, or outside of institutionalization dominated by men, in particular, patriarchal power structures. So I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about any of that. Or what we can learn from that perspective now in response to this, which feels so upsetting, but maybe there’s other avenues of response?

Sophie: You’re absolutely right. The fact is so much of Turtle Island has been operating in a post-Roe reality for so long. I don’t know how much that is really real to people. We’ve been post-Roe in a combined and uneven way for some time. This is the zombie lag of it becoming law. People understand, in the places where it’s been de facto post-Roe for years and years, that abortion care happens outside of professional structures and independently of experts. And there is also quite a wide understanding that Roe absolutely sucked in the first place, even before the Hyde Amendment gutted it, and even before the Casey ruling gutted it still further, Roe vs Wade absolutely sucked. And to the extent that it even legalized abortion, which we have to say isn’t even really clear that it did that, it legalized a woman’s or a family’s right to have a private conversation with a health care provider or whatever.

But we have to ask ourselves, “What good is legalization and why do we want that?” You call it an anarchist critique of the legalizing of abortion. It absolutely is that. It is also actually a critique that used to be quite common across the board in the 70’s and the 60’s. They achieved this pyrrhic victory of Roe in 1973. What if we want laws off our bodies, and indeed an end to all laws, rather than laws that legalized anything we might do without laboring uteri, and what if we want the repeal of all abortion laws, not just the bad ones? In terms of the mainstream conversation, for sure, this perspective has been pretty widely lost over the last four decades. But it’s not really just a post-Roe critique, it was actually primarily a pre-Roe critique. I like to call it “gestational decrim”? They used to say, “Off our backs.” The idea is that we get the state completely off and out of our flesh, not just its punitive functions, but also its supposedly benign regulatory functions. And the term gestational decrim is basically something I floated. I don’t know if it’s gonna take off. But it’s an analogy to the sex work liberation movements call for decrim, as you well know. Comrades have tirelessly made the distinction between partial legalization and regulation, the so-called Nordic model, which is terrible for workers, and full decriminalization.

Amar: On the topic of operating sublegally, there, as many listeners probably know, is a group called Jane’s Revenge that is seemingly attempting to destabilize pro-life or forced birth infrastructures. Could you talk about that a little bit? Just talk about what’s been in the news, and also some of your thoughts on how it’s been received and how we might think about it in a more productive way.

Sophie: I wish I had every single fact about Jane’s Revenge at my fingertips. I’m just gonna talk in generalities in the aftermath of the Supreme Court leak striking down Roe, a shadowy anarchist network calling itself Jane’s Revenge was reported on a lot, striking via graffiti actions, and allegedly, also a Molotov cocktail, some windows smashing. The graffiti tag that was used in various locales, and as you mentioned, the targets, Jane’s Revenge was targeting Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are fake abortion clinics that are funded by the far-right to psychologically guilt and dissuade people from getting abortion care. There was reporting on Jane’s Revenge that their tag was “If Abortions Aren’t Safe, Then Neither Are You.” I have to say I love it. It makes a huge difference if you have a cervix. The terrain of symbolic solidarity is actually quite significant.

There is this extreme minority capture of this issue that makes out, this thing that really everyone supports, actually, the majority of people in America totally like abortion. If you’re into electoral politics, which I’m not, but when you campaign about abortion, it’s quite cheering, it’s actually one of the few things that are fun and uplifting to go knocking on people’s doors about because everyone likes abortion. And that is not present in the symbolic sphere. So when someone breaks a CPC window, or– I live in Philadelphia, I was driving around and saw a big billboard in the aftermath of the leak that just said “Abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania”, which might seem a small thing, but when you have a cervix and you’re walking around in the aftermath of a ruling like that, something has shifted. Even if you know that concretely, not that much has shifted for many people, it’s symbolic violence that renders you less than a person. And it is a great act of love to let people know that the violence they are meting out against gestators is hated and will not be tolerated.

My opinion is not really the point so much, I would just say that anyone calling themselves a feminist or leftist could maybe, at the very minimum, not do the right-wing’s job for them and go out of their way to write op-eds condemning Jane’s Revenge, as Judith Levine did in The Intercept. And I was extremely, extremely angry about that. I couldn’t understand why it was necessary of all things at this moment. I don’t know if she’s noticed. I don’t mean to single out Judith Levine. Of course, she’s not the only one. She’s a leftist feminist. A lot of feminists have been condemning Jane’s Revenge for some reason. And it makes me despair a little bit.

Yeah. Facebook, or Meta ruled that Jane’s Revenge was a tier-one terrorist organization. And so any posts expressing neutral or positive sentiments about the actions of Jane’s Revenge will be deleted from Facebook? Apparently, there’s no one on that list of tier-one terrorist organizations other than al Qaeda. It’s actually absurd. And earlier this month, Axios reported that assaults directed at abortion clinic staff and patients increased 128% compared with 2020. There are 4,000 names on the dangerous individuals and organizations list and only 2 are associated with anti-abortion terrorism. But as we know, it’s the supposed pro-life camp that has bombed and murdered people for 40 years. It just seems extremely strange to back up the casting of Jane’s Revenge as terrorists when they are some of the few brave, symbolic actors in solidarity with all the people who have had their bodily autonomy stripped from them by the Supreme Court.

Scott: Yeah, it’s so interesting, because the liberal or even leftists, like the Judith Levine piece are like, “Militancy is great. Violence isn’t good.” But you read the pieces that the people who are calling themselves Jane’s Revenge put out, they are very explicit and clear in their definitions of violence, and what they’re responding to, which you mentioned, is this campaign of literal physical violence against people? Not! They’re targeting empty buildings. It’s property again, right? It’s how it comes back into it. They’re not doing the same thing. Other than the people who are continuing to do abortion care, as they had been doing in, as you also rightly mentioned, that places where Roe didn’t really matter, those people who can’t be very public about the work that they’re doing, Jane’s Revenge is maybe the only visible effective, perhaps, action that’s being taken. Besides the futile protests against buildings or whatever that people do. Also, it’s really exciting because it’s reproducible and anonymous, right? It’s a meme or whatever.

Amar: I love it. To approach all of this with an eye to hypocrisy is to maybe participate in an exercise of driving yourself up the wall. But the hypocrisy of somebody approaching these actions with hand-wringing about violence is pretty backward and very establishment and harmful and also boring.

There’s so much to say about abortion and there’s so much to talk about with how people’s rights are being war-of-attritioned away and how much of those rights actually truly didn’t exist. It was no walk in the park to get an abortion before, a month ago, it was actually quite difficult and more so for folk who live in trigger states and folk who live in chronically unresourced or deresourced places. I would actually really love to hear about your take on the whole groomer discourse that is being levied at trans people specifically, but gay people more generally. Do you have any thoughts about that? And how does that tie into these moments that we’re collectively experiencing?

Sophie: I suppose I already covered some of my thoughts about the weaponized innocence of the figure of the Child. And I suppose this links to the way that– None of this can actually adequately be tackled, including in progressive or socialist, or whatever liberal frames of trans solidarity or allyship, without actually going as far, getting as deep as the principle of youth or child liberation, or youth or child sovereignty. Which is totally lost, it was totally successfully destroyed by the 80’s and by the pedophile industrial complex being built. It’s just off the map more or less, apart from on the fringes of radical movements and, of course, there are wonderful things that are going on. There’s the Purple Thistle, a youth-led community center in Vancouver, carla bergman is an anarchist, reproductive justice militant, and zine archivist who has a book coming out with AK Press called Listen To Kids. There exists consciousness about the importance of actually countering the property logic around kids and including or better than including children in the political process, but it’s just completely fringe. I don’t think that we can actually successfully counter the entire narrative about groomers without actually advocating for something like children and youth liberation. Because groomers are just an outgrowth of the properterian fantasy that, as you mentioned, really weirdly sexualizes the children within the tiny little bubble of the private nuclear household based on eodipal kinship, which is a very strange sexual structure between parents and children, which pretends that it is asexual and projects all of its strange hyper fixated sexuality onto this predatory other.

And it requires children to be literally art canvases, pieces of inheritance, who do not have desires, who do not have sexualities above all, who cannot make friends across generations, and who cannot dictate or negotiate their own boundaries visa vie each other or elders or whatever, and who will be irrevocably harmed by the company of a drag queen. It’s just so boring and so endless, there’s an endless well of this in our culture right now. And I’ve obviously been called a groomer because anyone who talks about queer theory in the public sphere will be called a groomer and a pedophile by TERFs and Gender-Criticals and fascists, etc. And it’s terrifying, right? It’s really terrifying. The left has not got a great strategy worked out about how to be effective in defense against that and how to actually do solidarity with people being targeted by the pedophile industrial complex. I’d love to see more conversations about that.

Scott: Going back to the 70’s, which keeps coming up for us, we’re rehashing on the left the same splintering moments of those radical movements of the women’s movement and gay liberation. They came together in certain areas around abortion and around cisgayness and then splintered around transness. And then the way that it’s reformulating now where supposed radical feminists are taking sides with fascists and right-wingers is a really weird echo or return to that moment. But I wonder what you think about– With groomer, going back to the reproduction of the same and trying to reproduce something else, the threat of the trans child seems to me to be this idea that a kid has some autonomy to refuse the discipline and wages of gender that are forced upon them. And so in a way the groomers are pointing back at– Noah Zazanis wrote about this, too, that cis people are the most effectively groomed people. They’re the ones who do the thing that they’re made to do, and trans people are actually refusing grooming. But I wonder what you think about this, the threat that gay and trans people play is that wherever reproduction we have to do of our community is not sexual reproduction. It’s a different way of forming ourselves and our community. What do you think about the threat of transition and also the strange posthistory of anti-trans feminism?

Sophie: There are different things there. But perhaps, I don’t know what the listenership tends to know and not know. So if you don’t mind, I’ll just state the obvious – or not for some people – about the strange interrelation. I do think it’s important to disambiguate TERFs and Gender-Criticals and simple garden transphobes because sometimes when people hear these conversations from a position of relative unfamiliarity, there can be a real reaction against the seeming conflation of these things. It’s important to state that the State is waging war on trans people, both adult and children, and it’s polarized around the racialized, sex working figure of the trans woman of color, and then the figure of the potentially transed, seduced, groomed, potentially infertile trans child. And this war is being waged primarily in the United Kingdom, but increasingly in the United States and elsewhere. And many actors in this mobilization, which brings together secular right-wingers, Christo-fascists, and sadly, some people who are nominally on the left claim no connection with feminism. That’s maybe obvious, right? However, there is also this presence in their ranks, and even sometimes at their home, especially in the UK. There’s a significant number of self-identified radical feminists. That’s what TERF means – trans-exclusionary radical feminist. This was a terminology brought about by someone who was cis rather than trans. The TERFs don’t like being called TERFs, although it’s very obviously a neutral descriptor. They pitch trans people’s existence itself against the interests of womanhood, and they sometimes link this to a global patriarchal pharma capitalist conspiracy, which supposedly drives the phenomenon of transness. And this links up very beautifully with anti-semitic understandings of the world.

I sometimes think the only real difference between a gender-critical, which is another word for the general anti-trans component within feminism – not all of whom would call themselves radical feminists, so TERF is a specific subset of Gender-Critical – but sometimes the difference between a feminist transphobe, and a Christo-fascist woman, a Trad Wife who hates trans people, is the particular flavor vibe or orientation of their wounded attachment to a suffering-based definition of femaleness. So it’s like do they relate psychically to their own femaleness in a tragic way, which is the feminist transphobes way – we will be females, bleeding and dying in childbirth forever, it’s what makes us sisters – or in a triumphal way, which is the Trad Wife belief, which is really, really inherent, you can hear it, sometimes they say out loud, but the most beautiful thing a woman can do for America is die in childbirth.

And in practice, the links between the feminist transphobes and the anti-feminist transphobes are very well-documented, I can definitely recommend the podcast Blood and TERF, which monitors these relationships. That’s a podcast from the UK, the Heritage Foundation and funding bodies that are even to the right of them have sponsored British radical feminists traveling, advocating, and lecturing for over a decade at this point. I wrote in, of all places, the New York Times who asked me to write about this and explain TERFism’s ideological roots. Why is TERFism so big in the UK? Alas, it was in 2019. Now, it seems it’s a globally known phenomenon because of JK Rowling’s uptake of it. In my opinion, its ideological roots are in eugenic feminism, including specifically colonial English women’s feminist efforts to impose a certain hygiene in India and Africa about a century ago.

But you asked me also about the good news of this confrontation today. There is a real need on the part of capitalist order today to de-fang that disruptive potential that you named in trans kids and to contain the possibilities of trans insurrection within what Nat Raha callsTtrans Liberalism. And it’s really working. There is a spilling over, there is a recognition that there’s refusals of reproductive and productivity type training of that cis heteronormative grooming that Noah Zazanis talks about. The links between that active refusal and all the other issues that we’ve been talking about in terms of work carcerality, the private character of care, the foreclosure of the future in white national reproduction, and so on. When I’m feeling optimistic, there is an insurgency of feminism against cisness taking place. Emma Heaney talks about feminism against cisness. And she turns the history of feminism on its head and historicizes the moment when it became cis, which it was not, to begin with. And the long-standing and currently very potentially powerful insurgency of feminists of all genders against cisness threatens the social order by potentially decommodifying, deprivatizing, and reorienting away from production and reproduction all of the means of collective life-making.

And the question we can ask ourselves, this is from Kay Gabriel, what would it mean for gender to function as a source of disalienated pleasure rather than as an accumulation strategy? And the proliferation of the means of transition doesn’t necessarily but potentially contains a whispered invitation towards exploring that question.

Scott: I love what you just said. That, in my mind, could be a really good last thing to say.

Sophie: We’ve been talking for ages. I’ve taken up so much of your evening. Actually, sometimes it’s good to just quit while you’re ahead. I feel you’re right. Maybe that’s a nice note to end on. We can always think about everything we wish we said and note it down so that our next podcast can potentially– It’s lovely!

Amar: I love it.

Sophie: It’s a real pleasure speaking to you two. It really is.

Amar: The feeling is super, super mutual. I might just ask in closing, is there anything, a notion that you would leave listeners with or parting words that you would say to them?

Sophie: That’s a lovely question. I feel everyone has seen this quote, but it makes me happy when it circulates in times of despair. And it’s that quote from Ursula Le Guin about how the power of capitalism seems immutable, but so did the power of kings under feudalism. When I’m feeling up optimistic right now, I’m realizing that the center cannot hold, there is no center anymore. There is a very real sense in which – and this is very scary – masses of our siblings and neighbors are coming to grips for the first time with the fact that we take care of ourselves, the state does not take care of us, and maybe that provides an opening.

Amar: Indeed, I love that so much. Thank you so much for those words and that provocation that’s really important to keep in mind always, but perhaps especially now.

Exile, World Systems Analysis and Anarchism with Andrej Grubačić

Exile, World Systems Analysis and Anarchism with Andrej Grubačić

Professor Andrej Grubačić
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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.

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Featured Track:

  • Clock Strikes (Instrumental Remix) by Timbaland and Magoo

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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Featured Track:

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

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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)
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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

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Featured Tracks:

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

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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.

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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
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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.”

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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

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Featured Track:

  • Roadrunner by The Modern Lovers

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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” 

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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!

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Featured Track:

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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 w