Category Archives: Feminism

Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories (rebroadcast)

Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories (rebroadcast)

Book cover of "Compañeras: Zapatista Women's Stories" with text "TFSR 09-11-22"
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This week on the show, we re-air Amar’s 2015 interview with Hilary Klein, author/editor of the book Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories, out from Seven Stories Press.

Over the hour, Hilary talks about her 7 years of living in Chiapas and recording the stories and experiences of women there, collecting stories on their behalf. The book covers the Zapatistas experiences before the EZLN uprising of 1994, during that period and after. Discussion address what gender, indigeneity and class looked like and how that’s changed in the Zapatista communities, the state of Chiapas and in Mexico. William and Hilary also explore the effects that the EZLN & La Otra Compaña have had on radicals and anarchists abroad, the origins of the EZLN, some parallels and distinctions between anarchism and Zapatismo and much more.

You’ll find a transcript of this audio available soon at our website. The book is also available for free reading on archive.org. Next week, stay tuned for another rebroadcast, with some new content coming up real soon.

Annoucement

Post-Release Funds for Maumin Khabir

from GoFundMe.com:

SUPPORT FUND FOR NEW AFRIKAN POLITICAL PRISONER ON HOSPICE, MAUMIN KHABIR! (SN MELVIN MAYES). CURRENT GOAL IS $3K FOR ESSENTIAL MEDICINE! Maumin Khabir served a 27 year sentence behind prison walls in North Carolina for a crime he didn’t commit. Declared a terrorist by the U.S. government, Khabir was targeted by RICO laws (a draconian set of laws that target individuals opposed to U.S. ideology) and captured in 1995. Maumin turned down a plea deal that would require him to confess to crimes he did not commit. As a political prisoner, he has remained an organizer, educator, and devote Muslim while on the inside. Maumin is a citizen of the sovereign Republic of New Afrika and his secession from the United States of America is the motivating factor behind the government’s prosecution and has no criminal basis. Maumin asks the court to recognize him as a political prisoner in accordance with the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol 1.

In February, Maumin was granted compassionate release by the courts due to his severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He is now in the care of people who love him but it is still a very difficult situation. Maumin is on 24hr oxygen and can hardly move and it’s overall difficult to care for him. We are raising funds for to support Maumin’s care, to ensure it is the best it can be right now, and so his family who cares for him can give him a proper burial after he transitions. We ask you to share this link and donate what you can! We need money for medication, medical bills, and hopefully new transportation so Maumin can see loved ones and make appointments. Thank you for your support! Free The Land!

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Featured Tracks:

  • Politiks Kills (Prince Fatty Instrumental) by Manu Chao from Politiks Kills single
  • Himno Zapatista (track #20) from Antología Musical Zapatista
  • Por El Suelo by Manu Chao from Clandestino

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Transcription

TFSR: Will you first introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?

Hillary Klein: Yes. Thank you so much for inviting me to share this time with you and your listeners. My name is Hillary and I currently work at an organization called the Center for Popular Democracy, which is a national network of community based organizations working for racial justice, economic justice, and immigrant rights. I’ve been doing social justice work for a long time, but that included several years that I spent in Chiapas, Mexico, working with Zapatista communities in indigenous villages, and specifically with women’s projects. So I feel like it’s all connected, because whether it’s here in the US or whether it’s abroad, I feel like it’s all one vision of a world of greater justice and greater dignity. The book that I wrote came out of that experience working with women’s cooperatives and women’s projects in the Zapatista communities.

TFSR: So you went to Chiapas through your work?

HK: Not in the sense of for a job. I went to Chiapas was actually in 1997 thinking that I was just going to stay for a couple of weeks or maybe a couple months. So, I was there originally as a human rights observer and as a volunteer on solidarity projects, but it was such a compelling movement and such a fascinating time. I felt like history was kind of unfolding before my eyes. How could I not say and witnessed it or be part of it in some way? So I ended up staying, and I stayed on, and I ended up staying about six years. Much longer than I had expected. So, I was there from 1997 till about 2003. So I’ve been back in the US for a little more than 10 years doing what I consider to be the same work, but it’s not actually like I was working for the same organization or anything.

TFSR: I do want to talk to you more about your time in Chiapas in a later question. But just to lay some solid groundwork for any listeners who are unfamiliar, would you be willing to talk us through some historical bullet points of the Zapatista movement?

HK: Yeah, of course. So the Zapatista movement is also called the EZLN, which is a Spanish acronym for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. It’s primarily a social movement, a very broad grassroots radical social movement in southern Mexico, fighting for indigenous rights for land, but for also for a whole kind of host of broader demands that I think are very universal in the sense of: for dignity, for justice, for equality, for democracy, and has really resonated with people around the world.

So, in addition to being a social movement, it also has a rebel army. They did choose the path of armed struggle. After many years of fighting for change in their own context, out of a sense of desperation, seeing children die from preventable diseases, for example, they chose the path of armed struggle, feeling like they had no option left but to stand up for themselves and force the government to listen. The communities and Chiapas are historically extremely poor, extremely marginalized. That’s really a legacy from colonialism. The history of racism, the history of economic exploitation, all that goes back, more than 500 years. Those legacies are still things that those communities are facing today.

The Zapatista movement comes out of that history of 500 + years of indigenous resistance, it also comes out of the legacy of the Mexican Revolution. So the name Zapatista comes from Zapata. Emiliano Zapata was a hero of the Mexican Revolution who fought for ‘Tierra y Libertad,’ land and freedom. So they very much carried on that banner. But they also recognize that neoliberalism or global capitalism, whichever you want to call it, is kind of the current political and economic system, which reproduces many of those same legacies of inequality, of injustice, and exploitation that began with colonialism.

So, they actually rose up in arms on January 1 1994. That was the same day that NAFTA, which is the North American Free Trade Agreement, went into effect. They chose that day to highlight that relationship with global capitalism, with neoliberalism. So that’s where many of us around the world first heard of the Zapatistas. For myself, speaking personally, it was really an important moment. It came kind of at the tail end of the Cold War. So there was this question in the air for people of my generation, I was 19 at the time in 1994, of what the next wave of social movements would look like after the end of the Cold War. The capitalists were claiming victory, free trade – the market won. So it was really inspiring to see this model of this example of what a new social movement might look like. It’s really inspired people ever since then. So that was 20 + years ago.

After that very brief armed uprising, the Zapatistas have not used their weapons ever since then. They do still have an insurgent army. That’s, I think, an important thing to know about them in terms of their character as a very militant movement. But it’s also in reality, it’s much more of a broad social movement, in terms of its actions, and has become much more known for peaceful mobilizations, for political marches and other actions, for convening civil society. Mexican as well as international civil society, to come together and talk about the different problems that we face different strategies of how we can find solutions collectively and build a world of of greater dignity and justice.

It’s also become very known for its project of indigenous autonomy. So in its own territory, in eastern Chiapas, they’ve developed autonomous governments, their own health care and education systems. They have a whole system of economic cooperatives, which have developed an economy that’s based on cooperation and solidarity, rather than one that’s based on on profit.

TFSR: I was really struck by… because there’s lots of parts in your book, and a lot of its interview based, but I remember reading that the Zapatistas would come down from the mountains posing as teachers, or whoever, and just start talking to people. And it has so much an emphasis on people talking to each other and being like, “why are you so poor? Why don’t you have as much to eat as you need? Why do you need to do all this work?” Trying to get people’s wheels turning.

HK: Definitely. I think that that same concept that you’re pointing out, of dialogue, I think has been really important within the Zapatista movement. But also, when I mentioned convening civil society at the national or international level, I think that same concept of dialogue that you’re describing has really been important in terms of how the Zapatistas have engaged with people around Mexico and around the world. Using that same process of listening to each other, of asking questions that really makes each other think, “Why is this injustice the case? What can we do about it?” And so I think that that’s been one of the ways it’s been so effective for them to spark people responding by organizing in their own contexts around the world.

TFSR: And it seems like those conversations were extremely non coercive, meaning that people were like, “Oh, there’s this meeting where people are talking about it, come to it if you want.”

HK: I think that’s right. So, when I mentioned that 1994 was the Zapatista uprising, the very brief uprising, they had actually been organized in clandestine way for 10 years before that, from 1983 to 1994. 1983 is when the EZLN was formed in the mountains of the jungles of Chiapas. So for the next 10 years, they were doing exactly what you’re describing, talking to people in the villages, asking them questions, encouraging them to organize. There was very strong movements in Chiapas like I mentioned. People turn to armed struggle, because they had already been, many people who became Zapatistas, had been engaged for years and years in campesino movements, for example, or indigenous rights movements, asking for land reform from the government, for example, and really seeing no response.

The Zapatistas often referred to themselves, and have been called, ‘the voice of the voiceless.’ So it’s really the sense of very, very marginalized, kind of forgotten corner of Mexico and people making this decision to take their own destiny into their own hands. So I think when the original core guerrilla nucleus that formed in 1983, began to really reach out for people in the villages. It just was a very fertile moment for people to say, “Yes, it’s time. We need to take this to a whole other level and demand our rights and do that in a determined and courageous way.”

TFSR: I’d love to talk a little bit about your book, which is called ‘*Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories,*’ and it is heavily interview based, drawn from interviews, many of which you conducted yourself, with people who directly experienced working with the EZLN and you mentioned that you lived in Chiapas itself from 1997 to 2003. Would you talk a little bit about more about your time living in Zapatista communities in Chiapas?

HK: Like I mentioned, when I went down there I wasn’t planning to stay for so long. But one of the reasons that I felt like history was kind of unfolding before my eyes… The Zapatistas movement in itself was incredibly inspiring to me at that time. I was so struck by it. But in particular, the role of women has always been crucial. I think this is true for many social movements. This had been my experience, personally, as well as something I had studied was the experience of women within many social movements, where on the one hand, there’s this opportunity, and you are engaged in this whole new way, and at the same time, even within that social movement, women have had to fight for their own rights within that to defend themselves.

So, I have had this kind of long standing interest in women’s participation in radical and revolutionary social movements. So when I got to Chiapas, it was that particular aspect of history, that was unfolding before my eyes were, on the one hand, women have played a critical role in the Zapatista movement from the very beginning, and at the same time, had to push for a lot of changes internally. There was a lot that was still evolving and unfolding. I was very struck by that combination of these amazing, strong, courageous, inspiring women leaders. And also the participation of women within the Zapatista movement was continuing to evolve. That was what compelled me to stay for so much longer.

I got involved with the women’s cooperatives in particular, because it’s an economic space for women to generate resources collectively and invest those resources back into their communities. But because it’s an all-women’s space. There are all women’s collectives, and all men’s collective, that really stems from, because gendered division of labor still exists to a large degree. So women’s collectives tend to be artisan collectives, or vegetable gardens, or chicken raising collectives.

Because they are all-women’s spaces, they’re also really an area where women oftentimes come to voice and come to their own sense of power for the first time. It’s the first time they might be participating outside of the home or learning to speak up. So it’s kind of like a springboard for women’s involvement in other ways in the Zapatista movement.

So that was the kind of work that I was drawn to. This coworker and I developed a project kind of hand in hand with the Zapatista women leaders, their kind of regional representative. So we had sort of an ongoing conversation with them about what might be useful, and what would be helpful for us to do as outsiders, and develop this project of supporting women’s cooperatives and women’s regional organizing in general. So that was what I did for most of the time that I was there in Chiapas.

TFSR: Apart from artisanal stuff and vegetable gardening, and what were some of the projects that the women’s collective did?

HK: They were each organized around whatever different economic activity they decide. This is just one way that women are organized. But in particular, in economic cooperatives, women often talk about how the first step is to get together as a women’s meeting or women’s assembly and decide to form a cooperative, and then decide what type of cooperatives they want to form. So, they might decide, for example, to start a vegetable garden or to start a chicken raising collective and they’ll each contribute something like one peso each to buy seeds and start the vegetable garden, or they each contribute one hen, and then that’s how they start to chicken raising collective.

Some of the ones that are most common… Those ones that we mentioned, the artisan cooperatives, tend to be for outside consumption, so they sell more to an external market. A lot of the other ones are really more geared towards internal consumption. So even as they’re generating resources, with vegetable gardens for example, they’re addressing nourishment in their communities. That’s a big source of health problems, because people have historically had a pretty limited diet. In addition to generating those resources, they’re also producing for local consumption.

Another example of that is sometimes the women open collective stores. Because some of these villages are very isolated, it also allows people in the villages to buy from a local store, instead of having to travel just for basic goods. So, individuals don’t have to travel two or four or six hours to the closest city. The cooperative store does that buying and selling. So it’s making a little bit of money, but it’s also providing that service to the local community. And then the women collectively decide how they want to spend those resources. So they might be responding to emergencies, like if one woman is very sick, they can help her out, or if there’s a political mobilization, or they might decide to invest in the autonomous school.

So, there’s a lot of different ways, but that decision making process also is very important. It’s another way that is very empowering for the women who are involved to be engaged in, “Okay, we’ve generated these resources. Now, what do we want to do with the resources that we’ve generated?”

TFSR: The issue of food is so important, because it seems that so many of the women that you interviewed are indigenous women, and who were born into what I might call, a kind of indentured servitude. Is that completely inaccurate? Food was a very, very restricted resource for people who were subsistence farming to sustain themselves, but they were given for the most part infertile land or lands that just nothing would grow on.

HK: Yeah, absolutely. Some of what we were talking about earlier in terms of the legacies of colonialism have to do exactly with what you’re talking about, where the land that historically had belonged to indigenous peasants, was basically stolen from them. And ever since colonialism has existed, it has been really concentrated in the hands of a very few wealthy families in Chiapas that are basically European descended. Even though there have been some stages of land reform in Mexican history. Some of the biggest fincas, in a lot of parts of Latin America they’re called haciendas, in Chiapas are called fincas, they’re basically large plantations. When we think about the South in the United States, for example, the plantations, that historic cotton picking plantations.That type of economy. Where in Chiapas, they weren’t literally slaves, but like you said, they were basically indentured servants.

So, even though those exact same structures didn’t exist anymore, it looked very similar in terms of the indigenous peasants having either to live and work full time on the fincas, or they have these very small plots of land up kind of on the rocky mountainside where basically nothing grew. So land and the food that they produced was just a huge source of inequity, or manifestation of that inequity, the injustice that people were living with. People actually talk about the hunger months, ‘el tiempo de hambre’, when their corn had run out from one season and they hadn’t harvested the corn from the next season and there’s this kind of gap in between where they just literally didn’t have enough to eat.

So, that’s kind of historically what people were dealing with. It was just so very core to people’s lives and people’s experiences.

TFSR: You mentioned that you came over to Chiapas. Could you speak about writing on this topic from the perspective of a relative outsider? Could you talk about how that influenced your approach?

HK: So at the tail end of the time that I was there, one of the projects that I worked on before I left was an internal document where the women wanted to record their own stories. I think Zapatista women recognize that they’ve been part of something pretty historic, and they wanted to record that for themselves. But they also really wanted to use it as a tool for education for organizing with other women. So I did that project, which was really amazing. You mentioned earlier, that a lot of the books is heavily based on interviews that I did with different women. And so a lot of the interviews were kind of throughout the time that I was there. But a lot of them were particularly from this time period, when I was doing this project with the women that was initially just for themselves. But once we finished it, and they have this product, which was like a popular education manual. It was really geared towards them not only having their own stories documented, but being able to kind of use it to educate and organize other women. They themselves said, “You know what? We actually really want to share these stories with an outside world as well. And how do you feel about doing something like this book, but for an outside audience?”

I tell that whole story, because I feel like your question is coming from this really important place of what is the role of an outsider in writing a book like this. I had spent several years at that point, working very closely with the Zapatistas very much always as an outsider, right? It’s not my community. It’s not my context. But I was very close with the communities at that point. I would not have felt like it was appropriate for me to go and publish this book or share their stories if it hadn’t been specifically a request or a suggestion that came originally from them.

I felt like it was important personally, because in this country so much has been written about the Zapatistas, but very little about women and even less in their own words. So even though it is my book, I felt like my role was much more as a cultural bridge to create a vehicle for women to share their own stories. So the book contains a lot of my own writing, where I introduce the women or I share historical background or some context, but my intention was always to do that as a foundation for an outside audience to be able to then engage with the women’s stories from having the necessary background, but then to hear really directly from them.

So, like you said, the book is very heavily based on these interviews. And that was really the most important thing to me. And so just going back more concretely, to your question, I think that I, as an outsider, did have the ability to kind of create that bridge, especially in an audience in this country, but like I said, very much coming from a commitment to create the space for the women to kind of tell their own stories and people to hear as directly as possible. Because I had been so incredibly touched, and moved, and inspired by all these women that I had worked with over the years. Their stories of transformation, their stories of struggle, their stories of courage had been so meaningful to me, that when they were the ones that suggested that to me, it was such an honor to think of me creating that vehicle for them to share the stories with a broader audience.

TFSR: Yeah, for sure. And speaking as another outsider, it was really amazing to be able to read their experiences in their own words. So I’ve strongly benefited from that. It’s a pretty incredible experience to be able to do that.

HK: I mean, the fact that you have that experience of it makes me feel like I accomplished what I set out to do.

TFSR: It’s amazing that because Zapatismo has, like you said, so many visible female leaders like Comandanta Ramona comes to mind, but there hasn’t been much written about Zapatista women.

HK: Yeah, there has been some stuff written for sure. There is stuff out there, but relative to how much has been written overall about the Zapatista movement, I feel like there was a real gap. What’s been written about Zapatista women I feel like hasn’t been thorough. So, I really felt like it was important to me.

TFSR: Will you speak to the political roots of Zapatismo. It seems to me that there were some strongly Maoist communist and militaristic currents in there. Since this is an anarchist radio show, I feel like I should ask that question to clarify that for the listening audience?

HK: One thing I think that is very fascinating, I think specifically from an anarchist perspective is that Zapatismo is a blend of many different political traditions. Political and also historical and cultural traditions that didn’t come out specifically of an anarchist trajectory, but ends up having a lot in common with anarchism. I think anarchists around the world have really related to the Zapatistas because of some of these core principles that the Zapatistas have come to represent, including not trying to take State power, that they instead believe in kind of creating power from below, creating alternative institutions to the State and having a lot of very horizontal structures. And then all the stuff that we’re talking about, about indigenous autonomy, and having a critique not only of the State, but of the whole political system, and they’ve been very clear that they’re not going to turn into a political party. Which was a path that many Central American guerrilla movements too and eventually converted into political parties.

But in terms of the roots, which you were asking about. So that’s all to say that the end product of Zapatismo has a lot in common with anarchism, but it came from all these very different places and political historical roots. One of the things that I think is so unique, and to the Zapatistas credit, has been their ability to draw the best of different political traditions. We were talking a little bit earlier about the history of the Zapatista movement, there was this core nucleus of Marxist guerrillas that came out of the student movement in the 60’s in the 70’s throughout Mexico. They went down and formed that initial guerrilla nucleus that we were talking about in 1983. But they really began to interact with the Campesino movements, the Indigenous movements in Chiapas at the time, with the Catholic Church, which was very heavily influenced by Liberation Theology, like you said, there was Maoist groups down there at the time. I think what the Zapatistas were able to do, was to blend all that into something that was kind of new and unique, that I would now call Zapatismo that came from these very different political threads.

I think a lot of the more horizontal aspects came from the history of the indigenous communities themselves. The original core of Zapatistas who were not from Chiapas, which we’re only a handful of people really. I mean, numerically speaking, the Zapatista movement is pretty much all indigenous peasants from Chiapas, but there was this original group that came from elsewhere to kind of start, at that time, their vision was much more like the the vision of the Cuban revolution.

In some of the really poetic writing about the Zapatistas themselves and how they’ve described themselves, Marcos, for example, who is a male non-indigenous leader that was the spokesperson for the Zapatista movement for many years. He talks eloquently about that process of indigenization of the Zapatista Army in some ways. So if people are interested, I definitely encourage them to look up some of those writings or descriptions of that process. They are very fascinating.

TFSR: Apparently, I heard that Subcomandante Marcos, who was like the leader of the Zapatista movement, abolished himself as a Subcomandante. Did you hear about that? And is that true?

HK: It is true. It’s funny because he… I don’t mean this to sound dismissive. I feel like everything he does, he sort of has to do with a flourish. So even the way that you describe it as like, “He abolished himself.” He basically, in practical terms, what he was doing was kind of passing off the reins to other, indigenous leaders. Which I think is great. It was time for that to happen.

The indigenous communities had chosen Marcos as their spokesperson, I think they legitimately recognized that he would be able to play the role of reaching out to the world, and he’s a very poetic, very philosophical, charismatic, kind of articulate leader. And at the same time, it feels right that it was time to kind of pass on those reins to the local, indigenous leadership. So it was about a year ago, he said that Marcus had died and reemerged as Galeano. Galeano was the name of a man who was killed about a year ago in an attack against one of the Zapatista communities. And so, he renamed himself Galeano, in honor of the person who had been killed. And at the same time, said that it was time for him to kind of pass this on to other leadership.

So there’s a new Subcomandante, who now has that role. It’s kind of an interesting dual role of military leader and spokesperson. The Subcomandante is not actually the political leader of the EZLN, there’s a political body of leaders, which is kind of chosen by all the different communities. There’s different layers, each community has an assembly, and then each region has an assembly, and they kind of choose their representatives at each of those levels. So, at the highest level is the political comandantes, which is a collective body of leadership, the political leadership of the EZLN. Actually the subcomandante is called subcomandante, because he is under their direct command. So the military leadership is underneath the command of the political leadership.

But because he’s also the spokesperson, it’s the person that people most often kind of associate with the Zapatista movement. Then what we were speaking about earlier, in terms of not hearing from women, part of that is because there has been this one person who has been kind of the most well known leader of the Zapatista movement who also happens to be a man. It’s just that’s like the one, if people have generally heard of one Zapatista, it’s usually Subcomandante Marcos.

TFSR: You write in chapter one of your book that the injustices that people faced were the roots of the Zapatista revolutionary movement. To that end, would you describe general conditions that the women you spoke to faced before the influence of the Zapatistas?

HK: Yeah, definitely. So Comandanta Esther, who was another one of the powerful women Zapatista leaders, she one time spoke before the Mexican Congress in 2001. It was the first time an indigenous woman had ever spoken to the Mexican Congress, which itself is startling. So, she spoke to the Mexican Congress, and she talked about women Chiapas being exploited or oppressed three times over, she said, “first, because we’re poor, second, because we’re indigenous, and third, because we’re women.” I think that really gets at the heart, we were already talking about some of the legacies of colonialism. Indigenous women deal with all of that. They deal with the racism, they deal with the poverty, they deal with economic exploitation, but then they also deal with gender discrimination.

The way you framed it, before the influence of the Zapatista movement, just as sort of an extraordinary level of lack of rights in the sense that they were pretty much confined to their home, couldn’t leave their home without the permission from their husband or their father. From the very time they were girls they were basically told they didn’t have rights, they didn’t have a voice, their role was just to work in the home and to take care of kids. That’s obviously very important, dignified work, raising children and taking care of the home, but it’s not something that I believe women should be limited to.

Then in terms of the family life, women were married very young, oftentimes, against their will. When they were maybe 13 or 14 years old, their father would arrange a marriage for them, basically. Then women oftentimes had 10, 12, sometimes 15 kids, and so had very little control over their own lives, their own bodies, the decisions that impacted their lives. And the realm of public decision making was really dominated by men.

So, the Zapatista women, the older women, this is what their lives were. They oftentimes talk about, the first chapter of the book is called something like ‘stories of our mothers or grandmothers,’ because they oftentimes refer to these as the stories that our mothers, our grandmothers had told us, including the Zapatista women who were still around today. This is what they grew up with, just this really intense level of discrimination and marginalization.

TFSR: I had a thought, because I remember reading an interview with one person, I don’t remember what her name was, but she basically described the difference between societal men’s work and women’s work. She said that, “the men’s work is hard, yes, but people get to take breaks, and we never really get to take breaks. We have our, like you said, our 13 children, two babies on our hip, grinding flour for tortillas, and getting water and cleaning the house and doing all sorts of odd jobs, and also caring for many, many children, and not ever getting to take a break. People often were just ill a lot be from overwork and malnourishment and all that stuff.” So I found that really striking.

HK: Yeah, it’s kind of extraordinary. And, like you said, in terms of the women’s workday, they talk about the kind of double workday that I think women in this country still experience. The expectation that after a day’s work, you come home and women are still largely expected to be the ones doing primary childcare and taking care of the home. But it was to such an extreme degree, like you said, women were basically working nonstop from the moment that they woke up to the moment that they went to bed. Oftentimes would go out to the field and work side by side with the men. So that was, “men’s work” was working in the fields. But then once men were done with that day of work, they would kind of come home and rest, whereas the women would come home and then continue to do all the other work that they were doing, the domestic work and everything else that you were describing.

TFSR: So we’re talking about a lot of like, positive aspects of the EZLN. And there are many, many, many of them. But since it’s an organization that’s run by people, and people are flawed, and all of this stuff, I wanted to bring up a quote that I was struck by on page 95, which goes, “women’s right to own or inherit land has not been staunchly defended by Zapatista authorities in the ways that their equal right to political participation has.” Will you speak about the cultural and social aspects of this dispute?

HK: Yeah, so, when we were talking earlier about how important land is, it’s important to the indigenous communities of Chiapas economically, because it is the source of food and of income. Also as indigenous people, it’s really important to them, culturally, spiritually, this concept of Mother Earth. They don’t think of land as private property. So, the Zapatistas carried out a bunch of land takeovers in 1994 in the same context of the uprising, one of the other actions that they took was these land occupations, and then they redistributed these fincas that we were talking about before, to indigenous peasants, Zapatistas, throughout the state of Chiapas. That made a huge difference in people’s lives. When we were talking earlier, also about the ‘hunger month,’ when people didn’t have enough crops to literally feed themselves throughout the year, people living on this retaken land, this land was much more fertile, they had more access access to more land. That means just a huge difference in people’s lives in terms of their kind of economic livelihood, in terms of their food security, and again, in terms of their identities as indigenous people, it’s culturally, spiritually, just having a territorial base has been super important and to the Zapatista movement in terms of having an area of land where they are experimenting with all these other aspects of society. The society that they’re building. All of that has been very important.

Like I said that they don’t think of land as private property, but it is still divided. So, individuals will work on a particular parcel of land, so they don’t own that land, but that’s their kind of parcel of land to farm on. And the Zapatistas… I think it’s one of the few areas where, like you said in that quote is compared to women’s political participation, the EZLN as an organization has very staunchly defended women’s right to be involved in the movement at all levels, but with the access to land, it hasn’t been. It’s actually one of the few areas that stood out to me, where the EZLN, I believe, could have been more proactive, and hasn’t been. So, they’ve kind of reproduced some of the gendered assumptions that women don’t need access to land in the same way. When they have divided up, for example, the land that they took over, they divided up those individual parcels primarily to men. Then it was up to, it’s mostly individual families to decide, as they pass land on to the next generation, if they would pass it on kind of equally to the sons and daughters, or just to the son.

When we were talking earlier about women fighting for their rights within different social movements. They’ve continued to push and it is kind of an internal debate. I think there’s been a lot of movement around it. A shift has definitely taken place. But I think we haven’t seen as big as a shift there in terms of access to land for women are equally between women and men as we have seen some really pretty incredible shifts and other types of transformations that women have experienced.

I think it’s just a fascinating example that no movement is perfect, none of us as individuals are perfect, and our social movements aren’t perfect either. For me personally, it’s one of the few areas that I think the EZLN could have taken a more proactive stand in terms of the women’s agrarian rights.

TFSR: Yeah, I mean, these kinds of social societal changes happen so slowly and revolutionizing the way that we overthrow misogyny in ourselves and in our communities, I think will be a thing that will last the entirety of humans lasting. However long that may be.

On the on the note of some of the more positive social changes that the EZLN brought about, one of the more striking changes of the organization was a women’s revolutionary law, which was shared publicly after 1994. Will you speak about this law and about its role in Zapatista history.

HK: The women’s revolutionary law was written and passed by the EZLN in 1993 leading up to the Uprising. Then they shared it publicly, like you said, after the Uprising in 1994. It was a very important document, and I’ll talk in a second about some of what it contains. But I think it was very important, both in terms of all the work that went into it, and then all the work that has happened since then to implement it. So there’s this one point in time when it was passed, but also represents, like you were saying a second ago, that change takes time.

Iin the end of the late 80’s and early 90’s, like when we were talking earlier about the clandestine organizing that the EZLN was doing in the communities. One very important aspect of that was, and in particular, oftentimes, it was women insurgents who were talking to women in the different villages, and really sort of instigating that same sense of asking about injustice that we were talking about earlier, women were doing that specifically around women’s rights and around gender discrimination and asking women, “do you think life really has to be like this? How else could life look like?” And so all these women’s assemblies and talks and conversations went into creating the women’s revolutionary law. So, there were the political leaders as well as the military leaders, early women leaders in that time, really carried out the series of conversations. That was what became the women’s revolutionary law. So they drew up all of those proposals into this document that was passed by the political leadership, the comandantes, in 1993. It became a framing document regarding what women’s rights in Zapatista territory are.

So, in terms of what it actually says, it talks about women’s right to participate in the movement at all levels. That gets at their political participation, their leadership in their communities, their ability to be military leaders in the Zapatista rebel army. But it also talks about a very broad range of areas of life. And so it talks about women’s right to health care and education. It talks about women’s right to live free of violence. It talks about about women’s right to decide who to marry and how many children to have. So, it really addresses across both public and private spheres, family life, community life, political life. And in some ways, those rights are very basic, but putting each of them into practice is hugely transformative.

Then once the law was passed, the work that then came to implement it was work of consciousness raising, work of education, work of changing those family norms. I think if you look at each one of the points in the revolutionary women’s law, there has been huge transformation that’s taken place. I think it’s so important that you asked earlier about what were women’s lives like before the Zapatista movement, because that helps give us an understanding of just how extraordinary those transformations were. From that situation that the women describe themselves, their mothers, their grandmothers living in, to what Zapatista women have achieved in really an incredibly short period of time.

On the one hand, I totally agree with what you said a second ago about patriarchy, that it’s something that it takes a huge amount of time to uproot. I can’t really fault the Zapatistas for not having ended patriarchy in the 20 years that they’ve been at it, because I don’t think anywhere in the world, I don’t think there’s been anywhere that patriarchy has been completely uprooted.

TFSR: That’d be such a tall order.

HK: And if there is somewhere out there, and your listeners know of that place, please let me know,

TFSR: You’ll be the first to know, definitely,

HK: That’d be great. Maybe one of you listeners will call and let us know. “This is where patriarchy has been uprooted.”

But there was a huge amount of transformation that took place in this very short time period, in types of changes that I think in many contexts take sort of generations to unfold. The level of women’s political participation, the level of their leadership in the movement, the changes that have taken place in the home, I think those points of the revolutionary law have really, to a large degree been implemented by women choosing if they want to marry at all, and if they do, who they settle down with, how many children they have.

So, there’s a lot of work to be done. But there’s also just a tremendous amount that’s been accomplished. And that I think, is also really at the heart of why I wanted to publish this book, and why I wanted to create that vehicle for women to tell their own stories, because not only are those transformations so incredible, but I think there’s so many lessons to be learned. It is a very different context. What it can look like, what it can mean to accomplish those types of transformations in our own lives,

TFSR: Obviously, the EZLN has had a lot of international effects on people. Will you speak to some of the impacts that this movement has had on radical and anarchist societies and other countries, especially concerning the involvement of women? And to what extent do you see it still having an effect?

HK: Definitely. I do really believe that ever since 1994, the Zapatista movement has been one of the most impactful social movements around the world that has just had a tremendous ripple effect in terms of influencing and inspiring people around the world. And I think there’s some really concrete examples of that and at the same time, I think it’s really hard to measure, but just kind of undeniably out there.

So, one of those really concrete examples is the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s. So if folks remember or have heard of the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, or some of the other mobilizations that were taking place around the world. That really was something, the Zapatistas helped plant the seeds of that movement in some of those gatherings that I was talking about earlier that the Zapatistas have acted kind of as conveners of those conversations.

So they invited people to their territory, and people came throughout Mexico, but really from all over the world. And they really put this call out for anyone who’s been negatively impacted by global capitalism. So whether that’s because you are a student, or a worker, or a housewife, or transgender person, or whatever the case may be. When I was talking earlier about their demands being very universal, but I think it’s also been that type of call to anyone who has been exploited, oppressed, who’s faced injustice, and so many different people from so many different walks of life respond that call. So in the late 90’s, the focus of that was really in the context of neoliberalism and thinking about how can we address that. So the anti-globalization movement of the late 90’s. It wasn’t the only thing, but it was one of the things that really helped plant those seeds.

So, that’s, I think, you know, one concrete example. But besides that, there’s so many different collectives, organizations, groups around the world that have been influenced by the Zapatistas. It’s hard to name or measure that impact. But I do feel like it’s intangible, but undeniable. I think young people today continue to be inspired by the Zapatistas. They’re not in the spotlight in the same way they were kind of 10, 15, 20 years ago. But I continue to hear constantly about different examples of people who are really influenced by the Zapatistas, inspired by them, and then concretely influenced by them.

And in terms of women, I think it has been a really key example of not only having a movement that has strong women leadership, but a movement that’s also been able to evolve. When we were talking earlier about the roots of Zapatismo and I was saying that one of the things that makes the Zapatistas somewhat unique, I think, is their ability to draw from different political traditions and kind of be fluid and adapt. Their approach to gender is an example of that. So even though on the one hand, they were always committed to women’s participation, but there has also been a real evolution of their gender analysis. They would not use the word ‘feminist,’ it’s not the term they would use, but I think they have developed a much more nuanced analysis of gender and really taken on this question of, “What does it look like to uproot patriarchy?” So, yes, it will take time. But there’s been kind of a whole new series of strategies to address patriarchy to really uproot it. I think that that is so inspiring and is something that many of us in different social movements around the world can still really look to as a model that there’s a lot that we’ve won, but there’s a lot more to do.

I think the Zapatistas, and for me, personally, the Zapatista women in particular, but one of the aspects of the Zapatista movement that I think that really resonates is this combination of, on the one hand, being kind of humble enough to know that they don’t have all the answers. So, they have this philosophy of ‘making the road by walking’ and constructing the world of justice and dignity that they want to live in building that step by step, stone by stone. So, I think that humility is really important to know that we don’t have all the answers, nobody has all the answers. But at the same time, having kind of the the chutzpah, having the courage to say, “that’s not going to stop us” from dreaming big and from taking on global capitalism, or from declaring war on the Mexican government. And for women, it’s not going to stop them from you know, asking, “How do we address patriarchy? And how do we take all this stuff on?”

So I think that combination, that humility combined with the courage to dream big, and act on those dreams, is the one kind of thing that I would like to leave your listeners with. I think that message is true in general, but for me, as a woman, I would say, in particular, for women, women engaged in other struggles where it’s all connected, right? Women’s rights are connected to economic justice and social justice and racial justice. And as we fight for all those things in this interconnected way, that’s kind of the message that if there was one thing I would choose that I would like to share what I took away from those years that I spent in Chiapas, and what I kind of hoped to convey in the book, that would be it.

TFSR: Hilary Klein, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about your book Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories, which is available from Seven Stories Press and I highly, highly recommend it. It’s a really, really good read and I learned a lot from it. Thank you so much for talking with me today.

HK: Oh yeah, it was such a pleasure chatting with you.

Fighting Back Against Displacement In Greece

Fighting Back Against Displacement In Greece

Drawing of a turtle with a park on its shell, with text in Greek "Ο λόφος του Στρέφη ελεύθερος θα μείνει!" translating to "Strefi Hill will stay Free!" in English
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This week, we spoke with Alex, an anarchist squatter in the Athenian neighborhood of Exarchia. They talk about repression by the New Democracy party, struggles against green washing wind turbines around rural Greece, the fires raging through the country, resistance to rape culture, fighting against the building of a metro station in Exarchia and the privatization of public spaces like Strefi Hill, police presence at Universities, anarcho-tourism and the hunger strike of anarchist prisoner Giannis Michialidas.

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On Earth Day 2022, affiliates of Reject Raytheon AVL performed a rally, march and direct action at the Bent Creek River Park to block traffic and protest the building of a factory by Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of aerospace war drone and fighter plan component manufacturer, Raytheon. You can support folks as they attend court at 9am on August 31st the Buncombe County courthouse, room 1A for trespassing charges. And you can learn more about the struggle to push back the murder machine manufacturer Raytheon locally at RejectRaytheonAVL.com

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Featured Track:

  • Αυτό Το Σύστημα [Διάβρωση Cover] by Γεμάτος Αράχνες, ρε Φίλε! from their 2021 split with Βελζεβούλ Τα μη χειρότερα

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Transcription:

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself to the audience with whatever name, preferred pronouns, location, political position, or however you feel will help give the audience a sense of of who they’re listening to.

Alex: Hi, my name is Alex. I use they pronouns. I live in Athens, Greece. I’m a squatter, and I’m involved in anarchist and social movements in the neighborhood.

TFSR: So first up, Greece, like many other places in southern Europe has faced terrible fires this year, a growing pattern alongside a terrible heatwave. I hope that you’ve been doing okay with this. I would like, if you could, to talk about climate change and your views on the role of capitalism in this. Have you seen mutual aid projects work to navigate the high temperatures and dangerous air quality where you’re at?

Alex: In the center of Athens, we don’t experience fires right now. It’s mostly in the mountains around Athens and in different parts of Greece and the islands. But this year, the fires, even if they’re very big, the media are trying a bit to not show them so much because they want to hide all these very big catastrophes. Last year, it was very important with the fires in Evia Island, which burned a huge amount of forests, like almost the 1/3 of the island. It’s the second biggest island in Greece. So, it’s big.

The fires here has to do a lot with capitalistic projects and money, they want to use the burned land for different kinds of businesses. They really don’t care about any laws or any natural environment issues. There are a lot of ecological struggles in Greece, against the wind turbines or against the mining in different parts of Greece. And of course, it’s a big plan. I think they’re experimenting with different capitalistic ways of how they will control and how they will use all of this burned land. Because we are speaking about a lot of burned land in Evia Island.

It’s unclear how exactly they want to use all of this land, but for sure we know because of the local people, is that when the fire starts, the states don’t want to put it out. This is a big scandal. The state is letting this fires burn everything and destroy people’s land. It’s really crazy how it’s happening. I don’t know what more specific, maybe you would like to hear about all the situation.

There is a lot of mutual aid for needs of the people, or for rescuing animals, or for taking out the fires, more self organized. We can see that the people in Evia, or in other places and in villages and communities, they put out the fire themselves. The States don’t care. Firefighters have very precise [orders], they tell them not to take out the fire. I don’t know if you want something more specific?

TFSR: Yeah. Is the land all private parcels of property? Or is it State property that once it is held by the State and then once it’s destroyed, the state says, “well, we can’t use this for anything. Let’s sell it.” So kind of a primitive accumulation option? How does the disaster capitalism of this fire sale thing actually work out for the State.

Also, people may be surprised to hear critiques of wind turbines. Could you share some of the concerns around those that people have?

Alex: Yes, they land it can be private property of people that live by agricultural work. In Greece still, in the smaller towns or in the villages, people live by growing stuff or by the forest. They live by the forest with different ways that they use forest material to live out of it. In a kind of old fashioned way, let’s say. So with destroying big forests, the State destroys natural environment, animals, and also the way that people can survive and live off it. So the people are pushed either to go to the cities, because they cannot live anymore in a village in a more natural environment or in more communal environment, or they are pushed to work in the next businesses that are going to these areas to take profit out of it. It’s not very clear what exactly they want to do. For example, they want to make maybe some more touristic areas out of burned land, some alternative tourism, some wind turbines, or some industries. It’s a lot of options what they want to do out of this land. It‘s too new, it’s very fresh, these catastrophes, to know exactly.

A lot of big businesses and construction businesses are involved in all this situation. They call it the ‘new forest,’ they want to make new kinds of forests like less wild, more controlled, more open for tourists that cannot go to a real forest. So it’s a lot of experiment, I would say, between the Greek State and very big, private companies. So we will see how it will turn out.

About wind turbines, I know that I have heard from other comrades around the world that this is not really a thing in other countries to struggle against. But here, it’s really, really strong struggles against the wind turbines. You can see small islands that get full of them, and it’s really bad for the local inhabitants. You can see places in Greece that it’s maybe a small village and on top of the mountain and just next to it, you see a lot of wind turbines that of course, maybe the energy they are producing is not even going back to the local residents. So there’s really not any pro’s for them.

Also, the struggles against wind turbines are usually by local people. They don’t want to see the nature around the villages and get totally destroyed. They don’t want the animals to get kicked out. They don’t want the birds to be hurt by the wind turbines. They don’t want these very big companies to get profit and get full money off of their backs and destroy the natural place. I think they’re a more ecological movement in Greece. I think the opinion is that wind turbines… it’s like greenwashing, let’s say. It’s not a real innovation. It’s not something that is helping our class. It’s doing more damage than good, and it’s used for profit and for saying, “Ah look, we do something good!” But they destroy the lives of the locals.

And also with the wind turbines, the places that they decide to put them is places where people live. And also really natural forests. For example, there was there was a lot of natural places in Greece that with a new law of the government, they are not being protected anymore from the State. So, amazing natural treasures are not protected anymore, and they will be used for profits. For example, you can see the local struggles in the Tinos Island or Andros Island. It’s really amazing how the people there resist and self organize and how heavy are the repressions they also get.

I don’t know. I think it’s very interesting and I think there are also links in English for people to to read more good analysis on this. topic from the people In the fight against it.

TFSR: So you’re involved in the squatting movement in the Athens neighborhood of Exarchia, as I understand. Many listeners will be at least passingly familiar with the context there. But for those who aren’t, can you give a brief rundown of the legacy of counter-cultural and anti authoritarian struggles in that neighborhood through the dictatorship, it’s importance in the rebellion since December 2008, in the wake of the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos, and increasing neoliberal austerity since?

Alex: This neighborhood, Exarchia neighborhood, is in the center of Athens. It has always been kind of center of political struggle, of a wide political spectrum. It has been a political place even before the dictatorship, but it’s too old to analyze this. The thing is that this neighborhood is situated between universities. So it always has been placed with a lot of young people and artists and more cultured people, not really a full working class neighborhood. It’s a lie to say that it’s always been the working class neighborhood.

On the 17th of November 1973, there was a big revolt at the Polytechnic University that is in in this neighborhood, where the students and workers revolted against the dictatorship here. This was a really, really, really big event of the recent Greek history, with a lot of deaths of students from the military, and a big fight for… let’s say, democracy or a lot of things that are more free. A lot of rights of the people were won, back then, after the fall of the dictatorship.

Polytechnic University has always been a center of struggle for the anarchist movement and leftist movements, a center of riots, a center of organizing, a very lively space of every day, very strong political activities. A lot of other events have happened there, repression, also another murder in ’85, another 15 year old comrade from cops.

Anyway, this neighborhood has always been somehow a center of counterculture, of ideas, of the first squatting movement in Greece in the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of things can be said, and in 2008, there was the murder of the 15 year old anarchists and student, Alexis Grigoropoulos in the neighborhood from cops. After this, a very big insurrection broke out that started the same night and continued for almost a month, in Athens and in all of Greece. In every city, there was revolt, riots and squatting of public spaces and protesting for it.

It turned out that people were protesting for everything that was repressing them at this time. We can say that this murder was a spark to to start this flame of the people. And yes, Athens and Greece had very big movements also after 2008, 2012, and 2013 with austerity measures. 2008 played a very big role also for people to organize. You can see that a lot of self organized spaces or groups or political things were started then, and have stayed until now.

But for sure Exarchia neighborhood has been through a lot of phases. It’s also very important not to romanticize it. It’s very important to give a clear image of this neighborhood and not to make it sound like the place of anarchy or the place of utopia. Of course, it’s a place with capitalism. It’s a place with commercial relations. It’s a place with bourgeois people. It’s a lot of things. We should not romanticize it as a neighborhood.

TFSR: That seems really important that you focus on not romanticizing it and on the commercialism. I know that a few travel guides published in English, when they’re talking about Athens have a section specifically on Exarchia about how experimental and how weird and exciting Exarchia is, “You should come and visit and go to these hostels and go to these restaurants and cafes and what have you.” Not unlike Christiania up in Northern Europe. Tourism seems like an issue there. Yeah?

Alex: Yes, right. Now we have a huge issue with tourism. In the past, it was more alternative tourism, or like “anarcho-tourism.” Where people would come with the idea of, “Ah so nice, because graffiti is everywhere and I can smoke weed here or whatever, and see some riots!” Which was bad. But now we talk about a whole different new level of tourism. It’s really, really commercial. The capital has really invested money in Exarchia. You can see a lot of Airbnbs everywhere popping up. A lot of people get kicked out of their houses. I think the local population has been, about half of it has left, people cannot pay rent anymore, or whole apartment buildings where people have been kicked out. So they can use all of it as a hotel or as a hostel. And big investors are coming to the neighborhood.

A lot of new shops are opening, fancy ones, more hipster, they’re more expensive. It’s a really, really big issue, the issue of gentrification of the neighborhood. It’s bad by itself, this process of gentrifying in every neighborhood of the world. But here, one more reason why it’s so bad, because it’s destroying the main place of political organization. It’s not only kicking out some people. Gentrification is used as a tool to stop any political action or any resistance from the locals for all the new projects that they want to build in this neighborhood.

TFSR: You spoke about some of the history of resistance in the neighborhood and now discussing how it continues to act as a sort of core for activity around Athens. I wonder if you could talk about the situation of social spaces, and non legalized housing and squatting around the neighborhood today? What sort of spaces do you see? Who lives there? What social needs are provided for and how are they coordinated? I’m hoping to also hear not just about squats, but also social spaces like Strefi Hill.

Alex: Yes, I don’t want to let you down, but there’s not really a squatting movement in Athens anymore in the center. Of course, there are squats. Not only in Exarchia, in the whole of Athens, and probably there are more than a lot of other places in the world. They’re also fully illegal, I mean that you don’t do any process to have a squatting house or a political house, squatting, whatever. But really the New Democracy government when it came to power, one of the first things they did is to evict a lot of squats. So the this way of organizing through big open squats is not existing anymore. I mean, there are squats. There are squats in a lot of different neighborhoods where people are organized there, but it’s not so big as it used to be.

In the Exarchia there are a few squats left and housing squats, not public ones. But I would say it’s not the main place of organizing. There are also social centers and social places where people can go and organize. And the main tool of organizing was Polytechnic University. The anarchist movement is working here by doing a lot of open assemblies for different topics. So you need a big open public space where everybody can gather, or that can gather from 50 to 200 people, for example. So universities, always were helping in this. But now the historical Polytechnic University is kind of taken out of our hands. We kind of lost it. We had a huge building there that was the center of of these open assemblies and all this organizing. They have completely taken out from us. It’s hard to gather there, you gather there only on the outside, not in a building.

The square of Exarchia is also a public space where people can meet. The local cafes can also be place for organizing, and then the Hill, the parks, the public spaces. For example, now, because the universities are closed for the summer, all the assemblies are taking place in Strefi Hill, because it’s a big place, it has a very big open amphitheater. People can meet there and organize from there.

I don’t know what else more specifically.

TFSR: Yeah, in these assemblies that you’re talking about, it’s not a part of political culture in the United States where we’re based out of, to have large assemblies. My understanding is that there is a history and a continuity of neighborhood assemblies or assemblies that come together in order to discuss or debate specific issues and take action in those areas. How much is that sort of an actual thing in Athens political organizing, is it that people from the whole neighborhood come out, or just interested parties, or just a political group?

Alex: It depends on the issue, and on the time. It depends on a lot of factors. But this open assembly mindset is kind of a tool of the anarchist movement. Historically, people had this need to gather together after some political event, or some oppression. After an eviction of a squat, after some big event that happens, people always have the feeling and the will to meet all together and organize. That gives the chance also to new people and young comrades to join, without having to meet anyone. You can know anyone and join there and get organized.

Yes, this was also a thing of neighborhoods and the more mass movements in Athens. To me, it’s a very important way to organize. It’s basically what we do, even if we have an assembly of 15 or 20 people, we would call it openly so anyone can join. For example, when the attack on Strefi Hill happened, when the plans of gentrifying the hill started, the first assembly we did was with 300 people… locals from the neighborhood, leftists, anarchists, from some left political parties, some from more anarchist people, or people from other neighborhoods. It depends what happens. If there is a big event people would gather. Like last week we did an assembly of about 120 people because of the attack on the Exarchia neighborhood.

TFSR: So within the wider project of gentrification in, for instance, Exarchia, it seems like Strefi is important because it’s a wide open space with an amphitheater, as you say, where people can meet for this purpose or simply to enjoy themselves, be in assembly or just to gather in small groups or picnic or whatever. But can you talk about the projects that are slated for Strefi Hill specifically and what threatens to to damage that spot?

Alex: It’s a very nice hill. It has different parts for different kinds of people. It has a basketball [court] for kids. The whole neighborhood gathers there with their kids with their dogs. It has an open rooftop for people to see the view of Athens and have a beer, it has an amphitheater, it has a playground, it has a taverna, a local restaurant, and different spots for people to hang out. It’s also a place where homeless people can sleep at night. It’s very used, it’s a very lively place, people can do concerts there, theater, do assemblies, do movie projections, they can do whatever they like.

It’s also a natural place. There are turtles, a lot of different kinds of birds, cats, a lot of trees. So it combines a lot of nice things. It has been used for organizing, but it has been used also to attack. I would like to say that also, it’s also a strategical point. It’s at the top of Exarchia, it is the hill of Exarchia, so strategically, it’s a very good position.

The hill, of course, like a lot of other public spaces in Greece, are always left out by the municipality. They don’t pick up the trash, they don’t fix broken lights, they leave it without water, they close the water of the hill. They neglect it with the purpose to go and say, “Ah, look at the hill, the hill is so fucked we have to renew it.” But in reality, they left it like that and we pick up the trash and we fix everything.

The plan of the gentrifying the hill, it’s made by a huge investment company that will ‘adopt’ the hill. That’s what they say. So the plans of gentrifying it is not only made from the municipality of Athens, but is together with private companies that have a lot of business around Exarchia. They sell and buy huge buildings, they take profit out of it. So it’s like a mafia of the mayor, together with these companies and businesses to destroy the place and then take money.

The way that they want to destroy it, they want to make the hill, not a free white space, but a place that can be more familiar with tourists, they will cut trees and plants and will put new ones, but not local ones. They want to put cement or other bad material around to make it more, they say ‘accessible,’ but in reality, it will be accessible for good shoes and high heels of tourists. It’s a big plan with a lot of different things that they want to destroy on the hill. We know, it’s very simple to understand that is a bullshit plan.

In the beginning, they wanted to close it also and put cameras and guards. They say they will not do it, they took it back. But of course they can do it in a few years, we don’t know. And we have seen how they are gentrifying and doing the same work, that they want to do in Strefi, they do it in some other places and we see the result. It’s really not a sustainable result. It’s not the result we want. We don’t want to destroy the whole hill in order for them to just make money out of it. It will change completely the way that the hill looks, the way that the hill behaves. They will put lights that are from the bottom to the top, like a lot of lights that will create light pollution and will annoy the the animals.

TFSR: It will also make it difficult for homeless people to be able to sleep, with all the cameras and the lights and everything, right?

Alex: Of course. They want also to make an expensive bar there and expensive restaurants. It’s a lot of things that we are opposing. Also, we don’t accept anything that is coming from this private company, even if they say it’s for our own good.

TFSR: Can you talk about the metro station that’s slated for Exarchia? I know in the past when I’ve visited, usually I’ve taken a train to the Polytechnic and then walked or taken a bus or something to get over to Exarchia. I’m sure there’s other ways to get there. But if I was ever going to like K*VOX or something like that. It seems like a massive project to have to open up the street, and dig out a huge space, remove whatever happened to be there, and then put in a huge metro station connected to the other stations. It sounds like the project would not only bring a lot of tourists and business to the newly envisioned Exarchia neighborhood. But in the meantime, it would just further dig out the heart of the neighborhood.

Alex: Exactly. Yes. The plan is to make a new metro line in Athens. Magically it’s passing from a lot of vital free public spaces of Athens. A lot of squares in different neighborhoods, working class neighborhoods, where migrants or people that cannot afford to go to a bar, they hang out in in the squares, and the new metro line is taking over all this public space. And it will last, they say 8 years, we know that in Greek time 8 years is at least 10.

All the other metro stations from this new metro line has started to be built. But in Exarchia it hasn’t started yet, because of the resistance of the locals from political groups. It’s a very small square and the metro stations in Greece are very big. I don’t know how it can fit. I think it’s nonsense. You cannot fit the this big metro station in this place. They will have to remove 70 trees to make this. Yes, kill 70 trees, and it will not be possible to bring back trees like that, because of the way that they will have built it with cement and stuff. It will be noise in the heart of the neighborhood for 10 years. We will not have this vital space in the middle of the neighborhood. We know that this is not made for the needs of the people to move, it’s made only to destroy the political characteristics of the neighborhood and to bring commercialization and tourism. We think that if the metro station comes, it will be a disaster really. Because it also means that cops will be more and more in the neighborhood.

I just want to mention what happened the last few days. Because now we’re in a very, very tense situation. Any day the Metro will start to be built. They publicly said that during August, the metro station and the gentrification of Strefi Hill will start. Since Monday, we were guarding the square with 60 people. Tuesday and yesterday, these two days, a huge army of all kinds of cops came at 7 in the morning in Strefi Hill and brought with them, some of the responsible people of the municipality and from the companies to start the seeing what the hill looks and what they will gentrify and stuff like that. And in order to bring these 10 people to see the hill they brought an army of cops and they didn’t allow anyone to enter the hill in the morning. But we managed to bring some people to be inside the hill and to yell at them and to tell them all our political arguments and we went with them and the cops we did the big turn of all the heel while they were trying to work and we would annoy them and complain and resist. I can also send you some videos of these things that happened the last days.

Today they didn’t come, not in the hill or in the square. It’s really bad for them what they do also, it’s not acceptable to bring an army of cops and close and a hill during very high heat. People should be able to go somewhere. And every day, we have a lot of events in the hill or in the square. We do a lot of assemblies and actions and we take care of the hill. We try to resist. Even in August. August is a dead month in Athens, everybody’s away on the islands. So that’s why they came now because they know that people will not be here to resist.

TFSR: Just because it’s so hot, right? Like people take the opportunity to get away to places that are cooler, because in a city like that at this time of the year in the Mediterranean, it’s just boiling, I would imagine. Yeah?

Alex: Yes. And everybody in the summer goes to islands for vacation. That’s how it is and they know that. So, they try to attack now. They don’t do it in a time where the whole neighborhood will be here or the schools will be open. In a few days, everything will be a ghost town. Athens will be it ghost town in one week. That’s why they are doing it now.

So, these days, we are organizing a lot. Last week, it was a very tense week, there was two demos in Exarchia neighborhood. One against a rape incident that happened, and the other one was for the defense of the neighborhood. In both demos, again, an army of cops came and settled everywhere in every street of the neighborhood, and didn’t let us protest. We tried to do a demo and break the cops [line] in the feminist demo. But they attacked us two times. So like it’s crazy, they didn’t let a neighborhood demo against a rape incident to happen. They attacked feminists that were doing that. It’s crazy. The next day also, they didn’t let us demonstrate. That’s their new tactic. So, the repression has been high in the last weeks. And also with the hunger strike of anarchist comrade Giannis Michailidas.

TFSR: I definitely want to ask about Giannis, who as I understand, put a stall or at least paused the hunger strike at a very rough time, his body was unable to digest water at that point from what I was hearing. But just while we’re on the other subject, before we get to Giannis, with the anti rape demonstration, was the focus of it against a specific person that’s alleged to have committed the rape? Or was it more like, “there’s patriarchy in the society, we are demonstrating against it, let’s all be strong and denounce and stop rapes from happening,” what was the framing of it?

Alex: There was an attempt of rape in the neighborhood, an attempt of rape in a small street of the neighborhood during the day, combined with stealing and attacking. And as we heard, there are other incidents in the same street of attempts of rape and attacking, probably from the same person. So, that was what the demonstration was about. Some groups, they were combining this incident with the mafia issue in Exarchia, because the guy that did the attack in the attempted rape, he’s dealing with them or something like that in a shop by the square. So some of the groups have this thought that mafia-style or this business of selling weed or other drugs in the square can create patriarchical dynamics. For some protesters, this was also a reason to protest, and not only the rape attempt.

For me, rapists are a many. It’s beyond that [instance]. I mean, there are anarchists rapists, there are family rapists, it’s beyond that. To me, patriarchy is everywhere, and we should be against it in every kind of situation. But yes, it was more specific about this incident in the neighborhood. Patriarchy is really a big issue in Greece. In the last three days, there were three femicides. It’s a huge issue and the cops stopped feminist people from demonstrating against these three femicides!

It’s a very big issue that rapists that are also part of the New Democracy. They are friends of New Democracy, there are people with high positions in the government. They’re also pedo-rapists that have very high positions in the system of Greece. Recently a lot of them are released and are free. So this makes us very angry. It really kills us and we try to protest against this justice system that is constantly supporting rapists.

TFSR: So when you say that they were released, these were people that were affiliated with the New Democracy regime who were incarcerated, and who were known to be rapists, who New Democracy has released, right?

Alex: Yes. Or, for example, the murderer of Alexis Grigoropoulos got released and the murderers of Zackie Oh, the drag queen activist, their murderers were…

TFSR: Murder in the jewelry shop?

Alex: yes. They also got released. Some rapists that were in very high economical positions were also released, some actors too. This guy, the pedo-rapist, was the responsible of the National Theatre in Greece.

TFSR: Like the head of it? Wow.

Alex: Yes, the head of it.

TFSR: That’s a lot of power.

Alex: Yes.

TFSR: I’d like to also speak about the police in universities under New Democracy, but because you brought up the subject of of Giannis Michailidas, can you speak a bit about his case? He is tied in with a lot of the things that you’ve already spoken about, including the uprisings of 2008 and its aftermath. If you could talk about his hunger strike and how he is now that would be great.

Alex: Yes. So Giannis has been imprisoned around 8 or 9 years. He has also escaped from prison for around one and a half year, but then was arrested again in 2019 or 20. He has been accused of robberies and has been arrested also in the past for a lot of anarchist actions, for ecological struggles, for a lot of issues. I would say that he is, to me, a really strong and important comrade, with his feats and his power, and that he never gave up. Even when he escaped, he continued the struggle and has done really, really important things.

So, legally he should have been allowed to get released from jail because he has done the three fifths of his jail time. It has been also a lot of months that this could have been possible, but they don’t let him go. Legally he has done a lot of steps and for this separate procedure to go on, but they constantly are negative to his demand. So he decided as the last weapon to use his body to try to win this struggle, not only for him, but also for the other political prisoners and the other prisoners that are in bad situations in the Greek prison. He did this hunger strike in order to try to move the movements and act more actively in all the social political and other strategies.

The hunger strike was 67 days. During these days, there were a lot of actions, a lot of demos, a lot of attacks, a lot of interventions in political issues. It’s a big struggle, a lot of things were going on. We were waiting for the final decision of the court, this last stage that could decide on him and on the 66th day, the decision came out and it was negative. So this was really enraging for a big part of the society. Also, if you put together the story of all these rapists, and murderers that get released so quickly and so easily, at the same time that this comrade is dying because of the hunger strike, it’s even more enraging to see that the justice system is really corrupted.

The last days, he was really bad situation, even though the movement was growing stronger and stronger, and the struggle was finally getting more attention because the media was really trying to hide it for a long time. There was big demos and cops were attacking our demos and but there was pay back for them. In more and more social parts of the society and more people were taking a clear position to support the Giannis Michailidas, but I think the whole movements were a bit too late. All this support should have started kind of earlier, because his situation of health was really turning very bad.

TFSR: So he was denied release, or he is being denied release so far, under an argument by the judge that is like ‘preventative custody,’ right? Because they he will go back and do the same things that put them into prison in the first place. But they are fine releasing people who have a history of rape, as if robbing a bank versus raping someone are comparable things somehow.

In terms of the wider movement and activating the political bases and movements. Last year, there was the hunger strike that actually lasted for 66 days, also of Dimitris Koufodinas, which also brought huge amounts of people out into the streets, right? So there’s this kind of political culture in Greece, where people support their prisoners in a very active way, in a way that I find really inspiring and have not seen in a very long time in the United States. That’s that’s too bad that it didn’t it didn’t get the people out there when they needed to be. He’s just putting it on pause for the moment, but maybe will recommence it?

Alex: Yes. I don’t really know what this can mean. Because in his announcement, there was some vague parts where he said that he cannot really explain why he stopped, or puts on pause, the hunger strike. So I guess we will see, we will find out. But yeah, he said it’s on pause. I don’t know what this means, or pause until when? I don’t know. But I think for sure, it means that the struggle for his liberation is not over.

TFSR: So would you speak about the position of police in relation to universities, the role of these spaces for debate? You’ve already sort of talked about how the Polytechnic and closing the building was annoying, to the least, to assemblies that would have been using the space who now have to do it outside. But allowing police onto campuses is a relatively new technique that the government has been taking that has sort of been off of the books for a number of decades because of the memories of the dictatorship and the murders in Exarchia, and elsewhere.

Can you talk a bit about the role of the university as a public space, not just as a private space that people who pay to go to it like a private university in the United States would experience and what are the motivations of New Democracy in this?

Alex: Yes, the universities in Greece are public. There are also some private ones, but they don’t have this same situation, let’s say. So public universities are also kind of accessible for a lot of people to attend. There are a lot of student rights that have been won through the very strong movements, after the fall of dictatorship. One of the rights that we had, is called the ‘university asylum’. It’s a law that is not allowing the presence of police inside the universities. Of course, this law has been changed a lot of times, it’s complicated, I don’t even know how to explain all of the changes that has happened all these years. All this to say that the cops were entering, but only sometimes, like in extreme times, let’s say, something very bad…

TFSR: Like someone’s being attacked, or something like that? “I need to go in and resolve this,” sort of thing?

Alex: Not really. This not enough. It’s a political decision to put cops to stop something in a university. But in general, universities were used the for attacking the cops. They are a place that cops couldn’t enter. So you could use them as a place to attack the cops, or to hide, or to start the riots from there, or to squat. The university movements have been also very huge in the past. There have been great movements, like in 2006 or 2007. So the Greek University, it’s a very political space. The leftist more communist and Leninist people and political parties, they also have big power and influence in the universities. Every university has a lot of leftists, people from the communist party, and I would say at least one squatted place for more self organized and more anarchist ideas.

The main events, the assemblies, the parties, the raves, the concerts, the events, festivals, everything would take space there. In almost all of the universities in Athens and Thessaloniki, of course, and in every city that there is some movement or some students, the universities are active. So, it is a very public space. The university campuses, some of them are very big, and people just go there and play and have fun or people of the neighborhoods are also using these big campuses. It’s a very social and public space.

So, the asylum, I would say it’s a social contract. If the society’s opinion would allow cops to enter, the cops would enter. All these years a lot of times cops have entered the universities. But they would say it’s the shame for them to enter. It’s not good politically for the government.

But the propaganda also from the Syriza government was very tense against the criminality of the universities, against the rioters that destroy everything, and “they squat the university all the time”, and “the university is not normal,” that there is criminality and drug dealing and a lot of things. So, the Syriza government created this image of how bad the Greek University is, so when New Democracy came to power, the first thing they did was to stop the law for university asylum law. Of course, this, as I said before, has a lot to do with social acceptance. It’s not that the cops in Athens enter the university all the time, I would say this year they entered the Athens universities around three times, maybe four times? But in Thessaloniki it is way, way more tense. The second biggest city in Greece.

The government is planning for a ‘university police,’ a special police force that will be only in the universities and to guard them. There hasn’t yet been any big struggles against it, it hasn’t yet been made. Also, the law says stuff about cameras and to check your ID before you enter the university. All this goes together with a kind of privatization of the public education, which has a lot of parts in it, and contains a lot of money for the government to make the universities like a business. So, basically, they want to stop the resistance and the organizing that happens in universities for the students and for the rest of the movements. They want to stop it in any possible way.

TFSR: It’s worth noting that Syriza was a ‘center left party’ that was touted by a lot of progressives and leftists in the West. And also that New Democracy, was just sort of a reformulation of a lot of the leadership that was around during the dictatorship and that ruled for a long time after the fall of the dictatorship, right?

Alex: Yes, Syriza was a left wing government that popped out because of the mass movements that emerged in Greece. But of course, we don’t have any hope in this government, of course. It was very bad in a lot of ways, and they did a lot of repression to squats, to people, and to migrants. It’s very important to note that the leftist government doesn’t mean ‘haven’ or ‘utopia.’

TFSR: So, how can anarchists and anti authoritarian anti-capitalists support the resistance to gentrification in Exarchia from far away? Because definitely for the city that I live in, the struggles look different, but a lot of the components are similar in terms of AirBnB, or VRBO, or further privatization or monetization of of spaces and the pressure that those put on the government here to make the town less about the people that live here, but more for the investors and for the people that are here for a weekend to get drunk and crazy. So there’s a lot of commonalities. Maybe there’s ways that people in solidarity can strike locally and help support the struggle in Exarchia? For those people that are traveling, are there better ways for them to visit Athens or Exarchia? Or what would be a better approach than just trying to get a hotel room or an AirBnB?

Alex: I would say that, maybe I’m a bit harsh, but if somebody wants to come to Exarchia or Athens for a week, not to come, really. If people don’t want to come to join the struggle and be here with us, I don’t see a reason for them to come. We’re really open to international comrades. We have a lot of international comrades that are staying in Athens. It’s not about localism or some sort of hatred towards other people. It’s really that if you come here for a week, for a weekend, people usually, even if they have good will, they don’t have other solutions other than to stay in AirBnBs or hostels and or to pay expensive shit.

I don’t know. It’s kind of weird because sometimes we feel like we’re in a zoo. A lot of people are just coming here to see us, they don’t participate, they are just curious, and they just are watching us do all this stuff. It’s kind of an amusement for a lot of people, what we do, and we really try to explain that it’s not fun. It’s not amusement, you should not be curious to watch what we do here. If you want, you can come and join our struggle here and contact the local assemblies. Somebody can host you, somebody can find a way people want to support the struggle. There are ways for people to come and join. But if people just want to come and have fun, we don’t like this.

So to me, if you’re abroad, a good tactic is to say to your friends, “Don’t go there, if you don’t go there to struggle. Don’t go there to consume. Don’t go there to participate in the Greek industry of tourism.”

TFSR: Yeah! Okay. Alex, was there anything that I didn’t ask about or anything else that you want to mention?

Alex: I just want to mention that now it’s really a high point of resistance. In August, I think we will see a lot of things, bad and good. Repression, but also a lot of fight back. From September, I don’t know how Exarchia will look like, what will be happening. People can follow our media and get informed. Of course, we are open to exchange ideas with other people on gentrification or to connect struggles around the world because, of course, this thing that happens here is it’s happening everywhere, as you said before. And also with the Atlanta forest occupation, I think it was very important to learn about it in the defense of our hill, and we can find a lot of common things and get empowered from this struggle.

Yes, and I really hope we can win and we can spread some solidarity, to your struggles and to other struggles around the globe.

TFSR: Awesome. Thank you very much for taking the time to have this conversation. Yeah, of course.

Alex: Thank you so much. I hope you have a good day!

TFSR: Thanks, you too.

Abolition in the Philippines with The Dinner Party and family

Abolition in the Philippines with The Dinner Party and family

[00:09:34 – 01:43:24]

"Abolitionism & Anarchy in the Philippines } TFSR 24-07-22" featuring logos for Abolisyon, The Dinner Party, PaglayaPup and Cavite Mutual Aid
Download This Episode

This week we’re sharing an interview that we conducted with anarchists and abolitionists mostly in and around Manila, the capital of the Philippines. You’ll hear from K, Honey, Adrienne, Castle, Magsalin and R. During the chat they share about their projects, discussions of abolitionism in the Philippines, decolonization discourse, informal organizing, accountability and challenging patriarchal dynamics in the traditional left and more.

Collectives Participating:

Other Links of note:

References relevant to what was discussed in the podcast

Kevin Rashid Johnson Update

[01:43:44 – end]

You’ll hear Kevin Rashid Johnson of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party talk about the continued denial of medical treatment at Nottoway CI in Virginia and thanking supporters who have been calling in. You can find details on how to continue the call-in campaign in the July 17th episode.

Sean Swain on Mass Shootings

[00:01:14 – 00:09:34]

Sean talks about the uselessness of police in mass shootings, basically.

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Featured Track:

  • Abolish Work by The (International) Noise Conspiracy from The First Conspiracy

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with names, preferred gender pronouns, and location information you’d like to share? And it may also be helpful for you to mention your political perspectives and what projects you’re involved with. We can go into a little more detail after an intro if you want or you can just roll right into what your projects do.

K: Okay, I can start by introducing myself. I go by K, she/her pronouns. I’m from the Philippines, and I’m part of Abolisyon.

Adrienne: I guess it’s my turn next. I’m Adrienne, I use they/she pronouns. I’m also from Abolisyon, but I’m also with The Dinner Party. I’ll be speaking on behalf of everyone in The Dinner Party today, I guess.

Honey: I’ll go next. Hi, my name is Honey. I’m also part of Abolisyon, I am Filipina, but I’m currently in occupied Hohokam and O’odham land which is known to be modern-day Phoenix, Arizona. But I’ll be going back to the Philippines by next month.

Castle: I think I can go next. I go by Castle and he/they pronouns. I’m part of Paglaya and also Project Kapwa. But I also converse with people in The Dinner Party and Abolisyon.

Magsalin: Okay, so that leaves me. Hi, I’m Magsalin from Abolisyon as well. A bit of a writer, aspiring at least.

TFSR: Cool. It’s very nice to meet you all. I use he/him pronouns. Thank you all for being here.

You’ve mentioned Abolisyon, The Dinner Party, Paglaya, Project Kapwa. Could you talk a little bit about each of these projects in turn, the work you do, and how the projects came to be?

Magsalin: Abolisyon was started out as a working group in 2020. But later the team held an educational discussion on what if there were no policing persons, and from that developed a core group of people to expound upon abolitionist organizing here in the Philippines. And from there, it’s been growing a little. I like the growth so far. We’ve made some headway and actually getting abolitionist ideas – defunding police, restorative justice, these things out there. I’m pretty happy with what you’ve done so far. But we could still do more. Honey was actually one of the speakers at that event. So that’s why I think I’ve always looked up to Honey as a role model.

Honey: Thank you, Magsalin. We organize Abolisyon coming from that online discussion that we had. And we do a lot of things in Abolisyon. We don’t want to be confined to very specific kinds of organizing, because that’s something that we are trying to challenge within our group. We do survivor support, we do harm reduction and mutual aid, and we do a lot on transformative justice and accountability. We are trying to do a lot more on prisoner support. We’re trying to work on that because it’s hard to navigate it with our current political climate here in the Philippines. We are also trying to engage with other organizations and projects to engage them in abolitionist ideas and organizing. Anyone else want to add in?

Adrienne: The Dinner Party grew around Abolisyon and other adjacent and parallel projects with people who were similar or sharing different spaces and getting to know each in these related spaces together. We pulled everyone into just a random group chat and were like “Hey, maybe we should have a name for ourselves.” And then, we found one of these tweets that were targeting the affinity group we were in, and then they started saying, “We shouldn’t be too fluffy with our politics.” And they started saying things like “The revolution isn’t a dinner party.” But then we were “Why shouldn’t that be?” That’s how we got our name. The Dinner Party isn’t necessarily the collective, it’s an umbrella for different collective efforts like Abolisyon, Paglaya, and Project Kapwa, but it’s this space where we all come together and gather and just talk and share ideas and find interest, inspiration from each other’s different projects and efforts, whether it’s political or personal.

TFSR: This is pointing towards a question that I was going to ask later. But I’m curious about the genealogy of the term Abolition in the Philippines. It has a pretty specific historical context within the US coming from the movement to abolish slavery and then developing through a critique of the 13th amendment in the US Bill of Rights that said that slavery was abolished, except for when someone was convicted of a crime. And there’s a racialized and class element to who gets convicted of the crimes in the United States at least. And I would imagine, it’s pretty common in a lot of countries. But I wonder what abolitionist discourse is, how that trajectory developed in the Philippines, and how it looks different to your understandings from how it is in the US.

Magsalin: Basically, the name of Abolisyon is rooted in the black radical tradition, it’s very clear we borrow from and pay homage to it in a sense by the name itself. Other abolitionist groups probably have friendlier names, but we just thought that Abolisyon is declaring, with an exclamation marK: Abolisyon now!

Adrienne: While we’re very conscious about the difference in context, obviously, in Philippine history, we also had a context of slavery. But the context is so different, it’s more related to class than race or different ethnolinguistic groups or anything. So it’s that consciousness as well. I think we are also there when we practice and when we talk about abolition because it’s really a very Western concept that we’re working with, but we’re also trying to adopt a lot of ideas so that it really fits in our context in the Philippines better.

TFSR: Okay, thanks for that. I personally find a lot of inspiration that that philosophical and action-oriented heritage has found its way and expression in so many different contexts. And necessarily, in each of these different contexts, whether it be the Philippines or be abolitionist work in South Africa, or in Chile, or wherever people are implementing that terminology, there’s a lot of commonalities that even despite the different histories, you can say, we have these generalized sources of incarceration, we have these structures of policing, they may have a different history or slightly different scent to them, but they all stink in the same way. So I think that’s a really interesting point for me.

Would anyone from Paglaya or Project Kapwa want to speak a little bit about what those projects are, who’s involved in them, and what your goals are? Unless somebody wants to react directly to what I just said.

Magsalin: I’d like to react directly to what you said. It’s interesting to note that Alex Vitale, for example, noted that the model the American colonial government used in the Philippines was directly transplanted and used to suppress proletarians in Philadelphia. So it’s very clear how policing was brought to the Philippines as a colonial concept and then through the machinations of imperialism, this was transplanted and used against those in the core, the proletarians in the core. So that’s very interesting, very important to know that little thing.

Honey: I think it’s important to mention as well, that there are other organizing spaces or tendencies, specifically, the leftist movement, the National Democratic Movement, who do have a different meaning for abolition. They do want to abolish police and prisons, but they want to replace them with something else that represents their group, so they want to replace them with what they call the People’s Court and People’s Police. That’s different from what we do because we want to totally abolish carceral systems and with them, and their meaning of abolition is just abolishing the current power structures and replacing them with theirs.

TFSR: Is that party – one that we’re going to be addressing when we talk about interrelations between other leftist formations – would you say that that organization is on the left of a just an authoritarian strain that is wanting to just grab the government basically and implement it and by renaming stuff People’s this and People’s that it suddenly becomes a dictatorship of the proletariat type thing?

Honey: Yes, definitely.

Adrienne: There’s been a lot of antipolice sentiments in the past couple of years because of the pandemic and how it’s been utilized. One of the things we see a lot online is sentiments about abolishing the police but replacing it with people’s police or people’s defense or something similar to community police. But then for Abolisyon, it’s always been the question of why does it have to be the police? Why does it have to replicate these kinds of dynamics, and not just that, but even in the current relations, that are present in leftist spaces that are dominating our spaces now, it’s really clear now that their dynamics, the way they relate with one another, a lot of different movements and different organizations don’t really align with their ideologies are still very similar to the dynamics of policing. We in Abolisyon want to abolish such structures.

TFSR: I don’t know if anyone else had had commentary on that because that says a lot. And that seems like a pretty common struggle that we see here is that there are organizations that are “Yeah, all cops are bastards, except for the ones that we’re gonna hire and put in doing the job.”

Magsalin: Yeah, actually, it’s so wonderful, what we’re trying to do here. In our engagement with the leftists, we try to tell them how carcerality manifests in the left and how socialism is actually anti-carceral. Because socialism is about the abolition of classes, police and prisons are actually things that reinforce classes. So obviously, police and prisons can’t be instruments for a classless society. This is very hard because there’s a lot of resistance to the idea. But we’ve been trying to explain to them.

TFSR: There are some pretty clear questions that people pretty naturally have socialized into whatever system that you’re socialized into: you see harm exist in the society around you and between people in your community. And if the answer that’s given to how do we resolve issues of harm, how do we keep ourselves safe, and our neighbors safe and our family safe. It’s pretty easy these days to just say – if you haven’t done some thinking – “The solution is for this arbitrary third party to come in and be a giver of justice and balance the scales between the issues or resolve the issue by removing someone who’s been causing harm from the situation.” So there’s a lack of imagination on the part of those folks.

Do they react pretty well when you offer a picture of how the carceral system and policing operate within their society? Or do people point to “existing socialism” in other countries and say, “That’s a model that actually resolves this issue, their prisons, and their police work well”?

K: Yeah, that’s one of the things that we have to confront when we talk about these things. They do cite a lot of experiments with socialism and communism. But at the same time, when you try to point out how these things failed, or eventually will fail, or whatever issues are existing now, they will be saying, “Oh, but this country isn’t actually socialist or communist.” So they flip-flop in different ways. It’s very much a lot of dynamics is cherry-picking with what arguments work for them, depending on what context. And one of the reasons for that and the difficulty with really bringing these conversations to bigger spaces and engaging with them in a deeper and more meaningful way is because there’s really a struggle and issue with the lack of political imagination that exists in the Philippines. So a lot of the concepts and ideas we have about participating politically, getting involved, and talking to people are very much skewed towards just showing political will. It’s really a numbers game in a way, as well as just hammering people in with a lot of jargon that comes from leftist spaces, and not really much attention to how we prefigure politics and the future that we want in our current practices. In my personal experience as well.

In the different threads and sectors of the left here, you will see that they will be talking about socialist futures that are economies destroying and abolishing the patriarchy within their personal relationships, the dynamics are so fucked-up that they actually cause more harm than they do good in their immediate spaces. So there are a lot of predators and abusers and harassers that are loose, and they get excused in these spaces, because they’ll say, “Oh, these people are really good organizers and speakers, so we can’t just kick them out.” That forces a lot of survivors of abuse and harm to just lie low, go underground, or maybe totally drop off the space together. When we talk about Abolisyon and the future that we want to work on together, not just in Abolisyon, but even in The Dinner Party and maybe even Paglaya and Project Kapwa. It’s really not just about that distant future, but really trying to bring these ideas into our direct personal relationships in our immediate spaces. Because otherwise, they wouldn’t mean anything, if they’re not things that we can actually act on right now in the present moment. It’s just that these are building blocks for us. But for the mainstream left here, or for a lot of the leftist spaces, they would think that we’re talking about something that’s too idealistic. If it’s not too idealistic, it’s too soft, too fluffy. It’s not really political, because you’re just talking about relationships and the personal, but for us, it’s like why can’t these be arenas and spaces and battles in which we actually try to bring in and live these ideas that we already have and we already talked about a lot?

TFSR: Yeah. Castle, do you want to talk about the projects that you’re involved in?

Castle: Yeah, you were talking about accountability and how community organizers do organizing work in our spaces. Basically, Paglaya means ‘to liberate’ or ‘liberation’ in English. It was founded by a group of people deciding and realizing that we should go beyond common structures and hierarchies within our organizing spaces. So we are a group of people who were advocates, and we are still advocates of students’ rights and welfare, we were focusing on having strong legislation or even laws that would protect and uphold our student’s rights and welfare as students in the university setting. We realized that we should organize beyond legislation, and we’ve reformed.

We were empowered even more when our group was discussing what Magsalin wrote, actually. It was a paper discussing liberatory politics and anarchism in the archipelago Philippines. So we were ostracized in the mainstream organization movement in both our university and on the national level of organizing because as anarchists and the norm of organizing right now in the context of the Philippines, we are seen as the irrational number in organizing spaces. We often say that we should drop out of colleges and universities because it’s basically it’s what anarchists should do, but Paglaya is a university-based anarchist organization that explores, imbibes and prefigures anarchist practices. So it also hopes and organizes for and with autonomy, consent, direct actions, and free association. So within our spaces, we decided for collective total liberation and the cultivation of libertarian tendencies. I feel like that’s how Paglaya is and how we identify as members of Paglaya. It was just a network of people realizing that we should go beyond–

In the Philippines, when you say ‘progressive,’ that’s the right way to do it. If you’re a progressive individual, the politics that you’re in and the practices that you live by are the best things that you can do to contribute and to live as an individual. So we realize that, as individuals, especially in the university setup, we should go beyond progressiveness. And we should go beyond the established structure of organizing because we were ostracized by the seniors, by people who are part of the higher levels, by fourth-year college students, by well-known organizers in our spaces, because we were exploring, and it was dangerous because we do not have leaders to guide us in these organizing moments of our lives. So that’s Paglaya.

Talking about Project Kapwa, it’s one of us Paglaya members practicing and experimenting with how mutual aid goes. Fun fact about it actually: in the university set up, we have this one specific professor who did not attend one of our classes, so we just decided that we should reach out and explore, as proactive individuals in our university, we should try and encourage them, we should do our own activity and projects. That’s Project Kapwa. It is basically our channel and medium of practicing and prefiguring a society wherein mutual aid is mainstream, we live by mutual aid in terms of not just exercising but really espousing the society that we want when we are in crisis when we are struggling with different– Especially in the Philippines, since it’s an archipelago, we are really indifferent natural disasters and everything. So Project Kapwa and Paglaya are basically our new bodies of exploring and experimenting with anarchism and prefiguration.

TFSR: You mentioned Paglaya being limited within the realm of people relating as students and people wanting to drop out or get out. I don’t know how long or how institutionalized that project has been going, but if there’s room for it to bridge to the outside… Because having a space for libertarian-minded students seems important, even if the people that are in the group maybe are not wanting to be in the school space anymore. I don’t know if there’s room for a bridge to organizations or groupings outside of the student realm.

Castle: Actually, right now, because we were really attacked by both the administration and the student organizations within our university, we decided to structure it in a way that’s acceptable inside the university. But right now as our organization and our network are really growing, and we are learning anarchism and prefiguration, we are currently deciding on and talking about how we can destructure it and disorganize the network, to really go beyond the norm of organization of “When you are a student, you should focus on the student movement, you should focus on student organizing” because that’s how we were conditioned in the mainstream organizing of the left in the Philippines, that you should be part of the masses and be aligned with a specific strand of politics.

So right now, we are actively discussing and learning how we can destructure and disorganize Paglaya so that he can go on a more local setup and at the same time on an individual level, not just really organizing for being part of this membership, but like as people. We were talking within Abolisyon, TDP, and other anarchist spaces that rather than membership, we should build and work together within our societies and communities. So that’s how we see Paglaya right now in terms of the question that you asked.

TFSR: What does Kapwa mean in English?

Adrienne: Probably it is not a directly translatable Tagalog word, but I guess the closest word that was mentioned in the chat is fellow, ‘kapwa’ refers to an other, but it’s this other that isn’t necessarily a stranger, but someone you still actively care about and treat as part of your community. So it’s something like that.

Castle: I can add on that as well. Actually, Project Kapwa was our envision, a project where we want to espouse the mutual aid aspect of the key tenet of anarchism. So, Kapwa, for us, is really someone who is your equal, equal with potential and equal with the knowledge that you have. Because in our spaces right now, in the context of the Philippines, you’re not considered as a Kapwa by part of the movement if you are not organized, and if you are not part of the membership. You’re not considered a fellow activist, even if you’re ranting on Twitter, if you demanding accountability on different platforms of social media, and different platforms on ground and online, you’re not part of our spaces. Especially on a political and theoretical level, if you’re not knowledgeable about such stuff. So, Project Kapwa really wants to acknowledge that issue. And at the same time, practice that. Even if you do not know these things on an academic level, you’re still part and you are still capable and able enough to be part of this community and organize mutual aid.

TFSR: Yeah, that totally makes a lot of sense. I think there’s a lot of jargon that activists can sometimes bring up and gatekeep others. That’s a really good approach – recognizing that a lot of the anarchisms that I’ve interacted through throughout my life… Sometimes it’s based on a lot of studies, but a lot of the practices are based on things that people normally do in community with each other and mutual respect as opposed to having a degree or being able to quote some dead bald or bearded guy. So I really think that’s a pretty cool approach. Was anyone wanting to speak about Cevite Mutual Aid?

Honey: I am part of Cevite Mutual Aid. I invited someone from our group to actually speak but they were unable to attend, after all. I don’t want to be taking that space because I’ll be speaking for Abolisyon.

Basically, Cevite Mutual Aid started before Abolisyon, it’s a mix of people. They’re not necessarily anarchists, but there are a couple of people from the anarcho-punk community. So basically what we do is mutual aid stuff. It’s somehow related to Food Not Bombs in Cevite. It’s basically not the same, most people from that group as well. Cevite Mutual Aid, there is already an established community for Food Not Bombs in Cevite, so it’s very easy for us to do food pantries or food distribution projects.

But also, since I’m in the US, I’m able to do fundraising and send some money over there to help with our projects. Another thing that we do with Cevite Mutual Aid is that we support the medical needs of people in our community. We’re basically the group that does the fundraising for them and distribute that money to them. But also we do a bit of survivor support. There are a lot of things that we do based on what people within the group are capable of– the same with Abolisyon. We call it a mutual aid group because that’s the main thing that we do in Cevite Mutual Aid.

TFSR: The Philippines being an archipelago and being a series of islands that are, surely, very culturally distinct – a distinction with the fauna and the flora across all these islands. And I’m sure that power is dispersed differently, whether someone’s in one of the major cities or in the countryside. Are you all based in the same location? Are there certain cities that you have in common?

Magsalin: We live in what’s called the National Capital Region, it’s a national core, which is an imperial core, but for a country. So this national core actually has a name, which is Imperial Manila, where Filipinos can see Manila as an imperial capital, where the peripheries always have to follow the rule of a very distant president very far away. And so this notion of core-periphery relations is something deeply felt by Filipinos. And yeah, we live in the core.

K: I do want to mention, though, that we do have members, people associated with our collective that live outside of the National Capital Region, but I think the majority of us live in NCR or have had a lot of experience within the National Capital Region.

Adrienne: That doesn’t mean by any means that the experience is monolithic because I live in a part of the National Capital Region or Metro Manila, as we call it, that’s a bit newer. It’s like a young city. And so a lot of the experiences I have in the periphery of the imperial core are a mix of urban realities with a more rural pace. So even within Metro Manila, because of the local governments, because municipal governments are Barangays. Even experiences within the core are very different. Different levels of poverty, different levels of government responsibility, and action or inaction. In Metro Manila, we have a joke about some cities being called the Soviet East because the cities in the East have a better functioning and more responsive government compared to the rest of Metro Manila. But even then, we still live in the core. And it’s just a difference between how competent people in government are not necessarily how much better they are at their job.

TFSR: Sometimes less competency is a better thing.

Honey: I think Castle and me are from the south. Specifically, I am from Cevite, I don’t know how to describe that place, but people used to refer to it as a Florida of the Philippines.

TFSR: That means a lot of things to a lot of different people.

I wonder if you would share a little bit about your understanding of the introduction of the theory of anarchism into the Philippines. Obviously, there’s a lot of really important discussion about whether the theory is the important thing or it is a way that Western philosophers were able to point to commonalities among communities and urges towards equality or tendencies towards equality and commonality in those communities. So the Circle A or capital A or whatever maybe isn’t the important thing but I wonder as an organized movement or project, if you could talk a little bit about anarchism in the Philippines and how it’s been suppressed in the past by communist parties, the church, the state in different ways at different times, and how did you all get involved in that tendency, or in autonomous anti-capitalism, if that’s more your jam?

Magsalin: Anarchist tendencies only emerged in the past 30 years in the Philippines. A long time ago during the American colonial period. In the first decade of the 20th century, there was anarchist literature spreading around the country brought home by the first Filipino socialist Isabelo de los Reyes. But this never really resulted in a coherent tendency. It didn’t ever become an anarchist tendency. They were just anarchist-inflected.

And later, because of the success of the Soviet Union and the revolution in Russia, they were absorbed into the old Communist Party in 1930. Then fast forward decades later, on the eve of the Marcos dictatorship, there’s this one historian suggests that the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan Mendiola, or the Association of Democratic Youths of Mendiola (which is the place) was an organization. And they commandeered a fire truck and rammed it into the Presidential Palace, which is pretty cool, but it’s difficult to tell if they were actually anarchists. I haven’t been able to find surviving literature from the period, so it’s still up in the air. But if they were, Paglaya is the first anarchist organization in 50 years, which is something. But they eventually were absorbed into the Communist Party, the new one, CPP, and they disappeared. That brings us to the 90s, where punk rock brought new anarchism to the Philippines that developed into a punk anarchist milieu that moved around Food Not Bombs.

Later on, we emerged in the last decade, I suppose. So that’s us, the latest wave. And we represent something hopefully new, not just new to the left, but also new to the anarchist scene because the anarchist scene here was what you call “manarchist.” “Manarchist” meaning is man plus anarchist – very patriarchal, very insular, very navel-gazing. So we’re hoping to introduce some new articulation that reaches out to more people, not just very niche circles. As a first impression, it’s very clear that the government suppresses the National Democratic Movement, which is a tendency that emerged in the new Communist Party of the Philippines. But they’re not all actually affiliated with Communist Party. Anyway, this tendency is the one that is most heavily suppressed by the government. And not only that, but the tendency inside the Communist Party also suppresses other leftists. 20 years ago, they started an assassination campaign against a Marxist Leninist & Social Democrats. And just last year, they bombed the Labor leader with “Centro.” And that was bad. They apologized, but they never were transparent why these things happen. We don’t actually know why he was killed. So this is the same Communist Party that thirty years ago murdered hundreds of their own country. So these people definitely can’t be trusted.

Honey: I think it’s very important as well to mention that for me personally, I think that a lot of people got into anarchism because of the anarcho-punk scene, because that’s my entry point, listening to music and then reading zines, such as Profane Existence, Slug & Lettuce, Slingshot, Maximum Rock’n’Roll. So more of my politicization is into zine readings and exchanging zines with people from abroad. From my experience as well, a lot of people from anarcho-punk spaces have been organizing long before like Food Not Bombs, mutual aid initiatives, and Really, Really Free Markets. Because there’s a very rich zine culture before in the Philippines, I think that’s where most of the anarchists in the Philippines’ entry point is, the hardcore punk scene as well.

Adrienne: To add a bit to what Magsalin was talking about a while ago. So, for a bit of context, I worked for someone who used to be intimately involved with the CPP. So my boss used to be involved there. One of the things that I learned from there was really how much of the leftist politics of what we would call the peak of the mainstream left here is really also super personalistic. It can get really petty. There are issues about money that have literally led to people being kicked out of the Party and then not being able to come back to the country because they’re blacklisted, and they couldn’t access any direct route back to the Philippines, etc.

And I think one of the conditions that they were talking about wanting to do for this was really acknowledging the bridges that happen and trying to help the families of the comrades who died back on their feet, like giving financial assistance to them. And so the leadership of the CPP rejected that, they didn’t want to get involved in it. They’re still like a stalemate. So you get a sense of how petty and not even ideological all these struggles and battles within the left are. But at the same time, it’s not just on the leadership level, because of the structure and that dynamic that’s going on in the party, it cascades and gets replicated even in the personal lives and interactions of a lot of the members of the mass organizations.

I came from a very different background, I came into anarchism by way of feminism. I really only got roped into it, because my professor who was also starting his journey into anarchism just pulled me in and said, “Okay, read all of this stuff that I’m reading.” For me, it felt like a natural progression in that direction. Because for me, a lot of the things that I believe in and identify as a feminist for are things that are common in anarchism, a lot of it is about really equalizing a lot of the vertical and hierarchical power dynamics and relationships, and really talking about how it’s not just about liberating people from the patriarchy, from gender oppression, and suppression and gender struggle, but also about a lot of how the intersections of class and gender, and ethnolinguistic background or race, religion, etc. are things that we have to collectively address and not just reduced into the issue of class. I got radicalized in the university, and I wanted to join the left. But then I found a lot of people who said that they had really negative experiences, not to discourage me, but just to give me a context of what I wanted to get into. So in my experience, a lot of these people would talk about how harmful the dynamics have been. And the organizations really focus a lot on class, the left here is very class reductionist. They would rant about anything that doesn’t relate to class as identity politics and dismiss it as a bad thing as if identity wasn’t an integral part of your humanity. And so for me, it was a constant and ongoing question of what is it really that we are experiencing? Why does it have to be reduced to class when we know that a lot of the things that we struggle against aren’t really things that will go away when capitalism goes away?

Just a bit of background: I’m a sociology graduate. So those are the questions that kept me up at night and helped me not get into a lot of mass organizing and mass organizations or groups really, because I felt like they weren’t really sufficient in addressing a lot of the fundamental inequalities that we struggle with, especially in the Philippines.

Magsalin: I’d like to point out that our milieu is not just an anarchist, but an anarchist abolitionist milieu, because we do have people who don’t identify as anarchists, but they are abolitionists. And I think that’s important because after all, the Invisible Committee said, “It is not up to the rebel to learn to speak anarchist. It is up to the anarchists to become polyglot.”

Honey: I’ve mentioned before that my politicization and my entry point with anarchy stems from the anarcho-punk scene. This is one of the issues as well that we have within our anarchist abolitionist milieu. Because we have a joke, where since people’s politicization are different, there is this division between anarchists in the Philippines where there are people who are anarcho-punk whose entry point is more on the music scene. And then some people are more into the academy. And so, from my experience, being involved in the anarcho-punk community, there is this fear of people from this space from engaging with people from the academy because of a lot of barriers with language. People from the anarcho-punk scene don’t like discussing theories a lot, but I think it’s important as well. And it’s crucial to challenge ourselves when we’re replicating harmful systems or harmful behaviors.

One of the challenges and one of the questions that we have within our group is how we are going to be more engaging with people whose entry point to anarchism, or whose politicization with anarchism is different from us. Say, for example, Cevite Mutual Aid, what I mentioned before, a lot of people from that group are from the anarcho-punk scene, and we would like to be able to engage them more with projects from Abolisyon, though we’re already doing that. We’re already supporting each other with our projects and initiatives. But we want more of an engagement, talking, discussions on how we’re going to apply our politics in our personal lives, how are we going to organize better that’s different from the normal organizing dynamics that there are, from the leftist spaces. If Adrienne would like to discuss more what The Dinner Party would like to do with this challenge…

Adrienne: Yeah. As mentioned a while ago, not only the existing left spaces, but even anarchist spaces here don’t really focus on how immediate actually in every day a lot of the political ideas we talk about can be. In The Dinner Party, we tend to focus a lot on this everyday aspect, particularly on relational politics, and building relationships with each other. Because we think that the harm and oppression that exists not only on a state level but on a very general structural level gets replicated a lot in our personal relationships because that’s how socialization works. That’s how these structures were supposed to sustain themselves, maintain themselves, perpetuate and survive. They have to really embed and incorporate themselves in the everyday lives of these individual people – of us. Even we, as people who identify as radicals, are also implicated and required to do the personal work of actually asking what does a better future look like? What does an anarchist Utopia look like for us?

The things that we’ve mentioned and seen in our spaces is that the politics that they talk about, that they preach about isn’t really something that they live. But for The Dinner Party, we find that it’s urgent, and it’s actually more concrete and doable when we start talking about the practicality of our politics existing in our personal relationships. Because when we talk about politics, it is something that we have to confront in our everyday lives. It means that it’s not just that the personal is political. It’s also that the political is personal. And therefore, it’s something that we have to really actively and consciously live in and live through. And one of the most immediate and certain ways to do that is in our personal relationships, in our friendships, in our families, in our romantic relationships, like the idea that the revolution starts at home. It’s not just some motto, or like some sappy thing that radicals say, it’s an actual truth. Because unless we look at how we replicate inequalities and violence and harm interpersonal relationships and change it, we’re not going to be any good radicals, we’re not going to be any good activists, we’re just saying, we’re just hypocrites, basically, because we don’t actually live and act on the politics that we talk about. Talk about it and keep on preaching to other people about it. For me, it’s not just abolition of the state, it’s not just a revolution in the streets. It’s actually a revolution that involves every single aspect of our humanity, of our personal life. So for me, it’s that thing that if you don’t struggle with the change, if you don’t struggle with your politics, if it’s not difficult for you, maybe you’re not doing it right.

K: I really resonate a lot with what Adrienne said. Just to give context, I’m actually one of those people who don’t identify as an anarchist, but I’m still part of Abolisyon, and I also engage with The Dinner Party. And I really appreciate spaces like these because I don’t feel forced to have to identify as an anarchist. Although I do feel like I have anarchist leanings, I do feel like I resonate with anarchist values, but being in this space, I don’t feel like I’m forced to be an anarchist to engage with them. It’s a very welcoming space. And I feel like I learned so much from them.

Personally, I’ve never had any experience in mainstream political organizing spaces, even though I did graduate from the university, I don’t think any form of like politicization and radicalization came from that. For me, it came from being exposed to Twitter. Initially, my view of mainstream organizing came from Twitter, particularly Philippine Leftist Twitter, and I did always get the feeling and notion that to be a legitimate organizer, you had to join specific rallies, or you had to be part of a mass organization. And this was something that wasn’t really possible for me because I have multiple health conditions, I can’t even work at a regular corporate job because I get sick very often. So imagine joining a mass organization where there’s a lot of work involved, I thought that was out of the question for me. So luckily, I was able to find this space. When I realized how organizing works in this space, at first, I was a bit shocked, because it really wasn’t the same organizing that I saw on Twitter. But I really appreciate that because to me, organizing was work.

And when I first got to Abolisyon, I did volunteer for a project, but I was unable to follow through with it because I got sick. And because I was dealing with a lot of personal things. However, it wasn’t taken against me at all. What I like about organizing in Abolisyon is that they really take into account what happens to each person personally. So there’s no forcing, meaning that you can engage with whatever level you’re comfortable with. If you have to take a break, it’s really not a problem at all. And this was really so different from what I saw, from the feeling I got from mainstream political organizing spaces.

Honey: One of the things that the leftist spaces, organizers in general use against anarchists or anarchism to devalue our efforts is to say that we need to measure our productivity when it comes to organizing. That’s a thing that we’re very critical about in Abolisyon, we don’t want to replicate those dynamics. I’ve been part of the National Democratic Movement for quite some time, but I’m already into anarchism during that time. I think I’m just looking for a space where I can organize because there aren’t that many organizing spaces that are focused on anarchism, or that are organized by anarchists. I’ve experienced that the dynamics in the leftist space is that they’re measuring your productivity when it comes to organizing the same way that capitalism measures you and I have a joke where at least under capitalism, I can take these off, I can file for PTO, and that’s something that you cannot do in the leftist organizing spaces because they’re gonna gaslight you. Someone else experienced it, but I’ve heard someone was told that “the revolution will continue even without you.” And that’s not a good thing to say to someone who might want to take some time to take care of themselves. Not only self-care, but it’s also supposed to be collective care, it is supposed to be caring for that person as part of your collective.

This is one thing that we’re very critical of in Abolisyon. We don’t want to be replicating those dynamics. What we do in Abolisyon is that there will be a time that we’re really going to be full of energy, when it comes to doing projects and organizing, everyone is high, the chat is nonstop, and even at night, it seems like people are not slipping and just like putting in their ideas. But then there will be a time that people will be dealing with their personal struggles, with their personal issues or whatnot. And we aren’t going to ask much from that person, like say, “Hey, why are you not doing this? Why are you not doing that? Why did you stop organizing?” We’re more like “What we can do to support you, to make it easier for you? Not necessarily because we want you to go back into organizing with us. But because we want to support you in your struggles. It’s us embodying or living by example, that this is what anarchists do, this is mutual aid, these are the systems of care that we want to nurture, we want to create in our communities. That’s a very good dynamic that I’m really proud of in Abolisyon, and that we in other spaces that we’re creating, that we have established, like The Dinner Party, that’s the same dynamics that we have there. Castle’s project as well, that’s the dynamics that they have adopted. And so I think, because of that small effort, as other leftist organizers see our efforts, we have created systems of care not only in our spaces but in a larger space that we aspire to engage with our organizing or other communities that it’s not really part of our circle, but we want to engage with.

Castle: I just want to add to all of your frustrations with the mainstream left in the Philippines, especially on a personal level. I’ve organized with and worked with national organizations. It’s really damaging and harmful, realizing how they organize. And it’s really helpful and healing to realize that there are spaces like The Dinner Party and Abolisyon. They do not pressure you really. The Dinner Party, when they organize you – we are having a reading thing right now on joyful militancy – they don’t pressure you on reading on chapters one and two before moving forward. But in the mainstream left, you have to go through this process of learning, but you are not allowed to engage with the conversation if you’re not yet finished with chapters one and two.

That’s the general theme of how organizing happens right now with the left in the Philippines, you have to go through a series of training and educational discussions. With The Dinner Party, it’s really an open discussion of regardless of the level of learning and knowledge that you have, it’s open and really joyful, at the same time really accepting to the availability that you have, physically, mentally, in everything – in all aspects. It acknowledged you’re human and your being involved with other activities, not just in this discussion and such.

Honey: We are living by that article from Nadia from Crimethinc titled “Your politics are boring as fuck.” We would like to make sure that the way that we’re engaging with each other is the same way that we’re gonna engage with people who were not involved in any organizing or radical spaces. How are we going to talk to them? Is it the same way that we’re going to talk to each other? How are we going to treat each other as well? It’s like witnessing how our group is growing. We’re not necessarily everyone anarchists, there are abolitionists and other people as well, who are still in the National Democratic Movement, or who have left a space or movement engaging with us, that that’s like a very big win for us. Other leftist organizing spaces might see us as something small, doesn’t really matter. But yeah, for us, it’s a very big win. Very important.

Castle: I was thinking of discussing the culture of harm and violence inside radical spaces we have and the lack of accountability within the spaces. I feel like we should discuss it right now. In The Dinner Party and Abolisyon, I really learned a lot with them, along with them, how these things really impact our lives. I’m just new to this whole thing. In the radical spaces that we have right now in the Philippines, there’s really a lack of accountability, especially if you are running with a Party. The accountability is shrugged off your elbow, we have slang in the Philippines, “you are elbowed” when you demand accountability, because they have leadership and experience within these organizing spaces, even if they’re considered radical, they’re considered leaders, basically. So these are the tendencies that we should really look into and explore unlearning because the harm and the violence towards survivors in organizing spaces is not really acknowledged enough.

TFSR: It feels like when I’ve been in organizations, or in milieus where there are these informal hierarchies that I mentioned before, or where there’s an ongoing abusive style of relationship or communication or whatever, if a thing continues on for a while, it becomes more and more difficult to address it in a comrade-to-comrade manner. I wonder if that is a thing that you all have talked about is an informal – I know this is a Maoist term – crit-self-crit. How do you work on creating community spaces where there’s room for people to take each other aside, just informally and say, “Hey, check-in! How are you doing? You blew up at me during the meeting and discussion. Is there anything you need?” Room for feedback in that way. Does that undermine the building up of abusive formal or informal hierarchies?

Adrienne: This is why it’s particularly important that our political core and political base in our work really starts in relationships within The Dinner Party and our general milieu. Because when we talk about situations where the harm comes in or where someone gets hurt, or when there’s something that we really need to talk about, those personal relationships tend to be what eases and helps facilitate those conversations of confronting and holding each other accountable. For example, when we have an issue where someone made someone else feel uncomfortable, it’s really about talking with each other, bringing up that, “Maybe, am I crazy, or did this sentence or did this interaction come across like this to you as well?” When you get that validation – just because a lot of us have also experienced a lot of manipulation and abuse and trauma in our life, so we really need to have that survivor support, interaction going on as well. When we establish that thing that “Okay, this is how this is what happened, it is what you felt in that interaction,” we get to really talk with each other, and bring these issues up without feeling like we’re being attacked. Because when we talk about this thing or that thing, we’re talking and we’re coming from a place of love and care for this person.

It’s not difficult, because we just don’t have a strictly professional relationship with each other, we just don’t treat each other as comrades in the way the left typically uses it. We’re friends. And because we’re friends, we care about each other, and we want each other to be better. And we want to reduce the harm that we meet out on each other. And so it’s really a mutual work of trying to live our politics in better ways with each other. In such a way that we can hold each other accountable, and, therefore, bake politics into our personal relationships and make our personal relationships that space of prefiguring these politics that we really want to do and show the people that we can do without really having to resort to hierarchical structures and organizations.

Honey: We want to have this relationship with each other within our organizing spaces. It’s easier for us to call in each other, and address if we’re having issues because I do have experience being in the older anarchist milieu, and we are trying to stay away from that group. That’s why we call ourselves the newer anarchist milieu. I see the dynamics and differences in both groups. With the older ones, you’re not really into accountability or transformative justice. How do you resolve conflicts within your group? It’s more of replicating the same systems that we have right now, the 60’s thing. And so the question is how are you going to address conflicts or issues within your group, even if the state is gone if you’re replicating the same systems? This is something that we want to do differently within Abolisyon, within The Dinner Party.

And it’s funny because I think a couple of days ago, we had what we call a Kamustahan session with our reading group, which is for reading The Joyful Militancy. Kamustahan session is more of a check-in session that we have with each other where we just talk about anything too personal for other people to talk about, or to talk about in the organizing spaces. What I’ve seen from this is that a lot of cis men within a group are comfortable enough to share their experiences and admit that “Hey, with this experience of mine, I fucked up, I was sexist, I was misogynistic. And I’d like to do better, how can I? How can we do better? What else can we do?” And so from the previous Kamustahan session that we had, we came up with this idea of how about we create a workgroup or a space specifically for assessment within the group, to talk about how they can do better when it comes to being accountable, calling in each other instead of relying on women or non-men within our groups to call them in and do so much emotional labor for them to understand what their issues are. And how they can call in, or address these issues outside our space, with people who are not really politically involved at all? How are they going to do it?

Most of our discussions, we will have so much political discussion, but we – me and other non-men in the group – like pointing out domestic labor or about emotional labor that women and non-cis men does within a group and how we would like to distribute that labor because that is necessary. That should be like everyone’s work. At this time, it’s mostly women and non-cis-men doing survivors support, and how do we want to distribute that labor and want everyone to engage? We’re trying to create– Maybe we can have a discussion, we can have a workshop so people will know what to do. And then from that, we can extend that outside space.

Adrienne: Just to add to that as well, going beyond our spaces, I really noticed that what’s resonant with people who are political here, but hate the current state of politics and the left, or don’t want to get involved with the mass organizations, is really this whole message and focus on the relational and personal aspects of politics. That’s somehow one thing that I consistently notice from a lot of people. They would resonate with a lot of anarchists or abolitionist ideas. But it’s particularly because of how personal and focused on improving personal relationships these ideas are that they tend towards that direction.

So I think there’s really this existing critique, although maybe something that people can’t verbalize as well yet that there’s something really wrong with the political state of the Philippines, whether it be because of the state or the left. And so when you talk to people, or when you hear about their complaints, and how they struggle with participating politically, it’s really that focus, on the one hand, we know that the status shit fucking sucks, but at the same time, the left isn’t doing any better. So what space is there for us? We’re trying to nurture and incubate this space and help people find ways to express themselves and be able to create their own versions of our comfortable and safe spaces. So that it’s not just us, it doesn’t become like a centralized dynamic again, but it’s something that people can do with their own friendship groups, or with their own affinity groups, or with their own spaces. And, therefore, decentralize this idea that politics has to be a strict and formal organization.

TFSR: So the Philippines has obviously had a very long history of colonization and neo-colonial dictatorships that suppress popular movements and social welfare for the sake of extractivism. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that trend has been coming out from under the Duterte presidency, including during the early days of COVID. And what you see coming out of a new Marcos era, since the son of the dictator was just elected again. I wonder not only if you could talk a little bit about these dynamics nationally, but also about how you see your communities and how you see other interesting parts of what might be considered like leftist movements engaging around the concept of decolonization, whether it be in support of ecological struggles against extractivism, or around challenging or troubling historical hegemonies? Or language, cosmology or centralizing certain ethnicities in the archipelago?

It’s a big question. You’re welcome.

Adrienne: One of the things that we fell in and I talked about earlier, when we were discussing this question is that there’s really a particular historical context that the Philippines is also coming from. Because the archipelago, even before colonization, has really been deeply embedded in trading networks, especially because it’s an archipelago, it’s the middle of the ocean. There’s really no monolithic identity for it from the get-go. But at the same time, because it’s so accessible and has been so embedded in trade networks, the question of indigeneity is just not something that we can apply as easily as more landlocked discourse and dialogue might zoom in or how these dialogues might work. So for example, in my particular context, I am technically Filipino Chinese, I have Chinese blood. But I’m so divorced from the Chinese side of my family that I don’t really know what goes on there anymore. And I identify really more with a postcolonial or more neocolonial context of the Philippines and the identity aspects of it.

This isn’t just my reality, this is the reality of a lot of people who identify as Filipinos because you can’t really distill the identity of a lot of us into who’s indigenous and who’s not. Because from the very beginning, even before we were colonized, there have been intermarriages that have mixed and mingled with different cultures, backgrounds, and heritages. There have been intermarriages, for example, in the Taosug ethnolinguistic group and Chinese traders because they were really a hotspot for Chinese trading, even before Spain got to anywhere in the Philippines. Just talking about the colonization and equating it to indigeneity is such a difficult thing for us too, or for me personally to process and to understand, because the whole question is “who gets to be indigenous and who doesn’t?” How do we trace this heritage when a lot of us are really mixed blood? A lot of us are either children of people who came from colonizers or just people who came from trade intermarriages and stuff like that. And so I think, with the conversation on decolonization, there’s a particular context we’re coming from and that we want to center and that it cannot be reduced or simplified into a ground zero situation where we go back to the very roots, where we go back to talking about precolonial histories and identities because that’s just not the reality for many of us. So many people will be displaced, and so many people will be forced into situations or relationships of harm because it’s not discourse and reality that applies.

For me, when we talk about decolonization, it’s really more about talking about confronting “Okay, we’ve been colonized three times for over 300 years. And because we’ve been colonized in that way and our identity is basically not something you can cut off, or untangle from all of this history, cultural, transcultural, intercultural influences, and backgrounds. It means that when we decolonize, we actually have to face and confront head-on these realities because if by decolonization we mean going back to the pre-colonial, we mean going back to the indigenous, that’s just a simplification of wanting to go back to a non-existent time and point in our history, where our personal and political histories were not linked to one another.”

Magsalin can expand on this a bit better but I just think that the colonial discourse in the Philippines or in our archipelago is not going to be the same as the decolonial discourse that exists in other parts of the world.

TFSR: Is there discourse around decolonization going on in terms of people’s communities, and relationships with the rest of the world culturally? We’re all speaking English. That was brought up jokingly in the beginning, I find it very useful because my Spanish is poor, and that’s the only language other than English that I can speak any of. I value the fact that you all are willing to speak in English but I just wanted to touch on that general framework. Sorry to be long-winded.

Magsalin: We don’t speak Spanish because funnily enough, the Spanish never taught Spanish to us during the Spanish colonization period, although they did during the last few years of the colony, by then was still too late. So many people around Latin America who talk to us ask, “Why don’t you speak Spanish?”

We’re not really indigenous, but we are what Benedict Anderson would call Creole because they don’t exactly exist in settler colonies. After all, we were forcibly separated from our land and our traditions. Therefore, we are not colonized. As Creoles, we are creolanized. There are still indigenous peoples in the Philippines. So when in contact with indigenous peoples, creoles become settler-colonists. This is true in the sense of Turtle Island’s ideas of decolonization, so “land back” is quite applicable here. So the decolonization in this regard is the Creole respect for indigenous lands, the cessation of colonial logic indigenous people and lands, recognizing indigenous stewardship, all this.

But outside of the settler colonial zones, what is exactly Creole decolonization? If we are speaking of Creole decolonization as the transfer of sovereignty from a colonial overlord to a Creole state. In the Philippines, this was the United States giving the Philippines formally its independence. But we don’t really recognize it, because the new Creole state continues to reproduce many colonial institutions and features: centralized state apparatus, the police, the prisons. Before colonization, there was no state, the police didn’t exist, and prison didn’t exist. So Creole decolonization is really the replacement of one colonizer head with a Creole head. So with all the institutions of colonization still in place.

This project of decolonization is incomplete as long as they have state apparatus and settler colonialism, the Creoles and other colonizing patterns exist, the archipelago, the so-called Philippines, is not decolonized by virtue of having Filipinos in charge of the state, especially if we see colonization as the explicit process of state-building. In this sense, decolonization for Creoles – that’s us in Metro Manila – is the undoing of the state, the undoing of wage labor, undoing of the police and prisons. The colonization imposed these things upon us, so decolonization should mean doing away with these things. That doesn’t mean, however, that the decolonization is to return to an Eden before the colonization. This is impossible because we can never go back. Rather than decolonization is the recognition of these institutions of colonization. These institutions aren’t permanent features, aren’t inevitable features of society, and thus, there could be a future without these institutions, without the state, without the police, prisons, wage labor, without capitalism, all these things that colonizers brought over here, and the colonization continues to this day. So this thing isn’t really well understood by the left. National Democrats believe in Stalin’s theory of national democracy. National democracy is the idea that there should be a bourgeois revolution before a socialist revolution. This idea still reproduces wage labor, because you still have capital, you still have the building of productive forces, using capitalism, using wage labor, and you still have the state, you still have police and prisons. And we probably might even have gulags because after all, the Communist Party did kill all those people. The vision of the left doesn’t really take decolonization into its own terms, in terms of actually undoing what colonization did to us.

Adrienne: I want to respond more to the context that Bursts was talking about with this question on decolonization. So currently, the state has been taking up this project of devolving its powers in a way. They’ve been talking about federalism for a few years now, quite a long time, actually. And, as we’ve mentioned earlier, there are Barangays in the Philippines. Barangays are basically smaller communities, I guess they’re religious circles in a way, but the more local version of this. So there are local governments, Barangays, etc. that really govern and have authority within their very small localities. So the state has been trying to devolve its powers to the Barangays, the city governments, and local governments, so that things don’t get stuck in the central anymore, so that the national doesn’t have to do every single thing that happens in the local.

I would like to raise the idea that the federalism project that the state is trying to accomplish and the devolution of powers that’s going on is something parallel to what anarchist ideas and abolitionist ideas would talk about, which means putting the power in the hands of the people who really know their context better, the people who actually live in that situation. However, there’s still this presence of authority, basically, of leaders who are making decisions for people without really understanding what’s going on in their personal lives, and what they actually need. Not to mention the fact that politics in the Philippines really focuses a lot on not only personality politics, but really a Padrino culture, which is basically getting close and cozy with people in power, and that whoever is friends with that person, they get positions, they get more resources, etc. There’s already an approximation at really giving power back to the people. But it still doesn’t do away with this whole idea that there has to be a figurehead, there has to be someone who’s running and calling the shots and stuff like that. I think with a project of decolonization, well, there’s one focus, or one reality, one attempt, at least, in the local about really giving the power back to the people, it still does not trust the people to be able and capable of doing politics themselves. Things are still patriarchal in that sense that there has to be a father, there has to be a leader, there has to be this figure who’s running things because people tend to get infantilized, they’re so treated like they don’t really know what politics means, what managing resources actually looks like.

To me, the decolonization project in the Philippines in that aspect doesn’t really have to jump through a lot of hoops in that sense, because even with the presence of governments, even with the presence of Barangays, people are already living life outside of the grasp of the state. They’re already trying to make ends meet on their own. They’re already trying to settle their own conflicts on their own. They’re already trying to get people out of trouble on their own. The presence of that devolution of powers existing parallel to people, already existing in the cracks of the Empire is what we refer to it in The Dinner Party. There are already such huge opportunities for people to be able to govern their lives and to really self-determine on their own. It’s really just a matter of getting people to believe in their own capacity and their own agency. And for me, that decolonization project is really bringing the power and not just giving it to the people but also making the people realize that they have had this power all along. So I hope that somehow addresses that more concrete and current framing of the question on decolonization.

R: Just to put everything into context, back in December last year Duterte signed an amendment to a law that allows 100% ownership of common carrier industries like mining, railways, and other big projects, as opposed to the 40% capacity that was instituted back in 1987. And during the election campaign, one of the big business-oriented platforms that Bongbong Marcos had is to allow, “sustainable mining” to operate in the country. So as far as foreign intervention and extractivism in the Philippines, we can only see that expansion in the future.

TFSR: Yeah, that was a helpful contextualization.

K: What I wanted to bring up was in connection with what Adrienne mentioned, and also relating to what we brought up in the beginning about the genealogy of abolitionism in the Philippines. Because earlier, Adrienne mentioned about people already trying to solve conflicts on their own outside of the state. And I just wanted to uplift the fact that in terms of Abolisyon, it’s not just about us as people who identify as abolitionists. Even without the jargon of abolition, and transformative justice, a lot of Filipinos already engage with ideas of abolition and transformative justice in their own ways. Since, for example, the War on Drugs affected poor Filipino families very disproportionately, a lot of people choose not to engage with the police, because they feel like it’s going to be more harmful to them. Indigenous people (IPs) fight against militarization and the like. So I just wanted to uplift that even if there are people who don’t identify as abolitionists, there are people who are already practicing ideas related to abolition and transformative justice.

R: Hi. I’m just going to try to build up from what has been established here, from this entire discussion. One of the main problems that we’ve had with the left and others is that despite their unwavering optimism, there’s still this insistence on taking politics seriously and taking it romantically. I’ve seen this in liberals, despite their pretenses of hope and positivity, there’s still this latent undercurrent of “this is the most important election of our lives, we have to do this, or we have to fight for some weird reason.” And it’s definitely draining, at least speaking personally. So the fact that people take themselves seriously, there’s this insistence, at least towards the people in themselves to burn out because the people think that these things matter too much, there’s a lot of pretenses towards this higher ideal, just because these things are in abstract bigger than themselves.

But this is one of the things that The Dinner Party wants to address – that in the first place, it’s not necessarily that we don’t want to have any pretenses towards something bigger than ourselves. Because in one sense, it’s a drain for people within this particular movement. And also, it’s a tired trope within our own society. So, in one way, I hope for The Dinner Party to have some – not a focus on politics in the sense of identities, campaigns, or ideologies, or at least the theatrics of it – but more focusing instead on the personal aspects of it, in which way we want to befriend people. We just want to have fun in general. You want politics to be less about the issues in the abstract, but rather about making it more like everyday life.

Castle: Basically the dictatorship of Duterte, now the threat of the Marcos dictatorship is really… Before Marcos was even pronounced as the president we were really scared because we know our history. We know our roots in the Marcos era. So we were really active in organizing in the university before the elections. But we are often attacked under the Duterte dictatorship because of how proactive we are in such spaces.

And I’m just going to share right now how Project Kapwa started from an initiative inside the university with Paglaya. We started from an initiative where we ideated from practicing mutual aid for animals inside the university. And from there we were somehow ostracized, because we were beyond our jurisdiction, at the same time beyond the orders of the university. So we realized that what’s the point of having spaces like these, but not being able to organize them? They also said, “Why are you focusing on animals? It’s the beginning of the pandemic? Why are you doing actions for animals?” So we’re checking on the people and how they would be receptive to mutual aid actions inside the university. So from there, Project Kapwa came to be so. Right now we’re focusing on local community action, building conversations within the community. I feel like it’s very threatening right now. Because we’re going against the structure of how authoritarian the current administration is within the dictatorship right now and the implications of the prior administration of Duterte.

If you can support Project Kapwa through PayPal, it would be really helpful, especially to organizers within the community that we are in right now. It’s @terreynera.

Honey: I’d like to add as well. I think what Castle – correct me if I’m wrong – is trying to say is the tendency with other leftist organizing spaces is that they tend to be class-reductionist, they tend to force people, especially in organizing spaces to feel like there’s only one important issue that should be addressed. So for example, the issue of Marcos being voted as the president, instead of seeing our struggles to be interlinked, or to be intersectional with each other, which I think is the reason why they’ve been questioning Castle as to why your group is doing support for animals instead of people struggling… Just looking into what’s the more important issue to be addressed, instead of changing that mindset and thinking that all our struggles, again, are connected, interconnected. And there are ways to address our struggles together instead of just focusing on one issue.

Magsalin: Jumping off from what Honey said, this concept that our struggles are interlinked is an important idea in our minds. We call it “our struggle’s in building,” this idea that not only that our struggles are already interconnected, especially how, for example, Cambridge Analytica not only got Trump into power but also got Duterte and Marcos into power. So we see how these sites of struggles – the United States and the Philippines – are connected to Cambridge Analytica. But these sites of struggles are connected in the sense that the Empire connects them. But those people in the sites of struggle do not necessarily connect their site of struggle to one another. That’s why we say that we should actively intervene in struggles together.

Another example, in terms of intersectionality, in terms of physical sites of struggle, men are oppressed by the patriarchy, and their liberation is ultimately tied up with the liberation of women, queer people, and trans people. Our challenge then is, again, to go back to the Invisible Committee, “it is not up to the rebel to learn to speak anarchist. It is up to the anarchists to become polyglot.” It’s up to us to speak all these languages of struggle to one another and link them together in some sort of common tale. And this is also what we’re been trying to do in Abolisyon. This is the last example. What do people who use drugs, sex workers, and incarcerated people have in common? Well, not much in the at first sight, but through the framework for abolition, these sites of struggles can be connected to one another, to actually resist policing in a way that combines all the sides of struggles together.

Adrienne: I just would like to emphasize everything that has been said by Castle and Magsalin about what we are really doing and aspiring to do in our spaces in Abolisyon and The Dinner Party, Cevite Mutual Aid, and the projects that Castle is involved with. Because again, the tendency with leftist organizing spaces is that they always separate what is political from what’s personal. They do not see that a lot of our personal issues have something to do with how we fight the system, with how we fight this state, and with how we fight systems of oppression. And without addressing those personal issues, we’re unable to really address these larger issues that we have.

As you’ve mentioned earlier, the leftist groups do have this concept of self-crit. I think that’s their attempt at accountability and transformative justice. But as Adrienne mentioned before, with our experiences with the leftist spaces here in the Philippines, they tend to focus more on not holding the person accountable because they’re very good organizers, instead of saying that that person can be a very good organizer, but there is still an opportunity to hold them accountable. And it’s possible to do, this is something that we can work on, instead of just shutting down survivors, shutting down people that have been harmed. Because most of the people that got engaged with our spaces have this similar experience where someone from their collective or their group has been harmful, and they try to address that issue within their collective, and the collective has been dismissive about it. And that’s something that I would like to emphasize that is very important with Abolisyon, The Dinner Party, and other spaces of our engagement: we’re really big into accountability and transformative justice, because we believe that without those, we’re just basically being hypocrites with our politics.

TFSR: If one doesn’t have an alternative to carcerality or the idea that someone can be thrown away to make the rest of society better, understanding that we have to work through these problems without just either sending in a third party with guns to deal with it… Yeah, we’re definitely losing a thing. And that topic of how do we address harmful activity? How do we point to someone’s activity being harmful, and that person not necessarily being a bad person, but having bad patterns? That if they want other people to work with them they should work through and that maybe somebody has space to work with them. And it’s not the responsibility of the person most directly harmed to do that work. Those are topics that I’ve heard coming up over the last 30 years that I’ve been involved in activism. I just don’t think that there’s one answer that’s a solution for everyone. But I think that that is super important to work through. I don’t know if that’s what you’re talking about, too.

Honey: Yes, yes, definitely agree with that.

TFSR: Well, thank you all for having this conversation, for staying up so late where you’re at, I really appreciate it. I do want to leave it open. If there are any subjects that you’re really burning, like “We didn’t get to this, and I really want to talk about it,” then I totally have space and energy for it. I understand if folks want to wrap up. Assuming that there isn’t something that someone wants to jump in with, I’d like to hear about where people who are outside can find the projects that you and Castle were kind enough to leave with, like a PayPal link for Paglaya. But if you have either writings that you think are important that have been produced inside of your milieus or ways that people on the outside can support or start to engage, either from the diaspora…

Magsalin: We’ve really been trying to expand abolitionism to other countries in Southeast Asia. So, if you’re from Southeast Asia, try to connect with us.

TFSR: Get a website or an email address?

Adrienne: I think one of the things that I want to bring attention to is the feminist struggle in leftist spaces and even especially anarchist spaces. It’s really been one of the biggest problems we’ve been confronting. The abuse and the harassment, the misogyny and trans misogyny, homophobia is just really, really bad. One of the things that I really wanted to do is to link up with different whether anarcho-feminists or just people who identify as feminists, wanting to link up and talk about our common struggle and political spaces as still being really violently affected by the patriarchy in the left. I would love to talk to more people and find out how we might be able to move through this together. So they can tweet us at @DinnerPartyPH.

Magsalin: Cempaka Collective is currently underground. But if they do resurface again, you should definitely reach out to them and interview them. They do really good work in Malaysia.

In Indonesia, Anti-feminist Feminists Club really does interesting work with anarcho-feminism.

TFSR: Well, thank you all so much for being a part of this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed meeting you. And again, thanks a lot for having a talk at this hour in English with me. I’ve learned a lot and I hope that we can keep in touch.

Adrienne: Thank you so much for your time and for giving us the space. It’s really a lot and I am really glad to be able to share this space with you and every one of my friends.

Honey: Thank you so much for the opportunity, for this space, and for sharing it with us. We really appreciate it. We were so excited and so excited up to now, I think because the possible connections or network of people we can connect with after the interview is a good opportunity.

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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Featuerd Tracks:

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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.

On Nurturance Culture w Nora Samaran (rebroadcast)

On Nurturance Culture w Nora Samaran (rebroadcast)

Book cover of "Turn The World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture" + "TFSR 22-06-26 Rebraodcast"
Download This Episode

This week, we’re re-airing a 2019 conversation with Nora Samaran, author of the essay “The Opposite Of Rape Culture Is Nurturance Culture”, which became the seed of her book “Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture.

We talk about harm, entitlement as relates to positions of power like masculinity or whiteness in our cultures, the need for connection ingrained into our biology and sociality, accountability and healing among other topics.

You can find further reading up at norasamaran.com, plus a list of suggested further reading by searching “How To Not Re-Injure Survivors.”

. … . ..

Featured Track:

  • Queer by String Quartet from Tribute to Garbage

Rojava Again Under Threat of Turkish Invasion

Rojava Again Under Threat of Turkish Invasion

[00:10:35 – 01:45:30]

Mostly women carrying "Stand Up For Rojava" banner with a small girl and a sign picturing world leaders leaning in on a small Kurdish child
Download This Episode

Emre, Rimac, Xero and Anya, members of the Emergency Committee for Rojava join us on the show this week to talk about the escalation of violence and threats of invasion by Turkey into northeast Syria, updates from the region and their thoughts on how people in the West can help folks living under the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria. You can learn more about their work at DefendRojava.Org and find related interviews covering some of the subject matter discussed and past events on our website by searching for Rojava.

You can keep find Xero’s upcoming podcast, a member of the Channel Zero Network, at ManyWorldsPod.Github.io and you can find the latest of Anya’s co-authored pieces at The Nation (though it’s paywalled).

Greg Curry Hunger Strike

[00:01:07 – 00:10:35]

Justice for Greg Curry Update on Greg: He has currently been moved to a hospital due to the weight loss he has sustained during the hunger strike. It also seems Greg's mail is being withheld or stalled coming in and going out. Greg has asked folks to contact Chief Legal Counsel Stephen Gray by email (stephen.gray@odrc.state.oh.us) or by phone (614-752-1765) or Annette Chambers-Smith via email at annette.chambers-smith@odrc.state.oh.us Suggested script: "Hello, I am contacting you as a concerned friend of Greg Curry A213159. During Greg's RIB hearing, Officer Sgt O'Brien, who witnessed and investigated Greg was also on the RIB committee which is against your policy RIB/5120-9-08. We are asking you to act on Greg's appeal which has been formally submitted to the Chief Legal Counsel and return Greg to population so he can come off this hunger strike."First up, we’ll be sharing a message recorded a week ago by PAPS Texas of incarcerated activist and survivor of the Lucasville Uprising in 1993, Greg Curry, about his hunger strike for the ODRC’s retaliation to his organizing behind bars at Toledo Correctional. Greg’s support is asking folks to contact ODRC officials as he’s entered over a month on hunger strike, had his communication meddled with and has been hospitalized.

Greg has asked folks to contact Chief Legal Counsel Stephen Gray by email (stephen.gray@odrc.state.oh.us) or by phone (614-752-1765) or Annette Chambers-Smith via email at annette.chambers-smith@odrc.state.oh.us
Suggested script:
“Hello, I am contacting you as a concerned friend of Greg Curry A213159. During Greg’s RIB hearing, Officer Sgt O’Brien, who witnessed and investigated Greg was also on the RIB committee which is against your policy RIB/5120-9-08. We are asking you to act on Greg’s appeal which has been formally submitted to the Chief Legal Counsel and return Greg to population so he can come off this hunger strike.”

You can find a recent interview with a member of Prison Abolition Prisoner Support on Greg’s case at 1 hour 2 minutes into the episode (mislabeled as September 3rd 2020) at NewDream.US. You can hear our 2016 interview with Greg Curry.

. … . ..

Featured Tracks

    • Beritan from Jîyan Beats (dedicated to fallen PKK fighter, Gülnaz Karataş aka Beritan, who threw herself from a cliff after a fierce battle in Xakurke rather than surrender to Turkey on October 25, 1992)
    • Instant Hit (instrumental) by The Slits from Cut

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: So I’m speaking with folks from the emergency committee for Rojava. Would you all care to introduce yourselves with whatever names gender pronouns, where you’re based, and any other info? And any other info about yourself, and it’d be cool to hear about how you became a member of ECR and an advocate for the Rojava revolution.

Anya: I could go first. Hi, everyone, thank you so much for hosting us. My name is Anya, and I’m originally from Ukraine but I have been living in the United States for the last 11 years. And I discovered Rojava and the Kurdish movement around 2017. And I found their project of direct democracy, you know, social ecology, women’s liberation, quite appealing in that they managed to, you know, theoretically, but also in practice to put together all these different struggles on different fronts. So once I discovered it, I started looking for ways to get involved and support the revolution from the United States and have been a member of the Emergency Committee for Rojava almost from its very founding, which was in 2018. And so, you know, the struggle in the United States goes on. Thank you so much again.

Emre: I’ll go next. Hello, everyone. I’m Emre Şahin, I’m a Kurdish scholar from Bakur, Northern Kurdistan. Was based in the US, I’m a PhD student of sociology at Binghamton University. And I’m working on Rojava revolution, particularly woman’s autonomous organizing in Rojava. I did some fieldwork there three years ago, for two months, and I’m excited to be here.

Xero: So I’m Xero I use I use he/they pronouns. I’m based in the US, I’m based in Northwest Pennsylvania, kind of on the southern edge of unseated Erie territory, just south of Lake Erie. I guess what brought me to this revolution was I, you know, kind of have always been, I guess more of a libertarian leftist without really knowing what that meant, or even having a coherent idea of what it involved. I’ve never had much of a patience for reading theory or anything like that. And so when I first learned about the Rojava revolution, it was, god it was in 2020. It was right after the Coronavirus pandemic, and right before the George Floyd uprisings. It was in that kind of a really weird moment where anything kind of felt possible, and this really made a lot of things come into sharp focus for me. It was this example of something that could work at scale. And that was really compelling to me. And so I just didn’t really have much of a choice after that, I kind of went full hog into studying this revolution and kind of similar revolutions around the world. Including the Zapatistas in southeast Mexico, in the state of Chiapas.

And so that, as you’re probably aware Bursts, we’re working on another show that is in conversation with those revolutions, and also talking about land back and other other Indigenous issues here on Turtle Island in a North American context. That show is called Where Many Worlds Fit. And we’re getting very close to being able to start publishing there.

Rimac: Hi, my name is Rimac, I use they/she pronouns. I’m from the Netherlands, I live in a town between Amsterdam and The Hague. And I started supporting the revolution when I started hearing about it in 2015-2016, I was going through a really rough time, personally. I was struggling a lot with my mental health and with taking care of myself, like being able to keep a job and keep an incom because I was struggling with traumas from my youth. I was sexually abused, or sexually attacked, by a close family member as a child and that really kept me in an isolated place where nobody could really stand with me and take care of me. So, I was left really alone. And that’s also when I found out about the women’s revolution, and about the defense against Daesh.

And I also got introduced a little bit to the politics of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan And the revolution gave me so much spirit to persevere through my traumas, and to not give up and to understand that what I experienced was not a single event happening to one person, but a lot of people experience things like this, and that it’s partly because of the patriarchy. So for me, it was really a medicine to learn about a revolution. And then I started looking for people in the Netherlands, for the Kurdish movement, but after the pandemic came and lockdown came it was really hard to maintain contacts. So that’s when ECR came on my path. First, I joined as a member of the study group, which I really enjoyed, because I feel at home at ECR and I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and learning from others. And then I was also invited to start organizing with them. And I have done this for a year now.

TFSR: Thank you all so much for sharing and it’s really nice to meet you. And as kind of a side note, Emre, I was lucky enough to get to hear an interview that you did with Xero for Where Many Worlds Fit and I’m very excited for the content to start flowing.

E: Oh, great to hear that. I’m excited as well.

TFSR: So, in the January chat with a member of Tekoşîna Anarşîst that we conducted, our guests talked about ongoing rocket and drone attacks across the border into Syria since the Serê Kaniyê invasion of 2019. Could you all, are one of you, please speak about the threat of Turkish invasion looming over the autonomous administration of Northeast Syria, aka Rojava and what’s being expected right now?

E: As an introduction, my comrades and I collectively decided that I would initially begin responding first, and we would follow each other. So I’ll start with some of the questions and others will, hope I won’t be taking too much space.

But in response to the attack, the Turkish threats of invasions have intensified in 2019 but they have actually, we can date them back to the collapse of the peace negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish state near the end of 2015. Between 2009-2010 and 2015, the Turkish state and the PKK had began negotiations to work on the current issue. But that came to an end in 2015 when Tayyip Erdoğan power holding party, AKP, lost the elections in June 2015. And to continue its power it decided to team out with the Nationalist Party in Turkey and ended the peace process. After this Turkey’s relationship with the Autonomous Administration in Rojava became extremely hostile.

There were voice recordings from secret top level Turkish state meetings where the Chief of Intelligence was recorded saying, “Oh, don’t worry, we can start a war with Rojava anytime, we’ll just have a few of our agents throw some rockets over the border to the Turkish side and use that as a excuse.” And from there on the Turkish state began to increase its hostility. Before that Turkey had hosted Saleh Muslim, the former co-president of the Autonomous Administration twice in Ankara for diplomatic talks. This was back when the peace negotiations were still on the table. But after that threat of lost power, and, you know, regional political re-alliances, when the peace process ended the Turkish state initially increased its hostility and then proceeded to invade Afrîn‎. And soon after Afrîn‎, invaded Serê Kaniyê in 2019 and it continues its hostile approach to this day.

A: I can add a little bit to that, in particular, what’s happening right now. So Turkish President Erdoğan just announced that Turkey is preparing to launch, and now the invasion, which will be the third invasion, as Emre mentioned the first two. And to basically complete the so called “Safe Zone” that Turkey was negotiating to create with the United States in 2018, before it invaded and occupied more parts of northern Syria. And now, Erdoğan stated that Turkey wants to complete that project and occupy more territory along its southern border with Syria. And at this point, I think we’re quite anxious and, you know, there have been a lot of threats coming from Erdoğan because he and his party AKP, they are using the threats of invasion and actual invasions of different parts of Kurdistan and attacks against Kurdish population within Turkey, but also in Syria and Iraq, as a way to prop up their authoritarian regime and rally support of a broader chunk of Turkish population.

But right now there is this conjuncture of international and domestic factors that makes it quite possible that Turkey, you know, that Erdoğan will actually realize his threats and invade once again. So internationally what’s happening is, of course, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Turkey’s role as a NATO member in stalling the process of NATO accession of Sweden and Finland who just applied to join NATO. Turkey stalls their entry through its demands of lifting a ban on an embargo on arms sales to Turkey and demanding extradition and the crackdown on Kurdish movement and Sweden, and Finland, and termination of any diplomatic relationship that Sweden in particular has with the autonomous administration of Syria. So, you know, Turkey is demanding what’s in its own a geopolitical interest, and it’s quite likely that it will get, at least partially, its demands met.

We have already seen some concessions coming from the United States, the Biden administration has recently requested Congress to approve the sale of F-16, jets and modernization kits for warplanes of Turkey, as well as missile upgrades, you know, various military equipment, despite the existing US sanctions against Turkey, and despite the opposition to it within the Congress. So we are seeing that the United States is granting certain concessions to Turkey and, you know, green lighting another invasion, as the United States did in 2018, you know, could be a likely scenario.

X: I can add a little bit more to that, too, at the risk of making this a little bit more complicated than maybe you were wanting [laughs], because it’s a very messy situation, and there’s a lot of very muddled history here, even in the last 10 years, because the Syrian Civil War is, you know, devastatingly complex. But there’s also two other factors to consider which, one is that there’s the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the AANES — which is kind of the recognized term for Rojava, this is the administration that kind of runs things. It’s like the decentralized thing that’s based on democratic and federalism. And we’ll get into this later when we talk about the carceral situation as it exists in the region — but one of the things that they have is a set of ISIS prison camps where a lot of former ISIS fighters have been kept. And there’s a there’s a number of danger points there, including recently there have been a lot of mass escapes from these camps. And that’s going to also be a factor when it comes to stability in the region that I’m sure Erdoğan is going to want to exploit somehow.

And then over on the Iraqi side of the border, there’s also a number of things that have been escalating in violence, which is even involving Turkish forces in some sense. Which is that the political situation in Iraq, especially in north Northwestern Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, remains a little bit unstable — or not a little bit, that’s putting it mildly — but it remains pretty unstable. And there’s the local ruling Barzani family, which is a Kurdish family that’s much more sort of hyper-capitalistic, and you know, they just have very different political goals.

And there’s been a second route of genocide, genocidal action taken against the Yazidis, and the Yazidis are a local — I personally am not knowledgeable enough to get into whether the Yazidis are Kurds, I’ve heard very firm yeses on that question — but however you classify them, the Yazidis are one of the oldest religious groups in the world and they’re definitely part of this broader Kurdish diaspora. And so they’ve been targeted for genocide by ISIS over the last, you know, 5-10 years. And they’re coming under the threat of genocidal actions, again, by Turkey, and, you know, by these coalition forces in the region. And it’s really devastating to be thinking about things like this, because it’s a very dark situation. But there is some light, you know, kind of buried beneath that, which is that the Yazidis are also taking on Democratic Confederalism, and they’re, they’re realizing their own revolution, which is pretty inspiring.

TFSR: So that was a very complex answer [laughs] it covered a lot of things that I’d like to unpack it in further questions, but very, very informative, and I really appreciate it.

Yeah, and for listeners who maybe don’t recognize the name Yazidi, they may recognize the harrowing situation a number of years ago where ISIS had trapped a number of people in Mount Sinjar, and we’re approaching and genocided them and this is one of the instances where SDF forces were able to come in and help get those folks to safety as as I understand and correct me if I’m wrong, but those were Yazidi minority being attacked by Daesh, specifically.

So, Turkey is the second largest military in NATO, thus a United States ally. And as was pointed to by Anya, there’s ongoing arm sales that are being proposed and engaged right now between the US and Turkey. I wonder if you all could talk about what you understand to be the motivations of the Turkish state under Erdoğan’s AKP and now aligned with the Nationalist Party? What is Neo-Ottoman ism? And can you say some words on transformations of life in Turkey over the last 20 years of AKP rule, and how this relates to the war on Kurdish people within and outside of Turkish borders? Yeah, if you can make mention also of, during this time support for groups like the so called Free Syrian Army, and as well as ISIS or Daesh.

E: Absolutely. Turkey, since the foundation of the Turkish Republic, has had a different sort of political dynamic and diplomatic presence in the globe throughout the 20th century, with the, you know, Republican Party in power for most of the 20th century, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It didn’t have this Neo-Ottoman strategy and the Turkish state, for the most part, spent the 20th century trying to modernize the population, modernize the country, so-called “separation of church and state”. And turning its face towards the west, you know, aspiring to be modeling itself after European countries. And this was quite unique in Muslim majority countries, because in Turkey too, majority of the population being conservative, Turkey had had that sort of identity crisis with Western-facing, but Eastern-being [chuckles] population and geography.

However, Erdoğan’s AKP, when it came to power in 2002, adopted a different approach. It’s a populist Islamist party, neoliberal Islamist party, which said, “I’m not going to just face towards the West I’m gonna face towards the East too, I’m gonna reconnect with the East, with the Middle East” you know. But this is only a part of Neo-Ottoman policy. Another part is trying to resurrect the Ottoman Empire’s sort of legacy. Turkey had this trauma of shrinkage, you know, after centuries of ruling over the eastern Europe, Middle East, Northern Africa, after shrinkage to the Turkish Republic. Now with Erdoğan’s AKP in power and cementing stuff further and further into the turkey state, it tried to increase its influence in the Middle East. And many of Turkey’s diplomatic maneuvers over the past 20 years can be read from this lens, you know, from Turkey’s presence in Rojava, in Syria, to actions in Libya and Qatar, there’s this diplomatic shift.

But of course, Erdoğan’s coming into power had political implications and impacts inside the country too. Life has become more and more conservative, public life has been shaped more and mor. The Turkish state has been investing in religious schools, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which, by the way, even though it’s not a ministry, it’s annual income is higher than the sum of 7-8 different ministries in Turkey. That’s why I said the so called “separation of church and state” even though Turkey is a secular country, the state has tight control over religious affairs. So life has become more and more conservative in Turkey. And these developments at home and abroad, Islamification, went hand in hand of course, as we saw from Turkish involvement in Syria, Turkey has been cozying up to lots of Islamist groups. Like you mentioned, the Free Syrian Army and many factions, which are basically run from offices in Istanbul or have ties in different Turkish cities. Free Syrian Army, you know, their political wing’s representatives residing in Turkey.

However, this is only acknowledged, openly available information. Turkey also had deep connections with extremist Islamist organizations in the past 10-20 years. From al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, to ISIS which it later transformed into, Turkey has had close ties. There have been many cases where Turkish journalists have uncovered hundreds of hundreds of trucks of ammunition and guns sent to al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, by the Turkish state, from Turkey, sent off to Syria. And Turkey still has significant presence in Italy, which is part of a Northwestern Syria, which is not under the control of TFSA, Free Syrian Army actually, it’s under the control of al-Qaeda in Syria, and Turkey works closely with al-Qaeda in Syria.

Also ISIS, there are many reports from the past 5-10 years where ISIS leaders freely reside in Turkey, recruite Turkey, when they’re caught, they’re only caught for show and immediately released. There were reports that even Putin back in 2015 hinted that, when they were not so close with Erdoğan, of oil trade between ISIS and Turkey. And Turkey has maintained close relations with all these Islamist groups from the most, you know, lightweight version such as Free Syrian Army to the most extremist versions such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. And, you know, Turkey’s tried to instrumentalize these Islamic groups in its project to expand, you know restore, Ottoman glory. You know, establish more and more direct influence over the Middle East and North Africa.

Turkey used mercenaries that it recruited from these Islamist factions and sent them to Libya, in its presence and fight in Libya. The same goes for Nagorno Karabakh, as you remember, a year ago, there was a two month war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Turkey was actively participating in the war on the side of Azerbaijan and hundreds of Islamist recruits were transported from Syria to Azerbaijan via and by Turkey. So Erdoğan has been Islamitising both life at home and, you know, Turkish diplomatic approach to the Middle East, and instrumentalizing these Islamist factions and groups.

Anya: I actually don’t think there’s much to add to Emre’s comprehensive response, I would just want to reiterate that Syria, as Emre mentioned, is a blatant example of Erdoğan’s pursuit of Neo-Ottoman Imperial agenda. Because what they’re doing in Northeastern Syria, you know, Turkey, is not just trying to prevent any existence of an autonomous Kurdish polity, but basically preparing a basis for annexation of those territories that are currently occupied by Turkey and its proxies, described by Emre. Usually referred to as Syrian National Army, because there is a process of ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering going on, there is a process of establishing direct Turkey’s administrative and political control of those territories. And I’m referring to the territories that were occupied in three steps in 2016, in 2018, and 2019, with the last two occupations, those were of the territory that used to be under control of the Autonomous Administration. So, you know, they are basically creating a reality that this part of Syria will become Turkified and Turkey will have, you know, an excuse, a pretext to, perhaps not officially, but basically annex, in practice annex that territory.

TFSR: I was wondering, as a follow up, Anya had mentioned the Turkification, if that’s a word, of the so called “Buffer Zone” area, and the area that is Rojava and that part of the world is Kurdistan, is not just made up of Kurds. It’s made up of lots of different languages, ethnicities, religions, that have lived there for centuries and centuries and centuries alongside with each other under various regimes. But, it’s a very complex and diverse area and my understanding is that the Turkish state is moving out Kurds from that so called “Buffer Zone” between Bakur and that part of Syria in Rojava, so as to create discontiguity between different Kurdish majority populated areas that fallt within the borders of these different nation states. I’m wondering if that’s sort of what you’re pointing to, and also if anyone has any knowledge of how the Syrian state is dealing with the destabilization of its borders by Turkey.

E: Turkey has been forcing Kurds to move out through torture, through, you know, pressure from these parts of Rojava that have been under its occupation over the past 10 years. And this is actually an old policy that the Turkish Republic had used in the 1920s and 30s after the transition from Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic, in parts of Bakur, that are at the sort of borderlands between Kurdish majority and Turkish majority regions. The Turkish state would force Kurdish populations and bring in Turks from Anatolia, western Turkey. And Bashar al-Assad, current Syrian president’s father in the 60s took from the Turkish playbook and created this Arab Belt policy. Over a decade, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s father, would force Kurdish communities in today’s Serê Kaniyê, Girê Spî‎ and others parts of Rojava. Kurds were forced to move out, their citizenships stripped, unable to, you know, have their lands, are unable to hold any property, unable to even have official documentation, and forced to move to the Syrian urban centers such as Damascus and Aleppo. Hence, we have Kurdish ghettos in Damascus and Aleppo. And Assad moved Arab families from majority parts of Syria under this Arab Belt project, which was inspired by Turkish Republic policies of the 20s and 30s. So Erdoğan is playing from that playbook, and continuing this demographic engineering. And there’s numerous evidences from Efrîn all the way to Serê Kaniyê of this happening, unfortunately. Which is a direct contrast with the pluralist and harmonious, direct democratic model that’s implemented by the Autonomous Administration in Rojava.

A: I think you also asked about the Syrian government’s attitude, visa vie, Turkeys occupation, and the process of demographic engineering. And I would say that the Syrian government is not an independent, autonomous actor. It has survived all these years of civil war, just because of Russia’s support. So whatever its interests are, it has to balance them off, and ultimately follow Russia’s lead what whatever is in Russia’s geopolitical interest. Whatever Russia is gonna see is profitable for itself in terms of Syrian future. So while in it’s discourse, right, the Syrian government opposed the Turkish invasions and ongoing occupation and its ongoing presence on the Syrian territory, what happened in 2019 was that after Turkey invaded there was a deal made, actually two deals. First, a ceasefire between Turkey and the United States, and then a deal between Russia and Turkey. And according to that deal, Turkey was allowed, by Russia, to basically keep control of whatever territory it had occupied by the time, and that’s the territory that’s currently occupied between Serê Kaniyê and Tell Abyad.

So basically, at that moment, for Russia, it was convenient to make the deal with Turkey and let it, you know, keep its presence and continue establishing all the political, administrative, economic structures and bringing in families of the Syrian National Army fighters to change the demographic, all the processes. And at the moment, it looks like that Russia may greenlight another invasion by Turkey, again, because of the situation in Ukraine. So, Turkey all this time, has managed to sort of play off both the West, you know the United States, NATO bloc, and the Russian bloc, right? Like Emre mentioned that it’s sort of in between the West and the East in its policies. And same when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine happened Turkey didn’t really support any of these two blocs.

So, it’s sort of managed to carve out a position in between, not breaking off completely from Russia but at the same time it’s, I think people know, supporting Ukraine militarily, you know, by providing drones, right? They have been key in Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. And, you know, at this point, some of the latest statements made by Russia’s high officials sort of indicate another potential deal in which Russia could greenlight another invasion, in return of Turkey’s of certain concessions, visa vie the situation in Ukraine.

E: Thank you for that reminder, Anya, and I’d like to quickly add to the question about the Syrian states responses to Turkish threats and practices of invasion, both during the invasion of Afrîn by Turkey, and during the invasion of Serê Kaniyê, all the official statements coming from the Syrian government were along the lines of, you know, “this is a breech of our national sovereignty, and we will fight for each square meter of our land, etc.” But in Afrîn there was no Syrian Army resistance to the Turkish invasion, because in practice, you know, torn with the civil war, Syrian state did not have any sort of capacity to wage some sort of resistance to Turkish invasion. With the invasion of Serê Kaniyê things began to change because the Autonomous Administration — still unrecognized and fighting for its survival — unable to resist Turkish invasion by itself and unable to garner American support, enough American support. Because Trump basically sold out Rojava in 2019, over the phone conversation with Erdoğan and he ordered his troops to leave and allow the Turkish states to send in his army.

So, Rojava caught in between this situation, unable to garner enough US support, agreed to open up the border areas of Rojava where the northern area was, you know, along the border with Turkey, the majority of those border areas for all the way from Minbic / Serê Kaniyê in the West, to Dirik in the most eastern part of Rojava. Syrian Army troops came back in a smaller presence but still, there wasn’t any resistance or any fight against Turkish invasion, Al-Assad’s strategy is basically this. Al-Assad views Rojava, Autonomous Administration, as traitors who are working with the main enemy, the US, you know, using US support to carve out some sort of autonomy, and unable to finish off Rojava attack and finish off Rojava by itself, unable to do that. Al-Assad has been using this strategy of showing that so that Kurds, or peoples of Rojava, accept some sort of slightly worse result.

So Al-Assad is basically saying, “I will only come and work with you against the Turkish State, if you give up on this project of autonomy, and come back into the control of the Syrian State. So Assad’s strategy has been pretty much this, and this hasn’t been really working, because, you know, the Autonomous Administration and the peoples of Rojava do not want to give up their autonomy and the model of direct democracy and Democratic Confederalism that they’ve been establishing there.

TFSR: So we’ve mentioned both conflicts in northern Syria in terms of actors like the United States, Turkey, Russia, Syrian government, and the Autonomous Administration, and also the conflict in Ukraine has been mentioned. And the US shares membership in NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with Turkey, so therefore armed allies to each other. Which I mean, for anyone listening right now, unless you’ve already heard some of this before your heads probably going to be spinning about all the different proxy situations that are going on right here…

But so in terms of the amplification of the war between Russia and Ukraine since March of this year — the war that’s been going on since 2014 — there’s been a lot of coverage and we’ve we’ve talked to folks both from Russia, and folks in Ukraine about the experience of the war there and the US has been providing weapons to the Ukrainian government to fend off the invasion from Russia.

So as an anarchist personally, I have to say I condemn the existence of NATO, as I do with all states, but I also support the right of communities to to defend themselves from violence, including from invasions, particularly when they’re attempting to grow a feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian and ecological revolution is one season Rojava. I wonder if y’all could talk about these two situations and correlation between them? The use by Ukraine of Turkish drones, for instance in this circumstance, is, you know, just kind of mind boggling, but you know, you do what you can to fend off invasion. But do you feel like the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has kind of overshadowed conflict points in other parts of the world? And how do we do a better job of spreading out and expanding our solidarity into places like Tigray in Ethiopia or other conflict zones that are ongoing?

A: I’ll start off since I’m actually from Ukraine, as I mentioned, so this is a topic close to my heart, even though I haven’t been living there for last 11 years, I still have family in the East in the Donbas region, so I’ve been quite emotional and personally affected by this situation.

But more generally, I just want to point out, and I think it has been quite obvious, that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has once more revealed the hypocrisy and double standards on part of the United States and other international actors, you know, the so called “West”, because we have seen huge outpouring of support, of military support, of discursive support, you know, incredible coverage in the mainstream media for the resistance of Ukrainians, right? I mean, we’ve seen pictures of grandmas with molotov cocktails and all this cheering for that resistance.

However, many people have pointed out that you know, that unconditional support is not usually granted to other instances of armed resistance going on in other parts of the world. I mean, you name it, can we can Palestine or Tigray that you just mentioned, or even the PKK, right, which is sort of an armed insurgency against oppression by the Turkish State kind of justified, right? But the PKK has been on the US terrorist list for more than two decades now, as well as on the terrorist list of other countries. And even though the United States have been supporting the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, it has not, you know, as far as we can see, it’s not planning to take off the PKK off that list, right? While at the same time supporting unconditionally, the resistance of Ukrainians. So you know, this situation is just another example that, you know, when it comes to resistance, it’s only supported when someone’s geopolitical interests are on the line, right? That’s what matters and not resistance itself.

And, you know, another parallel that we can draw is between the invasion of Ukraine as a sovereign state, and then Turkey’s several invasions of Syria, which is a sovereign state. And Turkey’s committing egregious war crimes and human rights violations, which are right now covered in the mainstream media, that are committed by Russia in Ukraine. I don’t think we have seen that much coverage when Turkey invaded Syria, Northeast Syria, repeatedly, right. Again, in terms of kind of material response to the invasion by Turkey, in particular, the last one in 2019, as I already mentioned Turkey was basically allowed to occupy the territory that it invaded. And yes, there was discursive opposition by some parts of the United States government, there were some sanctions implemented in response to that invasion in 2019, but those sanctions were removed almost immediately once the ceasefire was signed and Turkey basically remains in the occupied territories. Again, I mean, I think we see a drastic difference, kind of whose invasions are permitted to take place and who’s opposed?

And just one last thing, I think, you know, the invasion has definitely overshadowed other conflicts, at least during the mainstream media. And I think Turkey has been taking advantage of that. I think later on that we were going to discuss more in detail the military operation that Turkey launched into northern Iraq, which is the Kurdish region of Iraq earlier this year, in April, which recently mentioned, and right now, Turkey is trying to capitalize on the invasion and launch its own invasion, another invasion into northeast Syria. And I’m sure that the Turkish government has taken into consideration the fact that right now kind of the media coverage and sort of the government actions are focused on the situation in Ukraine and may get away with another invasion with less coverage.

X: Anya, that answer was beautiful and I really, really appreciate it. I think that there’s some things that I feel like I can add to that answer. Which is, I think that a lot of what I’m going to have to say, like this entire conversation has been, is going to be really complicated and people’s eyes are probably already glazing over. And so I do apologize for that.

And so I feel a responsibility to start with this, which is that: if you’re somebody in the US, and you’re feeling kind of powerless, the really important thing to remember is that our fates are tied. There is no freedom for us without freedom for them. There’s a number of different ways to express this idea and there’s a number of different ways that it manifests — like we in the Imperial Core and people on the periphery or in the Global South, or whatever euphemism you want to use to describe it — I definitely do mean that we’re in the same struggle together. But I also mean something a little bit more specific than that.

So a lot of hay has been made in the media, and in a lot of so called Western sources about the wheat harvest in Ukraine. Because it is definitely true that Ukraine is the world’s breadbasket, basically, even more so than the American Midwest, which is where I live and we have, you know, wheat crops everywhere. And these global supply chain issues that we’ve already been dealing with during the Coronavirus pandemic, again, are extremely complicated, and there’s a lot of fuckery that’s going on everywhere. But a really, I think, underreported aspect of this, is that Turkey as a polity, as a political entity, the Erdoğan regime in particular, has been fucking with the water supply going down into Rojava. And so before this year even, Rojava was already well under what it needed to be for its wheat supply. A lot of its supplemental wheat supply does come from Ukraine, and there’s a lot of different issues that go along with that, too. You mentioned Ethiopia and the Tigray people, they also are pretty affected by the war in Ukraine and the the kind of serious shortage in the in the wheat harvest. But in Rojava, the way that this, you know, is kind of looking on the ground right now is that they don’t have as much water as they need, they definitely cannot produce all of the crops that they need to produce in order to feed all of the mounds that are there. But things are so bad in the region I think that talking about the Coronavirus pandemic, and the way that that looks on the ground in Rojava, kind of is an afterthought almost, as fucked up as that is.

But one of the things that happens there is because the the AANES, the Autonomous Administration, because they don’t have international recognition, that means that the doses of the vaccine that are meant to go to the people who live there, don’t. They go to the Al-Assad regime, right. And so if you’re looking for something that you can do, and you’re in the US, or you live somewhere in the Imperial Core, one of the things that you can do, as frustrating as it is, is lobby your representatives. As fucking frustrating as that is, believe me I understand, but that is something concrete that you can do is, is contact your representatives, and try to lobby for recognition of the Autonomous Administration as a separate polity. I think that it might be a long shot but it’s definitely something that would help the people there more than any other direct action that you can take from the Imperial Core.

If you want to take a personal step — maybe this is oversharing and maybe you can cut it — but there’s ways to make friends online with people who are in pretty desperate situations. And there’s ways that you can, I don’t want to say leverage, but there’s ways that you can take those personal friendships and make those into a kind of mutual aid. So an example of what this might look, is right now on Onlyfans, there’s a ton of sex workers who are based out of Ukraine or from Ukraine or are fleeing, you know, persecution or, you know, fleeing violent conflict. And the only way that they have to really make money very quickly is to turn to sex work. And so this is an example of an area where there’s a ton of things that overlap with a lot of the struggles that people are familiar with in the US, and it’s even on a platform that’s pretty common and popular in the US. And so if you’re looking for direct ways to directly support people, and you’re not, you know, there’s definitely mutual aid funds and all kinds of other stuff that you can get involved with, but if you’re looking to make friends and kind of have a personal bond of solidarity with somebody, you could do a lot worse than something like that. I think I’m talking a little bit too much. But that’s that’s basically what I wanted to add.

TFSR: So in an interview last year that Duran Kalkan of the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, which was conducted by the group Peace in Kurdistan, Mr. Kalkan spoke about his view that while Western governments like the US may strategically partner with the Syrian Democratic Forces under Rojavan control, in the fight against Daesh, or ISIS, they’re not committed to the project of democratic confederalism, but only destabilizing Turkey and opposing Russia and Iranian influence in the region. So as someone who’s based in the US, such as myself, I find this to be a really poignant point of interaction with what’s going on in AANES and within Kurdistan more widely and with the Rojava project. Could you all speak a little bit about the the US relationship with Rojava, the ilegalization of the Kurdish Workers Party or the PKK, as well as the KCK, which I just mentioned, the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, and what impact that has on the ground in areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration?

E: The US has had quite contradictory approach towards the PKK and Rojava revolution. Since 1998 the PKK has been on the terrorist list of the US, and the US has actively been supporting Turkey in its war on the PKK. However, when the time came around 2014, around the time of Kobanî resistance, where ISIS had encircle the city, the US’s relationship with the Kurds began to change slightly. And this was mainly due to the fact that the US has plans to fund the Islamist factions and Free Syrian Army, actively supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had backfired. The Free Syrian Army was losing ground to ISIS, the US didn’t see it as an effective partner, but it wanted to continue its presence in Syria, you know, due to several reasons, serious geopolitical position, the proximity to Israel, the US’s closest ally in the Middle East… The US wanted to stay on the ground, but it was finding itself less and less able to do so only through the use of Free Syrian Army. It needed another partner on the ground, and the only option that was available was the Autonomous Administration. And with lots of international outrage, with solidarity from comrades all over the world, public opinion was shifting, you know, people were becoming more and more aware about ISIS atrocities. And, you know, combination of this urgency and the ineffectiveness of the FSA resulted in Obama sending military equipment initially to the Autonomous Administration, and then the US establishing ties with the Autonomous Administration.

I would agree with the analysis and the statement to Duran Kalkan; we have many examples from recent past that support is hypothesis that the US is not committed to the project of democratic confederalism. And it’s only approaching AANES, the Autonomous Administration, as somewhat of a proxy without really supporting it, without acknowledging it fully, without, you know, limiting its support only to military so that it keeps holding that area and ISIS doesn’t come back. We know that Democratic Confederalism is a sort of antithesis of American hegemonic policies and practices. It’s completely reverse of the US states approach, you know, from neoliberalism to questions about women’s rights, and you know, gender equality, to ethnopluralist understandings of life and politics, to decentralized community control over everyday life and decision making in different areas. These are, of course, very threatening for the US, the US has always been hostile to left wing movements. But this has been highlighted during the Cold War era, and even up to this day, its political approach to left wing, any left wing resistance across the world, is destabilizing and destructive.

This has had a tremendous and terrible effect for the peoples of Rojava because of this lack of recognition, this lack of understanding of Rojava’s political, economical, social organization, and only focusing on the military and geopolitics of what’s going on in the region. The support has been shakey and as we saw in 2019, I mean, this invasion of Afrîn‎ was made possible with the green light given by Russia because Russia and the US have this unspoken deal where they have shared areas of influence in Syria. In areas that fall to the west of the Euphrates River, Russia has military control, Russian warplanes roam the skies in the areas to the east of the Euphrates and Syria, most of which, all of which are under the control of Rojava and the Autonomous Administration, the skies are controlled by the US. And because of the dynamic the occupation of Afrîn‎ was made possible with the green light of Russia.

However, the occupation of silicon in 2019 was made possible with the green light of Trump and the US government. And with that invasion alone, 400,000 people were displaced in the region. And that’s close to 10% of the entire Rojava population, Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî‎ were instrumental in the storage and processing of agricultural products. So there’s been a major hit in that sense to people’s education was disrupted, schools were closed. So this sort of contradictory, shaky approach of the US towards the political project in Rojava manifests in hundreds of lives killed, hundreds of thousands of people being displaced, three or four towns being semi destroyed, and people access to water and food being extremely limited. And it’s been devastating to the region, which is why we need not just military support from all around the world, but also political support and a deeper understanding about the political project that’s going on in the ground.

TFSR: As was mentioned already, I think Xero mentioned it in January, there was massive breakout attempts by members of ISIS, or Daesh, fighters and families from the prison and refugee camps at Hassakeh and al-Hawl, where the SDF had been holding them and international condemnation was broadcast about the conditions there all over the media. I think there was a lot that was lacking from the discussion about the fact that a huge number of those Daesh prisoners, captured after the destruction of the attempted creation of a theocratic state, or caliphate by ISIS, are foreigners whose home countries won’t relocate them. Can you all talk a bit about what happened to Syrians that were held as Daesh, and sort of break open this topic a little bit more about the difficulties of not being recognized as an official state formation and yet being in some ways held to the same humanitarian requirements as state structures that don’t have an interface with you? Like how has international scrutiny caused differences in treatment between people internally displaced by the conflicts in Syria (sometimes you can shorten IDP – internally displaced people) versus those internationals who traveled to Syria to join Daesh?

E: This has been a sore spot. In July of 2019 while I was doing my fieldwork, I attended a three day conference which was held by the Autonomous Administration on this particular issue, on how to deal with ISIS prisoners. Guests from all over the world were present there, along with a couple of people from the US too. And there is this discrepancy. So currently, there is a little over 2,000 former ISIS members imprisoned in the Hassakeh and the whole camps that you mentioned, and a little over 10,000 relatives, you know, family and children of these people, held in these camps. A little over a third of these prisoners are foreigners. Interestingly, Central Asian countries have a much, much more constructive approach and have been repatriating their citizens who went and joined ISIS and were captured by Rojavan forces. For example, Uzbekistan has has taken back more than 300 former ISIS members that are Uzbek nationals. However, many of the Western countries refrain from doing so. And part of part of the reason is that they are working closely with Turkey, but another part of the reason is this instrumentalisation of Rojava’s lack of recognition in the international arena.

However, close to two thirds of the ISIS prisoners and their family members are either Syrian or Iraqi, a majority of the people held in Rojavan ISIS camps are either Syrian and Iraqi. And the Autonomous Administration has different policies when it comes to the nationalities. If the former ISIS member is from a country anything other than Syria and Iraq, they are able to repatriate only if the country is willing to do so and very few Western countries do this. And if the former ISIS member, is Iraqi, the Iraqi government has direct communication channels with the Autonomous Administration of Rojava and takes back, you know, takes back the Iraqi citizens and places them in the camps that they have inside Iraq for former ISIS members.

For the Syrians, the situation is complicated. The majority of the former ISIS people in Rojava camps are of Syrian nationality. And on the one hand, ISIS prisoners are treated differently in the semi carceral system that they have their. You know, all other prisoners are held in general prisons, where if you’re trying to relate it to something that is tied to ISIS, you go to ISIS related courts and prisons that are reserved for ISIS members only. And former ISIS prisoners lose their properties, you know, the only type of people that get their stuff confiscated by the Autonomous Administration are former ISIS members. So there is this sort of harsh approach towards former ISIS members that are from the parts of Syria that have control by the Rojavan Administration.

However, there’s also this attempt to not have this solely carceral approach to crime and punishment. And there is some sort of community arrangement. Over the past 10 years, a few hundred former ISIS linked people have actually been set free but through these processes of alternative justice models — that I know my comrade will go into more detail in a minute. If let’s say you’re from Raqqa, and you were involved with ISIS, somehow, if you and your community can prove that you weren’t a gun wielding member that participated in the killing — you know, many people, when ISIS took over and ruled over a large swath of land for a few years, many people worked with ISIS, but not zealously, you know, driving stuff, because they’re told to or doing nonviolent acts. So, if you can prove that you weren’t violent in ISIS, and if your community, your neighborhood from Raqqa, your relatives and community vouch for you, and [would] go through this alternative justice process, then there is when you would get released. Or, like I said, this depends on, this is a complex matter that depends on sort of the communal vouching and the ability for the Administration to arrange with the community so that this person’s released won’t risk life in the region but will ease the burden on the camps and the maintenance of these camps, because that has been a difficult issue. ISIS, former ISIS members, and their relatives still are trying to resurrect the caliphate inside these camps. One of the main reasons for these breakouts that happened periodically, and they can kill one another when if someone held in these camps is willing to talk to administrative officials, or is willing to somewhat cooperate or show regret, you know, these imprisoned other ISIS people come and kill them. So, it’s very complicated. And my comrades go into more detail.

X: Yeah, thank you, Emre, that was a really good answer. That was pretty comprehensive answer. And I think the only thing that I can add to it is to kind of reframe it a little bit for a US audience who might be used to the way that prisons and the carceral state work here, and just kind of compare and contrast a little bit in order to make it a little bit easier to understand. Because that’s, that’s generally the way I think of it. And so, I think that that might be a good communication strategy. And so the thing I think that is the first thing to say about that, is that the the, the Autonomous Administration isn’t really a state in the conventional sense. And I think that fact alone is low key one of the biggest barriers in in terms of getting international recognition. Because obviously, we have NATO countries and stuff, these are all nation states. And so if you admit somebody who’s not a nation state, it’s kind of a threat to your control over the worldview of the planet. And so this I think is one thing that people, perhaps rightfully, see as kind of threatening.

And so that’s the first thing, is that is that the Autonomous Administration isn’t really run like a state. And so the way that things are enshrined here, where there’s endless bureaucracy, and there’s kind of this cultural attitude that we have laws, and you have to do exactly what it says, by the letter of the law, and you can’t stray a single millimeter outside of that, or else you’ll be put in jail and that’s the right thing to do. The kind of cultural attitudes that you would find in Kurdistan are very different from that. And this isn’t just Kurdish culture, but Kurdish culture is what I know the most about so that’s what I’m going to go into.

There’s a different attitude that comes out of centuries of Kurdish tradition, and Kurdish attitudes about law, which is that if you’re resorting to a law you’re kind of already lost, it’s kind of already too late. And so before they do that, what they prefer to do instead, kind of as a culture, is to look around and just kind of see what are the problems that we’re facing and what can we do about those problems? And so it’s kind of, it’s not prescriptive in that way. It’s much more for example: in Rojava there’s a lot of issues with retribution killings. It’s similar to the mafia, the way that the mafia works but it’s definitely not the same. Where it’s like “someone from my family killed your family and so someone from your family has to do a retribution and kill someone from my family”, and the cycle of violence just will continue. And so the way that they would approach that is to say, “Okay, well, instead of that, how about we just have this neighborhood council of people who live on the same street, or people who live in the same area” and often it’s the grandmas, it’s the neighborhood grandmothers, who would be the first responders to some kind of event, to some kind of, what we would think of as a crime.

If there’s one of these revenge killings, the first person who comes in response to that is a grandma from the neighborhood. And then what happens after that is they wouldn’t consider the crime to be solved when the perpetrator is found and then tried and executed or whatever; they consider the crime to be solved when there’s a truth and reconciliation consensus. Like there’s a truth and reconciliation process, and then that process will reach some kind of conclusion, and the surviving parties will usually agree to some kind of public show of okayness with this. Like there’ll be some kind of neighborhood feast, or there’ll be something. And it doesn’t necessarily make things, okay, between those families but it does make it so that the people who you live around, you’re held accountable to them. If somebody breaks the kind of conditions of this truce, everyone in the neighborhood is going to know who did it and how, and so there’ll be consequences in that way. So it’s much more about social reinforcement than it is about any kind of rigid agent of the state coming after you the hand of God or whatever.

That being said, there are definitely prisons in Rojava. And like Emre was talking about, those prisons are usually reserved for people who are a real, direct safety threat to the people who live in a community. And the name of the game is not really to punish those people, it’s to remove them as a safety threat. So you take them to prison, not to punish them, but because they’re their presence creates some kind of unsafe condition. The goal of taking somebody to prison is much more focused on rehabilitation than it is retribution.

I think there’s a global cap of 10 years that somebody can be in one of these prisons and often it’s much less than that. And so the incarceration rate among the general population is much lower. And in fact, during, I think it was early on in the pandemic — this might have been at the end of 2020, I might need to fact check this — but there was definitely, I’m blanking on the word, but there were people who were released from prison, and they were just forgiven and said, “Okay, you can go home, because we can’t keep you here because there’s an active fucking of plague and that that creates an unsafe condition for you.” “Amnesty” is the word that I was looking for.

Carceration is not the only piece of this, there’s also, for example, there’s the whole women’s revolution and one of the aspects of the women’s revolution in Rojava is that there are women’s communities where anyone, any woman can come with her children or with her immediate relatives or whatever, her friends, what have you, and they can come and they can escape from a battered household situation. And just come and stay and live for however long they need to live there, and learn a skill learn something that can then be used to economically sustain yourself. And that’s also a really important piece of this. And so that’s civil society. That’s kind of how things work in normal circumstances, where you just have a neighborhood and there’s a, for lack of a better word, a crime rate in that neighborhood.

That is very different from the ISIS problem. And so, the reason that very different, and the reason that they don’t resort to laws in order to solve this problem, is because it’s a systemic problem. And it’s the Syrian civil war, and so there’s everything is really complicated and everything is really dark and bleak and depressing. But one of the things that made ISIS possible is that civil wars create these really unstable conditions where you’re not really sure where your security is going to come from. And so if this armed group shows up, and they say “you have to abide by whatever we’re doing, or else” that doesn’t excuse what you then do as a result of that, but it does change the way that you treat the problem. Because many of the people who were, what you might call “Syrian civilians” who came under the control of ISIS, or who was part of ISIS or whatever. A lot of those people weren’t really true believers, they didn’t join ISIS because they wanted to, they joined ISIS because they were forced to under nightmarish circumstances. And again, that doesn’t make it okay. But it does change the way that you treat the problem.

And so there’s a population of people who do stuff that. And then there’s a separate population of people who are generally true believers who come by choice from abroad, and Emre was saying, that accounts for about a third of the of the population in these in these ISIS prison camps in al-Hawl, particularly. And so what you do with these people, the third of the people who are who are coming from abroad, that’s a really thorny problem, because the Autonomous Administration isn’t recognized, and nobody wants to take these people back. And so again, I’m not making excuses for the conditions or anything that, I’m just saying that there’s there’s a context here, and that context is really important.

TFSR: Cool, I found that very helpful. Between the two of you.

As was mentioned earlier, the Barzani governing Kurdish Democratic Party in Iraq has a contentious relationship with the Autonomous Administration and the democratic movement. Turkey has also been leading attacks into Iraq since last year, at least, including allegedly using chemical weapons in the northern regions against what they are calling “PKK militants”. But that hasn’t really been making the news from within the US. Does anyone want to address these activities?

R: I want to share a little bit about my own experience. I don’t know the details about the allegations of the chemical weapons but I was at a demonstration in The Hague in mid-May, where a British delegation, and among them Steve Sweeney, a journalist who has been in the region himself for one year to investigate. He has collected samples of soil, hair and clothes that contain evidence that banned chemical weapons have been used by Turkey. And on May 17, he and others would join the local Kurdish movement to go to the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to hand over this samples, and to urge for a fact finding team to go to the region to start their own investigations. But very unfortunately, the flight got canceled, so they could not make it to the Netherlands in time, which was very disappointing and frustrating. And then some other people from the demonstration, they took their place. Of course, they didn’t have the samples but they did have the letters and the files, so they went to the building. The police was escorting them and it was so painful to see that they weren’t even let inside the gates. They could not even enter the building into the reception [area] to hand over these documents, but they were just left outside the gate. And I think they handed it over to somebody who would take it inside. And that was so painful to see that it’s not taken seriously, that even with such a big demonstration and action and a call out for supports, that they are just not responding at all.

E: To add on to Rimac’s point, Turkey has been using chemical weapons such as phosphorus bonds and cluster bombs, not only in northern Iraq, not only in partial southern Kurdistan against PKK militants in the Qandil Mountains area, but also in Rojava during its invasion of Serê Kaniyê. Many families were affected by phosphorus bombs that were used by Turkish warplanes. And there was this iconic image of a 6-7 year old boy with all sorts of chemical burns on his body, and samples collected in Rojava, too. And the so-called “international community” that result has been silence in the face of these attacks. And I think this is primarily due to the hostile approach that many countries have towards the Kurdish movement, you know, both in Rojava and in other parts of Kurdistan. Like we said several times today, the recognition of PKK as a terrorist organization, and the criminalization of ALL Kurdish people basically, not just the PKK through this logic, and the PKK is the biggest, is the strongest Kurdish party with the biggest base in Kurdish society. We’re talking about 30-35 million Kurds in Kurdistan, and more than half of Kurds in Kurdistan make up the base of the PKK.

So the West’s contradictory political approach towards the PKK and the Kurdish movement, I believe, is one of the main reasons for this turning a blind eye towards the use of active use of chemical weapons by a NATO member country. And this only serves to illustrate the hypocrisy is about all the Western officials preaching about human rights and sort of democratic measures to be employed in warfare, including the banning of chemical weapons. I guess, as long as you’re a NATO member or a NATO ally and you’re dropping chemical bombs on marginalized, criminalized communities such as the Kurdish movement and the Kurdish people, you get a free pass in chemical warfare.

TFSR: Over the last 10 years of the Rojava revolution, radicals, anarchists and feminists in the US and abroad have attempted to raise awareness about the project in order to grow solidarity, but the only times, at least in the US that I’m aware of, that the topic seems to come up are in the context of emergencies, invasions and war. How have we in the US, in particular, failed at engaging lessons taking inspiration from and building solidarity with the revolution in Rojava? And what has that lost us and our comrades over there and abroad?

R: I would like to answer this question by really zooming in on my own journey, how I became involved, not because my journey is special, but I think that it explains a lot about how difficult it can be to navigate. As I said, in my introduction, that I experienced sexual violence as a child from a family member and I was actually invited by another family member to join them for a vacation in Turkey, in 2015. And I wasn’t aware of the strike of the Kurdish struggle yet, then. And I remember that, at the time, there were some alerts about Turkey that you should not travel too close to the border with Syria, because there was unrest.

And at that time, I only read about Syria in the headlines. I only saw headlines and I didn’t know personally what exactly was going on. But because I was traveling there, I wanted to read up and research what’s going on, what’s happening in this part of the world that I’m very ignorant about. So of course, one of the first things I learned was about the Civil War. And then I learned about the PKK, and about the women’s revolution, about SDF and the YPG fighting against ISIS and also being successful and pushing back against them. But I was I was researching this alone, I was not connected with with organizers or anarchists at that moment yet. So it was very confusing for me to find out who is who and who is fighting for what, in the beginning, I could not even distinguish between like the PKK and the YPG and the Free Syrian Army. I was not aware of it. So I had to research that even further.

And then, as soon as I started leaning more towards understanding that the PKK and the YPG that they were struggling for values that I hold dear as well, I started wondering, but if they are fighting this good fights, for human rights and for liberation and against oppression, and if they are actually like the heroes of this moment in the sense that there are so many parts of the world where the governments and the people are so terrified of ISIS, that they are paralyzed by fear and not doing anything and people on the streets being afraid of each other. And then I thought “if they are so successful in fighting against ISIS, then why are they not celebrated? Why is this not shared?” Especially in the country where I’m from in the Netherlands there’s a really big ISIS scare. And I didn’t understand why there there wouldn’t be more attention to this.

So I came in the struggle of like, “it’s everybody’s word against everybody’s word.” And I stuck with it because I really wanted to find out what was going on. And then I also went at some point to a Kurdish culture event in my area and that’s when I really started to embrace the Kurds and the revolution in Rojava. So, by that time, it was more clear to me who is playing what role, and also that Turkey’s role was not dubious, but just evil. That Turkey is really betraying all the values and out to commit genocide, that they’d have no excuse for their attacks.

But then when I started joining the Kurdish community here in the Netherlands, that was also a bit of a culture shock. Because even though I was aware that we were living in a capitalist society and patriarchal society, and that this was causing a lot of injustice, and unheard voices, even though I was aware of it, and already, like fighting the status quo as much as I could, in my way, it was a culture shock to become accepted by the Kurdish community. Because then I felt that I became a part of the struggle and after revolution. And it’s also because the message of the revolution is what I hold really dear, I think that’s a really important message. And that’s why I am also really glad to participate today in the podcast, because the message is that it’s not only a revolution in Rojava, and in Kurdistan region, it’s not their revolution, it’s from all of us.

Because the way how the PKK decided, at some point, that they are not after their own State anymore but they are instead going after a Stateless world. When I really find out about it, and I started sitting with this, that’s when I felt that this is really also my revolution, and that I have a job to play here in the Netherlands. But it was a big step to start getting to know the Kurdish movement here and understanding what role I can play here. Because I even though I fight against it, I do have a European and a Dutch background, I’m not a Kurdish person. So I have a lot of work to do to change my mindset.

And that is also where, because of the pandemic, we could not organize anymore. And I lost contact with my Kurdish friends. So that’s where I started looking on the internet, to find a community and to find resources and to keep on developing myself, and to really become a student of the revolution to understand what can I do here in the Netherlands. That is how I found out about ECR, I joined a reading session of them. And this is also my message to listeners who feel like they want to do something, but they are looking for ways to get involved and to make an impact: the ECR we have reading sessions, one of the topics we discussed was — and that was over like five or six sessions — we discussed similarities and differences between the Zapatista revolution and the Rojava revolution. And for the 8th of March, the International Women’s Day, we had a session, of course, about women struggle and achievements. And before that, we had really interesting sessions about political economy and the cooperative economy in Rojava.

And these are sessions where we exchange equally, where we get to know each other. And then we also have once a month, the organizing meetings where we try to practice what we are learning, try to inspire each other, we have updates from the region. And for me, it helped a lot to be connected with people who are very aware of what’s going on, because that helps seeing the forest through the trees again. Because if you’re insecure about what is going on, that also makes you insecure to act and to speak out and to take action. So ECR has really helped me to stand stronger, and form my own opinion, and choose a strategy for myself to be a part of the revolution. And so I would like to invite listeners to join us for organizing meetings. You’re welcome to join. However, whatever your background is, or how much you know or don’t know about it, you’re always welcome to join us. You can get an update from the region. We also share news about what’s going on in the United States, revolving Rojava and Kurdistan. We share actions that we are taking to build a broader solidarity, because this is, as I said, it’s not only a Kurdish revolution, it’s not only Rojava, it is a struggle and a resistance at this worldwide. That we are connected in our struggle against capitalism and patriarchy. And then at the end of the meetings, we also have the phone banking, where friends of ours from ECR they always do a really great job of putting together a message of concern. And they have all the phones numbers from relevant people of the government in the United States, and we make the calls and as Xero said it might be a bit boring or even like, doesn’t feel good for people, but it is a really important part, especially as European or American people to really raise the noise in our own countries, and to bring our message because they need to hear our story. And you can find us at DefendRojava.Org. There, you can also sign up to get notifications about events and news.

E: I’ll follow Rimac’s example and begin with explaining how I started to become involved with ECR. Soon after its establishment in 2019, I was already in touch with one of co-founders such as Anya and a couple other comrades. And I’m working on women’s autonomous organizing in Rojava in my dissertation, and particularly in the economic arena, you know, cooperatives, collectives, communes. And, you know, in addition to all the wonderful things we do at ECR, we’ve been doing over the past three years that Rimac mentioned just now, I’ve been involved with Anya and a couple comrades with trying to establish connections and increase solidarity with different cooperatives across the US. We’ve been meeting with representatives from cooperatives in and around New York City, but also from different parts of the US. We’ve been in communication with Equal Exchange, Fair World Project, Colab Cooperative, and USFWC Peer Tech Network, among other cooperatives. We’ve been trying to build connections with cooperatives and collectives in Rojava. As an anarchist, myself, I value this growth of international solidarity among different cooperatives in different parts of the world.

However, you don’t have to be an anarchist, you know, whatever excites you in life, whatever you’ve been working on more, there are options to build solidarity with your comrades in Rojava. I know, for example, if you’re an active feminist, in the US, or in Europe, an organized active feminist and you want to build solidarity that’s also much valued and possible, both through the ECR, which, you know, tries to contribute to this growth of solidarity, but also Kurdish Women’s Movement, which is very well established, internationally, particularly in Europe. And I know, there have been meetings with, you know, different women’s organizing from North and South America. So whatever you’re working on, whatever moves you in life, there is possibility of growing solidarity and connections with corresponding similar organizations and people in Rojava. And the Rojava Revolution’s Democratic Confederalism is an anti-nation-state, internationalist vision that does not only limit itself to the Kurdistan or the Middle East, but for the entire world. So any collaboration, in that sense will be much valued and appreciated.

X: Yeah, I would echo what I heard both of Rimac and Emre say, which I thought they were really beautiful responses. So one of the things that I personally have learned — this is gonna sound really contradictory — one of the things that I personally have learned over the course of my organizing as I get closer and closer to Indigenous movements here on Turtle Island, is the importance of not centering yourself, but also, the utility of centering yourself and when it’s appropriate to and when it’s not appropriate to. Things have to be balanced and I think that’s something that’s really important that I take away from all of this. So I had the good fortune to sit down with a Kurdish journalist Khabat Abbas — who you’ll hear the interview that I did with her, we’ll be dropping an episode after we start dropping episodes — but that was a really wide ranging conversation. And one of the things that I really took away from that was this notion of trying to sit with all of the many, many contradictions in life and not just contradictions of ideas or whatever, but contradictions of feeling and thought.

You know, the way that really intense genocides tend to all also happened at the same time as incredible social movements towards progressive ideas of feminism and liberation and stuff. And the way that you can’t really separate the two. That was a really powerful idea. I think that some cultures might call that, if I’m, again, forgetting the name, non-dualism, I think that Buddhists would have a lot to say about this idea of the yin and the yang, and how good and evil aren’t really opposites. They’re two sides of the same coin and stuff like that. I’ve come around to the idea that these are all things that are too important to carry just one name and we have versions of them in our own culture. And so trying to see these things as a gift, and the gift comes in the form of a seed, and you can choose to plant that seed and you can even tend it like a garden. Because the way that culture works, a lot of the time, is a lot soil. You have to look at the nutrients that are in the soil and you can maintain the soil, and you can change what the nutrients are over time, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen with a lot of work and a lot of really hard, dedicated effort over the course of generations even.

And that’s what the Kurds and other people who live in the region have achieved. Because the Rojava project as a polity didn’t come about because somebody woke up one day and said, “Hey, let’s let’s fundamentally revolutionize everything that we’re doing in civil society”. It came about because these cultures, or these traditions, have been practiced for centuries. And there was a lot of dedicated organizing that happened in the years before the Syrian civil war. The PKK is definitely a factor, the early stage of the YPG, and YPJ, which are the People’s Defense Units, and the Women’s Defense Units, these self defense militias in the region. Those also didn’t come out of nowhere, they were trained with the help of the PKK. And in many instances, they have, you know, overlapping membership.

But these things don’t just happen in a vacuum, they come about because there’s a need for them, even when there’s not a civil war going on. And so I look around at the situation in the context where I live and I see that there’s a dire need for that. And I’m not the first person to notice that, this is not an original observation in any way. But things in the US right now are getting to a dire point where I really worry a lot about, you know, the possibility of genocidal violence in the near future. And the violence that is going to be perpetrated against queer people and trans people over the summer, and how that’s actually about racism, when you boil it down, and how nothing is new under the sun. Everything that happened before will happen again, you know, whatever you want to bring out to say that.

But all of that is to say: that you have these dark things that are happening at the same time as you have incredibly positive things. And the incredibly positive things that I take from Rojava, the things that really stood out to me and the things that I really connected with immediately, were the Women’s Revolution, and the structure of civil society, those are the things that made me realize that I’m an anarchist, I just didn’t put the word to it for a long time. And realizing those things, it was a very non-linear process where I just kind of made all these realizations in my own life and started realizing that I fit into that context, too, and I can be part of those organizing efforts. And that’s a new commitment that I have in my life that I feel more myself than I have in a very long time. Because I’ve was introduced to these ideas.

And so I think there’s a lot there that’s on the personal level, on the societal level, the structural level. And a lot of it goes off in very different directions. But that’s kind of the beauty of it, is that all of that is part of it, all of that has to be part of the whole. That the opposition has to be part of the system. Yeah, and so when I think about what can be done, and how the US has failed, I think those are important questions to grapple with. And there’s a lot of very serious critiques to be made. I think that what it distills down to, for me, is a reaction of an interaction that I had with somebody on Twitter recently, somebody that’s based in the UK, but that does a lot of anarchist organizing and stuff. And they kept complaining about “what the fuck is in the water over there in the US? What the fuck are you people talking about all the time?” And that got me to thinking very seriously about, you know, the context that I grew up in. Which was small towns in the Rust Belt, and just kind of what it is like emotionally to grow up that way, in that area, in that context, and how that plays differently from people who grew up in different contexts, in different geographies and stuff. Yeah, I’m rambling now, but I just, it’s all of this. It’s really complex, and it’s really nuanced, and I just love every minute of it. That’s basically my answer.

TFSR: That’s awesome. All those answers were really, really enlightening. I really appreciate them. And so Rimac already mentioned the website and how to get in touch, and invited listeners into the project. I wonder if any of you individually have projects. I mean, Xero mentioned the podcast, but if any of you have places where listeners can reach out to you personally over social media, or if you have collections of writings that you’ve done, anything like that you want to share? It’s okay, if you don’t.

X: I guess I can start. So the podcast that I mentioned is called Where Many Worlds Fit. You can find, I guess, me on Twitter and on Instagram, the handle is Many_Worlds_Pod spelled just it sounds. I think the there’s also an email, which is Many.Worlds.Pod@protonmail.com. And so if anybody wants to get in touch or if you want to, you know, follow along there. There’s a couple of articles that have been posted on the website, which is ManyWorldsPod.github.io. It’s hosted on GitHub, because I don’t paying for software, and I’m a software developer by trade, and so I just did all of that myself. Yeah, that’s where to find me.

TFSR: Well, thank you. Thank you all for having this conversation and for taking all this time out of out of your busy lives to not only do this work, but to share with the audience and with myself. Yeah. And thanks again.

R: Can I share one thing?

TFSR: Yeah yeah yeah!

R: Well, the examples I gave earlier, that people can do on an individual level and get involved, speak for themselves. But what I also love about being involved with ECR is that they are really taken the steps necessary, and really big steps in the United States, to bring the message of the Rojava Revolution forward. And to also approach Congress, because they’ve now drafted a resolution with legislation that they want to see changed so that people in the area can be protected, because they would, they have to have political recognition. But also because Turkey has built dams, causing whole areas to be without water, so daily life is obstructed in a pandemic, that was really a catastrophe on catastrophe. Not to mention the effects on food supplies. So even though ECR is a relatively small organization, they are really owing up to the revolution and to making the change and impact they can do. So that’s why I also love to organize with them, because you can learn so much from them. And I want to thank you for taking the time because we’ve spoken over two hours. I don’t know how long your podcast usually is. But thanks for taking the time and listen to us and not feeling any rush.

X: Yeah, thanks a lot for having us, Bursts, it’s been a great conversation.

TFSR: Yeah, I’ve appreciate you getting to getting to chat with all of y’all. And I’m glad there’s some promotion here for your podcast, which I’m pretty excited about [laughs].

X: Yeah, me too [laughs]. I think we just need to knuckle down and do it [laughs].

TFSR: Take care, Hevals!

R: Serkeftin!

“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

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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.

Combating Movement Misogyny

Combating Movement Misogyny

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This week on the show, William and Scott are presenting an interview with Alice and Dolly, who are two people working toward Disability Justice and Mad Activism (among other things), about the prevalence of movement misogyny in antifascist currents, world building as antifascist and as community defense, ways to rethink harmful patterns in movements, and some things we can do to make each other safer. The show initially got in touch with these guests based on a Twitter thread that they co-authored about these issues. Check out our podcast at our website later today for a longer conversation.

You can follow Alice on Twitter @gothbotAlice, and to read Tema Okun’s work which Dolly was referencing on unmasking and addressing white supremacy culture you can follow the link in our show notes – or – search “White Supremacy Culture” on your search engine and follow the results to the pdf on the dismantlingracism.org page.

Further reading

  • Intentional Peer Support (alternative mental health support structure)
  • adrienne maree brown: http://adriennemareebrown.net/
    • also our recent interview with them: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/2021/02/14/adrienne-maree-brown-on-cancellation-abolition-and-healing/
  • Audre Lorde: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audre_Lorde
  • Tema Okun’s essay “White Supremacy Culture“: https://www.dismantlingracism.org/uploads/4/3/5/7/43579015/okun_-_white_sup_culture.pdf

Announcement

Phone Zap for Rashid

from RashidMod.com

​On July 12 Kevin “Rashid” Johnson was transferred from Wabash Valley prison in Indiana to the custody of the Ohio Department of Corrections, being brought directly to their intake center in Orient. He would remain there for less than three weeks before being sent to Lucasville prison on July 30th.

… More details in the actual post, listed above at Rashidmod…

For Virginia: #1007485
For Indiana: #264847
For Ohio: #A787991

Demands:

1. 𝘼𝙣 𝙚𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙗𝙤𝙜𝙪𝙨 30 𝙙𝙖𝙮 𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙥𝙝𝙤𝙣𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙚𝙢𝙖𝙞𝙡.

2. 𝘼𝙣 𝙚𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙗𝙤𝙜𝙪𝙨 30 𝙙𝙖𝙮 𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙞𝙨𝙨𝙖𝙧𝙮 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙥𝙧𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙨 𝙍𝙖𝙨𝙝𝙞𝙙 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙤𝙧𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙮 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙬𝙝𝙞𝙘𝙝 𝙩𝙤 𝙬𝙧𝙞𝙩𝙚.

3. 𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙞𝙢𝙢𝙚𝙙𝙞𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙧𝙚𝙩𝙪𝙧𝙣 𝙤𝙛 𝘼𝙇𝙇 𝙤𝙛 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙩𝙮 𝙞𝙣𝙘𝙡𝙪𝙙𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙚 $400 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙤𝙣 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙩𝙧𝙪𝙨𝙩 𝙖𝙘𝙘𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙩 𝙒𝙑𝘾𝙁 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙡𝙚𝙜𝙖𝙡 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙩𝙮 𝙬𝙝𝙞𝙘𝙝 𝙬𝙞𝙡𝙡 𝙚𝙣𝙖𝙗𝙡𝙚 𝙝𝙞𝙢 𝙩𝙤 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙪𝙚 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙘𝙖𝙨𝙚 𝙖𝙜𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙄𝙉 𝘿𝙚𝙥𝙖𝙧𝙩𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝘾𝙤𝙧𝙧𝙚𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨. 𝙄𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙮 𝙩𝙚𝙡𝙡 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙩𝙮 𝙝𝙖𝙨 𝙖𝙡𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙙𝙮 𝙗𝙚𝙚𝙣 𝙨𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙣 𝙬𝙚 𝙣𝙚𝙚𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙤𝙣 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙙𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙞𝙩 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙨𝙝𝙞𝙥𝙥𝙚𝙙 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙛𝙖𝙘𝙞𝙡𝙞𝙩𝙮 𝙧𝙚𝙘𝙚𝙞𝙫𝙚𝙙 𝙞𝙩.

PHONE NUMBERS AND EMAIL ADDRESSES TO CONTACT:

Joseph Walters, Dep. Director VADOC
joseph.walters@vadoc.virginia.gov
(Proxy for Harold W. Clarke, Director of the Department of Corrections)
(804)887-7982

James Park, Interstate Compact Administrator
James.park@vadoc.virginia.gov

Annette Chambers-Smith, Director of Ohio Depart of Rehabilitation and Corrections
please contact: Melissa Adkins (Executive Assistant)
via email: melissa.adkins@odrc.state.oh.us
614-752-1153.

Ronald Erdos, Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, Warden (Lucasville)
(740)259-5544
drc.socf@odrc.state.ohio.us

Charlene Burkett, Director DOC Ombudsman Bureau (Indiana)
(317) 234-3190
402 W. Washington St. Room W479
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Ombud@idoa.in.gov

Richard Brown, Warden
Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, Indiana
(812) 398-5050

. … . ..

Transcription

Gothbot Alice: I’m Alice, I am an anarchist and an anti-fascist, I have my hand in lots of different organizing spaces, particularly around, like Disability Justice and Mad Rights. I identify as a mad person and a care worker. Those things really impact the lens that I look at the world through and the way I engage with other people and organize. So thank you so much for having me. My pronouns are they/she, I’m really excited to be here to talk with y’all today.

Doll Parts: Hey, I am Dolly. And I’ve been doing some organizing work in all kinds of different capacities for 20 years and have been affiliated with different kinds of folks at different points. I’m most interested in disability justice and abolition, especially psychiatric abolition. And part of that reason I like don’t necessarily align myself with specific movements is because of the stuff we’re talking about today. I had experiences with anarchist groups and other leftist organizing that really felt like it was replicating the power structures that we were supposed to be pushing against. So I don’t necessarily align with any specific ideology that way.

TFSR-William: That’s super real. I’ve been hearing that story from a lot of folks who formerly identified as anarchists or aligned themselves with the anarchist tendency. So that’s, unfortunately, something that we see a lot. And that’s a huge shame, in my opinion. So thank you for saying that, I think it’s something we should be talking about. We’re here to discuss a topic which you posted about on your Twitter back in mid-June of this year. And it’s notable for us as a show that we don’t really seek interviews based on Twitter threads, usually, but this is such an important topic and, like you said before we started rolling, Alice, is something that people are really hungry for to discuss. Namely, this is the prevalence of movement misogyny and the prioritization or deprioritization of certain areas of work within the anti-fascist current, depending on how they are socially gendered. Would you begin by giving a working definition of movement misogyny?

GA: Yes, I’m happy to. And actually, before we jump in, I just want to point out that this conversation is not about a specific person, although we know a lot of people will think it is. We aren’t going to talk about any individuals today, because that’s not really the point. We are talking about a pattern of behavior that we have witnessed in Dolly’s in my combined 20 years of organizing. People often want detailed descriptions of abusive situations in order to believe that they’re real. But details don’t make an experience more real, but they do retraumatize people. And the content can cause trauma responses in the people listening, and we’re not here for that. What we are here to talk about is how misogyny in the movement is replicating hierarchies that exist outside of it and are causing minoritized people to replicate the networks of support that we have to create in order to survive the world within our movements. But with even more secrecy and even higher stakes. So that said, movement misogyny is the misogyny that exists in our movement spaces. It relies on paternalism and white supremacy and colonization and all the things that we seek to destroy. It relies on all of those things in order to keep us in these boxes and spaces and hierarchies that are harmful to people. Dolly, do you want to weigh in with maybe a better definition?

DP: Misogyny, for me, has a strong connection with policing. Misogyny is a way that we police people’s labor, that we police people’s access and things like that to information, power, all of those things within our society. It becomes embedded in our practices and our institutions. It disappears. Because we’re so used to participating in it in other places, it shows up again, within our movements.

TFSR-Scott: I was really excited to talk to you all because, in the post, you give a lot of very concrete examples of how this shows up in organizing work. I hope in our conversation, we can get into different specific spaces, but maybe because it was specifically in terms of anti-fascist work, which is something that gets a lot of attention, and people don’t quite understand. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how it shows up specifically in that kind of organizing.

GA: Absolutely. I like most things I do, I value collaboration. Actually, Dolly helped me write that thread. I think it’s important that, as we’re discussing things like this, that we remind ourselves that these discussions are meant to happen collaboratively because that’s how the impact is made. In terms of how this is showing up in anti-fascist spaces, I think that there are hierarchies in anti-fascist work that exist. I think that the work that is glorified and prioritized is the research piece of it, the doxxing piece of it, where that is invaluable work. I think that it’s not the only anti-fascist work that’s out there. But it’s the work that is getting people’s attention, it’s the stuff that’s respected. But there’s also all kinds of other anti-fascist work that’s happening that is deprioritized, I think. Like I mentioned in the thread — and folks who follow me on Twitter will know what I mean, people who know me know — that I think that care work is anti-fascist work. Because of how damaging anti-fascist work is on our minds and on our bodies and our outlook, that in order for people to maintain and be well in this work we rely on the care workers. And care workers really don’t get a lot of respect and support.

DP: And that work isn’t even recognized as actual work, right? It’s just expected from us.

GA: Yeah. And it’s holding the movement together.

DP: I think the other part of that for me is that we both care a ton about care work. And world-building is so important to me. And I feel like when I was young in movements, I was — I still have a lot of rage. But I had all this rage and movement building to me was about where can I put this anger, that’s the right place to put it. A lot of my work showed up as, I guess, things that people typically associate with movement building. Then there was a shift for me because, in those spaces, they were so dominated by white cis-man energy, that I have shifted my approach and world-building has been so much more of my work since then. It’s often not even seen as even part of the work, I think. So, care work is unacknowledged entirely and as a thing that’s happening. And then world-building sometimes gets written off as like you’re messing around, or it’s not important, or it doesn’t matter. After whatever revolution you’re working towards, you want something to be there. And if we don’t make a plan for what that world looks then we’re just gonna replicate the same shit, that’s just what we’re doing.

TFSR-W: Yeah. And, revolutions aside, I don’t even know if something as clear-cut is going to happen, but we need stuff to be in place now. There are so many people who don’t have their needs met, who don’t have housing, who don’t have adequate food, or water or anything like that, who are just being systematically crushed by existing systems. We really want to talk more about world-building, but for any listeners who are maybe unfamiliar with the term, would you give a couple of examples of what you mean by world-building?

DP: Worldbuilding can look like mutual aid, it can look like creating spaces for people to live in community with each other. It can look like developing relationships that resist the hierarchies that un-belong people. Anything that creates something alternative to the way that hierarchical structures are working now. Anytime we’re able to build something that can give us freedom from those institutions of power or something that resembles freedom from — I don’t know if it’s possible to just be free from them at this point — but something that resists, that keeps people cared for and safe and creates the space that we want to live in. Whether that space is digital or in real life or otherwise.

TFSR-S: As I was listening to you speak about… one of the things that you opened up with movement misogyny as a kind of policing that and a way that our anti-authoritarian spaces replicate the structures of authority that we are trying to resist. It’s also similar in the way that care work gets invisible, as in capitalist labor, right? The feminized labor of housework, networks of care that we rely on to survive, and then that that work in movements also just gets shunted aside, deprioritized, or treated as if it’s not important, as if we’re actually on the verge of revolution or something. And we all have to just be manly warriors. And that really irks me a lot, especially when plans are being made for any kind of specific organizing thing that people want to focus so much on this one aspect of the thing that makes the space uninhabitable in so many ways. And one thing in what you both wrote that I really liked was thinking about care work as self-defense, too, because anti-fascism is often seen as a form of self-defense, right? We’re protecting ourselves against fascists. So I was wondering if you wanted to expand a little bit on the way that care work is also a kind of self-defense.

GA: Absolutely. I see care work not just like self-defense, but community defense, because we’ve got these brilliant comrades that out here actively harming themselves by doing this work, whether it’s anti-fascist work, or mutual aid or crisis response or whatever. It’s hard, it takes a toll on us. And to act like it doesn’t does a great disservice to the movement. What ends up happening is people inundate themselves with the research and expose themselves to the absolute worst shit, the worst kinds of people, and the worst kinds of violence, so that we can turn around and report on it and expose these people. But we have to come up for air sometimes. And I think that’s really hard to do. It helps to have networks of people who can remind us to take care of ourselves. But since that’s not really happening, folks are burning out and leaving the movement or killing themselves, or both. We’re losing people, we are losing people because the work is so awful and harmful. And so when I say care work is community defense, what I mean is that, who are folks relying on when things are so bad and so painful? Well, we’re relying on our friends that normally step into care work roles, right? And in a way, I see care work as community defense, because it helps keep our community well so that we can sustain in this work, so we don’t burn out, so we don’t kill ourselves. Does that answer your question?

TFSR-W: Yeah, totally. I’m wondering if you would be willing to talk a little bit about the circumstances that led you into writing the Twitter thread? If not, that’s totally okay. And we can move on to another question. But just so folks can get a sense of where your mind is at with that.

GA: I’m happy to speak on that. It was a weekend of celebration, but also ended up being… I experienced a mental health crisis. Dolly was with me, actually, and was able to be supportive. I think the things that contributed to us wanting to write this thread were the things that contributed to my mental health crisis, which is just feeling burnt out and really frustrated with the way people are treating each other, and sad, really sad for my comrades and for myself. I’m somebody that experiences really big, intense emotions, that’s part of my madness, that’s part of my mental health experience. It’s one of the symptoms that shows up in the DSM under my psychiatric labels. That’s something that I navigate the world with an understanding of. And so that means that the good things feel really good. And it means that the bad things feel really, really, really bad. When I started to come out of that crisis space, I told Dolly that I wanted to write something about this because it was just in my head and we had spent days talking about it, as it related to personal stuff, but also generally, because none of this stuff happens in a vacuum. So we got some lunch and we sat down and we cranked it out. We didn’t have any idea that it’s gonna be so well-received. So that was nice because we did spend some time. We were very intentional about it. We thought about making it a blog, but we know nobody clicks through, they’ll read 37 tweets, but they’re not gonna click through and read a blog. Dolly, do you want to want to speak more to that?

DP: Yeah, that’s such an interesting thing that created us doing this was a great example of a ton of the things we’re going to talk about today. We were getting together specifically, so that we could do celebratory things, like experiencing joy and making sure that was part of our political experience too. And then, we’re both mad people. So crisis is always on the table. I don’t think it was unexpected that some crisis stuff was going to happen. But we were reflecting on how often that crisis isn’t created by the state or the things that we would think it would be created by. I think our madness, we are disabled by the state in the way that structures are set up. But I don’t think that those things cause disability for us, but the things that cause us pain and crisis, are all the things that are happening with our comrades. And that felt very bad. And then we started reflecting on all the times that things had happened, all of the ways that we’ve had to become someone new, or move into a new movement space, or keep big, scary secrets, and only talk to each other, literally just each other. And how that’s not the point. I don’t do any of the organizing that I do to feel that way. And we feel that way too often. And I think it’s not just us. The number of Black and brown people and femmes and mad people and other disabled folks that just get trampled on by the movement is really disheartening. So we wanted to bring it into conversation not so that we could point fingers or anything or blame people, but so that we can talk about the whole point of this movement-building is to address these issues. We know, we’ll make mistakes, and we ought to be able to adapt and change. But a lot of what we’ve seen is that anytime someone’s behavior is challenged, they can like take a break for a little while and then make a comeback, or there’s no real accountability process. And we’re not doing an accountability process for this bigger issue of how our movements make this possible.

TFSR-S: I’ve actually been put off a lot from anti-fascist spaces, I mean, not anti-fascist spaces, because I want every space to be anti-fascist, but working in anti-fascist organizing, because it is super macho to me, and the truth that anti-racist skinhead movements, which, I think, is getting a lot of attention. Now, I came up in the scene like that, which for me, was a form of self-protection. But I just wonder, because you move in those spaces, if you can talk about how much of this shows up in anti-fascism? Is it the image of it that gets pervade rather than the actual reality of what the work is like? Because you talked about how so much of the care work gets invisiblized.

GA: Yeah, I do think that anti-fascist work is portrayed as white cis-men doing this glorious investigating and getting all the credit for it. And the way that folks have to engage when reporting on it is very machismo. I’m frustrated by that because that is not the reality. Not every anti-fascist researcher out here doing kick-ass work is a white cis-man. And it’s so frustrating to me. But the reason we think that is because of who gets to be elevated, and the voices that are typically elevated are those of white cis-men. It does erase and invisiblize everyone else. On the one hand, that can be very protective. Because the Nazis and the state are after us. So if people think that we are someone different than we are, that can be protective, that can help us survive. But it also takes a toll on people’s mental health, not being able to be authentic in who we are, not be able to recognize our intersecting identities, and all of the secrecy and anonymity, there’s a dark side to that. One, it helps protect the abuse that’s happening in these spaces. Because we have to remain so secretive. But, also, it’s isolating and isolation kills people. I so badly want things to be different. But also I can understand why things are the way they are. And it’s demoralizing. And it hurts as somebody that does this work, it’s painful.

DP: I want to call out something really specific that I see happen, which is around sexual relationships is that oftentimes, young femmes are brought into the movement by a partner, or they come into the movement, and then there’s someone who swoops in. I’ll let Alice talk about 13th Stepping in a second, that’s what we call it. But I think that there are these power dynamics that show up that very directly replicate the power dynamics of sexual abuse. And that secrecy is this core component of it. So when you already have a need for secrecy, we have to be exceptionally careful about how far you get in those secretive environments. And we ought to be doing things to protect people that have been targets of abuse in other parts of our lives and making sure that those secretive or anonymous or confidential spaces are actually safe for us. Because otherwise, we replicate things like sexual abuse. And whether something sexually abusive is actually happening, we replicate that dynamic, where there’s no one you can go to, there’s no one you can tell, and you’re going to lose your family, your comrades if you talk. And then you’re just going to be out on your own. That setup is already existing because of the level of confidentiality we have. So by not doing things to address how power showing up internally in our movements, we’re going to just replicate that power dynamic of sexual abuse.

TFSR-W: I think you both bring up such an important point. As anarchists, and I know, not all are anti-fascists or anarchists, I know that there’s a situation there, there’s a discrepancy there. But there’s this tension between the secretive nature and there needing to be a secretive nature. But how that aspect of anti-fascist work really feeds this other extremely toxic and harmful and potentially fatal other sexual predation dynamic, which is totally a huge problem. I’m not being super articulate right now. But I think it’s such an important point, that these two things are true. And these two things need to be teased apart as soon as possible. So thank you for bringing that up.

GA: I agree. I also think things definitely need to be teased apart. If you want to start organizing with someone, or you have an AG or whatever, before any actual organizing happens, sit down and have a conversation about everyone’s collective ethics. If we are not all ethically aligned, then people are going to come in and fuck up and destroy the good work and the people doing the good work. And we should be talking about our collective ethics anyway. And we should be interrogating within ourselves and within each other, why we feel the way we do about certain things, that is how we grow and learn. And it should be central to being in community with people. And if we say that we have a collective ethic around protecting each other, we protect ourselves, then we need to be about it.

DP: We need to protect each other from each other sometimes. I also think it’s okay for there to be conflict and for us to struggle and make mistakes too. If we have those collective ethics, then we have something to hold each other to and they have to be stated.

GA: Yes, absolutely. Dolly, you mentioned 13th Stepping?

DP: Yeah, I want you to talk about that because you’re better at talking about it than me.

GA: So, in 12-step spaces, Alcoholics Anonymous, NA, all of it, there’s a thing called 13th Stepping, or the person would be the 13th step predator. And the 13th step predator is the person that’s been in the rooms for a long time and preys on the newly sober people coming into the rooms. Dolly and I really tried hard to find another term for this kind of person and this kind of thing that happens, 13th Stepping. But we feel it’s actually perfect. It very perfectly describes what is happening in our movement spaces. None of this stuff is specific to anti-fascism, that just happens to be the space I have a hand in or whatever, but also it’s all over movement spaces. It’s in Disability Justice spaces, it’s happening in anarchist spaces, in the fucking DSA, it is happening. And so 13th Stepping would be someone that is that maybe has more clout, or social capital, or has been in the movement longer, or knows more people or whatever, taking advantage of newer folks coming into our spaces. It’s fucking gross. Now we have a term for it. So when it shows up in your space, when you’re seeing it happen, that’s got a term, it’s called 13th Stepping. And we should be acutely aware of who those people are and how they’re doing harm to our movement and to our comrades.

DP: I think there’s a piece of identifying when that individual is doing it. And then also, we need to be making sure that we’re not making that possible for people to have that kind of power, and that the only way to get close to that power is to be an anti-fascist girlfriend, or whatever, if it’s an abolition movement is to be an abolitionist’s girlfriend. So there need to be pathways for all people to share power in our movements. So anyone getting into a position where they’re going to have that kind of power also might mean something is going on in the movement space that we want to address and talk with people about it. Power in and of itself isn’t bad. It’s what we do with that. If someone does gain that level of power, they ought to be finding ways to redistribute it. And if they’re not doing that, then we create these dynamics, and they’re always going to exist.

TFSR-S: I just want to pull on some of this, because one of the things that you’re talking about that I think is really important is entry points for people to get into this work. If we have this vision of a different world and we’re building it, we want people to join our movements, our spaces, our community. I’m not against an erotic introduction, if you come in because you’re crushing on someone, and they introduce you to that. But I think you’re putting on something really important in the way that the culture of secrecy can create these power dynamics that isolate people who come in through it. And then the other thing what you’re saying makes me think about is how the terminology and languages that we use within our anti-authoritarian, anarchist, anti-fascist spaces about how we’re supposed to be. Those can be armed to protect power abusers in various ways, and particularly around calls for accountability. But also just in little things, like we need to be so secret that no one can ever know anything we’re doing and no one can join in. Do you have concrete examples of ways to counter that kind of isolation that can come in with joining a movement? Are there ways that we can invite people safely and securely without making a fetish of secrecy?

GA: This is a good question. This is also a hard question. Because I am one person, and I do not claim to have all the answers to this, I’m just an observer. I have a lot of opinions, and I’m sick of seeing people I love get hurt. I think that connecting people to groups, as opposed to individuals, making sure that lines of communication are open. Having moments where people can engage in conflict openly so that it becomes commonplace. So that if someone’s having some interpersonal shit with another comrade, it doesn’t have to be “take that shit outside, deal with it on your own”. There’s a difference between privacy and secrecy. I think that privacy can be important for people who may be don’t want to air out all their dirty laundry, that’s fine. But also, we should be creating spaces where having it out with a comrade can happen, and it doesn’t mean that everything’s going to end and everything’s going to be over and that people have to pack their bags and get the fuck out. We can have conflict openly and it doesn’t have to be hostile or shitty.

DP: From my perspective, there’s this core function of movement-building that’s about aggressively belonging people, like we need to belong to each other. And so much of the things that harm us or systems that are set up to purposefully unbelong us. You can’t be secret from each other. We need to be able to have space for us to know each other. And it doesn’t have to be know everything. Knowing each other doesn’t mean knowing every detail about someone’s life and where they live, their social security number, whatever those things, even their legal names, but we have to belong to something to be able to behave ethically toward each other. And I do think we have to stop caring… It’s amazing what you can get done when you stop caring who gets the credit for it. Sometimes we still hold on to wanting to have credit for the things that we do. And so there’s this shift back and forth between secrecy, privacy, and then someone wanting credit, and then the folks who have created privacy around their group get into different positions of power because someone wants credit and behaves in different ways because of that. If we can share the credit across the board or not even care who gets credit, maybe there’s no credit for work that’s done. And if we can make sure that there’s an essential function of our movement-building that is about being in community with each other, those things help.

GA: I do want to add one more thing. In terms of cultivating the spaces that we want, that are safe for people, and I know we’re getting there, but we need to believe survivors, we need to believe when people outcry that some fucked up shit has happened. I mentioned it right at the top of this, but there’s this idea that you need the graphic details of someone’s experience of violence or abuse in order to believe that it happened. That’s some shit you need to work out with you. If someone comes to us and says, “Hey, I got a diagnosis of cancer. And I’m really scared”. We’re not like “Show me the paperwork, or I don’t believe you”, right? We don’t have to personally experience cancer to know how bad and shitty cancer is, why do we do that with other things? Why do we do that with interpersonal violence? I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense. It’s antithetical to what we’re supposed to be moving toward and building. And this idea that I need receipts in order to believe you… Nobody outcries because that’s healing and enjoyable. People outcry because they want to protect other people who might be victims in the future. It’s about protecting the community and letting people know a person is not safe. No abuse survivor ever was like “I’m so glad I had to tell a bunch of people about this”. Sorry, maybe that was a little tangential.

TFSR-W: I think it’s all related. Those are super important points to consider. Two of the things that came up for me when Alice, you were talking about people needing to be comfortable with conflict. That really resonated with me, because I think that we, like the rest of our society are… For as much conflict as we do have, we are still very conflict-averse or conflict-avoidant. And that really stems out of respectability politics that is super neoliberal and is really divorcing people from our human processes that are happening internally anyway. And also, Dolly, when you were talking about credit, immediately, I started thinking about that person that punched that white supremacist on Live TV during the inauguration. Do y’all remember that? I don’t know who did that and I don’t want to know and it’s like we all did it, in my opinion. So this is super beautiful to think about.

DP: It’s better if none of us ever know, right?

TFSR-W: Yeah. And that’s the thing too. But there are certain things that internally we need to be talking about. Anybody who’s been paying any amount of attention to the news will know that so-called extremism, for lack of a better word, is on the rise, far-right style. And I think that anti-fascism has a crisis narrative built into it. I have definitely noticed within anti-fascist currents that this crisis narrative definitely contributes to these harmful patterns and the way of “Oh, we don’t have time to deal with that right now, we’re in the middle of a crisis, I would love to hear…

DP: Urgency is white supremacy in action. That whole narrative is just pushed forward by white supremacy culture, it’s so frustrating to me that we fall so easily into that. Do you have more to say about that, Alice?

GA: It’s really fucking harmful. It’s an absolute lie. Here’s the other thing. Yes, the crisis narrative absolutely exists. And it’s an out for people who don’t want to deal with other shit. And if you’re somebody that’s pushing that, “I don’t have time, I don’t have time, I have to work on this”, that’s a you-issue, get right with you, connect with people because that’s not how it has to be. And actually, as anti-fascists, we know that we’re about to put out research on someone or drop a dox or whatever, we have to make sure that we are incredibly accurate. Because we know what happens when we identify somebody as a fucking problem, as a neo-nazi or whatever. Their lives change dramatically because of that. So we have to have this incredible level of accuracy that surpasses mainstream media. Our attention to detail has to be immaculate. That takes time. That does not happen overnight. So even though this whole crisis narrative exists, we’re not actually embodying that, because we know that we have to check and double-check and recheck and check again, and have somebody else put eyes on it before it even gets pushed out. And that’s how it should be. So then, this whole idea that “I can’t be doing anything else cause I have to be doing this”, first of all, it’s centering yourself in movement work. I think that’s icky. And it’s just a lie. That’s avoidant behaviour. I don’t mean to get real clinical, that’s kind of gross. But just be honest with yourself about the fact that “I’m using this work to avoid all the shit in my life that I don’t want to do”. Be radically honest, because then we can address that or not. But saying, “I don’t have time to do other things, because this is what’s happening right now”, that’s bullshit. I reject that.

DP: I just want to talk about Tema Okun’s work on white supremacy culture, because so many of the things we’ve just talked about in the last few minutes are on this list of the components of white supremacy culture, so I just want to read them, because I think what this article does that I’m gonna reference and I think we can add it, when this gets published, we’ll send a link, but it’s about white supremacy culture and the characteristics of it. Each characteristic has a description, and then it also has antidotes, so we ought to be talking about this within any kind of groups or organizing that we’re doing. But perfectionism is part of it. Then the sense of urgency, which I feel is a huge part of this feeling that there’s this crisis that we have to act now. Defensiveness, where we want to protect the people that we care about. And we’ll do that even in the face of seeing evidence that they maybe are not doing the right things. Quantity over quality — pushing work forward so that you’re doing more of it. Worship of the written word, which I think is deeply connected to the fetishizing of doxxing, which I want to say is really important work. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing that. But I think that has a connection to some of the academic nature of anarchists and anti-fascist spaces that is not always helpful. Thinking there’s only one right way, paternalism, either-or thinking, power hoarding, fear of open conflict, individualism. “I’m the only one who can do this thing.Progress is bigger and more, believing in objectivity, and the right to comfort. And those are all the things we’re talking about. Those things are harming our movement because we’re replicating white supremacy culture.

TFSR-S: Yeah, I think that’s so important, historically, the gay liberation movement and Black feminist movements pointed out that when you prioritize one aspect of struggle, and then second arise, something that often gets called an identity thing, then you’re leaving all these people out of the quest for liberation. It’s important to call that out as white supremacist. But the other thing that it makes me think about with that crisis narrative, going back to what you were saying and ways that we replicate the world we’re fighting against, this idea that we have to constantly be working and burning ourselves out with no moments of rest or joy — is also replicating all those aspects, and, I think, is what goes into erasure, diminishing of the importance of world-building and care work, because no one can actually live that way, and when they are living like a semblance of that, they are relying on networks of people to keep to prop them up, usually, you get invisiblized. To make this a puzzling question. You talk about the need for joy, I wonder what that can look like from an anti-fascist perspective. How do we push against this thought that we have to constantly… Things are so shit. How do we push against the thought that all we have to do is fight against it? That we can do something else, celebrate, create those relationships.

GA: I think we need to pause and celebrate. We don’t do that. We should, and we should be able to find ways to be in community with each other, when we pause and celebrate. I think wrapping up a major investigation, we don’t just have to go onto the next, there will always be another investigation, but really intentionally baking into your process, the space for joy and for pleasure and for celebration. The other part of working in community with other people is so that we can hold each other accountable. Holding each other accountable to that. Just making sure that “Hey, you just wrapped up the investigation whatever, what can we do? How can we connect and just chill and be with each other and not make this about the work? That’s just a very basic jumping-off point. Dolly, do you want to speak? I love your thoughts about that.

DP: I think that creating intentional spaces for joy is really important. Then there’s something that happens before that or alongside it, which is about coming in accountability for our healing, because we all have to heal from all this stuff that we’re also fighting against, and that’s so deprioritized. We don’t even talk about the fact that this impacts us and that healing is important or matters. It starts first with us, but healing doesn’t happen individually, healing happens in relationships because relationships are also where harm is enacted. So building strong, close relationships that are built around shared ethics and care is the starting place for me. I think there’s great value in things that feel good. We should be thinking about sex or substance using in ways that are fun or helpful or meaningful to us, or having people over for dinner, feeding each other is important. Touch is super important, whether it’s sexual or non-sexual touch, just creating spaces for our bodies and our minds to experience joy and creating a setting where joy is a likely outcome, instead of just creating a setting where we’re dealing with fighting and resistance. Because joy is also resistance. If you’re experiencing joy, for me, experiencing joy as a mad disabled person — that is already resistance, because this is a world that was set up for me to feel joyless. That was set up to take that away from me. And I think that’s true for all of us in some ways, so that should be a sort of central component of our organizing.

GA: I love that so much.

TFSR-W: I also really love that. It’s an excellent question and excellent answers are super provocative. While you were talking, I was really thinking about two older utopian novels that at least the anarchists that I know really love. The first is The Dispossessed and the second one is Woman on the Edge of Time. Those two books, first by Ursula K. Le Guin, second by Marge Piercy, really show that a liberated way of being that is divested from the state and is divested from cis-hetero-white patriarchy is constant work. You constantly have to be interrogating, you constantly have to be working at it, and those two novels do such a good job of being like “and you also fucking party”. Or you take space, or you don’t do the work. That’s an integral part to people’s lifeways and people’s ways of being. Thank you so much for that. I think that’s something that we’re really missing in the whole workaholism tendency to internalize white supremacist structure is something that infects everything.

DP: I do want to mention that ideas about this are not mine, a lot of ideas about this kind of world-building come straight out of Black queer fem work. adrienne maree brown has a lot of great work around this, Audre Lorde, folks like that. To be clear, as usual, Black queer fems have really paved the way for this, and we haven’t been doing it right in other spaces.

TFSR-S: I love also the way that you emphasize creating situations where the outcome would be joyful or celebratory. It points to something we overlook a lot because “anti-fascist” has negative word connotations, “anarchist”, too, is against stuff and for me, part of anarchism is wanting to destroy the order of this world. I wanna elaborate on anarchism that has positive ideas to it, not necessary blueprints. I don’t know if anti-fascism has the same space for that because it’s maybe more specific in terms of a tactic than anarchism, but thinking of these ways that we engage our life as creating possibilities at least, openings, rather than tearing things down. That was really provocative to me, what you’re saying.

DP: I think we have to focus just as much on building what it is we do want, as we do on resisting, what it is that we don’t want. The worst parts of institutions are set up to keep us moving away from things we don’t want, instead of moving toward something we do want. And the concept for this comes out of a practice called intentional peer support. It’s an alternative to your traditional mental health intervention. It was really deeply moving for me to start thinking about what it means to move toward what we want, instead of all of the time moving away from whatever is bad. Even if I might be doing some of the same things, it changes the way they feel and it changes my sustainability in the work.

TFSR-S: What that really made me think about is another weird way that we replicate these policing of ourselves and our movements is that I feel like people are so much quicker to judge and criticize those moments of releasing joy as based in bourgeois values or something, and then uncriticize all the other kind of work that gets done on the struggle front. There is where misogyny and white supremacy can creep in, because people aren’t as ready to criticize the ways that we engage in that as the space of joy.

DP: I always like a discussion where we create things together instead of one where it’s like teaching, so I think we should all be contributing in the ways that feel right to things. I wanted to connect, I think that some of the drive around this is how much movement-building sometimes is connected to college campuses, because I think that that’s part of how we end up connecting to… that’s part of how we start replicating white supremacy culture. Because there are a lot of especially white folks who are introduced to liberation ideology through education systems and those education systems and faculty within them and staff are often not very critical of the oppressive nature of academia on its own. I think there’s a setup there for thinking about everything in terms of a critique and study and working hard, and all the capitalist framework around it. Because, if that’s where we’re being introduced or where many people are being introduced to these concepts, they’re still being exposed to the problematic nature of how capitalism shows up in academic institutions.

TFSR-S: I think that’s a really important point, and there was something else you wrote about. That a lot of ranking of anti-fascist work replicates hierarchies of academia and I guess other institutions that prop up the state. And we think about so much of this knowledge creation, as if it is liberatory in itself, but without thinking about the locations. That’s really interesting to me too, cause a lot of the visible anti-fascist work is probably more around when the alt-right was really going for it what is happening on this is because they were getting like speaking engagements and that is where anti-fascism started getting media attention in the more recent years. But why is that happening? Why is that happening on college campuses and creating that situation of conflict? And there are those ideas of free speech or whatever that come into play, those institutions prop up. They aren’t neutral, they uphold the system. I really love that you bring that into a critique of academia.

DP: And there’s a lot of policing of language in movements that makes me pretty uncomfortable, especially when we start thinking about having movement spaces really be open to people with a broad range of disability and accessibility around language. There are a lot of spaces where movements have become very inaccessible for people. It’s also the movements that are getting the most public attention look like that, but I know of all kinds of movement-building things that are happening. They look very different from that but they’re not very often perceived in mainstream spaces as what movement building is.

TFSR-W: I think that the movement-building work that I’ve seen that happens in these spheres often gets sidelined. I definitely agree with that.

One of the internal processes that we have for dealing with conflict is the accountability process which — lots has been said about it, it has a really interesting history and gets used in different ways, but it seems that embedded in the language of accountability, there is still some tools for misogynistic abuse, demanding the care and labor of accountability to somehow prove someone who has done harm has cleared themselves, which, to me, is extremely punitive and it’s just replicating the logic of a carceral system. Do you have any insight into the limitations of accountability processes and how, in your view, can these processes be turned into further abuse?

GA: When I think of accountability processes, I don’t think of one specific process. I think of it as a victim-centered process. Any process that places a victim in front of their abuser is not accountability, that is blood sport and fucked up. Unless, of course, a victim would like to confront their abuser in a space where people are around to bear witness because I think bearing witness is really important, but anything that’s forced onto a victim, I would say, replicates all the symptoms that we’ve talked about, where a person is forced to have to prove that they were harmed. I also think that it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Each situation or accountability process can be unique, depending on who is involved, what community we’re talking about. I think that accountability should look different and should suit the needs of those who are harmed. So sometimes that’s based in educating someone on “These are the behaviors that you were exhibiting and they were harmful, and so we want you to read a bunch of shit and do better”. That’s okay, that’s one way. Sometimes what people want is for an abuser to leave the community and that’s okay, and if somebody is really invested in accountability, they will leave when they are asked, and if they’re not invested, then they can fucking kick rocks. Either way, there’s the door. I think other accountability processes can include physical retribution. Sometimes an ass-whoopin’ is what the situation calls for, and I think like as long as these things are victim-centered, we can make space for all of them. Just because one way worked out well in one situation, does not mean it’s gonna work out well at another one, just because one sort of accountability process didn’t work out well, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have the capacity to work out well in a different situation. I think we need to remain very limber and flexible. Accountability takes time and energy, it takes the work of many members of our community. Accountability processes shouldn’t be secretive and closed off, because the idea is to make our communities safer.

DP: I love this question because we disagree on some parts, and we’ve talked a lot about it. So I want to start by saying I was raised in a world, I think we all were aware, where punishment is… so I’m gonna say some stuff later that sounds like nice stuff, but I want to be clear that things have happened like “Take that person who did this thing and shoot them in the street”. That’s where I go, and so I think that it’s hard for us to imagine something better than what we currently have. Starting there is helpful, we are all going to have an inclination toward punishment and we have to own and know that before we can go into doing something differently. Accountability also only works if we are holding people accountable, it’s not about accountability for, like you perpetrated against this person, you’re accountable to them. Accountability is holding us accountable to our collective ethics, and so, if someone has violated our ethics and there is a victim involved in that, or there’s not, maybe there’s a violation that’s different, someone has violated our ethics. We ought to have talked about before that situation occurs, how we first pull each other in when we see it happening before it gets too bad, and how we respond when someone transgresses. In our communities, we have to have talked about those things and I don’t think we really do that. Then, when something happens, what accountability looks like is we’re trying to find out who’s telling the truth and who’s to blame and who’s going to be saddled with work to do to be better or whatever. If we shift the perspective from that individualized place to a collective place. it can feel a little different.

So what we’re holding people accountable to, is to our community and its ethics, and the community is responsible for holding that person accountable, not the victim of something that happens, and let the person who transgressed is part of that accountability, engaging in the process as well, because the idea would be that we want to be accountable to each other. If all of that is true, then things get really easy. But what happens is that we don’t have those things in place. I don’t know if people always actually want to be accountable, I think sometimes people would rather be punished because they don’t have to change or work harder or be anything else, because you take the punishment, and then it’s over. There’s no accountability in punishment. So oftentimes what I see happen is, even when a punishment wasn’t assigned by a group, people self-punish in ways that are very visible, that make people think they’re being accountable and they get to show back up in our movement spaces having not changed anything at all and then they do it again. It makes it possible for other people to do it because they see exactly what the pathway is to not having to be accountable.

GA: I’m glad that you brought up relying on and holding us accountable to our collective ethics. I think it ties back into what we’ve talked about at the beginning of this conversation. If you’re gonna be working with a group of people, the first conversation we must have is about our collective ethics. What do we hold most dear when it comes to the way we treat each other, the way we view the world and we’re not doing that. We have to come up with ways to handle shit without any sort of infrastructure to be able to do it. That’s a crisis narrative — showing back up — and it’s white supremacy. Dolly, you are right, we do a little bit disagree about this. This is a good opportunity for me to interrogate some shit in myself about the stuff. This is why these conversations are important.

DP: Right, and because we’re learning about different ways in our movements, we’ll do it wrong, and sometimes the only response that we have to protect our community is to push people out, and we can know that that’s the wrong thing to do, and know that’s not the better option right now that we can think of, that we can figure out, and keep working toward doing something better. But I think I would rather push someone out of my community than have them perpetrating against people all the time.

GA: I agree

DP: That’s how I feel, because I don’t know a better way why, but I want to keep working on a better way.

TFSR-S: Thank you so much for giving all these different ways that it can look and portraying it as accountability as limber, like you said, we have to be flexible. It seems and I think it’s really important how you connected to this idea of a collective ethics. One of the things I keep thinking about is how so much of the stuff that comes in, that creates these complex… end up harming and isolating people and driving them to self-harm. But potentially those are things we could try to account for in advance by doing certain things like setting up collective ethics and thinking also of those, I think, as something that would have to be flexible, not like something wielded like a rule to like shun or cut people out. And then also bringing people into spaces and checking up on them. I like the idea of care-accountability, too. You bring up a really helpful perspective about concrete tasks, concrete things we can do to connect with our groups and people in advance of the problem, rather than constantly being on the back foot when a problem arises, which always happens.

DP: Right, I think there’s no sustainability in a movement that’s not held together by our ethics, because the movement is bigger than us, which is, for me, that’s what’s compelling about it because I need something bigger than me, that’s a bigger, bigger and better than me, cause I have a lot of things I don’t love about myself. For me, that’s a really important part of my mental health, being involved in something bigger than me. But we can tear movements apart when we let movements be about just individual people and their individual relationships. When we shift our focus to a more collectivist mindset, it’s about our community, it’s about a community’s values, and about the community’s ethics and protection. Then it starts to look different, how we think about accountability and relationships and transgressions against our ethics, too.

TFSR-W: And also, I think it’s really important. We can know that something’s the wrong thing to do but not have any other form of recourse and getting comfortable with that uncomfortable tension is, I think, a really important provocation as well. In the beginning, you told that you received a really positive response to this Twitter thread. Would you talk a little bit more about that and any conversations or thoughts you’ve had since posting that thread?

GA: I was pretty blown away about how impact… We’re in an echo chamber, that just happens on social media platforms and in digital spaces. As far as echo chambers are concerned, I like mine, it’s fine. I love my comrades, I love being able to engage with people. I got a lot of private messages from comrades who are feeling plucked up and burnt out about things and having trouble finding the words to express the multifaceted frustration that we’re all feeling, given the misogyny that exists in our movement spaces. Folks are feeling trapped and exhausted, we’re spinning our wheels. More than anything, the message that I got was people were just happy that to be able to have some dialogue around this. With an understanding that none of us are perfect, none of our community spaces are perfect. We are imperfect, and perfection is not what we’re striving towards, but we would like to feel safe. And feeling safe should almost go without having to say. We all deserve safety, and lots of folks are feeling unsafe, and it’s sad. We all recognize it and at the end of the day, I saw faith in the movement. I saw faith in my comrades. I know that this is all really heavy, but I plug into this work because it’s bigger than me, like Dolly said. As somebody who experiences madness and suicidal thoughts and stuff. Being able to engage and plug into something bigger than myself is the thing that keeps me alive. And I think that’s true for many of us and we all recognize we have work to do and so yeah. The reception was really great, I love everybody that reached out and talked to me about it. I’m overwhelmed by folks’ support. It makes me feel hopeful. I don’t use that word a lot.

DP: We both feel weird about hope, but I think that some of the reception Alice’s about the community that you’ve created on Twitter, where people are engaging in conversations about care work and the politics within movements and stuff already because that’s the space that you go and you show up with vulnerability, and you model these things and part of the reason we’re getting that reception is that you’ve created some community that we’ve been talking about today. I just wanted to recognize that.

GA: Thank you. I appreciate that. I think you’re right. I have tried to do that. I’ve tried to be intentional about it, and I appreciate that you noticed that. Thank you!

TFSR-S: I’m so thankful and grateful that you put yourself out there to start this conversation and allow us to have this conversation, because we need to find ways to be able to find each other, and it’s a risk. But it also is amazing to have these connections and I’m really happy to be in connection with you.

GA: Thank you. The feeling is absolutely neutral. Thank you for inviting us to talk about this. It has been a really great conversation.

TFSR-W: Absolutely. It was such a pleasure to get to meet you and sit down and hear your words and experiences about these things, and I think this is a very urgent conversation, not to bring it down or anything, but I think that this is a really urgent conversation that needs to be happening within movement because there are so many new people who are getting interested in this kind of thing, as the world heats up on several fronts. So I think we need to know how to get our shit on lock or whatever, for lack of a better phrase. I hope that this will help and that people have gotten something from it and I am also just wondering if there’s anything that we missed in this interview that you wanna give voice to, enclosing or any words that you would leave listeners with for this interview.

GA: What do you got, Dolly?

DP: I think I mentioned toward the beginning of our conversation how much I felt very motivated by rage in my activist career. But this side of the work is all about love. Focusing on how you build loving, caring connections that are not based in holding power over people is where things come from. Spend some time putting some rage on the back burner a little bit, so we can focus on love.

GA: I love that. Folks who follow me on Twitter are in that same vein, tell your comrades you love them, tell them again.

TFSR-W: Where can people follow you on Twitter?

GA: I am at @GothbotAlice, I only exist on Twitter.

DP: I only exist in real life, so you can’t find me anywhere.

TFSR-S: Thanks so much for sharing your insight and wisdom and ideas. That was a really beautiful way to end it.

TFSR-W: I am really looking forward to sitting with this audio. I have the privilege of being the one to edit this audio for our broadcasts. So I’m really looking forward to that process because I really enjoyed hearing your take on all of these topics and I hope that we can collaborate together in the future and sit down again or anything like that.

GA: We would love to come back! We’ve got plenty of opinions on things.

TFSR-W: Cool. This is all that this radio show is about, trying to form connections between people and trying to do the stuff. So thank you for being a part of it and thank you for doing your own work. I really just appreciate y’all so much.

An Indian Anarchist on Anti Caste Organizing and More!

An Indian Anarchist on Anti Caste Organizing and More!

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This week we are very happy to present an interview with Pranav Jeevan P, who is a student, a writer, an anti-caste activist, and an Indian anarchist living in the state of Kerala. You are listening to the full extended audio from this conversation, where you’ll hear Pranav explaining how he got into anarchism, how anarchistic praxis unfolds in India, some about the origins of and worldwide implications of the caste system, anti-caste organizing and how anarchism feeds it, and about how the BJP and Hindutva have real influence on people’s lives and destinies.

He further touches on the struggle of Dalit and Other Backwards Caste folks and how this tendency has always had solidarity with Black liberation here on Turtle Island, much more information about the anti CAA protest and the Farmer’s Protest, a little bit about the ongoing military occupation of the state of Kashmir, and many more topics. There is already a lot of really good anti-caste hip hop out there, mostly performed by those in oppressed castes, and I’ll be including a bunch of those tracks which have been recommended by our guest, plus providing links in the show notes.

There are a lot of terms in this episode which may be unfamiliar to all listeners, and we warmly invite folks to take a look at our show notes for this episode to see links for further reading and research. Please also look forward in the coming week to this show being transcribed in full, if you would like a copy to send to a friend or to read along while listening.

Send Solidarity while India fights the pandemic!

Also you may have heard that covid is spreading out of control in India right now, in no small part due to government mismanagement. Please also take a look at this ongoing list of donations compiled by the group Students Against Hidutva Ideology. You can follow this group on Twitter @Students_A_H to see their updates and events. You can also follow India Solidarity Network on Instagram for updates on COVID in India.

We will link to a form for mental healthcare workers to donate their time and services to Indian frontline healthcare workers, who are really struggling right now.

Pranav’s social media links:

Links to articles by Pranav Jeevan P:

Incomplete list of people and topics mentioned by our guest, for further reading:

You Are the Resistance

Please be aware that in this segment, sean speaks about the Derek Chauvin trial and the murder of people at the hands of police. If you would prefer to skip this subject matter, you can skip forward about 8 and a half minutes. This segment occurs at the end of the episode, [02:02:27-02:10:58]

May Day

Happy May Day, y’all. We hope that you have a rebellious and joyous celebration in whatever way you see fit this week. If you’re looking for a place to hook in or have a public event, consider checking out ItsGoingDown’s post “May Day Is Our Day” and joining in or adding to their list.

NYC ABC has called for people to get together and to write anarchist prisoners Casey Brezik, Bill Dunne and Gage Halupowski, more info at NYCABC.Wordpress.Com or linked in our show notes.

Finally, another idea is to act in solidarity with the “Eyes on Starbucks: Don’t Fund Tigray Genocide!” call from the Indigenous Action Federation and Horn Anarchists from Eastern Africa for boycott and protest actions against the genocidal actions in Ethiopia from May 1st – 7th. More info on that linked in our show notes and at https://iaf-fai.org where you can find background, stencil designs and ideas of places to apply pressure.

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcript

BOG: Would you please introduce yourself with your name preferred gender pronouns location or any other information that makes sense for the purpose of this chat?

PJP: okay. So, I am Pranav Jeevan P and I identify with the pronouns he and him. I am basically from the district of Palakkad, which is in the state of Kerala in India. So, as far as where I come from I am actually right now doing my PhD in artificial intelligence in the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra. I am part of the Anti- Caste Ambedkarite movement in India. And most of the issues that I struggle around the lack of representation of marginalized communities in the higher education sector in India, especially the engineering colleges and STEM fields. So, where I come from personally… my background is that I come from what is called a backward caste. And both my parents, they’re first generation high schoolers, like they got their diploma. So, they were the first in their family to actually complete formal education and get jobs That actually enabled me to access a really good education and go for higher studies. And even though that was the case, the society that I am currently living in is filled with the elements of patriarchy and caste. Even though the state of Kerala is comparatively better than the services in India, as far as the Human Development Index and literacy is concerned. It is almost similar in living conditions to the Western countries like Britain or US. But the evils of caste and of the particular hierarchical structures & social structures are very obvious here. And my parents really had to face that in the workplace, and especially the places that we live, which are sorted by the dominant caste.

WG: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think now, like, especially in the US, the issue of caste and caste-ism is becoming a little bit more visible just through the work of people visualizing it, and and also the election of Kamala Harris, who is half South Asian herself, and she’s from an extremely privileged caste. And some people are talking about that, and we would love to talk about that some more later in the interview. But in terms of anarchism in India, although anarchism, you know, was a philosophy that motivated people involved in the movement against British colonialism, like, like Bhagat Singh, for example. And through the independence struggle, anarchism, as a cohesive philosophy doesn’t seem to have much of a life in modern India, does that seem like a fair estimation? How did you come to identify with the philosophy and how has it melded with your work and thought?

PJP: Okay, so that’s the first issue with anarchism in India. Anarchism is unheard concept in India, as an ideology. It has never been studied or even in the activist circles, like people who actually study ideologies, who goes to this fight, even they are not completely aware that such a philosophy actually exists. I think, even in the freedom struggle, like there were self proclaimed anarchists who actually did anarchist organizing, like Har Dayal and MPT Acharya they were actually never active within India, because most of the organizing happened for Har Dayal that happened in the US. he started an anarchist movement in US, and even MPT Acharya, he was active in Europe. And so it’s like very few individuals who actually studied and none of them actually did much organizing in the subcontinent. So, that was one thing and the case of Bhagat Singh, identified himself as a Marxist and he was an admirer of Lenin. He wanted to study Lenin’s life and things like that, but he had an attraction towards anarchism, and he wrote about it. So he had published a series of articles on anarchism and that might be the only articles on anarchism that is existing in India.

And then what happened is, the Marxist dominance happened in India like the what people call us community, some people identify immediately with the Communist Party of India, the ML party and The problem is, everyone identifies communism or like the left radical thinking with this particular party. They don’t know anything beyond that. So, whenever we talk about the left ideas, people immediately associate that “okay – you are talking about communism, and the CPI/ML party”. So, or like the what is happening in USSR or China and things like that, there is no awareness or any rigorous academic, or even activist awareness about this particular ideology. Like when I talk to people who actually read a lot about different ideologies, they haven’t heard, or they haven’t read much about Kropotkin or Bakunin, or what actually happened between them, him and Marx. Yeah, people are really unaware of this particular ideology. The funny thing is that there are many people in India, actually very huge number of people in India who actually are following anarchist ideals of like, who understand anti authoritarianism. Who understands the importance of liberty and equality. Who understands the importance of mutual aid. and who actually work on this kind of decentralized organizing and everything! But they don’t know that there is a philosophy like this, that is existing already, on which activists have been propagating. They just don’t know that they’re anarchists yet. So, that is the whole issue with anarchism in India right now. So, part of what I am trying to do is that. So since there is this moment of this Anti-Caste movement against this hierarchical social structure, which combines attacking all kinds of hierarchies like patriarchy, class violence, caste violence, there is this language superiority, colorism… All of this type hierarchies, which exists in society, and anarchism, as an ideology is best suited for it and I am trying to build that bridge between these the more political movements and social movements that are happening in India, in this ideology. Just showing that these are not separate. There is it an ideology is already existing, which you are actually following. You just don’t know it, but you’re already doing it. So, that there will be a much more academic and organizational backing to the moment that are already happening.

That makes so much sense, you know, we or I at least I don’t want to speak for my co-host. But I understand anarchism, like the construct of anarchism to be you know, as coming from like, these sort of very imperialistic backgrounds or powers. And I think that it’s articulating something that people who have to survive in the face of a lot of different kinds of oppressions do naturally, in a way. So, like, that makes so much sense. How did you come to anarchism? Like, you said, you’re writing a lot you are trying to build bridges, like how did you first like stumble across it? Or or how did it first start to make sense to you?

Okay, so initially, for me I started as an Anti-Caste. I was reading more and more and more about anti-militarist and anti-caste activism and I was part of the anti-caste struggle. Then I realized one particular thing that people are always… so, every person gets oppressed by certain hierarchies and they are getting privileged from certain other hierarchies. For example: there are upper caste women who suffer due to patriarchy, which suppresses them, but they get privileged from the caste system, that gives them privilege. And they get to oppress the lower caste men and women. There are lower caste men who are oppressed by the caste system, but they have privileged over a woman when we will look at that. So there are these multiple dimensions of hierarchies, which exist simultaneously. And I was thinking of like, what kind of ideology can actually attack power, because people when when they then there’s fighting against hierarchies, they kind of forget that every hierarchy creates a power imbalance and it is the power imbalance that has to be fought.

Of course, the fights are different. You cannot attack background either way you attack castes or the way you attack religious fundamentalism but the way power works is never studied deeply and I wanted to understand more about what is the fundamental nature of power that is creating these hierarchies and ensuring these hierarchies. So, in many of the movements you see these leaders emerging, and taking control of the movement. And suddenly after some time, the position of leadership becomes a lucrative post, which attracts people who, who don’t have the will to fight for the cause, but who just want to capture the power or to show themselves as the savior of all the oppressed people… to be the voice. They just want attention and privilege that the power gives and the voice that it gives them. So, that nature of how power is getting concentrated on few people: that I observe across these different hierarchies, like in every hierarchy there is this position of power and it always comes to certain few indigenous communities. And then I started looking for other ways of organizing or other alternatives which actually tries to create a system in which the power itself is decentralized. So, I was introduced to socialism and it gave the opportunity to create a society that is built on justice and liberty and equality. But how to organize a society, and because the nature of power is such that whenever there is a small accumulation of power, it will attract all the people to concentrate power.

I was trying to find systems which are designed so that there will be complete democracy, there will be decentralization of power where people can actually exercise all that, because without dilution of power, if there is a concentration of power, it’ll automatically create hierarchies, if this hierarchy is broken, and the hierarchy will replace it. So I wanted to attack the fundamental thing. I identify the fundamental nature of power and how to fight it. That is how I came to read about like, the critique of Bakunin and Kropotkin on the communist moment, so how they told that like, the idea of a Vanguard party or the dictatorship of proletariat, how it wouldn’t happen because of this accumulation of power. That no matter how much you try it will not match up with that, because it’s the property of power, no matter how well-intentioned it is, an accumulation of power will always result in hierarchies. Once hierarchy is established, it always try to protect itself. So, once I started reading Kropotkin and then then I understood that Okay, so, these are the people who actually understand how power works, and they are trying to develop or design systems that will keep power in check or make sure that the concentration of power doesn’t happen. Then I realized “Okay, so, this is what I have been looking for so long! This is something that is really needed right now. In all the moments that are for social justice happening in India right now.” Because what has been observed until now is that whenever there is a social struggle, it kind of fizzles out or it kind of breaks down because of this particular concentration of power. It is not helping it. All the approaches or from top down. So there will be few leaders who will be commanding. So once the leader falls the entire struggle fades. So and there has never been much work towards building the movement from the grassroot level, that will be much more sustained. And anarchism actually gets a better analysis of how to do that.

BOG: So in some of your writing, you bring up parallels between different movements that have existed in the last decade or so in various countries. For instance, the Anti-CAA movement and some occupations related to it. As well as the distributed mutual aid that’s existed in… for instance: the farmers movement. Are there other examples of anarchistic approaches that are already existing in Indian culture and in political movement that you think are worthwhile of pointing out that that maybe could be used to help bridge an understanding of how this philosophy is already in action and how to run with it from there?

PJP: So, the issue with anarchism in India is that Indian society is designed to be hierarchical. It is designed for not just one hierarchy, it is designed for multiple hierarchies everywhere. Indians are indoctrinated to respect authority, just like like complete subservience without questioning. That is considered as a sign of obedience. Obedience is glorified here. You don’t disrespect the people who are older to you no matter what they say. The woman can never disrespect the man even if he’s wrong. So that glorification of subservience is core to the Indian social order. Anyone who tries to break that social order will be severely punished. So you might have heard of honor killings in India. If a boy and a girl from different castes get married, they’ll be killed by their family themselves because they broke the social order. And that is happening even in India right now. It’s very rampant. So its a society where hierarchy is celebrated. And it is considered the norm. On organizing leaderless? that happened with the Anti-CAA protests and the farmers protest. It was unprecedented.

I think one of the reasons why the scale of these protests… if you see, these have been the most massive protests India has seen after independence. So once the Anti-CAA, the Citizenship Amendment Act, which was passed 19 of December. The moment it was passed there was no call by a political party or citizen activist group to create this huge protest. It was just people just came themselves out to the streets and started sloganeering and they started meetings, and they started to occupy places. So it was a spontaneous thing. And I don’t think it was just because of this current one law. It was because of the decades of neo-liberalism, assault on rights of certain democratic institutions that has been happening, and the rising inequality that India has been witnessing for the last 20 years. When such a draconian law was passed people said “that enough is enough.” They just wanted to raise their voice because they felt one after the other that their right as citizens was being taken away from them. Whenever there is organizing like of this sort that was happening before, there is always a tendency of infantilizing. Saying “Okay, these people don’t know what they are doing. They are not educated or they are not aware of what they are protesting against.” So there is this tendency by the media and the government to delegitimize protesters claiming that they are unaware of what they’re talking about, like “we are the ones the experts, we know everything.” These people are illiterate, they are they don’t know exactly what is what is good for them, basically. And this particular law, once it was passed, like people came out, telling exactly what was wrong with them. They were articulating and ,regarding the Shaheen Bagh Protests, In India, there are these communities who we naturally stereotype as uneducated or who have no agency. And the Shaheen Bagh Protests was a symbol of a category of people who were considered to have no agency, no education, no rights. They came out and they occupied a particular spot and demanded their rights. It was an unprecedented moment in Indian history. There were Muslim women, who were likely not to be not to have education more than like a high school education, who were housewives. There are like, women of all ages from children to more than 90 years old. And they came. They knew that there was an injustice that is being imposed on them. And they came out to fight for their rights. So it broke multiple preconceived notions of what a citizen is, and how aware they are of their rights. And I think that is the first symbol of democracy. Where the citizens starts to assert their right.

I think subsequently, the citizenship protest started in December, it went till March and then the COVID pandemic broke out. Due to which the protest had to be called off. But the model that was shown in the citizenship protests in which literally every major city, there was massive demonstrations of millions of Indians coming to the streets and fighting for their rights. Okay, now, here’s the second thing. India is heavily divided on sectarian lines of caste, of color, of language, of religion, of cuisine, of culture, of religion. So, what the government expected was, and since this particular government is far right hyper Nationalist government. So every fascist government has this tendency to create an other, so that they can demonize that community in hopes of getting electoral or political gains from the rest of the group. So in India, what the BJP government is doing is they are demonizing the Muslim community which comes to about 14 to 15% of the population. And so that they can get electoral gains from the rest. And they bring up all these issues, the Hindu Muslim binary issues, because everywhere the government is failing, the government is completely failing the corporations, they are taking away the worker and labor rights. The labor laws have been diluted. The economy is falling. Inequality is rising. The public health care and public education system is completely being dismantled. There are no jobs, there’s a higher level of unemployment. To mask all these failures of the government, the government will keep on bringing up this Hindu Muslim binary.

All these laws, the Kashmir issue, the anti-CAA. The CA law itself was a way to distract people from what is actually happening, like what is the actual issues the country is facing. But here the government is calculated. People came, actually more than Muslims, it was the other people from the other religions like Hindu, from other communities like Dalits, OBC’s (Other Backwards Castes), everyone came together, because they understood what exactly the media and the government is trying to do, and the narrative that they’re trying to build. They just broke through the narrative. They just came out in support in solidarity with each other. And that was a turning point, I think in the Indian democracy, I think this is one of the first signs that that there is some democracy that is actually left in India. Not the institutions, or the government, or the machinery, but actually in people themselves. There is a democratic feeling. There is a sense of democracy and that is being expressed right now. Actually, we were really disappointed when such a public outrage was not happening when the Kashmir issue came out. When the government implemented Article 35, which actually granted special privileges to the state of Kashmir. They completely threw away the elected democratic government of the state and imposed their complete control without consulting a democratically elected government. So by that time it was disappointing to see that the government, the people of the country, were not actually coming forward to protest it. But after this happened, within two months, when the CA bill was passed, the Citizenship Amendment Act was passed, then the nation reacted. So that actually gave hope. And since occupation protest has never been more successful. India has always seen rallies in which people just walk to the National Capital of the state capitol and stay there for some days and then they just come back. If prolonged occupation protest actually needs the idea of mutual aid and solidarity, because you need these protests are participated by millions of people. Like the farmer protests that is right now happening in Delhi has more than 300,000 farmers that are stationed on all the borders. And it is not easy to sustain such huge protests, without the kind of mutual aid and solidarity networks that is right now existing. And in that mutual aid network of this scale, I think is unprecedented in human history for protests.

BOG: It’s amazing to see that many people in one place for a common reason, and also being able to sustain such high numbers of people is really prefigurative. So I was wondering if we could get back to the issue… because a lot of us in the west in the US in particular, myself, who doesn’t come from any sort of Indian background has a very, very weak understanding of the caste system and I know that you’ve done a lot of writing and activism around the evolution of it. Can you talk a bit about some of its history and ground it for the listening audience. Talk about some of the modern struggles against it, including B. R. Ambedkar, who you’ve mentioned in some of your writings, and how you came to organize and write against it, how does an opposition to caste-ism intersect with your work against patriarchy and and how can anarchists specifically add to your anti-caste analysis?

PJP: Okay, so the caste system is something that started I think, around like 5000 years back. So it is this is the oldest form of strict social hierarchy. It existed in India since I think when the Aryans came to settle in India, and this has been mentioned in the the Rig Veda and everywhere. So what this basically does is creates a gradient inequality. It is not a strict inequality that you see in places with slavery,serfdom, and things like that. This is gradient inequality. So, a gradient inequality, it’s like a ladder, in which there are multiple castes, with one on top of the other. So, the person who is on the very top, they get all the privileges. The person who is the right below them, they are also fine, as long as they get to oppress those who are below them. So, they will forget, and or they will actually increase their own oppression, because there are people below them who they can oppress. So for every class that you look at, there is always someone below them. This this particular gradient inequality survived for all this time, because there is very little incentive for people to actually fight against it, because there are people below them that they can actually completely exploit. So how is caste system practiced? So one way of it is practiced is by enforced endogamy. So a woman doesn’t have any rights. As far as the Indian social organization. The woman, their main purpose is for child rearing and being the homemaker. They have to worship their husband, and that is the ideal wife, or the ideal mother. And here is where the patriarchy comes in within this structure, they can’t remarry. They have to keep women in control because everything about our system is about purity.

The way it works, the people at the top top… they don’t eat or drink with, or even touch the people who are below them. There’s this practice of untouchability. Actually, in my part, the Kerala State where I am from we had a practice of unapproach-ability. The higher caste people won’t allow people of the lower caste to come less than 10 feet to them. So forget touching, even coming close enough to pollute them. In certain castes who are considered at the very bottom of the caste hierarchy, they won’t even allow them to come out in the sun. So that the upper class people won’t have to see them, because the mere sight of these people will make them polluted. So there were communities in this country who weren’t allowed to walk in during day, they could only get out of their home at night. That was the way this thing has been working for centuries. People of one caste cannot marry another caste. So that is precisely why they had to practice this strict patriarchy. Women cannot be allowed to have independent wishes. Their their bloodline has to be pure. Even the food that we eat.

Basically the people of the higher caste pride themselves of being vegans, that they don’t eat meat. They consider meat as something which is polluting. It’s only the people who are from the deepest caste which eat meat. Basically, because all the economic and cultural capital always start with the upper caste and the people from the lower caste had to basically live with whatever was available to them. So that social realities that are existing in society was enshrined into the way these people live and interact and behave. This remained exactly the same till the Britishers. So, India has been ruled by multiple communities like between 80,000 to 83 Britishers. India was also ruled by Muslims. But even when India is ruled by people from other religions, the evil of caste system never dies. So a person who is born in the lower caste, even if they convert to another religion, they won’t lose their caste.

So, basically, if Islam and Christianity… these are religions which actually doesn’t have the caste system right? But in India, when you come and look, you can find that there is a caste system within these religions. The people who actually convert to Islam who are from the higher caste, they have a richer status, they have their own separate mosques in which they will never allow people from the lower caste who converted to Islam to attend. Similarly with Christianity, for example, in Kerala, the people that top-most caste is called the Brahmins. That is why we call it a Brahminical hierarchy, or Brahminical patriarchy, the caste system. So the Brahmins who converted to Christianity, they are the dominant Christians who have all the wealth and all the land and all the power, political and social. The people who actually converted to Christianity who are from like.. let’s say, fishermen trade or from various other lower castes, they will never get the respect. These people actually practice untouchability on them, even though they’re not actually belong to the Hindu religion anymore. Now here comes the other issue, if you’re born in a lower caste, no matter if you can actually make money, if you actually gain wealth through any means, still, you won’t be allowed to enter many places, because of your caste. So this is something that might promote economic mobility, but you will never have social mobility. The lower caste were not allowed to enter temples a place of worship of Hindu religion, for like years, it’s just only in the 20 century that they were allowed to enter. So, even Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, he had to have a huge mobilization to get the higher caste to open templates for the lower caste. And there are places in villages where the people of lower caste cannot access water. There are ways from the public bath from which the lower caste people can not access even today in India. So, there are public baths, where people from the lower caste can’t access. In some places when you go you are served different utensils in restaurants, separately for upper caste and lower caste even today.

And now, the problem with this is that once the British came and there was this influx of Western education in India, the people who were at the top of the hierarchy, especially the Brahmins, were the first to get a chance to access education and all the knowledge that was provided to it. So, these people from this particular caste who actually form less than 4% of the Indian population, they dominate literally all the fields. When you go to any elite University in India, they are all belong to this particular caste, all the students belong to this particular caste. You go to media, all the news channels are run and operated by them, all the businesses in India run by these families, you go to the media, like the movie industry, all the actors that you see are from the upper caste.

And even the Indians who actually move abroad – the Indians who actually migrate to USA, so the way you talk about Kamala Harris, the fact that these people were able to move to the next country, because they had the economic and social capital to actually have the money to go elsewhere and start working there. That is why most of the Indians who are actually immigrants, who actually live in the other countries are upper caste Indians, they don’t represent the entire the actual Indian population. So, all the people who actually immigrate from India to the other countries are upper caste, they take their caste with them. So then people from the lower caste when they are actually moving abroad, because they have access to it, they are discriminated by these people who are in dominant places. So most of the people who are in the in the western universities, Indians who claim that they have been racially discriminated actually practice caste discrimination in their own households and to their fellows. So, what I personally work on is the issue of Indian Government, once the constitution was framed and since Dr. BR Ambedkar, he was the architect of the Constitution. So, there was certain safeguards that was introduced in the Indian constitution for the people of backward castes, so that they get adequate representation in all spheres of life. In economic, social, and political.

So here comes the reservation system in India, which is like heavily debated topic. So it is a little bit different from the way affirmative action works in the US. Here, a fixed number of seats or a percentage of seats, it’s correlates to a proportion of the population which is actually kept aside for people from this backward community, so that they will have representation in all the spheres, but this is actually only implemented in the government sector, which is less than 10% of all the jobs in India and all educational institutions in India. So even in this small available seats among the Indian opportunities that are accessible to Indians, what we find is that since all the topmost positions are being dominated by the dominant caste. They deny this constitutionally granted safeguards to these people from the marginalized communities. The norms are never implemented. So even after 70 years of independence, even the higher education institutions, especially the IIT’s” (Indian Institute of Technology, a network of tech universities in India) is one of the elite institutions in the world, more than 95% of all the faculty are from upper caste, even though the law states that 50% of the seats has to be from people from the backward class. Like it is completely thrown out even after 70 years. And when you take the students, again, more than 70, since the professor’s can choose the students directly, especially with regard to the PG admissions, the postgraduate admissions. They deny access to the students who actually come from the backward castes, and they only allow students from their own community to get these opportunities. And this network of nepotism in a way actually creates a huge barrier for the people who actually comprises more than 75% of the Indian population from accessing any of these facilities: education, health care… you name it, the representation is almost zero.

WG: Thank you for going through that in such detail. I think that interfacing with this system, which is over 5000 years old, is a continuous, imposed social hierarchy that is extremely adaptive, like it has adapted through countless social movements, and it’s still remains somewhat intact is a little bit difficult for folks to wrap their heads around having something so old to struggle against, and that really, really shapes people’s lives and people’s destinies for them. And you talked a little bit about this, about how the caste system gets exported to regions where immigrants go or like a Desi community forms. But I was wondering if you could expand a little bit on this? Or say some more words about this meaning specifically, why should In your opinion, internationals, be aware of the caste system? And its worldwide implications?

PJP: Yeah. So regarding why should the international community be aware of this particular system is that most of the international community are aware of racism, colonialism, and I think like the fascism… they have experienced with all these different hierarchies. They have a history of struggle against it, they can easily identify it, they can fight it. They have succeeded against it, like many struggles have been succeeded. But caste is a kind of hierarchy, which even after so much time, there hasn’t been a clear path to victory, because of its great inequality component, which is not actually present in most other hierarchies. Like in other hierarchies, you can easily distinguish between the people who are oppressed, of course, there can be other dimensions, which actually split people and won’t allow them to unite. For example in India, even in within castes, who actually share the same social rank, there, there won’t be unity between them, because there might be internal disputes of like, who has more land, who has access to water for farming and things like that. I think a similar case occurs between maybe like the blacks and Latinos in the US. So they have the same social standing, because they are both oppressed by the structure or the community above them. But there is this lack of cohesion between them. But this lack of cohesion is not because these people get to oppress someone else. It is because there is a narrative that is being created of a lack of cohesion between the two. That’s it, it is the dominant narrative by the government or the dominant communities of the people who actually have a command over the knowledge production, like the academicians, who mostly come from the dominant caste. The news anchors will be from the dominant caste. The people who will create literature will be from the dominant caste. The people who make movies, the actors, everyone comes from a dominant caste. The narrative and the knowledge that is produced is from the dominant caste and there is no knowledge that is being produced to meet the demand of this particular community.

So, that is actually what causes the rift between them, and they are constantly being fed by false narrative and fake news telling that the other person is the the reason you aren’t getting opportunities. So, they fight internally, but caste is a little bit different. In caste, even though there are internal conflicts, they are fine with caste system, because they always have someone below them they can exploit. So, they can actually take pride in the fact that “okay, I am superior to someone else, I’m happy with that” They are okay with someone on top exploiting them, because of that particular nature of this system. And that is one of the reasons why the people of each different caste in the different levels of the social hierarchy have complete mistrust towards each other. So, the Brahmins they’re on top. they’re completely fine. because no one oppresses them. The problem is that when you go down even when you go down to the cast, who are literally at the bottom they are also fine with the system because they get to oppress someone below them. So, a complete unity a vertical spectrum is not happening. And of course, there has been moments in India, like there have been moments of anti-caste in Kerala has happened in Maharashtra led by Jyotiba Phule, in Tamil Nadu led by Periyar there has been moments it was happening, but the problem always was that the condition that was established breaks away, because when you give what can I say, when you give power or political representation or economic representation, in a token form, there is a fight among all these communities to get that because we have a reservation! So out of 100 seats, let us say 50 seats are reserved for the community for the backward castes, but there are like 1000s of backward castes. So who gets to be in this 50 becomes another issue altogether. So the one who actually have access to some social capital might actually gain that advantage and certain communities in this particular caste, they will feel that “okay, it is because of them that I didn’t get to get this particular representation” and they would have resentment for their fellow caste men rather than the people who created the hierarchy in the first place, who who are the Brahmins.

So, that internal rift is actually exploited by the current government. So, what happened was in the past 22 decades there has been an increase in representation in the political sphere by the backward caste. If you are from a caste in the backward communities and got that representation, it created and animosity in the minds of the other backward castes and the BJP like in the the there is ideology, they they were able to exploit that sentiment. So, that is why even though BJP, or their ideologues. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) is completely like a caste-ist, patriarchal, hierarchical, structure. They want to create that hierarchy completely and throw away this notion of secularism or democracy. They have support of the people from the backward communities because of this rift within the community. And there they are very good at creating narratives that tells that. So what they do is they create alternative histories. They create the idea that India had a glorious past, like before and like caste never existed in India, it was something that was brought to India by invaders. Kind of like the marriage of Nazism and Hitler – What Hitler did to alienate the Jews from the Germans. That is exactly what they are using to create their foothold in the Indian society. So they are telling that India had a glorious past, like they create these ridiculous stories of in ancient Indian technology, where India had this interplanetary travel system, we had information of genetics. So you wouldn’t believe it! India has this annual Indian science conference where all the latest research findings of the Indian scientific communities discussed. In that forum one of the guys actually brought a presentation, which told that India had nuclear missile warheads, like in like 3000 BC, and we had interplanetary travel, we had stem cell research. We had teleportation. This was actually told in the Indian Science Conference. And not for just one year, it happened multiple times. So, there is currently research happening in India telling that the, let us say… that cow has magical properties. There here is golden cow urine that like if you drink cow urine cancer will be cured, AIDS will be cured. This is actually being done by the government. It is government funded program and in universities, public universities. So, there is a complete attack on logic. It’s a attack on the entire scientific method. So they have, they are rewriting history textbooks to tell that we had this glorious past and it was the invaders who came, the Muslim invaders who came, the Britishers who came, who actually ruined and created differences in the Hindu society by installing caste.

WG: That’s so incredible.

PJP: Yeah. So now people who actually suffer from caste system think that the enemies (the Muslims) are the enemies of Westerners who came to India, who actually… so that is why their life is crap. And they hope that this government, who actually promises them that ancient Golden Age, will actually bring prosperity back to people. When in actuality what they are doing is they are giving complete, they’re giving the entire country in the hands of the corporations who completely exploit the people. They are destroying all the social security systems that have been existing in India. Like India had minimum support price for the farmers, this was taken away by this farm laws, which is where the farmers are protesting. Like Indians had the option of going to court in case a corporate actually breaks a contract of trust. Like if the contract says that “I will purchase this many quantities of potatoes from this farmer at this rate after the harvest” and the often during the harvest time the corporate denies, like they don’t agree to pay that pre agreed price. Now the farmer cannot go to the court. The right to constitutional or legal remedy have been take has been taken away by the this new laws. So the farmers are protesting, not just for the farmer laws at this point. They’re actually protesting for every citizen of India for their democratic right, to, like constitutional remedies.

WG: When you’re talking about sort of this government propaganda this really outlandish sort of, you know, ridiculous claims. I mean, it is true, or I believe it to be true that I mean, the India has like a vast history. And, you know, they’re one of the first instances of indoor plumbing that they found archaeologically was in a city in India. I don’t exactly remember where because it’s a gigantic country as well. Yeah.

BOG: But they weren’t teleporting the feces to another area.

WG: They weren’t. It really reminds me of like the conspiracy theory machine that exists here too, on the far right, where, you know, we’re being ruled by reptilian overlords and the 5g chip is going to be implanted in us in the COVID vaccine and stuff. It really reminds me of that a lot. And it’s like, incredible to me that these systems seem to me to be a bit parallel in our two locations.

PJP: Yeah, it is. So right now, what the government is portraying is that what India needs is a strong leadership, which they have epitomized in the image of the Prime Minister himself, the Prime Minister Narendra Modhi. He’s like the Iron Man who can like unite India and bring all the glory back to India. So they have created all these stories surrounding this particular narrative, such that in Indian society like I said, you cannot question anything that hierarchy dictates to you like, if someone is dictating something to you, you have to obey it. There is no space for what you say… democratic discussion or debate, anything that is democratic is immediately. So the first fundamental thing of democracy or democratic policy making is that when you make a law, you have to consult with the people who actually will be impacted by the law. That is the first principle of any policy-making.

And here for such a huge farm…. so let me give you an estimate like of the scale of the issue. India is a country which has more than 1.4 billion people, of which almost 60 to 70% engage directly or indirectly with agriculture. So that is like almost around 600 million people. Just doing agriculture, of which around 520 million people are living in poverty. So, a recent statistics have showed that 63% of the rural agricultural workers in India, they don’t have enough income to actually get a nutritious food three times a day, they don’t have it. 63%. Almost 100 million people. This is the case, if they spent their entire income in food, even if they spend their entire income in food, they still won’t have enough food, nutritious food to feed them three times a day. And normally, most people don’t spend their entire income in full, they have other needs, too, right. So the actual data is saying that almost 73% of the Indian Indian population on the rural population in India. If they use two thirds of their income in purchasing food, they won’t still have nutritious food three times a day. So this is the status of India. And in a country like this, then the government and that to this many people are actually employed in agriculture, but the government is passing a law without consulting anyone. like and back to a time when the pandemic has hit and has completely obliterated, like, the scope of… it has completely pushed the country to its knees. It is like what the government expected was….

So the government always expected an opposition when this particular law will be passed. So the government has been sitting on this law for a long time. When the government was in power for the last six years, they never passed it till now, thinking that the farmers will protests. They immediately pass the law in the backdrop of this pandemic. Thinking back… because of the pandemic the farmers wouldn’t be able to organize. And they completely misread because the farmers were like “okay, we have had enough! if the pandemic won’t kill us, this law would.” So in India, like more than 30 farmers are committing suicide every day, because of the agrarian distress. It’s a huge issue in India. And right now, since the government is like attacking all the institutions, this was there for the Indian citizens.

So in India, the government… there is this huge array of government schools, which are like public funded schools, which literally everyone, anyone can attend without paying fees. The quality is less, because it has been systematically degraded by the governments to aid the private institutes. The same thing is with the healthcare, but still, these Institute’s where institutions are there, so that the people from the lower castes or the Muslim communities can actually send their kids to get education. And even though the quality was poor, it was a way for these communities to actually have some social mobility. But now the government is destroying even the remnants of the system that are existing the public education and the health care and they are completely opening up the country for… I don’t know what the word I should use for it… I think a complete takeover by the corporate industries. The corporations can come in, they can dictate the laws of labor, the corporations can actually decide like how much time the worker should work in the factory. They can change, it was eight hours maximum, now they can increase after 12 hours arbitrarily. They don’t have to pay the minimum wage anymore. So, this is like complete violation of the basic human rights and the government is completely fine with that. So, when people are protesting the government needs this diversionary tactics of like this Hindutva, like this, “we had this glorious past. You are suffering right now, because of the Muslims or the other castes, or other communities that came to India. We are the ones who will be giving you…”

The government is just a corporate propaganda machine instead of a government right now like you can see in every single place that you turn like the media or in the billboards, for every institution that you go and see you can see like pictures of the Prime Minister standing and telling that everything is going fine. We have like… India is like now becoming a symbol of hope for the world and the reality is completely opposite. So, this is not just in India, what is happening right now, right? The rise of populism and Trump in US of Boris Johnson in UK of Bolsonaro in Brazil, like this is happening everywhere at the same time because of this… I don’t know… the because of this neoliberal assault on all the public institutions and I think one of the hope that I see is that simultaneously everywhere in the world. So there was this occupy protests in Mexico, in which the feminists in Mexico they went and occupied I think the National Human Rights Commission office, and they just stayed there as a protest against femicides. So I thought like, “okay, that that is similar to Shaheen Bagh, what the women in Shaheen Bagh did they just came and they occupied a particular space and they just stand there telling that they demand that they demand justice! And that is what the farmers are doing right now. They are just coming and collecting together. And right now, okay, the nature of the protests has actually changed right now, even though there are like many farmers protesting around around Delhi, the farmers are now traveling to each and every village in India right now. And they are communicating the issues of the protests, and what are the issues that are plaguing the country right now. And all these meetings are attended by 1000s and 1000s of people! This is happening right now in India, you will never find this in any of the news. But right now, that’s Yeah… this is unprecedented.

Two days back, there was a meeting in one of the villages in which more than 20,000 people attended. And so the people who attended, they go back to their villages. They create a council and start creating the awareness expand the awareness of what is actually happening and why this is happening. Because you cannot trust the media in India anymore. like India has one of the worst propaganda machines in history. And they just regurgitate what the government actually tells them to do. They delegitimize the protests and they distracts people with really futile stuff. So the farmers thought that “okay, we don’t need a media coverage to a pass what we have to tell the people we will directly go to the people!” Grassroot level, like bottom up, like bottom up communication. I think that’s, that’s amazing to see.

The attack against the agrarian sector has been there for like the past three, four decades. And systematically, the people who had land to farm they lost the land because of they’re in crisis. And they had to become farm laborers, and go and work in other places where they can get money. Because of this, a lot of people who actually were farmers became a farm laborers, and they go to the Vela farms, like in Punjab and Haryana to work from other states. So that is why most of the other states in India, they never had this thing called minimum support price or this multi system, which was there in Punjab. So the reason why the protests act in Punjab was because these farmers had a lot more to lose than the other farmers. And since the way this law has been devised. So there are clauses in the law, which actually is very interesting how the legal terms are right now. How the laws are being formed by the government right now. So let me just read you one sentence from that law. “No suit prosecution, or other legal proceedings shall lie against the central government or state government, or any officer of the central government or the state government.” Or here’s the interesting part, any other person in respect of anything, which is in good faith that or intended to be done under this act. Or have any rules or orders made thereafter.”

So basically this is like, arbitrary. Like, you can’t, you can complain against not just the government, you can complaint against any person. And not just, if they do something bad. It is intended to be done in good faith. So they can just say that this happened like this, it ended badly, but I did in good faith. So I should not be criminalized for it. This is like, ridiculous. And this is the nature of all the laws that the government has been recently passed it.

WG: It’s so dangerous when there’s a piece of legislation that could literally mean anything. You know, we can see this everywhere, you know, it’s very bad sign, when you know, there’s something that can be just arbitrary, like you said, arbitrarily applied, no matter what. I did have one last question about anti-caste organizing. I became aware of this movement, which is Dalit Lives Matter. After sort of this, we had this summer of 2020, this summer of rebellion against the murder of George Floyd. I wonder if you have any thoughts on Dalit Lives Matter or DLM? would you would you mind expanding on that?

PJP: Okay, so unlike some Black Lives Matter was actually moment in us, right like there was an organization called Black Lives Matter. And like there was huge organizing based on that particular that particular tag. But in India, of course, the the issue of Dalits has been like, and the anti-caste organizing has been happening for a long time. And since there has been a lot of similarities between the issues of black people that they’ve recently faced in the US and what Dalits face from caste system, there has always been a bridge, and a takeaway of learning from that moment. So when the Black Panther Party was formed in the US, for the emancipation of the black movement and the black people so that there was an awareness that was being created in the community to organize and like emancipate themselves against the oppression that they are facing, the police brutality and everything. Simultaneously, there was a Dalit Panther Party that was founded in India, all in the same ideals.

If you actually look a little deeper into the history, like you can see that the various things that the rap music or the hip hop, which was used by the black activists as a way of expressing their anger, and their protest was similarly being… is being actually similarly right now used by activists, the caste activist in India, they are using hip hop to communicate and express their ideas and anger. So there is a learning that is being happening across these two different, but in a way, similar kind of oppression that is being faced by this people. So then, then there was this issue that happened, the murder of George Floyd. And there was this huge uproar, and then in the international community, and it didn’t limit to the US it it spread all around the world. Like, wherever there has been racism and colonialism, the statues were being thrown into oceans and dismantled everywhere in the world. Exactly. So it was an attack on a system of oppression. That was happening.

So in US it was black lives, right? But in other countries, there was something… like in Australia, it was indigenous tribes, right? Aboriginals Lives Matter. So, in every country, it will become a call for the people who are being oppressed. And in India, that happened, like it was the village. So when there was this Delhi Pogrom, in which there was an attack on the Muslim neighborhood, as a reaction to the anti-CAA protests, there was a new movement that came called the Muslim Lives Matter. So when a movement shows that there is something that can be used to create a mass mobilization that gets accepted or reproduced in other moments. And I think this was just a reaction to what was happening there. So since it was attacking, a voice raised against the hierarchical oppression, the similar thing just happened in India. And also another thing, why this happened to us because you can see a lot of Indian Americans there, who will be championing for Black Lives Matter, and they tell that they are also facing racism, because they are from a different community.

What we the people who are from the lower class in India find amusing is that it is these people who actually come to India and practice the same kind of oppression on the people who are below them in the cast. So this was actually a lot of this Dalit Lives Matter came as an opposition to these people, championing the cause of black lives matter because we were like, okay, you don’t get to talk about black lives matter, because you are the same, you are causing the same oppression. A lot of celebrities in in India who were like, suddenly championing for… they were raising their voice on “Okay, like, there is racism in us like I have faced racism in us.” And we were like, “okay, fine, you have faced racism or you got dismissed because you are Indian, but just remember the caste system that you are imposing on the fellow Indians? And why are you not raising the voices?” So all the people who from the dominant caste raise the voice against the BLM, but in India every day, like, only the women are being raped. Yeah. And they’re brutalized, and like they’re beaten, they’re paraded naked for being Dalit. It is a show of power by Dalit communities, to put their lives in their proper place. And none of these people who are actually championing BLM, they never raised their voice against us. So we were like, “Okay, so we are creating your another, like, let’s say hashtag. Just like black lives matter. That is what you missed, at least then then promote this too.” It was it was a mixture of all these emotions, basically that came to the emergence of Dalit Lives Matter.

WG: Thank you for going into that too. Like, it’s something that I’ve been seeing and yeah, it was, it was good to hear your thoughts on the matter and it makes a lot of sense that you know, yeah, people who were in the US and her from extremely privileged castes were like it completely ignoring the oppressions that they perpetrate. So thank thank you for going into that.

PJP: So actually, with regard to the Kamla Harris issue, recently, there was this case in California, in I think, John Doe versus the state of California, in which the internet employee in the Cisco company faced caste discrimination from his superiors. So they both actually went to the same Institute, like the one that I’m actually studying right now, IIT Bombay. So they are alumni of that Institute. And so this guy knew that John Doe was actually a Dalit. And he outed that to his other Indian colleagues and that led to him being discriminated in matters of job assignments, his appraisal, and stuff like that. He’s didn’t get promotions and he complained. And then it became obvious that the state of California doesn’t have a legal prohibition against caste discrimination. So there is currently a case that is being going on in California Court, which actually wants to include caste discrimination in the list of all the oppressions that people face along with racism and colorism and other things.

WG: Yeah, I remember hearing about that.

PJP: Yeah. And since Kamala Harris is from an Indian origin, and she actually… her grandfather is a Brahmin, her mother is Brahmin. So she’s, yeah, she’s from the dominant community. And they’re also called by the activists in US that Kamala Harris would actually make a statement in this matte. Because she claims to suffer racism and everything. And like, why are you not telling anything about this particular issue? That is actually much more closer to you than any other American actually.

WG: Kamala Harris is a huge, you know, you know, sticky wicket, I think because like she was the, you know, the District Attorney of Oakland, California. Her job basically was to incarcerate black people, you know, like the incarceration rates in Oakland are exactly the result of stuff that she has perpetrated. So she’s a police officer, she incarcerates a huge amount of black people. I’m sure she suffers, you know, suffers racism, you know, I’m sure that she does. But like, she also perpetrates a whole hell of a lot of racism, not even to mention the fact that she’s a Brahmin, you know.

PJP: So that is one thing that I actually keep saying again, and again. People very easily identify the hierarchies that oppresses them, but they are not ready to acknowledge the hierarchies that gives them privilege. Absolutely. And I think anarchism is an ideology, this is where I was attracted to it the most because it doesn’t attack one hierarchy. It attacks every hierarchy, the legitimacy of all hierarchies. And I think even when I’m when in the struggle against caste, a caste as a hierarchy is not a single hierarchy. It has patriarchy. It has classism. It has language. It has cuisine. Like there are multiple aspects of it. And you don’t just attack caste as a single entity, you need to attack caste from all these angles and that philosophy actually gives you the tools to at least create a narrative of how to attack these oppressive hierarchies. In a way that people can understand… Okay, even if I am not oppressed by your hierarchy, and if there’s a hierarchy that I am being oppressed by, I should be able to relate or translate my oppression to the other hierarchies too.

So that I can in a way empathize with what is happening to other. I think that can create a huge change if more people are actually aware of it. And without any teaching of anarchist ideas it is automatically happening like this spontaneously happening in the farmers protest. Because in farmer protest, many of the landed farmers are from a… I wouldn’t say dominant caste… They are like basically still a backward caste, but a better off backward castes, called Jats. And most of the agricultural laborers are from the Dalit communities. So historically, there has been a rift between these two. But since these new farm law came there has been a new emergence of solidarity, in which the landed caste now understand the struggles that the laborers are facing. And the laborer castes, they acknowledge that if these laws are implemented, now, it won’t just affect the landed caste, it will penetrate and it will affect the people who are actually employed as laborers too. And now there has been voice voices being raised on redistribution of land to the Dalit laborers, a raise of minimum wage, and other other things. So and, and here is the most beautiful part, the participation of women in the protests in India has been like… it has increased significantly, because recently almost 20% of the people who are currently stationed around Delhi the protesters are women. Which is huge when you consider the fact that India still is a hugely patriarchal society in which which doesn’t allow a woman to step out of the room, you can see a woman driving tractors. And the funny thing is almost 80% of all agricultural laborers are women. But most of them they are unpaid, like they are, they are expected to work. This particular protest actually shows the agency of women and their awareness. And it bring forth the strength and unity that the woman can actually show and the solidarity that they can contribute in this protest. And the issues that women face: like the patriarchy, the lack of wages, lack of equal wages, then there is this maternity benefits, this is a huge other array of issues, which are now being recognized because of this particular protest. Earlier, it would only be just limited to this one struggled against like a particular law or a particular event. Right now, everything is being discussed. And I think that’s a huge part. Or it gives me hope, that like, okay, now, at least the people are slowly awakening and they realize that they have more to lose together.

WG: I’m also very happy that the participation of women in the farmers protest has been so foregrounded by people who have been writing about it, or at least the people that who have been writing about it that I’ve read, like I’ve read your work on it. I’ve read some other folks’ work on talking about the farmers protests and it’s really cool that people are foregrounding the participation of women. And like, contextualizing it as a very important, you know, aspect to the protests,

PJP: So I have explained a lot of how the mutual aid was happening, right? Like, of all the networks of solidarity that was shown how community kitchens were being organized, and how from the village and the food, grains and milk and all the essentials were being brought, how volunteers are collecting blankets for these farmers. During winter there was medical aid that was being set up. There were laundry rooms set up to wash their clothes. And so the other thing that there has to be understood is that these are poor farmers who are living, who are actually sleeping on the roads and tents and makeshift platforms, or even their tractors. And when they came last December, it’s just like brutal cold in Delhi, like it was one of the coldest winters in 70 years. And right now, it is March and it is the opposite. The temperature is like nearing 45. And it is like extreme heat.

Now, the government what they did is they cut off water supply, they cut off electricity, they cut off internet, so that the farmers will go back. So what the farmers were like, okay, they dug bore wells for water, they install solar panels for electricity. So like, little by little the self organization. because the number of people who are participating is so huge, so is their resourcefulness. And I think, for any protests of this magnitude for it to become self organized, in which the people can solve all the problems and the institutions of service or support is automatically emerging out of them. Because there are so… like the threshold has reached like, okay, we have enough people so that we can do everything on our own. We don’t need an external support from the government. No matter what the government does, we can actually make this work on our own that has been achieved. And another aspect that is interesting is the lack of like a set of leaders. Of course, there are like eloquent leaders who actually speak of the protest.

But the decision making is decentralized. There are more than 500 farm unions who are actually participating in the protest along with other support groups. And even though like only 30 to 40 leaders are going and talking and negotiating with the government, every proposal that the government surpluses has to be brought back to the farmers, where they will collectively sit together and discuss and debate where every member will be present. And like every member of the union will be present there are more than 500 unions at the present time. They will debate, discuss, and the people who actually represent these farmers, they cannot decide on what they should, what distance to make, or what points to agree with the government, they have mainly a voice of the farmers to the government or spokesperson, they’re not elected representatives, per se. And I think that that that difference from in a hierarchical society like India, to a representative form of a decision making process, to participate in decision making process, even though it’s not perfect, of course, but the seeds of it is being assembled in this protest, even the anti-CAA protest, you can see that there is no single party that actually organize all these protests across the country. So I was in Mumbai, and in Mumbai there are multiple protests happening every day in different parts of the city. And the protests that I went to there wasn’t a single organization, it was collectively decided and everyone was taking part in the decision. There are huge debates happening. And I think people need to experience democracy to actually understand what they are losing in the current social situation. Only when people realize that their voices are heard. And they get an experience of expressing their voices, no matter how eloquent how bad it is, it doesn’t matter, then they understand that their voices deserve to be heard. I think people will not go back.

WG: Absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s a beautiful sentiment.

BOG: I was wondering, this wasn’t I keep stealing the headphone out of my co host ear. This wasn’t one of the scripted questions. But how has COVID impacted India? As far as you know, like has has Modi and the BJP followed the pattern that so many authoritarian governments around the world have done with the pandemic and denied public access to services or denied maybe the dangers related to it? Or has there been much in the way of mutual aid response from communities to get people access to protective gear or medical access?

PJP: Okay so what the federal government did was they cleverly denied responsibility for the pandemic, in a way that they just tasked the state governments to handle the pandemic on their own. So that they will be free of the responsibility. That is what basically they did.

BOG: Oh, that’s what Trump did…

PJP: And that’s very clever, because most of the same governments are not run by the BJP. So what they can do is they can…. if a state government fails to provide access, they can just point to that government telling that “Okay, these people are not doing it well, like they are not letting the central government do the job.” And they can get away with it. And in the states that actually are run by BJP, the numbers, the data that we see, the official data is never true. So there are states which do tracking and in good response. So personally my the state of Kerala, the state of Kerala has been lauded by international community for its past action and response because the state of Kerala has a strong public health care system. The government really funds the public health care and the state of Kerala was prepared to handle a pandemic because last year, there was a similar virus called nipah is hit the state and the state had to engage in protocols of how to handle a pandemic and like what other medical gear is that the blockers should wear that health professionals should wear and the government of Kerala was better prepared. The other state governments were not prepared for it.

And many of the states ruled by the BJP, they don’t do the testing enough so that they can show that Okay, we have very low cases in our state because we are doing very well. This is not the case they’re not testing to know whether like there are enough people who is actually contacting COVID and the government using their propaganda machine, the media, they are diverting every issue, like even when the COVID pandemic was at its peak, the media was discussing something completely different. Like they were going after like small things…. like celebrity news and stuff like that, they wer completely ignoring it. Now let me explain what was the actual humanitarian crisis that India faced during the pandemic. So when there was an initial lock down for 31 days that happened. So in India, there are like really poor states, like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Orissa. So, the marginalized communities from these states, they don’t get wages, literally they don’t have any rights when they are living there. So what they do is they migrate to other states where they can find a job as manual laborers, or they set up small shops. Basically, most of them are manual laborers who work in construction sites. And the women, they might work as maids in the urban households and stuff like that. So there is a huge migration of people from the rural to the urban cities. And when the pandemic hit, immediately, the economy went to a standstill, there was no work. Everyone was asked to stay where they were right?

So these people, the people who are unorganized, was who are not actually the formal employees, they just their daily wage laborers, they just go everyday to any place they can find work, and they just work there. They collect their earnings and they get food from daily earnings. So when the entire lockdown happen, these people, they were completely cut off from their income. So what they did, they didn’t have any other thing to do, they just started going back to their homes. And since it was a lockdown there was no railway, there was no bus service, there was basically no transportation available. So now you know how big India is right? People from across the country started walking back to their native villages! like walking 1000’s of kilometers! So during the time of pandemic, you could see millions of Indians walking. And it was March which is like extreme summer. 1000’s of people died due to sunstroke walking back home. There were images and videos of people lying dead in roads in railway stations and bus stops. People were run over by trains, when because they were sleeping in the railway lines. So it was terrible. And the government didn’t do anything. And when asked about the number of deaths, in pandemic by these migrant laborers who are walking back home, the government told that we don’t have any data about it. And the government is busy doing like other stuff like cricket or something like Bollywood is doing as well.

And it is busy passing laws that will further take away the rights of the… so it is during the pandemic that the Farm Bill first passed the labor laws which diluted the labor norms was passed.

So the government has their own priorities for corporatization, they don’t care about what the actual people and citizens of India, the struggles they face or anything. But one thing that was noticeable was the Indian community, they reacted to this particular migrant labor crisis. So across the roads, when people are walking, people are offering water, food. So there was this mutual aid that was automatically. There was this huge, so in every city in which these migrant laborers are walking, people are offering them water, if you’re offering them modes of transport, like they would take people who are really… who are elderly, who can’t walk, or children, they will have them transport in small distances. Like a relay kind of transport mode was set up. Many restaurants, they opened up so that they can feed these people for free. And there are many families which were like stranded in remote places without access to… let’s say I if I have a family and my elderly parents are living alone, and they need medicines, it’s lockdown, the medical shops are not open. So there were volunteers who were ready to deliver essential medicines to this families. So there was a parallel, when the government failed the people, the citizens rose to the occasion to try at least try to mitigate a huge disaster. It wasn’t perfect, of course, like it didn’t work everywhere, but it it prevented a much worse disaster from happening.

WG: I love that people stepped up to help each other. Of course, nothing’s perfect, but especially if you’re reacting to a widespread disaster that could very well like, you know, affect you… or is affecting you as well. You know, it’s a crisis. Crisis planning can often like look imperfect.

PJP: Yeah. And another thing that also came forward during this an issue that came to the forefront was police brutality. So this happened literally before the George Floyd issue happened. So what happened was during the lockdown, so you know, like many people who live in India are illiterate and they are and they are working the unorganized sector. They sell vegetables they sell…. So, in order for them to eat something today, they need to earn something today. It’s not they have savings they can go back to get food. So many of these people who are like daily, like who food vendors like to sell vegetables and stuff like that, they came out to sell their stuff because they will die literally of hunger if they don’t come out. And the government even though they promised to deliver food and stuff, in most of the places they didn’t. So when these people actually came out to sell their produce, you could see police going and like destroying their vehicles, beating them black and blue. These are people without any social or cultural capital. They can go to court, they don’t have money to hire a lawyer to fight for their case. And you could see police trashing them black and blue. And then there were cases of custodial deaths that have happened, because they arrested like two people in Tamil Nadu. They’ve arrested a father and son for not closing the shop on time. So the law mandated that the shops should close by 7pm or something and they didn’t close… they kept the shop open for five more minutes or something. And the police came, they arrested both of them. They took them to the police station, and they trashed them till they were dead. This happened last year. And this happened at a time when the George Floyd issue, the George Floyd murder, that protest was happening in US. And at that time there was a voice against police brutality. Right now, because of all these issues, there is a sentiment that… Okay, so till now, police was seen by the people because in India, people, like people worship authority. So they’re always saw police as the saviors and things like that. And now, they are understanding that police are just instruments of the ruling power to just further their institutions of hierarchy. It is not actually for the citizens…. police are not there for the citizens to actually like fight for their rights. And that particular sentiment is also seeping in because now we could see the farmers being stopped by the police and they were firing tear gas and water cannons are these farmers who are like, really old farmers like they are 70 or 80 years old people who are actually coming in the winter, and they’re firing water cannons at them. Which is like equivalent to like throwing knives at these people because it at six degrees, seven degrees, like water literally, it literally kills you if you get hit by it. And yeah, so the notion of police brutality as an issue has also been brought up due to this protest.

WG: Thank you for speaking on that. So we have just two more questions. You’ve touched on a lot of the topics that we were interested in hearing about and also like, way more and thank you so much for doing that. You’ve talked a lot about how like how the government operates the BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But would you talk a little bit about this philosophy known as HINDUTVA? And can you give a sketch of like what this is? And it’s also been said that the HINDUTVA movement is like the largest fascist street movement in the world. And I’m curious if this resonates with you.

PJP: Yeah, you can call it the largest, fascist street movement in the world, because it is happening in India. Because this is such a huge country with huge population. Anything that happens here will be like, the biggest thing.

BOG: That’s a good point.

PJP: Yeah, because the the when the farmer protests happened on November 26, there was a call for an All India strike, which was participated by almost 250 million people, which automatically made it the largest in world history, because anything in India will become the largest in the world. So, I don’t doubt that point at all.

So, why, what it is is actually? You have to understand what India what the word India is. India, the word comes from the word… so you have might have heard of the Indus Valley Civilization of is the Mohenjo-daro was a city. So there is this river called the Indus. And the land beyond Indus was called by Europeans as India. That’s it. There is nothing more to the word India than that. So the name of the country came from the river, the land beyond the river. And the people who were living in that land. Which was beyond the river was called as Hindu. Hinduism is not a religion, per se, it is just what you call a group of people who lived in a particular locality. So in India, when you actually look at it, Hinduism is not a religion or monocultural religion anyway. It is like a mixture of multiple cultures, multiple faiths, there are different kinds of traditions, which are completely in opposition to each other. And India’s political or geographically united place never existed in the greater scheme. It was like a lot of different smaller countries. And when the Mughals came, they try to unify it. Even before that there has been moments in Indian history when there has been large empires ruled over India. But even though there were these empires, the local cultures of the country… so in China, you might it is a little bit different, like Chinese culture is… even though there there are diversity and variations in it, it is mostly similar. India is more like Europe, the states of India are like the countries of Europe. The languages are completely different. So, if I go from Kerala to the next neighboring state, I wouldn’t understand anything that they say, because the language is completely different, the culture is completely different.

So, when the nationalistic struggle against the Britishers came, you needed like…. these people don’t have a common culture, they don’t have a common religion, they don’t have a common, let’s say, language. They don’t even have a common sense of identity, so that they can rally against a common enemy. So the Britishers adopted this policy of dividing the Hindus, pitting the Hindus against Muslims and stuff like that. So to create unity, or create a sense of unity, or sense of identity, a nationalistic identity. The founder of RSS, who is Savarkar. He created this notion that, okay, let us create this new sense of identity and name Hindu, which is like the people who actually inhibit this locality, it has nothing to do with the religion, per se, it is just the people in the locality. And then he thought that okay, to make the Unity more foundational, because the big since there was a huge sectarian divide, because of religion, caste, language and everything. He used the spirituality of Hinduism the Hindu philosophy, to give it a much more stronger backbone, so that people will fit in together. And people only rally against it, against a common enemy if you identify an enemy, and instead of identifying the British as the enemy, he identify the Muslims as the enemy.

You might know that the person who assassinated Gandhi, Mohondas Karamcha Gandhi (‘Mahatma’ Gandhi), he was actually an RSS ideologues, he was a part of RSS, who believed that because Gandhi actually spread the idea of unity and harmony between the religions, and the RSS society of hindutva is completely against it. They want the the entire community who calls themselves as Hindus, even though it includes Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, and all the other, like even Sihks. They have to separate them from the Muslims because as far as they’re concerned the Muslims are invaders who came and ruined our culture. So it’s like, exactly like Hitler’s notion of Aryan supremacy. And actually, there is much more similarity between the two because the Aryan race of Hitler and the dominant caste group of India, they actually hail from the same part, the Central Asia. That’s why there’s a similarity between the languages: Sanskrit and German.

They were like, okay, so they exactly copied the ideology that Hitler used in Germany, and they changed it to suit the Indian needs. That’s what they did. And for that, they had to brutalize or demonize the community, the Muslim community. Then what they needed was they had to create this narrative of a history of a golden age of India, in which India was like the golden bird of the world and we had solutions for everything, we were technologically superior we were like an egalitarian society, heaven on earth. And then this Muslim invaders came, and they brought their religion, they ruined our culture, they broke our temples, they broke our gods, disrespect our gods. And we are suffering because of that. And it was the Muslims who brought the Britishers in, and like everything that is faulty with the country is because of the Muslims and you have to, you should never accept the Muslims as European, they can live here, but they have to accept their status as secondary citizens exactly what was subjected to the Jews. Even though there has not been concentration camps that has been set in there are retention camps.

The CAA law was actually something similar with and there is this entire procedure of NRC the National Register for Citizens, which is trying to create a new document and in which the citizens have to prove that they are Indian. So the entire anti-CAA protest was not just against the citizenship Amendment Act, it was against this implementation of this national interest for citizenship, the entire process. And since there was a huge backlash against it, it has still been kept on hold. Even though the government is telling that they will implement it, they will implement it. I think if the government starts to implement it, there will be huge, much bigger protests, which will happen along with the farmers protest right now. So the government is like… and since the government is facing elections, state government elections in the next month, they won’t do anything to damage the reputation, right. So everything in India, everything this party that in this is basically that. So they want power, so that they can just sell India to the corporations, and they need this hindutva philosophy, to make sure that the people will always worship the established hierarchy and won’t question anything. So this is how the dynamics of Indian nation as a whole right now works.

BOG: I guess a final question that we had would be you had touched on the conflict in Kashmir, and like obviously, it’s a very complicated place on the border of two competing states. But we would love to hear about what had happened in Kashmir and a little more detail from your perspective and if you could sort of explain the situation and what to your knowledge the state of the people of Kashmir is at the moment in terms of military occupation.

PJP: So okay, before telling that I should mention that okay. Kashmir is not an issue that I am directly involved with. So, everything that I know is actually what I have heard from my friends who are actually from Kashmir. The articles that I read and from the activist who actually traveled. With respect to Kashmir, what is happening is that, so, there has a lot of history to Kashmir like it started with the independence and why Kashmir became part of India and not of Pakistan. So, Kashmir is not just one place. So it is Jammu and Kashmir. So there’s like the entire state has three major parts one is Leh, one is Kashmir and one is Jammu. Of which Lehs is Buddhists dominated, Jammu is Hindu dominated, and Kashmir is Muslim dominated. So what happened is… so even though the people of Kashmir were mostly Muslim, the king of Kashmir at that time was a Hindu, and then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, he was a Kashmiri pundit. So Kashmir was his home state. So he actually really wanted Kashmir to be part of India. So now the history becomes a little bit like untrustworthy, even I don’t exactly know what happened. So there were this… I think Pakistan instigated some militancy in the region, which forced the king of Kashmir to agree to a suit to India.

And there was something called an instrument of accession, which actually granted Kashmir special privileges. So the one thing which most people don’t know is that these special privileges is not just unique to Kashmir in the Indian context, this is the same kind of privileges are provided to other states in India, like Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and there has been calls for independence and autonomy by these states too. And the Indian Government has been trying to like what do you say to suppress the revolts the government has been declaring martial law, there has been cases of the Indian Army brutalizing the people and killing them, overreaching of authority. The issue is that with the current government, Kashmir is like a issue of pride and national pride. Because citizens government is not able to deliver on any of the promises on economy, on employment, Social Welfare or any of these things.

The government needs some particular narratives or particular incidents or events that we can highlight as their strength. Because this government has come because of the charisma of this one Iron Man: Narendra Modi, who can destroy every obstacles in his path. And who can decide to take actions completely independently without worrying about this corrupt politicians and stuff. So big neutral narrative, they have to always show strength. And the easiest way to show spine is Kashmir, because they just toppled the state government with just one act and they just arrested everyone and they arrested the chief minister of that state and put them on house arrest for a year. They arrested all the prominent leaders in that state and put them on house arrest. Every single activists who tried to raise voice against Kashmir was arrested and new laws were passed just before the Kashmir state autonomy was snatched out. There was this loss called UAP. Which is like Prevention of atrocity and NSA – National Security Act. So what these acts enable the government is they can arrest anyone, just on suspicion, and they don’t have to produce them on court for two years. So they passed these laws just before this Kashmir Act was passed, so that any opposition against this would be come met with complete incarceration. Then what they did was they completely cut off internet for a year, so that anything that is happening in Kashmir will never be like communicated to the mainland. So only the government and journalists and the government employees will be able to devise narratives and create stories. In the news when the Kashmir the article 35 was abolished the Indian propaganda news media, there were new celebrations in Kashmir, of people eating biryani and ham like playing with firecrackers and celebrating because their years of oppression are over.

And what is actually happening in Kashmir on the ground, the truth was actually revealed when certain activists travel to Kashmir and interacted with the people. So the military have complete autonomy, they can do anything they want, like the martial law is declared. It’s called AFSPA – the Armed Forces special power act, they can even kill people on suspicion. They have complete immunity against any atrocities that they commit. So, the problem with such an a process of water in the Indian sea from a personal perspective, I think that the people anywhere in the world should have the autonomy to decide what what kind of government they want. And it was fine till the Indian government had the Constitution because these are also citizens of India under the Indian law, and the constitution grant them the political rights they can they have the right to choose the government and what the central government did was toppling the democratically elected government who had legitimate power or the people gave them the legitimate power to rule them. So that was completely illegal and talk about illegality in India right now, everything whether something is legal or illegal is decided by the Supreme Court of India. And the RSS/ BJP government has destroyed the institutions in India in such a way that like the judiciary is also playing the same even as the government and in most of the cases where the judiciary knows that if they pass a judgment in fair play in favor of the government, the people who protest the judiciary conveniently decides to not take the case. They will just hold the case for years. So the then the Jammu Kashmir state was actually bifurcated into two different territories, that act was disputed in the Supreme Court.

There is a case in Supreme Court, when the government imposed internet a ban in Jammu and Kashmir, there was a case like the lawyers brought it up telling that it is a violation of human rights. That the people are not being given access to internet facilities. Because the entire businesses of Kashmir, they were completely cut off to the mainland, online, this everything just went down. What happened then was the government will tell that okay, we will need like two months to analyze the situation. And the court, we just grant them the two months. And again, the government after that, filed extension, and this court will just grant. So the court is just playing the same tune as the government. So in the farmers protests, something really interesting happened. The Supreme Court seeing that the farmers are coming to Delhi and the protest is not stopping, decided to intervene and tell that, “okay, we are ordering the government to stay the law for one and a half years.” So the law cannot be implemented for one and a half years. The farmers are like, “okay, we don’t care what the Supreme Court tells, we want the law to be abolished. We won’t take anything else.” So the it’s like the people is literally losing faith in the institutions of judiciary, and the executive and legislature. The people are taking matters into our own hands. That is action. And I think that that’s a huge change when people are realizing that they are the true sovereign, that the power actually resides in them to decide their own fate and their own lives. I think that is democracy.

WG: Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for going into that… and I think that that people are really, you know, starting to feel their own power and starting to see the states, whatever state that they live in is as sort of the complete Sham that it is. And I think that you know, yeah, we can look to the farmers protest, you know, as the largest mass mobilization, like it is in India. So it’s going to be the largest one, maybe. But as like one of the most robust mass movements in sort of recorded history in a way too. That was all the questions that we had. Thank you so, so, so much for your words and your energy, it was just a delight to get to talk with you a little bit and get to hear the things that you’re working on and the things that you’re thinking about. Would you give, if listeners are interested in reading some of your writing? Do you have a website? Is there a place that people can go to, to read your articles and to read your work?

PJP: I can actually provide you links of my articles, I usually publish my writings in like different journals. So I can give you a list of all the articles that I have. So you can share them with the listeners. I will also like to thank you for giving me this opportunity. And I hope that I did justice to these movements in communicating what is actually happening on the ground, because I know that I couldn’t cover everything, maybe I might have left out the really important parts. And I might have, like, oversimplified many stuff, or might have gotten things completely wrong. But to what I know, I think, yeah, I really think that it is important for the international community to at least get a sense of what is happening in India right now. And like, and these are models that should be learned from and replicated elsewhere.

WG: Absolutely, yeah. Family, like, you did I think amazing justice to a very complex situation and topic and complex place. So, I hope that listeners will hear your words and go out and do their own research too, because so many people and I will link to some books and some articles too. If people are interested in learning about like anti-caste stuff a little bit more, if people are interested in learning about the languages, the bioregion, the the politics of the place, we will provide some links as well. And like as many voices as possible speaking about India, and the Indian diaspora and stuff that people face, you know, I think is best. So thank you so much. Do you have any recommendations? I remember you were talking about sort of anti-caste hip hop. Do you have any recommendations for like, songs that we could play on the show?

PJP: Yeah, I can give you links to that, like most of them are new too. Excellent. Yeah. I will mail you the links along with the audio clip. So that is actually a very new development that happened, like the hip hop was used by the anti-caste activists as a way of expressing themselves. That is completely, like mimicking what was happening in US. So I think so like, it’s it’s amazing that like, the people from who are oppressed, they are looking outside for signs to learn from for lessons to learn from. And I think till now, like we have been looking elsewhere to learn from it. I think it’s about time that others look at us.

WG: Yes. Yes, yes. Absolutely. Thank you so much family.

BOG: This is great speaking with you. Let’s do it again soon.

WG: Let’s do it again. Yeah, same here. Okay. Yeah, take care. Stay healthy.

BOG: Ciao. Yeah,

PJP: I think it would be morning there, right. Yeah. Have a nice day.

WG: Have a nice evening.

PJP: Okay, bye bye.

Building Working Class History

Building Working Class History

book cover for 'Working Class History'
Download This Episode

This week, I spoke with John from the Working Class History collective and host of their WCH podcast. We spoke about the new book, “Working Class History: Everyday Acts of Resistance“, that WCH has published through PM Press, their archives, methodology, the project of popularizing working class, movement and human-sized history and a bunch more. [00:05:53]

More info on Working Class History at their website, WorkingClassHistory.Com, in their podcast and on twitter, instagram and facebook in a growing number of languages.

If you thirst for more conversation with John, you’re in luck as Firestorm Books will be hosting a presentation with him about the book on February 25 from 7-8:30pm eastern or UTC – 5. You can find out more at Firestorm.Coop/Calendar.

A transcription, downloadable pdf and imposed zine should be up in about a week here!

Announcements

Transcription & Support

As an update on our transcription project, we’ve sent our first batch of zines to patreon subscribers over $10. Much thanks to everyone who is contributing at whatever level. We are still $75 short of covering our minimums for the transcription and podcasting fees, so if you think you can become a sustainer consider visiting patreon.com/TFSR. If you don’t like patreon, we can receive ongoing donations from liberapay or paypal, as well as one-time donations via paypal and have merch for sale in our big cartel store.

If you don’t have cash but want to help out our project, that’s great! Reach out with show ideas, tell some friends in meet space or on social media, rep our content, print out some zines and send them into prisoners, rate us on podcasting sites, translate our work, or if you have a community radio station in your area you want to hear us on, get in touch and we’ll help you. We have some notes on our site under the broadcasting tab as well, for our weekly, 58 minute FCC friendly episodes.

Letters for Sean Swain

Our comrades continues to be denied access to regular communication with the outside by the Department of Corrections in Ohio as well as Virginia where he’s being held. It’s also notable that his website is currently down. Sean has a complaint pending before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission for the torture he suffered at the hands of the state of Ohio. He is also collecting support letters for his bid for clemency. You can find more details on instagram by following Swainiac1969, SwainRocks.Org, our Swain tab or by checking out the script up at https://cutt.ly/Hkph3KY.

Thanks to Linda from Subversion1312 for reading this week’s Sean script. [01:18:02]

BAD News #42

The latest episode of BAD News: Angry Voices from around the world by the A-Radio network has just been released. You can find find past BadNews episodes at the A-Radio site. This month, you’ll hear calls for support for the evicted ROG squat in Ljubljana, Slovenia, prisoner and prisoner solidarity updates from Greece, excerpts from a discussion of Russian anarchists about the current protests across that country and Alexei Nawalny, and a short piece highlighting the 100th anniversary of the death of Piotr Kropotkin.

NoDAPL Grand Jury for Steve Martinez

From fedbook

FREE OUR COMRADE & RELATIVE STEVE MARTINEZ! Thank you for the birthday wishes, let’s use this energy to Free & Support Steve! He resisted a Grand Jury for the second time in regards to alleged events from the NO DAPL struggle in Standing Rock, is currently NOT cooperating with authorities, & is awaiting federal extradition! Steve needs our support! Steve helped save our friend Sophia Wilansky’s arm from gettin blown off by military weapons, & he is a solid & brave Indigenous warrior! We are asking our comrades to call the jail to DEMAND they release Steve who is wrongfully in custody at: 701-255-3113, & PLEASE WRITE STEVE in Burleigh Morton Cty Jail at:
Steve Martinez
Po Box 2499
Bismarck, ND
58502

money orders can also be sent to him in his name at that address, as well as to his government name above on jail.atm.com

Loren Reed

We’re sharing a short rap by imprisoned indigenous, emo man, Loren Reed. Loren is facing years in prison for poorly chosen words in a private message on facebook during last summer’s uprising. We’ve mentioned his situation before. You can learn more by following Tucson Anti-Repression Crew and you can hear a great interview on Loren’s case done by fellow CZN member, the ItsGoingDown podcast. You can donate to his support by cashapp’ing TARC ($TucsonARC) or paypal’ing to paypal.me/prisonsupport, don’t forget a note saying “For Loren”.

Daniel Alan Baker

In the run-up to the January 20th presidential inauguration, the far right around the US was threatening large, armed and violent rallies at US state capitols across the country. Daniel Alan Baker, a US army vet, former YPG volunteer combat medic, yoga instructor and leftist activist called for people to counter what could have been seen as the deadly sequel to January 6th events in DC. He was pre-emptively arrested by the FBI and is currently being held at Tallahassee’s Federal Detention Center. Like Loren Reed, he is facing years in prison for statements made on social media. For more information, check out this article in Jacobin Magazine, or a great chat with supporters of Daniel’s from CZN member-show Coffee With Comrades. Updates can be found at Instagram by following GuerillaGalleryTLH.

A-Radio Network Live Show

Join the A-Radio Network on Saturday, February 13th of 2021 from 14:00 till at least 20:00 o‘clock central European time, that’s 8am to 2pm eastern or New York time for our 6th transnational live broadcast of anti-authoritarian and anarchist radios from deep within where anarchy reigns.

Since 2016 this is an important part of our yearly gathering of the A Radio network. Due to the pandemic and strong restrictions given by Governments all over the world, this year’s gathering was forced online. But don’t worry, against all odds we will nonetheless join together online on February 14th to broadcast an international show full of interesting contributions and discussions with/from comrades based in different parts all over the world. And you, dear listeners are also invited!

So far, our topics will include international experiences of: prison resistance; anarchy in the time of covid; Far Rightwing threats; and experiences organizing mutual aid!

The show will be carried by (a) transnational and militant spirit which hopefully is highly infectious. We promise our bad anarchist jokes aren’t lethal.

You will find a more detailed schedule, a player for the show and a link to the livestream soon on www.a-radio-network.org and if you’d like to participate, you can also reach out to member projects that can be found on that same site!

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Musical tracks in this episode:

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Transcription

 

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with your name pronouns and any projects you affiliate with for the purpose of this conversation?

WCH: Hi, I’m WCH:, he, and I’m the host of the Working Class History podcast.

TFSR: Would you tell us a bit about the Working Class History project, how it got started, who was involved, and why you started it?

WCH: Basically it came out of some discussions that I have with some friends a few years ago. We’d been involved in lots of different activist groups over the years and publishing projects, and involved in different campaigns. Myself, I spent most of my time organizing at work. And social media, it’s obviously a really powerful tool, and we were thinking about how could we try and put out information—radical sort of information—on social media in a way that would go viral. And we’d also got very interested in reading about the history and learning about past struggles, because the more we did organizing ourselves and were involved in social movements and such, the more it gets a bit sort of frustrating on one level seeing in general, mainstream society, that there’s so little connection that most people have—especially people of our generation and younger—have with mass working class oppositional counterculture which used to exist. Especially in the UK, where I’m from. Most of us we don’t have that organic link with the past anymore where there’d be generations of union families in certain communities. We wanted to think how can we try and not bring that back immediately, but draw that link with the past and at the same time on the (you want to call it the Left or whatever or the workers movement or whatever term you call for it) thinking that so many people get involved in stuff each new generation gets involved in stuff, and they repeat the mistakes of the people that came before them. So all sorts of thinking about how can we try and learn from these struggles in the past and try and help get these lessons to new generations of workers and activists that crop up every generation. And then we thought people seem to like anniversaries, so let’s do that. We started doing that on social media. And we were hoping that it would be viral and it was a lot more successful than we thought, in that. Because I guess for people who are, like, a bit lefty or whatever, seeing a post on social media about something happened on this day, it gives them an opportunity to share something with friends, colleagues in a way that doesn’t seem random, because it is about something that happened today. So now I’m not just lecturing all my work colleagues and family about the Paris Commune of 1871 or whatever, it’s like, “Oh, this is a historical thing that happened today, this is interesting and you might find it interesting, too.” And I think it worked in that way. Because it does give an organic and nice way of sharing information without being a bit fun and without being preachy, or lecture-y, or whatever. So that’s where it came out of, and then as the project’s got bigger we just started trying to do other things like a podcast to look into a bit more detail. Because sometimes we get comments on the on post being like, “Oh, this doesn’t have a lot of background in it, or this should really have a bit more detail.” It’s a social media post. It’s not a PhD thesis or something. We recognize that. We wanted to look into stuff into a bit more detail so we can do it in a podcast. And for people who don’t like looking at stuff online and want to have more of a reference work, we’ve done a book now.

TFSR: I’d like to talk about the book. One thing that you described in there is not a thing that I’ve ever experienced growing up in, I guess, middle class community in the United States, is a knowledge or an expectation or an experience of what a multi-generational working class feeling is. I have tons of friends growing up who were working class. But I think that a thing that you’re describing and that your project is building towards is a little bit different and a little bit something that I’d love to hear if you have any more like insights into how it’s been described to you the sort of like edges that you’ve danced around in trying to create it and what a working class culture in the UK where you grew up, for instance, felt like. What delineates that from just the experience of people who are poor and working and trying to get by?

WCH: I grew up in the southeast of England which is one of the places where the erosion of sense of working class identity has really been very successful especially with policies brought in by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and onwards. The major industries where workers were best organized and most militant were systematically divided up and then defeated one after another, first with the mine workers, then with the print workers, also around the same time period steel workers, and shipping workers were defeated as well, and then later dock workers. So that was one side of it. And then another side of it was around housing, where social housing was attacked and instead ‘Right to Buy’ was introduced, which gave working class people the ability to buy their own council house, which was—especially in the southeast of England where I’m from—massively successful at converting what was a relatively large group of working class people who mostly were Labor voters and identified in that line of things. It was very successful at turning that collective sense of identity into a massive atomized individuals who can do better for them. Because buying your own council house was a move which did help those individual people who did it significantly. And that was the area that I sort of grew up in amongst a lot of people where that had happened. So their families had bought their own home and then had a sense of themselves as very middle class, mostly conservative individuals striving to do the best for themselves that they could. I’m one of the people from that generation that had no connection with these working class oppositional cultures that I just learned about later when I got into lefty ideas and radical politics.

TFSR: Would you mind talking a bit about the book that y’all just published through PM Press and sort of the process that you went through of compiling it? And what do you hope, as a project, that this book will spark or will bring out and people

WCH: The idea for the book came out of our discussions with our publishers, PM Press, who are a great independent, radical publisher, and who contacted us to see if we’d be interested in doing a book, because we hadn’t really thought about it. We were doing social media posts, and then a podcast, and we’d been involved in some print publishing in the past, but it was a huge amount of work and that put us off the whole-put us off the whole thing. PM talked us into it. And we were excited to do it because on a personal level, like, I love books. Books are great and doing one is great. Even, say, for people who follow us on social media, because of the large amount of other people are putting up posts and algorithms, people won’t see everything that we put out most the time only a fraction of a percent see anything that we put out. And also, because of algorithms, certain posts get much more prominent than others. So especially things that are more about countries where more of our followers live, like the US, that stuff gets a lot more engagement and then a lot more people see it. So people who even do follow us on social media might get a very narrow view of the historical events that we have in our archive. And also, of course, a whole bunch of stuff there aren’t photos of. And in this book we do have a lot of photos, we’ve got over 100 photos. We’ve also been able to feature a lot of stories from our archive where there are no images that exist, so we can’t put them on social media.

We wanted to put something out for people who enjoy consuming content in a different medium. And also to have more as a reference that you can flip through without having to look at a screen or whatever. And it was exciting to be able to think of putting together in terms of a whole, creating as a whole thing. So taking a random selection of everything that we post over a whole year, instead of what we normally do, which is every day we post a couple of things. It was good to think “we’ve got 366 days out of the year and these are the countries that we’ve got events about and we want to feature them the biggest amount of countries and have the most diverse range of stories possible with respect to gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, race, ethnicity,” and that sort of thing. And with the idea of the book being as diverse as our classes—we acknowledge in the introduction to the book that we have made a lot of efforts in this regard but we still have a long way to go due to the nature of the bias of the sources available to us, which are disproportionately about white guys in more developed Western countries. Most of our research over the past few years has been trying to find out and uncover stories about different parts of the world. But even that is tricky because of language stuff and even knowing what you can Google and such. So, while we’ve still got a way to go, we are still pleased at the range of different types of stories that we feature.

TFSR: It’s quite the tome. And it’s been remarked upon before, like, how much of it—so like, two events out of every date out of the year, including the February 29—which, “thank you” from leap your babies. And I appreciate the fact that there’s an index in the back because there’s a thing to be said about the way that we think about information and that we categorize it if your main impetus is, like, “what is the day today?” “What else has happened on this registered day in history?” That can be, in some happy ways, a bit lackadaisical. You’re not going to be flipping from one page to the next and saying, “Well, then what happened after the workers rose up or after the Soviet tanks came in or after, like, the British military massacred people in Kenya?” It’s interesting to just sort of get these little bite-sized morsels of history. And it seems to invite the reader to embark on a journey of research on their own afterwards, and sort of build the context for themselves as to why this is like important—build an understanding and maybe build wider networks with folks that were more directly affected by those historical events.

WCH: Yeah, that’s what we hope it will do. Like, we list all the sources that we use for each of the posts in the back. So that we do hope that if people see something that is interesting to them, they will go and look into it further. Because in our stories, we don’t try and tell people what they should take from them or what they should think because of them. We don’t want to tell people what to think or anything like that. Obviously we have a perspective, there’s a reason that we’ve put these stories in here. We want people to be able to read these stories and then look into them further if they want and figure out for themselves what the relevance is for them, their lives, and any struggles that they’re involved in.

TFSR: Class has a lot of meanings when it comes from different voices. And we’ve talked a little bit about your experience and basically with how class had been experienced by some people in the part of the world that you had grown up in. Can you talk a bit, for the purpose of this project, which I think was started by people in various parts of the world and not just in, like, the UK, for instance. Can you talk about the standards you used to determine something in the book or in the social media posts or in the podcast, or someone that falls within the parameters of what working class is? And why is it important to view it as a position of agency?

WCH: I think there’s so many different ways that you can talk about class. And they all have some validity. But for us, what’s important is we don’t use it as a system for classifying individuals. Our interest in it is as a political tool which is, how can we best understand society? And how can we then use that understanding in order to change it? And we think that class is a really essential tool in understanding that, especially living as we do in capitalist society. So capitalist society is based on the dispossession of the majority of the world’s population. We are dispossessed of means of production. So land, factories, workplaces, etc., we’re dispossessed of that. So that either by enclosures in European countries, and by colonialism pretty much everywhere else, were dispossessed of that, and therefore, we have to work for a wage for people who do own the means of production, who do own land, factories, blah, blah, blah. And that’s the defining feature of capitalist society. And that’s our broad understanding of class and how we use it. The defining feature of working class for us is this dispossession and then the requirement to either work for another or if you can scrape by on state benefits, if your government provides benefits, or petty crime, or whatever else you have to do. Some people use it—and I think in everyday parlance in the UK, it’s much more of a cultural thing. So what class someone says they have is often more to do with someone’s accent than anything else. The kind of British version of Donald Trump, the guy who hosts the Apprentice TV show, he’s, uh— I don’t know, if he’s a—he’s probably not a billionaire. He’s a very rich business owner called Alan Sugar. He sees himself as working class because his background is—that’s his background and that’s like his accent. And he can think that and that’s, that’s fine. That’s one sort of interpretation of it, but for our perspective, he’s an employer. And his wealth is from exploiting the people that have to work for him because we don’t own businesses.

So obviously in the US there’s even different —there’s all kinds of different ways we’ll have a talk about class. Like, in the US, unions mostly talk about the middle class, talk about being middle class. Because of struggles over the past 100 plus years, a good number of people in blue collar jobs have been able to improve their conditions to the point where they can have a decent standard of living because of the struggles they’ve had. So that there’s a lot of union talk in the US of unions defending the middle class, blah, blah, blah, which is funny, really, especially from a UK perspective where middle class normally means kind of like posh people that like films with subtitles and stuff. So we use it as, not about classifying individuals, but about understanding and changing society. So for example, in our archive we have stories about Oscar Wilde, the author and poet and libertarian socialist. And sometimes people will say things like, “He wasn’t working class.” And it’s like, yeah, fair enough. But his political ideas and the kind of world that he wanted to create was one in which working class people were in control of society and were really able to make the most of our lives and live vibrant, free, beautiful lives. That’s the thing that interests us the most, that for us is the key thing.

TFSR: There are examples in the book that do not take place directly within the framework of the means of production and employment—you point to the intersections between the dispossession and the wielding of state, religious, or social power against populations that are marginalized, whether by ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, place of birth. Can you can you talk a little bit about that widening too of the framework of working class? Because I’m sure there’s some people that are some pretty strict Marxists or workerists out there who are of the perspective that, “Well, that’s all fine and good, but that is not working class.”

WCH: And that was one of the reasons that we specifically chose the name that we did, as opposed to something more populist like “People’s History” ala Howard Zinn, a historian who is a big influence on us. Because those vulgar— want to call themselves Marxists or workerists or whatever, are a problem. People who, while they talk progressive talk about overhauling society and building a new type of world, what they often mean in a lot of ways is that they mean that for white male factory worker-type people, and everyone else like women, or Black people, or Indigenous peoples should pretty much be quiet and stop being “divisive” until the revolution, and then all the other problems can be sorted out and hunky dory. And we think that is pretty terrible, in short, not only from a moral perspective, but also it’s completely counterproductive. And it’s a misunderstanding of what class is. While these people may often criticize what they see as identity politics, which is, in most cases, just people in oppressed groups fighting for their own self-interests. They, in fact, are adopting a crude identity politics of their own on the identity of being working class, which they normally also see as excluding other types of identities. And class doesn’t exclude other identities, it overlaps and intersects with all other identities. Obviously, most trans people are working class, most other LGBT people are working class, and the vast majority of the world’s working class are people of color. And they’re located primarily in the global south. And every other type of oppression and exploitation overlaps and intersects with class. For example, things like abortion: wherever you are in the world, whatever the laws are, generally, if you’re rich, you can get an abortion if you need one. Whereas if you are poor, you may not be able to get one, even if it’s nominally legal where you are.

So things like abortion rights are inherently part of a class conflict, class struggle. Abortion rights is just one example—all other types of oppression, racism, homophobia, transphobia, all that sort of thing is very much linked to class, and any single part of our class, fighting for our own interests, benefits all of us because these workerist-type people who would say that struggles of women workers against the pay gap is a section— is a sectional thing, not in the interest of a class of a whole, say, they don’t have that same perspective when workers in one industry go on strike, or one employer go on strike for a pay increase, because they rightly recognized in that case that a victory for one group is a victory for all. And it’s exactly the same with different sections of the working class divided up by any other arbitrary characteristic.

Things like the super-exploitation of migrant workers, or particularly oppressed racial groups, the low pay for black workers in many countries, fighting against that specific racism, exploitation, raises the bar for everyone. So there’s not the constant race to the bottom, in terms of paying conditions where employers can use us to undercut one another. So we thought that was really important to get across. And also point to, historically, that often it has been the most oppressed and the most underpaid workers who have been at the forefront of organizing for better pay and conditions. Not like some populist lefty is trying to say about migrant workers being used to undercut good union jobs or what have you. But more often than not, migrant workers are really at the forefront of workers struggle fighting for better paying conditions and have been. And through history, whether it’s people like agricultural laborers in the United States, or whether it’s people like cleaners in London, England right now, leading so many struggles. Obviously, historically, in the US, women textile workers were often forgotten about. But women textile workers were the first group of workers who properly organized in factories and took strike action. And in the (US) South, black agricultural workers and workers in industries like logging and mining were central and leading in organizing and fighting for better paying conditions, which benefited everyone, including white male workers who often tried to exclude women or black people from their unions.

TFSR: So I’ll totally admit that I haven’t read the book cover to cover and the intro says that I don’t have to so I can just pick it up whenever and say, like, I wonder what happened on June 15. But I am looking forward to continually reading portions as the days passed. I’m noticing a libertarian bent to the stories that are told, for example, I haven’t seen any acts of state by so-called worker states represented as working class events in the book. Could you talk about that a little bit?

WCH: Yeah, well, our approach is summed up in our slogan which is on the back of the book and on our social media accounts, and that’s, “history is not made by kings, politicians, or a few rich individuals, it’s made by all of us.” So that’s the perspective we’re coming from. So the act of politicians and governments isn’t particularly interesting to us because we’re believers in the principle that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself. And that was one of the rules of the First International —the first big international socialist organization. And that’s our view of things, that the thing that drives history is not the actions of governments, politicians, or the powerful, it’s the everyday actions, often really small and unnoticeable, by millions, hundreds of millions, billions of us. So that’s what we focus on.

Although we do feature some events which have been done in our name. That have been done by governments which call themselves representatives of the working class. Because we think that as well as learning from successful struggles in the past, we should also learn from our mistakes where terrible crimes have been committed in the name of the working class. So some of the things we include are things like the Soviet Union re-criminalizing homosexuality, which was decriminalized during the 1917 revolution and then in the 1930s was re-criminalized. And that led to the huge numbers of gay and bisexual men being sent to the gulags, to labor camps, to suffer horribly. And that was done in the name of the working class and fighting fascism. We think it’s important to remind ourselves of these things that while those of us who say we want a new world, our ideas are beautiful ideas in a lot of ways. And that we want to create a great world where there’s a lot more happiness and joy than we have now, and a lot less suffering. It’s important to bear in mind that having these lofty ideas in our heads doesn’t always mean that that’s how they work out in practice. And we should be constantly vigilant not to think that the ends justify the means when it comes to certain things.

TFSR: You talked about the limitations of the project in the introduction, such as the limit to two events represented for each day. You also mentioned where you’re starting from, the types of events that you’re aware of, linguistic factors that determine the scope of what you could include. But can you talk about this work in your project in the social media, or in the archives, the work of translating your social media posts on the days of history? Or if you’ve had success through translation to bringing histories that were formerly out of your reach into that wider fold of your project?

WCH: Can I check? Do you mean translating stuff from other languages into English? Or do you mean vice versa?

TFSR: Into English is what I meant, to bring it to your existing audiences. But also, I would imagine that there’s a give and take when it comes to the fact that you’re now doing translations into Arabic and other languages and it seems like you’re trying to expand that framework. Is that right?

WCH: We are very fortunate in that a number of people have got in touch and have launched sister pages, essentially, of Working Class History in other languages. So at the moment there’s WCH sister pages in Arabic, Farsi, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Norwegian, Swedish, and the latest one is Romanian, which is really cool and really exciting to see. Some of those groups also are researching their own events and writing up their own history more about their part of the world. So the Farsi page has a lot of stuff about Iranian radical history, which is really fascinating. And the Arabic page as well about the Middle East. And that’s great, because that’s teaching us a bunch of stuff that we didn’t know. And the Portuguese lot as well are writing a load of great stuff, not just about Portugal but about—especially about struggles in former colonies like Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, and Bissau. So that’s really great for us. And in terms of us finding out things because, as I said, when we first started the social media page, we got a few radical history calendar-type-things and went through and wrote some stuff up, but the ones that we found were massively US and Western Europe and male-centric.

So like I said, the majority of the time we spent looking up new things have been to try and diversify that and correct the bias and imbalance that was in it right from the beginning. And for doing that—not that I want to give any big corporations any praise—but I love Google Translate so much. It’s such an amazing tool that it can do pretty decent, pass-able translations from so many languages into English. So we do use that a fair bit to find out about things. The problem with it being that if writing about something is only available in a language that you don’t speak, you wouldn’t even necessarily know to look something up there unless you had knowledge of it in the first place, which you might not have if it wasn’t in English, if you see what I mean. So it’s a bit—it’s a bit chicken and egg. Basically, when we find out about something in a country or a place that we haven’t heard of, we can use that as an entry point and then read things about it and use Google Translate. And then that references other things which we can then look up. We go down rabbit holes. It’s quite a fun way to—like, nerdy, but a fun way to spend an afternoon like going down a rabbit hole. I did that recently just reading up various things about struggles by Japanese students and things in the 1960s and 70s. I’m sure that there’s lots of stuff that has been written about kinds of stuff by people in academia at some point or by students at different universities or whatever. That’s not the background that we at WCH come from. We wouldn’t even know if any of that stuff exists because most stuff that’s written for academia is then just never heard from again by anyone outside of it, which is a shame I think.

TFSR: Or it’s just behind a paywall so you have to have the JSTOR—shout out to Aaron Schwartz, but most people don’t have that sort of access.

WCH: Exactly. So problems remain where, in the availability of information around the world, but at least on a positive, things do seem to be getting better in that regard. And I think a lot of the time just driven by ordinary people researching stuff and writing it up and then sharing on social media, and then you can find out about it, look into more and what have you, and find more kinds of things that have been digitized around the place. And the more of everything that’s made available online and translated, eventually, the more that we get to find out about all of it. But so it is exciting seeing new things get to get digitized and put online. Yeah, it’s a slow process.

TFSR: Like off topic a little bit, but to the Google Translate thing? Yeah, Google is a terrible company in its application. But also, like, six years ago I was in Istanbul and I remember—like, I don’t speak any Turkish—but I remember sitting in a cafe and one of the workers came up to talk to me because I was sitting in reading, and they asked me what I was reading in Turkish. And I was like, showed them my phone and, like, typed in to Google Translate to translate into Turkish, like, “I don’t speak Turkish, sorry.” And they just put up their phone and they were like, “Okay, well, I was wondering what you were reading—” We just had this conversation showing screens to each other and eventually got to see this, like, barista’s artwork that they wanted to show me that they had drawn and it was just neat to be able to have this conversation that would have been excluded if not for the fact that we had this intermediary technology standing between us. It’s Utopic if not for the fact that it’s owned by a terrible Skynet corporation that is trying to control all the library books.

WCH: I guess you could say at least their business model is more to let people use stuff for free and then just make money off our data in private information, rather than—don’t know if it’s better or worse. Certainly we can make use of it more than, like, the other companies that buy up historical images and then their model is to try and own all the images and then make people pay to use them. Those terrible, terrible things. Capitalism is like, it’s bad?

TFSR: It’s like it’s enclosing everything. So have you considered making a Working Class History page in Esperanto?

WCH: If someone would like to take that on and do that they are very welcome to.

TFSR: Very diplomatic.

WCH: We’ve got a bunch of stuff about that. Esperanto has a really exciting and interesting radical history. And, sadly, a guy that we are planning on doing an interview about him—a guy called Eduardo Vivancos, just died a few days ago, aged 100. He was a guy who, he fought in the Spanish Civil War in the Durutti Column Militia and survived the war, obviously, but he was also a very prominent Esperantist who wrote and did a lot of stuff spreading anarchist and working class ideas in Esperanto, and was able to communicate with lots of people in China and Japan, in particular, at that time. So I think certainly that Esperanto was a really exciting Utopian project at the time. It has a really interesting history.

TFSR: It’s really easy to point to the limitations of it being such a Euro-centric language and what have you. Like, it’s definitely an imperfect thing, but the approach and the desire to have some sort of universal tongue among peoples, it’s a really beautiful idea. A universal tongue that’s not distinctly just English or German or French or Spanish or whatever else. I know that Radio Libertaire in Paris has a weekly Esperanto show that tries to teach listeners how to speak it, which I think is pretty cool to see that still alive. I don’t know.

WCH: Just you saying that and I think that is—the idea is really cool and really Utopian. But what popped into my mind as well is also—also recently what is also about things like Indigenous languages. And so many languages are dying out. I say “dying.” Have been eradicated essentially by colonialism and neocolonialism, particularly with the spread of English. So it is heartening to see, it seems like there’s been a real like growth in interest in trying to—particularly by indigenous peoples—to re-popularize things like indigenous languages and other languages are dying out, which I think is also really important because on the flip side of universal communication there’s also that, like, because of how our brains work, so much of the language we speak shapes how we can imagine things and how our minds work and having languages die is—those whole ways of thinking die out along with them and which is really sad.

TFSR: So in the US, the last national regime was pushing a program of patriotic education, attempting to reform and shape the inculcation of public school students away from influences of critical race theory and projects like the New York Times 1619 projects, as well as “People’s History” ala Howard Zinn, who you mentioned before. States in the US have, with various levels of success, attempted to bar ethnic studies programs and to ban books like Zinn’s. Can you talk about the approach of “People’s History,” which you mentioned as being—or at least in name, at least a bit populist—and it’s maybe like, Zinn’s work or Studs Terkel or other documentarians of working class experiences, how it’s, like, influenced y’all in working class history and why you think the reactionaries find it so threatening, like that sort of approach to popular history?

WCH: Some of the stuff especially being pushed by the last government was extremely worrying with their very blatant attempts to rewrite history, especially for, like, right wing people who like to complain about Black Lives Matter activists trying to rewrite history by removing some statues, and they actually try to rewrite history by making a lot of shit up and lying about it. It’s ironic at the least, especially as it’s also so completely nonsensical that—yeah it is good that there has been a real growth recently in more people-based history, more grassroots history, more Black history, more Indigenous history more history told from the perspective of Black people, Indigenous peoples, and so on. And that is great, and that so many people are out there doing that. But at the same time, that idea in the right wing that these ideas are, like, Marxist indoctrination of schoolchildren is predominant in any public education system is to such a complete joke that. I mean, it’s obviously not funny because it’s extremely disturbed. The fact that a lot of educational institutions pay at least a bit of lip service to teaching about slavery or the civil rights movement, I think a lot of teachers and educators are doing really great work. In a lot of ways, the way that history is still taught for the most part is still very much top down, Euro-centric, colonial, blah, blah, blah.

So anyway, that’s a bit of an aside. People like Howard Zinn was really a big influence. Reading his book for the first time was very exciting. And I think on a personal level, I don’t think I really realized it at the time— I read “War and Peace” as a teenager by like Leo Tolstoy who was an anarchist, but I also didn’t realize that at the time. And intersperse—because the books about the sort of war and all these countesses and counts and whatever. And it’s really fucking long. For anyone who has or hasn’t read or whatever, interspersed through this really long story is a kind an essay about the nature of history. And the thrust of it being that, like, history is not—obviously Napoleon or whatever is a great man of history, but Napoleon is not what has made this history happen. What’s far more important is the infinitesimally small actions of tens of millions of people every single day that goes to create what history is. And I think when I read that, at the time, I thought that was a bit random that this essay was in here amongst all this sort of stories of aristocratic love and intrigue and everything. That actually stuck with me way more than the rest of the book. I think that probably had a real impact on how I think about things later. So obviously it did have an influence on me personally and on WCH in general.

And for reactionaries, yeah, it is threatening because the idea that we as ordinary people have the power to make history and change society is the most threatening thing for the people who are in power now. Because what is in their interests is the fatalistic idea which I think—I don’t know about most people, but probably most people have at least at some time—is that things are the way they are because that’s the way they have to be, and there’s nothing we can do about it. And things will never change, blah, blah, blah. Which is obviously what people thought under Feudalism that the divine right of kings was something which could never be—which was, it was in the natural order of things and it could never be question never be changed. But then when people realize that, actually—Ursula LeGuin was a legendary anarchist, feminist scifi author, who sadly died a couple of years ago, said, I can’t be the exact words, I am paraphrasing. It’s not the right quote, so don’t quote me on it. “Any society that’s made by humans, however, can be changed by humans” which is, of course, true.

TFSR: I think there is some truth to the argument that they’re rewriting history. Like when we push different narratives, it doesn’t mean that people are making up facts. But history is a narrative that—or a series of narratives that we choose to accept or that are accepted by institutions and that shape the way that we view ourselves and we view the society in which we live. And a fundamental shift in that way of adopting, funnily this view that two pacifist at least anarchist-adjacent individuals like Tolstoy and Zinn had of the world… I wouldn’t call it Cultural Marxism like a lot of people on the right do. I think that it does pose a threat to the way that the world is constructed. And we can think outside of the Feudal bounds that we’re stuck in now even.

WCH: Yes. Yes, I concur.

TFSR: Along those lines there is the rewriting of history. But this isn’t even necessarily part of it, this is a byproduct of the fact that people are rethinking their relationship to historical figures who are in primacy in the historical framework—the historiographies that most of us have grown up in the US under in mainstream society. It’s been the history of great men, to paraphrase Gang of Four.

And the breaking down of that, the rethinking of these public figures who do have statues around, whether it be Christopher Columbus, or Thomas Jefferson, or General Robert E. Lee, or Conquistadors or missionaries on the west coast—they’re not even just in the West Coast of the United States. Cecil Rhodes, or whoever—like, statues have been toppled. Statues were at the center of Unite the Tight number one in Charlottesville in 2017, August 12. It was a fight over statues and public representation. And similarly, throughout the United States south there have been the toppling of other statues and monuments, either to individuals or to symbolic ideas of the southern soldier, like, facing north ready to, like, fight back the siege and re-impose—continually impose white supremacy. Symbols like this mean a lot to people. Enough for people to fight over or to like struggle to destroy to build something else. Like, I’d be interested in hearing how Working Class History members felt during this last couple of years, but in particular, this summer during the uprising that took place in so many places around the world.

WCH: It was an exciting time. Not to play down obviously, it came out of horrific events the brutal on-camera murders of unarmed Black men around the US—not to downplay the horror of it. The upsurge in Black-led, self-organized protest and militancy, not just around the US, but that also had an impact, partly because of US cultural dominance of the planet in large part, that also saw similar protests breakout all over the world, and as well as parallel movements in Nigeria—again about police brutality by the colonial era police force. So on the one hand, there was the Black Lives Matter movement. And then at the same time, from our perspective, it looked like a real surge of interest from people in radical history, people’s history, the history of past movements and colonialism and social movements. We had a massive growth in new followers and interactions with our content that was unprecedented, which was exciting for us as a history project, but then also seeing how many of the kinds of discussions happening were about history and the nature of history and the telling of it was interesting and inspiring as well.

Talking about the negative impacts of colonialism that’s not something which I can recall being on the public agenda in my lifetime which is tremendously significant. And then seeing the physical manifestations of that top down—bourgeois if you want to call it right wing, colonialist, capitalist history in the statues of right wing, rich, enslaving, genocidal monuments have been built to these—I think (that) these statues that—they say what our civilization is supposed to be about. That’s what we acknowledge and revere is wealth, genocide, racism, colonialism, and all that. And seeing those symbols being toppled, or damaged, or just graffitied and denigrated. And my favorite one was the Colston statue in Bristol, of an enslaver in Bristol, just being thrown in the river. Chefs kiss! That was really sort of inspiring to see.

Then for some people on the right to complain about, oh, this is rewriting history. These things are happening because people have studied history and a lot of cases, their bodies and their selves, they’ve experienced and lived this history through their ancestors, the trauma and they’ve possessed that and they know their history and the history has been studied and it’s being talked about and this is happening because of the actual history of things. The statute is not the history, the statue is a piece of metal put up by some rich person. This is being done by people who actually know the history, not just whoever Tucker Carlson or some other right wing [beep] spews out about whatever—and especially because so many of these statues as well were erected in in the US south were erected by pro-Confederate, pro-slavery groups like the Daughters of the Confederacy, literally in an effort to rewrite history and change the narrative about what the Civil War was about. About state’s rights as opposed to the enslavement of human beings. So, it’s an interesting time to be a People’s Historian.

TFSR: Some of the stuff that happened over the summer really, like, reminiscent of that, like—and this is like an old, I don’t know how old it is, like the two examples I can think of are—as flawed as the invasion of Iraq was, it’s very flawed—as much as I wish that it had not happened—like, the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein was a pretty powerful public image. At least, I’m not sure how much it was organic and how much it was put together by the invading forces—or the like decapitation of the statue of Stalin in Budapest in 1956. That’s a, there’s some really cool photos of that. But people like their symbols and also people like destroying their symbols.

WCH: And also all the right wing hysteria about them is like absolute nonsense. Like I don’t know if it was seen over here in the US, but in the UK there was this right wing counter protest to Black Lives Matter that happened by these mostly fascists, and mostly fascist Nazi racist types. And from having been crying about, “Oh, they defaced he statue of Churchill,” or whatever. Obviously you can say a lot of bad things about Churchill or whatever. But also, Churchill did—was involved in a big war against Nazis. So I’m not really sure that he is your boy as much as you think. I mean, yeah, he was a racist, genocidal anti-Semite pro-fascist, whatever. So they had this big protest but they got caught on camera like pissing on statues because they’re just drunk Muppets pissing on the statues that a couple of weeks before they were like, “Oh, look at these thugs,” crying like Churchill was a racist on [inaudible] or whatever. Being like, “Oh, that’s outrageous,” and then they just go piss on them. So, how real is the outrage, huh?

TFSR: Yeah. Yeah, here, I don’t know. There was—I remember seeing footage of like a certain neighborhood in Philadelphia where just a bunch of Italian American people were out in this park defending a statue of Columbus because they were afraid that someone that Antifa was gonna come and topple it or something.

WCH: (There) could be a few less statues of Christopher Columbus and some more statues of like Sacco and Vanzetti and Carlo Tresca and if you want to tie in American statues.

TFSR: Yeah totally. A statue the Galleani. I would appreciate that more than, like, a statute of Frank Rizzo. I think they took that one down at least but it was like a racist reactionary. Police Chief in—

WCH: Yeah, in Philly. I think that got blown up at least once or twice didn’t it?

TFSR:

I don’t know about that. The—maybe? The ones that I remember being—or the one that I remember being blown up that was to the police was the—

WCH: Haymarket one.

TFSR: Yeah, the Haymarket one. I think that’s great. That’s maybe the best thing the Weather Underground ever did.

WCH: Yeah, it was similar to a statue of Margaret Thatcher was decapitated by a man with a cricket bat when it was unveiled in England a few years ago that was a fun day.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Back to the interview…

WCH: Yep. Yep. Yeah.

TFSR: So I’ve been a fan of the Working Class History podcast for a while now. Would you talk about the work there and what you choose to cover in it? And do you have any favorite episodes that stand out?

WCH: Well, as I said, we started doing the podcast to try and look some more into some of these stories, and in particular, capture the voices of participants who took part in some of these movements and struggles, to learn from their experiences. We’ve been doing that for a while now. And in terms of what we choose to cover, we’ve got a massive list of episodes that we want to work on. It’s like 160 episodes or something and constantly growing. What we’re trying to do right now is prioritize producing episodes about social movements where the participants are at risk of, because of age, not being able to— And sadly a couple of people that we had lined up to interview about things have died recently before we were able to speak with them. So we’re trying to do a fair bit of stuff about struggles in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s right now, for the most part. Again, as with the rest of project, we tried to have a diverse selection of different types of stories and movements.

We’ve got a couple of series that we’re working through. They’re kind of intermittent series on themed things. We’ve pretty much wrapped up now our series about the Vietnam War where we had a lot of episodes about that, including possibly—I don’t know if it’s my favorite one, but certainly one of—it’s a miniseries about the Columbia Eagle Mutiny where we speak with a guy called Alvin Glatkowski. He was a merchant sailor during the Vietnam War. He was working on a ship with a friend of his, called Clyde McKay, that was carrying 10,000 tons of napalm to be used by US forces in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. He and Clyde hijacked a ship at gunpoint and sailed it to Cambodia, which was neutral, and his story is incredible. He hadn’t been recorded telling that story before. Hearing him tell it and then being able to put it out was something that personally I’m really proud of. And it’s a great story and a crazy story as well. So that’s a favorite, for sure.

Also, on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York, where LGBT people rose up against police harassment, was able to get in touch with few people who participated in the rebellion and were involved in the organizing afterwards, where people set up the Gay Liberation Front, which revolutionized the LGBT rights movement. That was really inspiring to talk to these people as well.

Another occasional series we’ve got is about the British Empire. And we did an episode on the—it was quite timely actually because it was while a recent wave of riots were happening in Hong Kong. I met with a bunch of people who were involved in the Hong Kong riots in 1967 against British occupation, British colonialism. And that was super interesting because I knew almost nothing about that before starting doing the research for that episode. So it was super interesting just to learn about their experiences growing up in British colonial Hong Kong. Especially because it’s always spoken about quite widely is an example of British colonialism done well, and getting to the meat of that. Because up until these riots took place, Hong Kong was a trading post, obviously, but also had a large number of super-exploited factory workers working in like really appalling conditions, making things like—the factory where it was started was a plastic flower factory, and things like that. And it was these riots in 1967 that were successful in substantially changing the nature of British colonialism in the country from a more openly violent and repressive, racist colonialism to, I guess you call it, I don’t know, a more kind of—more friendly Hillary Clinton-style of colonialism, if you want to call it that. So even these examples, people choose of colonialist capitalism being not so bad or what have you, it’s not due to any—it’s not due to the benevolence or the generosity of the oppressors or exploiters or the business owners or whatever. It was due to the self-organized struggle of the workers and the people in the area. So that was really interesting chatting to them as well. And also, in that one of the people I was talking … During the riots there was like a really high profile murder of a right wing talk show personality and that murder was a notorious unsolved murder in Hong Kong history. One of the participants in the interview basically told me who did it. Enough time had passed. And not the name of the person, because obviously they have descendants who could essentially the reasons behind it. I’m kind of a true crime buff, like in my personal life—it doesn’t accord with my political views at all. Other than that I do—

TFSR: Everybody gets their your guilty pleasures, that’s fine.

WCH: No, exactly. And a lot of stuff I listen to is about miscarriages of justice and stuff like that. There’s too many. A really great chat I had as well was a guy called Tariq Mehmood who is a member of the Asian Youth movements in Britain, who fought against racism in the 70s and 80s. Those are the first ones that jump into my mind right now. I’m sure I’m forgetting… I could keep going but I won’t.

TFSR: I know y’all had taken a break at some point. And so I dropped off and restarted it. But the ones for me that really stuck out—and I had to like do a little searching because it’s been a while—are the anti-Zionism movement in Israel I thought was a really fascinating multi-part episode. There was the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit, and sort of contextualizing that. And just the Angry Brigade episode I thought was really fascinating to hear voices affiliated with that. And the Grunwick Strike in 1976 I had no context for, that just sort of, like, opened up a lot of conversation for me of experience of, like, workers struggle in the UK among immigrant populations. And there’s just a lot in each of those discussions. And it’s really easy to talk about the context that you can grab out of that that explains where we’re at right now. It explains little snippets of these struggles that people have had that resonate with experiences that others have had. I really enjoyed those ones.

WCH: Cool, thanks. Some of those early ones, apologies for anyone who listen. The quality of them isn’t so great, but we have got better since then from a quality point of view as we’ve learned. And there was a reason that we did the Grumwick Strike episode first. Because we thought that was important just from the things that we’ve spoken about today, because that was an example where this was a group of—they were East African Asian women workers who self-organized a massive and militant struggle that lasted two years. And were unfortunately defeated in the end because the forces against them were just too powerful. Up until that point, the British trade union movement was chauvinist, essentially. The overarching thrust of the movement was towards excluding Black and Asian—Asian, meaning South Asian, primarily anyway—workers and trying to protect privileged conditions for their white members, as opposed to organizing all workers and fighting collectively for better conditions. And the women in the Grumwick Strike pretty successfully exploded that (myth). Obviously there’s still that chauvinist, nationalist current within the work, but it’s much more minor now. Worrying it seems to be getting a bit bigger with—it’s unclear how really it is, and maybe more Twitter-type personalities, villains like Paul Embry who are trying to resurrect this pro-nationalist idea of a traditional working class of white blokes—as opposed to workers uniting together in our class interests. That strike really successfully changed the general atmosphere of the workers movement in a way that made working people stronger, because of course we’re stronger when we’re united fighting against employers, when we’re not fighting amongst ourselves over scraps.

TFSR: So are you all seeking more help with the project? You’ve talked about sister pages coming up and translation work. If you are looking for more help in providing historical insights or translation work, I guess, like video editing, what sort of ways can people participate?

WCH:

There’s all kinds of ways people can help out. The primary things that we need help with at the moment are things around fact checking research and translation. So if anyone is up for helping with that, that would be amazing. Just get in touch. Email us on info@workingclasshistory.com.

TFSR: And where can listeners find out more about your work and grab the book?

WCH: Well, you can follow us on social media, just search whatever platform you’re on for Working Class History. You can listen to our podcast on every major podcast app like Apple, Spotify, whatever, just search Working Class History. There’s links to all of our information on our website, workingclasshistory.com. And you can get the book on our online store, which is at shop.workingclasshistory.com. And all of our work is funded through our readers and listeners on Patreon where you can also get the book for free depending on your patron level and access exclusive content at patreon.com/workingclasshistory.

TFSR: John, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you Thanks a lot for taking the time.

WCH: It was really fun, thanks for having me. And I hope that for the theme music for this you can get the rights to a Gang of Four “Not Great Men,” because I think that would be very appropriate.