Category Archives: Neoliberalism

The Post-Internet Far Right and Ecofascism with 12 Rules for WHAT podcast

The Post-Internet Far Right and Ecofascism with 12 Rules for WHAT

Book covers of "The Rise of Ecofascism" and Post-Internet Far Right" and text "The Post-Inernet Far Right & Ecofascism with 12 Rules for WHAT | TFSR 8-21-22"
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This week, our guests are Sam and Alex (not their real names). Sam was until recently the co-host of the 12 Rules for What podcast and is the co-author with Alex of their two books, The Post Internet Far Right and The Rise of Ecofascism. Sam is now focusing on writing at Collapsology Sub-Stack and the Collapse Podcast, and you can support Alex’s ongoing work with 12 Rules for WHAT podcast via their patreon or check out the podcast via Apple Podcasts or Channel Zero Network. We talk about fascism, ecological trends on the far right, Patriotic Alternative, Patriot Front, grifters, the Tories and antifascist activism. Oh, and a lot more.

Next week…

Next week’s show will feature an interview with a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement about the case of Dr. Mutulu Shakur and his struggle for compassionate release despite being 7 years past his date for release eligibility and his diagnosis of bone marrow cancer.

Announcements

Shinewhite Phone Zap

Anti-racist, communist prisoner held in North Carolina, James “Shinewhite” Stewart, is facing severe repression and deprivation at Maury C.I. where he was recently transferred; he’s been in solitary since he was transferred, denied food and his blood pressure medicine, and had various pieces of property and correspondence stolen, as well as mail tampered with. He is asking people to make urgent calls and emails to Secretary Eddie M. Buffaloe of the NC Department of Public Safety in order to demand SW’s transfer out of state (called “interstate compact”) to West Virginia:

Shinewhite wanted to share that his politics have evolved in such a way that they no longer align with the Revolutionary Intercommunal White Panther Organization (RIWPO), so he’s stepping down from his role as National Spokesperson for the organization. However, Shinewhite still believes deeply in Intercommunalism and the liberatory vision of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party (RIBPP).

Indonesian Anarchist Paralegal Fund

Anarchist Black Cross in Indonesia, Palang Hitam, is fundraising for their paralegal trainings for anarchists and anti-authoritarians. You can learn more and contribute at Firefund.Net/PalangHitam

BAD News: Angry Voices from Around The World

A new episode of the A-Radio Network’s monthly, English-language podcast, BAD News. This month it includes an interview with Greek Anarchafeminist group “Salomé”, a chat with an organizer of the Weekend Libertaire in St-Imier (Switzerland) on the 150th anniversary of the first anti-authoritarian International, and a call for solidarity with anarchist prisoners. Give a listen!

Bodily Autonomy Rally in the South East of Turtle Island

There’s a rally next Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Justice AA Birch building in Nashville to protest the abortion ban in TN. Others in the area, keep an ear out for demonstrations in South Carolina despite the overturning of the 6 week abortion ban, and because of the 20 week abortion ban now in effect in North Carolina. More on the latter two pieces of news and ways to support folks seeking abortions at linktr.ee/CarolinaAbortionFund

Firestorm Benefit Concert

There’s a benefit party & queer country show at the Odditorium on Wednesday, August 31 for Firestorm’s building purchase, right across the street from the venue. It runs from 6pm to 10pm and you can find out more by checking out their social media.

Blue Ridge ABC Letter Writing Event

We’ve been forgetting to announce, but on Sunday, Sept 4th at West Asheville Park from 3-5pm you can find Blue Ridge ABC writing to prisoners. They’ll provide a list of political prisoners with upcoming birthdays or facing repression who could use some words of support, plus paper, pens and addresses. Come down, meet some folks and send some love behind bars.

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Featured Track:

  • Bella Ciao by Nana Mouskouri from Revolutionary Songs of the World
  • Bella Ciao by Redska from the Bella Ciao 7″
  • Bella Ciao by Leslie Fish from It’s Sister Jenny’s Turn to Throw the Bomb

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves for the audience with any names, preferred pronouns, or other information about yourself that you care to share?

Sam: Yes, my name is Sam Moore, I use he/him pronouns. Someone recently asked me if I had other identifying information, but this name is, of course, a pseudonym. This is not my real name. So I guess the information that we have about ourselves, both of us, we were, until very recently the the co-hosts of a podcast called 12 Rules For WHAT, and the author of two books, Post Internet Far Right and The Rise of Eco Fascism. I’ll let Alex say if he wants to dox himself any further than that.

Alex: I’m Alex, and I use he/him pronouns. I am also the co author of those two books. I’m still a host of 12 Rules For What We are both anti-fascist activists and researchers as well.

TFSR: I’m excited to have you all on the show. I’ve been an avid listener of your podcast. Since you joined the Channel Zero Network of anarchists podcasts, regular listeners to our show may be familiar with your amazing jungle, but for folks who aren’t familiar with the 12 Rules For WHAT podcast, as the shared project that the books are coming out of, can you speak a bit? Give a brief rundown on the project, its scope, and its goals moving forward from here?

Sam: So maybe I could do the history, because I’ve now left the project as of about two weeks ago. I’ll just say what it was when I was involved. Alex can tell you all about what it will become when it becomes its full self in the future.

So starting in 2018, there was a notable absence in the UK anti-fascist movement of understanding of the far right and the different ways in which it had been shifting and moving and changing and adapting to the conditions of the internet, and adapting to the kind of different social forces that were at play on the far right in the UK at that time. It’s quite a peculiar time, for the far right in some ways. Through the Cameron period, so that’s from 2010 to 2016 when David Cameron was the Prime Minister, there had been a large Street movement called the EDL. Which started actually before that. But the basic idea of the EDL, the English Defense League, was obviously far right, but also quite a quite complex movement. It was often accused of being fascist, I think a lot of people felt it was an apt subscription. I don’t think it was necessarily, retrospectively, but I think it was a pretty decent description at the time. It’s politics were militantly Islamophobic. Hatred of Muslims was it’s ruling idea.

However, in 2017, and 2018, there was a kind of a shift. So the EDL started to decline, it has not become the kind of the the most important figure or component of the UK far right and it was replaced, partially because of it’s very charismatic leader, Tony Robinson, left to do other things and became a news grifter or what he described as a ‘citizen journalist.’ He got into various legal troubles, and there was a movement around him being released from prison where he was put for obvious breaches of contempt of court and various other kinds of problems he ran into. That meant that the EDL, which was the clear defined center of gravity on the UK far right side started to dissolve.

It’s also true that on the parliamentary wing of the far right, or not parliamentary because they weren’t in Parliament, but the more electoral wing of the far right – UKIP, Brexit, and so on, had basically won. There was this kind of contestation of what Brexit was supposed to now mean and that meant that all kinds of other things were being pulled into the orbit of the far right, and lots of different kinds of things were at play at once.

So 12 Rules For WHAT, just to get to the very long end of that history, intended to understand this conjuncture. The histories that co-informed it, the ways in which the far right had changed its political forms, the way in which it changed the way it organized over the previous 10 years, the rise of the internet and so on, to get away from the stereotypes of the far right that people have held, which is the all that they are all Neo Nazis, (which is not true), or that they’re all just conservatives, (which is also not true). We needed to differentiate, to pull those things apart, and to see what we could do then, as anti-fascists, in order to counter them.

Alex: I would also say that having a broader audience was was a good thing that we got, but we would mainly try to talk to the anti-fascist movement as it was in the UK. Because of the kind of misunderstandings or misconceptions about how the far right was currently constituting or constituting at the time, there was kind of a failure to act in a way that would properly oppose those forces as anti-fascist needed to oppose them. So, from the start, we also had discussions about anti fascism, about movements, and how you build movements as well. There was two components to it. It was talking about the far right, but also about anti fascism, which oftentimes goes really un-interrogated as a form of political activity and we wanted to discuss that.

TFSR: Now moving forward, are you continuing in the same trajectory now that Sam has left the show?

Alex: Yeah! I think we did some really, really good stuff. I want to continue doing good stuff. I don’t really have radically different positions from Sam. We agree. I think you kind of have to agree to write the kind of books we did. There’s not gonna be a massive diversion.

Sam: If people are looking for gossip about the collapse of 12 Rules, I’m afraid there’s very little. All there is is a sense from me that we had completed the project, to some extent, that we set out to do. I think, if you read our two books, there’s a really quite good account of the far right in those books in scholarly areas. The one thing everyone agrees on at an academic conference, is there must be another academic conference. But I also think that you can get to the end of something. I think, for my part, I got to the end of that. I’m sure Alex will produce things that I could never have conceived of. But nevertheless, I feel I’ve come to the end of the exploration of the far right. That’s kind of it, I suppose.

Alex: I suppose there’s the difference there, because I still care about the far right. I think it’s important to oppose whereas, Sam has moved on to…

TFSR: Oh yeah he has gone social fascist! [laughs]

Alex: He was always a Nazi! Just never exposed himself till now. [laughs]

I was just reflecting on that a bit more seriously, I was thinking about, “was it worth doing on my own?” I was 50/50 about whether to carry on with it, and I kind of got persuaded by a few people in the anti-fascist movement who describe it as like a ‘movement resource.’ I think it has value in itself of being a reflective space for anti-fascists in the UK and elsewhere, as well.

TFSR: Sam, you mentioned that you’re not going to be working on the podcast anymore. I wonder if you wanted to shout out your other podcast and the newsletter that you’re moving along with (Collapse) and maybe introduce listeners who haven’t heard it, to what it is, and also tell us what the hell a substack is?

Sam: So I was mentioning that part of the interesting thing about the far right in 2018, was they had won Brexit, but they didn’t know what Brexit meant. Of course, there’s this wonderfully surreal answer from Theresa May, who is the prime minister from 2016 to about 2018 or 2019 perhaps, when she says, “Brexit means Brexit,” which is just beautifully circular. To be clear we didn’t know what Brexit was supposed to be. So there was this sense that across the political spectrum, and including on the far right, lots of people were trying to work out what they thought they meant by Brexit, and therefore impose something on it.

It seems to me that the basic political fact of the rest of our lives will be climate change, right? That will entail not only hotter summers, like we’re currently going through the UK. We now have a summer which is a new thing for the UK. But also it will entail possibly social collapse, something quite slow, but nevertheless, quite sustained. A fairly likely interpretation of what might happen. So that event will happen. But it will also, just like Brexit, require someone to give it some meaning, require someone to articulate what that collapse is, what its story is, what are we supposed to do now, and so on.

It seemed to me that the prudent thing, or the long range strategic thing for the left, is to consider what left wing politics would be, given that basic fact, given the need for extraordinary levels of solidarity over the next century internationally. But also given the need to re articulate a politics that doesn’t contain some sort of brilliant utopia where everything is saved, where everything is transformed. Our politics, essentially, is without a future, but nevertheless, is hopeful in some other sense. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, if it sounds like I don’t have the specifics worked out, that’s because I don’t.

So the project is to try and find our way to political theory adequate to our moment of collapse, without simply saying, “everything is different now.” And without saying, “everything is the same as it always was,” and we can just carry on as if the left was in the 20th century or the 19th century or like we’re all heading towards the sunny uplands of the future forever. These are not the facts. That’s the project of thinking about collapse now, I think.

TFSR: I think you’ve definitely set yourself up with a very large project that will keep you busy for a long time. That’s really fascinating, though. I’ve been cutting back on podcasts, actually, so I just only now just got around to listening to the first episode. tIt was the introduction that was in the 12 Rules stream. It was really interesting. So I’m looking forward to that.

As you’ve mentioned, you’ve published two books over the last two years, Post Internet Far Right from Dog Section Press, 2021, as well as The Rise of Eco Fascism from Polity Press 2022. First up, congratulations to both of you on this. That’s awesome.

Alex: Thank you.

TFSR: Yeah. So, Post Internet Far Right… I might call it PIFR from here on out. I was afraid if I called it Piffer, you’d give me a weird look. So I’m going to call it PIFR.

Alex: Some people call it Piffer.

Sam: Pif is a piece of genuine UK slang, which you can use. So maybe I’ll tell you what that means afterwards. [laughs]

TFSR: Please take some time to think up what it means. So PIFR kind of felt like a theme park ride, if you don’t mind me saying, it was a sort of a ‘not so fun house,’ the reader passes through on a boat as monsters pop up along the way, a presentation of relationally of organizations, events and modalities, but also taking place on a timeline. That seems kind of like an appropriate approach to setting the development and stage of important questions of how to counter the far right while attempting to avoid the pitfalls of writing 1,000 Page academic treatise or homogenizing all the subject matters by saying, “everyone’s fascist that we don’t like.” I do want to note that while I made that little crappy metaphor of the monster house, I don’t mean to say..

Sam: It’s a great metaphor!

TFSR: Thank you very much. You can use it, if you want to. Second edition, you can put that on the back of it. I don’t mean to say that the approach was a menagerie of freaks, to use a phrase (I’m paraphrasing) that you’ve said on the show before, the focus on individual instances, or events, or people personalities, that tend to draw a lot of shallow recognition and attention from people, but more as like a mapping of an ecosystem of relationships.

So first up, I’m wondering if you can talk a bit about this approach to writing your book, how you sort of created this wending path to take the readers on and share your definitions of terms like ‘far right’ and ‘fascist,’ why is it important to be clear about your language when talking about our enemies?

Alex: Well, I think the structure of the book is quite deliberate. We start off with a chapter on feelings, the very kind of blobby feelings you get when you’re online and depressed, or online and angry. We kind of expand out from that very individual, very singular point of reference inside someone’s head and their individual feelings, out to ultimately eco fascism and the end of the world.

In that gap, we kind of trace their journey of expanding far right variation, basically. We wanted to do that, because oftentimes people see these different scales on a level on their own. There’s no connecting them together, there’s no understanding how someone could be radicalized and what that could mean and how that radicalization then transfers to more real world “political action.” Oftentimes, it’s the neo Nazi teenager who commits a mass atrocity is sprung up out of these very pat reasons for radicalization. Like he was bullied or he saw some bad memes and then went bad.

We wanted to understand how someone can go through a process and oftentimes, it’s a very short process as well. There is this idea of the pipeline and we wanted to introduce other kinds of mechanisms in which people could become fascist, or members of the far right, or Nazis or whatever. So also talk about ruptures, we talk about breaks in people’s political thinking and political activity, just as much as a slow, steady pipeline, which we think has been the ‘go to’ easy answer for a lot of these questions.

Sam: I think that the arguments of the book, is the structure of the book. They are the same thing. So it is a winding path, but I think it’s supposed to be also an ascent through a collection of ways, as Alex was saying, I think is really good phrase, “blobby feelings.” There’s a certain sense of numinous things gliding inside you. If you ever just sat for a long time, or even just like a short while and just thought about the kind of various things that are going on inside you, which I recommend doing, they are indeterminate, they are vague, they are inexpressive. So politics can’t just rely on them kind of being fully formed. I think we send the book that it has to make them march. The purpose of the infrastructure of the far right that we explore through the first few chapters after the feelings, is the things that would would make these feelings politicized essentially, which will make them able to reproduce themselves, will provide a community in which they live, will provide a means by which they can be disseminated throughout the world, and so on.

So those are all the kinds of different aspects of that, and that loops through action on the streets in the classical fascist mode, it loops through online communities, it loops through joining organizations, most prominently right now in the UK – Patriotic Alternative, most common in the US perhaps – Patriot Front, but also the Proud Boys and other things like that. So there are there are all kinds of ways in which these feelings are reproduced, remade, politicized, articulated, drawn out and so on.

On this thing about the precision of terminology, far right and fascism. In that book we actually don’t give a good definition of either. We do note that there are gradations, I should say the definition of Eco fascism are absent. It’s not that we shirked that, we delayed it for another book. So the the need for a precise terminology, is not because the world is full of precise objects, which are easily categorized and easily found and easily kind of put in their place. The reason for precise terminology is strategic. The need for that is so that you can do something with the object.

I’m trying to think of the right metaphor. So on a coastal wall, a wall next to the sea. You get these measurements like, “This is how far the tide was up. This how far the tide is up,” and they have numbers on them. But political politics isn’t like that. You can’t say, “oh, this person is this radical. Seven out of 10 radical. This person is nine out of 10 radical. This person is 10 out of 10 radical, you really need to be worried.” This is not possible, partially, because the coastal wall itself is going up and down. Like it’s kind of sinking, kind of moving up or down all the time, there are warps in the wall and the way the measurement works, so it doesn’t quite work. But at least what the precision of the terminology gives you a sense of how the dynamics of the sea are changing or something. This metaphor is really torturous. It’s making your metaphor about the funhouse seem exceptionally crystal clear, although I think it’s a really good metaphor, actually, I really do like it.

So the idea is that it’s not that the world is precise, the world is very messy, and there’s a need to like strategize about the world in order to bring it into its clarity. Not because the clarity pre exists and is out there, and you just kind of go and find it. But because politics is a matter of making clear making distinctions and organizing the world in a certain kind of way. And that requires you to think in a certain kind of strategic way as well.

Alex: Also a kind of trap, quickly before we get into our actual definition, which Sam is gonna give because I can’t remember what we actually wrote… The point of being very definitely clear and defined is oftentimes a tendency on the radical left within anti-fascist movements, and indeed, even wider society, is the way to label something as a bad thing that we must reject wholeheartedly is to is to label it a fascist thing. This is really tricky, because then you start kind of merging lots of different things together into one label, which is very unusable imposing an opposing all different kinds of stuff.

Oftentimes people talk about the transphobes, TERFS, being fascists. It’s like, “okay, we can acknowledge the relationships that transphobic radical feminists have with the Christian Evangelical right wing groups in America and the UK, we can acknowledge those alliances without putting these people who self identify as feminists in with people who definitely don’t self identify as feminists. This is obviously not a defense of transphobia or transphobes. It’s to acknowledge that there are things that are not fascist which are also awful and should be opposed and fought against and worked against as well.

So, oftentimes, in certain kinds of more liberal strains of anti fascism as well, the kind of mass terror of the border, or the mass terror of the prison system, or of policing in general, is kind of put into the realm of acceptability. Because it’s non fascist, and it’s not. The border isn’t fascist, it’s part of the ongoing mechanisms of neoliberal capitalism. You know, it’s the norm. It’s not a fascist thing. It’s a liberal capitalist thing.

So, to draw in all of the other stuff into our critiques, we need to be very clear about what they are and what they aren’t. We’ve said, and this has been a big theme for the show is, “where is the biggest harm, societal harm, being caused on the broad spectrum of the right?” You can look at something like Atomwaffen, they did murders, but they kind of merely murdered each other. The biggest threat on the right comes from Border Force, or the Republican Party, or the overthrow of Roe V Wade and the abolition of abortion in half the states of America. So that’s where we need to acknowledge that that stuff is not necessarily fascist, but also that it should be vehemently opposed.

Sam: One thing Alex said that’s kind of the danger of the thing I was mentioning before about the strategy, is you get into the same kind of traps that Alex is talking about when you pursue that notion of strategic too far. Because then what you do is you decide that whatever you aren’t capable of opposing must be fascism. So, if you’re really good at setting the discourse on Twitter, if that’s what you got as a movement, then you’re gonna decide that the things you need to oppose our part of the discourse on Twitter. And if you’re really good at opposing street movements, then you’re going to decide the thing you need to oppose is street movements, or if you have a legal apparatus, you’re going to decide that thing you need to oppose is the legal apparatus.

In some sense, although I’ve argued in favor of a strict strategic-ness, or the use of a political strategy to guide definitions, at the same time, it is essential that we don’t simply just decide that whatever we happen to have, must be the right answer, because the far right is always changing. You’re gonna build capacity to oppose one part of it, it’s going to change, and then you’re going to be stuck opposing an iteration of it, because that was in the past. There are some really key examples of this in the UK in particular, I don’t want to open old wounds with the audience, maybe I won’t go into that.

TFSR: Anti fascism in the United States’ conception and the way that it could be adopted by a lot of people who were liberals and who were radical leftists, and who are radical centrists is because they can point to this one historical example where, in the 1940’s the US sent military across the ocean and then they fought against this absolute evil above all other evils. So, either something equates with that absolute evil, or it doesn’t. It also puts us in the same boat, as it were, as the institution that was continuing to impose Jim Crow at that period of time in the US South and supporting redlining in northern states and such.

Sam: I think it gets through like a conception of the global far right. It’s important, particularly now, thinking about the way in which, for example, the government of Modi, and the government of Bolsonaro, and the erstwhile government of Trump in America, and various other far right movements around the world, how do they all intersect? How do they kind of how to tactics flow between them? How can you make linkages? That was as true for the historical things you’re talking about? Right? There’s an interesting book, I’m not going to affirm it totally, but an interesting book called Hitler’s American Model, which looks at the way in which certain aspects of race law in the US were implemented by the Nazis, to the extent that some of the Nazis, even quite seedier Nazis, at some points regard the US having gone too far, which is, of course, not historically how it’s borne out. It will not be correct to equate Jim Crow with the Holocaust.

TFSR: But the Reservation system, the use of smallpox blankets…

Sam: So most of the time, most of the things they draw directly, are actually about the policing of Black Americans, rather than than the Reservation system and so on. Because when the Nazis are doing this in 1930’s, they regard the indigenous population as essentially a kind of vanished thing, it’s always in terminal and inevitable decline, a kind of defeated race. It’s interesting that to some extent, actually, the indigenous peoples of America are treated as a kind of a warning for Germans of what will befall them if they do not fight for their racial superiority. They will be crushed, as they see Indigenous Americans as having been. There is a whole complex history there about the way in which they understand again, this question of political events. Then their interpretation, their meaning comes later, this whole question about how they understand the genocide of the Americas as both a glorious achievement of the white people, and also simultaneously as a warning of what will befall them.

TFSR: That whole holding yourself as a discriminated or oppressed population simultaneous to viewing yourself as being Superman and elite and whatever, I’d like to get back to that in an upcoming question.

Pivoting a little bit. So technology and online sociality have shaped how the far right organizes, as well as everyone else in society, in some surface ways what it looks like. Alex set a challenge in its 2019 episode of Dissident Island, unless I’m getting that wrong, in the wake of the Christchurch shooting for anti-fascists to understand the new spheres of radicalization that were visiblalized by that tragedy for a lot of us. I feel like PIFR was meant to be a tool to further that challenge and as more and more interaction is occurring online, especially through the COVID pandemic, and with new platforms, there’s a continual need to grow and learn that terrain.

I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about some of the shifts in anti-fascist activism, how you feel the movements have done ala the far right and fash and counter organizing online? Are there any projects you know that are working on the cutting edge, delving into challenging the spread of fashy ideas in virtual or augmented reality?

Alex: Do you want to go first? I went first last time.

Sam: How well did we sculpt the internet? Or how well do we understand the internet in that book? Well, the book is, is now one year old, which means that is written two years ago. Therefore the internet has changed immeasurably since that. There’s always this sense that one is kind of discussing something that has happened a long time ago in the past when trying to talk about the dynamics of internet spaces.

One thing that’s happened in particular, is the uneven distribution of things like discord servers, I just need to be really concrete about it, the far right are using discord servers more than they were when I first started writing the book, but they’re also using discord servers less than they were at the peak of the book, because Discord had a clampdown on its terms or conditions. To actually impose them, as opposed to being kind of more or less laissez faire. Telegram continues to be an important workplace where far right meet.

But I think we shouldn’t get too focused on exactly what the interface is supposed to tell us about the far right in general. What is that supposed to inform us about? I think we described in the book. We talked about a realm of affordances. There’s kind of a sense in which, and affordances is like… it’s a thing and an object, or a thing in the environment that presents itself to you as an opportunity for you to do something. So for example, I’m holding out a mug. But it’s so obvious that the way I’m holding the mug is the wrong way to hold the mug. Right, the handle is here. I’m supposed to hold the mug by the handle. This mug has been designed to have an affordance that I can choose to pick up or not. But as you can see, I’m holding it the wrong way.

And that’s important, because in some ways, the way the internet is designed, is as a collection of affordances for action, right? Like the ‘Share’ button looms very large, it’s like, “Please share this thing.” There’s a there’s a consistent vocabulary across websites, and across designs of operating systems to make everything very easy to use. It’s like you’re kind of in an environment where the whole of the thing, everything around you, is this big handle offering itself to you. So, this space is extremely designed and nevertheless, it’s totally possible like it is with a mug, to use it wrong, and to use it against the grain.

I think there’s been excess, at least in the liberal press, about the kind of determinism of technology over far right politics. I can think of some really heinous articles. For example, the article in Rolling Stone about 4chan, which declares that 4chan… the posts are displayed according to an arcane logic, impossible to work out for mere mortals. “Guys, they are in chronological order. The top post is the most recent one, and then it goes down.” It’s not that hard to work out. So, this mystification of the internet that I think happens in lots of the press, and we will try to cut through that. You’re on the internet, you know what it’s like on the internet. Then you read an article, you’re like, “That’s not what it’s like to be on the internet.”

So how does the far right use the internet now? I couldn’t tell you, because I stopped doing this stuff some time ago, but Alex did not. So he can tell you.

Alex: Okay, so how well has the anti-fascist movement done countering the far right online? I think it’s a tricky question to answer because how do you define successful opposition online? One kind of marker of success, of course is deplatforming. So like a certain prominent far right account is taken down, there is cause for celebration, people will move on to the next one. The internet is a mechanism for disseminating information, people dox people, it’s shared widely, there is some kind of regulatory pressure on that person to stop being a fascist or stop being a Nazi, or stop being on the far right, and things like this.

I think what we need to acknowledge is the fact that the internet is owned by these giant companies, and these very rich people, it’s something we can’t ever get away from. So we’ve always talked about just on its own, appealing to our internet masters to delete certain fascists or reject people from from their platforms… That can only be one tiny, tiny part of what we need to do. Ultimately, in my opinion, the way anti fascism is successful is building movements offline, street movements, investigatory collectives, whatever, in order to bring opposition into the real world.

In terms of doxing, it is really useful to be able to spread awareness about a particular individual or a particular organizer, I think we do need to be careful. I think this is a particularly American anti-fascist movement phenomenon of because basically doxing any member of any far right organization as a thing that must happen. The problem with that is that it has some kind of disciplinary function, some of those people who are adopted will stop being fascists. But if there’s a doxing without consequence, then it starts to lose a lot of its power as well. What you end up creating is a movement of out and proud Nazis who don’t mind being very fascist in their public lives, online, wherever. Then you have a problem, which needs to be opposed in a different way.

So basically, I’m just coming back to the fact that it’s quite difficult to measure a successful online opposition. Because the internet is ever changing and ever moving around.

Sam: The sense in which you can kind of like push things, it’s kind of a system with lots of water in it or something. You squeeze one part of it and the water just flows somewhere else, you can’t compress the water, you can’t get rid of it. That’s a bit pessimistic, maybe, as a metaphor.

I should say that in addition to… I am less skeptical than Alex of the utility and power of large card companies to moderate things on their platforms. After the Christchurch shooting, there was a thing called the Christchurch call, which was begun by the government of New Zealand and France, signed on to by Facebook, Google, all kinds of big internet companies. They’ve done a relatively good job at removing some extremist content. Definitely, like the more kind of terroristic and neo Nazi elements of things have been pretty effectively removed because of that. That is a serious victory. I am, of course, also slightly worried about the kind of the creeping States that kind of comes and does your anti fascism for you.

Of course, in Europe, we have models of anti-fascist states that are constitutionality anti-fascist, Germany is the most obvious example. It is illegal to be fascist in Germany. The German police enforce that law very strictly. It’s not easy to be to be a neo Nazi in Germany for very good reasons. I don’t think the German state employees that law upon the left, as far as I’m aware, I don’t think there’s ever been the kind of example of that happening.

I mean, this is something particular about Germany, that other countries wouldn’t do as do as well. But I’m less terrified of the powers of the States and giving them more capacity to organize civil society. Why am I saying this? Maybe I don’t believe any of that. But I said it now. So I’m going to stick with it.

TFSR: Out of pure stubbornness. While it may be difficult to be a fash, like an out and out fash, in the way that people aren’t marching around Germany for the most part flying Nazi flags. However, you’ve had this ongoing crisis where it turns out that members of security forces have been participating in secret telegram groups and organizing among themselves, or then you’ve got people that are flying some old preexisting German flag in replacement of the Nazi flag, and it technically doesn’t check that mark on the box and showing up at QANON events until somebody can write that into law than the government’s unable to respond to it in that way.

I guess what I’m wondering also, in addition to what you all have said is not so much and as it’s been pointed out, you compress the thing and then the water comes out in different places. It seems like the building of the skill set of being able to address the changes as they occur by trying to look for innovation on far right uses of the internet, not just looking at new platforms, and not Just breaking encryption or actually just finding weaknesses and code to get the contents of whatever Discord or Rocket Chat is happening. I wonder if there’s any groups that you’re aware of online, or networks that are public that have been pretty good about keeping an eye on developments and far right applications of technology for organizing? It’s okay if you don’t.

Alex: I would say that the leaks that have come and been published by people like Unicorn Riot, for example, has been really useful to researchers. There is a there is a contingent of antifascist online who have the ability to breach some of these platforms, or at least get into these spaces like Discord. That has proved very useful, like the leaking of the Iron March forum, all the messages, all the DMS, all the profiles, has been materially useful to investigators in the UK, for example. Researching stuff that had come out past National Action, after that was proscribed.

As a society, we still haven’t particularly worked out how to… people share around privacy manuals and how to be secure online, but the mass of people have no understanding of how to do that, there is still an ever increasing trove of information out there if you know how to find it. That is materially useful to anti-fascist movements, and it has been. There’s a group of which I am peripherally involved with in the UK called Red Flare, who have made use of this information quite a lot.

Sam: In providing investigations for the Times, and other newspapers in the UK, as well as publishing their research.

TFSR: Unless anyone had anything else to say I was gonna move on to the next question.

Sam: I was just going to say about the German case right? So there’s the thing called, I’m going to horribly mispronounce this. Reichsbürgerbewegung. It means Reich People’s Movements, or Reich Citizens Movements, in general. And it’s essentially a German Q Anon. The main way in which things like fascist and Nazi sentiment get channeled, because they are definitely there in German society, I’m not denying that there’s a problem with neo Nazis. But the way in which they get channeled is not much more peculiar, much more conspiratorial, much more syncretic movements, like Q Anon in the US, right? There’s no part of US politics more well stated, and this is true for UK as well, than. “we don’t like Hitler.” Hitler is the ultimate enemy even for much of the US far right. Because what justifies the US’s place in the world is the moral authority it gets from crushing nazism. It crushes fascism, it’s capitalist, it’s not fascist, it’s not communist. It defeats both these enemies. That’s what gives the US it’s right to hegemony. It’s a right by conquest of the global order.

The UK, although it’s not hegemonic in the same way as the US nevertheless, also thinks about the right very deeply. Therefore, there’s a need to not express fascism in terms of like sieg heiling, and Roman salutes, and doing silly walks in the streets. There’s a need to kind of express it in these different peculiar ways. That’s obviously much more acute and much more concrete in Germany. Where waving a swastika in the street will not only get you proscribed like it will in the UK, or punched in the head like it would in the US, but will also get you arrested, thrown in jail.

TFSR: I will say I was warned not to wear my RAF shirt when I was in Germany, because apparently it is illegal to wear symbols of the RAF, which is interesting, but definitely not the same scale as what you’re talking about with swastikas. That’s a good point. I appreciate that.

A major contradiction in far right thought often is a simultaneous uplifting of the capital “I” individual as a downtrodden elite, as well as the subsumption of that individual to a leader who represents the greatest possibilities of the collective. This is kind of adjacent to the ‘to many fears in the reich’ problem. This brings us to the topic of grifters and influencers. I feel like looking back to the position of the alt right, generally as an umbrella, it’s street power and media presence. There was an amazing groundswell of talking heads and swarms of neck beards and trads ready to show up in the streets during the heady days of 2016 through 2019. Where are those influencers and swarms now, have they retreated to walled gardens online or been successfully de-radicalized and re radicalized towards an anti racist position? And I wonder if you have any anecdotes that you want to share?

Alex: I think these things are again, fairly hard to track. Obviously the the alt right collapsed quite spectacularly. What we’ve seen in its place has become these massively fragmented subcultures, and micro movements in between the bigger things that still remain, for example, the followers of Nick Fuentes, the proud boys would be another example of that. And, of course, ultimately Q Anon.

It’s not clear that the alt right morphed into Q Anon. I think Q Anon comes from a different place, really. It’s not made up for the same demographics. But what we think is going to happen is these kind of fragmentary bits and pieces of online far right subcultures and online far right activity, are going to kind of reform themselves in some form. We are beginning to see those kind of moves happening behind the activity, for example, January 6, we had an episode on it at the time. You can see some of those movements coming in behind it and going forward in defense of it, and in defense of Trump’s actions in the run up and on the day of January 6, you can see formations occurring.

Most importantly, we’ve seen the capitulation of the Republican Party too much, much more extreme explicit far right movements and ideas than they ever were in the Trump era. Trump kind of opened the door in many respects to these things. There was a general kind of acceptance of the of the “crazies” in order to give their sclerotic party some kind of vitality. But what we’re seeing is that is those kinds of people, now I’m being more institutionalized within the party, and much more open and explicit relationships as well.

So the the kind of danger of this is, the alt right, it was always difficult to work out, when it did kind of materialize in the streets, it was always quite chaotic, always quite incoherent in many ways. You saw that in Charlottesville, where there was a lots of people there, but it was all very cacophonous. The danger, of course, is if these online movements are adopted by the Republican Party, it seems increasingly that it is, these forms, these very extreme forms of politics and very reactionary form of politics will be given an institutional form. We can expect to see much bigger, much more consequential changes in government in the US because of it.

Sam: Yeah, that’s also my sense of how things have moved. A shift from this micro influencer model, where people are often directly monetizing through being on different platforms where they share adverts, or through super chats. This kind of thing. Directly monetizing their capacity to talk to a camera on far right in the period of 2015 to 2018, or there abouts. Then the decline of that economy, there’s a recession, essentially, in demand for this, and there’s a consolidation around a few very key influences.

The other really important part here is the rise in America of Tucker Carlson, and the kind of the increasing centrality of Tucker Carlson to the American media landscape. Because Tucker Carlson, unlike, say, Bill O’Reilly before him, will say the kind of more or less extreme things that the US right were saying amongst themselves, and the far right were saying amongst themselves with these micro influencers. But he’ll do it in a way it’s much more slick, sarcastic. He’s much better at interviewing people than anyone else is, he knows much more than other people. And he has an extremely clearly defined political worldview. He’s not incoherent. He’s not difficult to listen to. Whenever something embarrassing happens on his show. It’s to the embarrassment of the other person on the show. He’s very good at not embarrassing himself. In this kind of existence, Tucker Carlson on TV, these micro influencers just can’t compete. In the same way as the local bookstore can’t compete with Amazon. It’s the same dynamics. So Carlson is Amazon. He’s just taking all your all your demand. There’s a sense in which I think that’s really one of the important parts of it.

Also, Carlson allows for direct connection between the movement and its institutional structure. You can just ring up the Supreme Court Justices. There’s a connection which no one on the far right was able to do. Richard Spencer, does not have Clarence Thomas’s phone number, obviously, but Tucker Carlson does, right? It maps together these different parts of the far right.

There’s also a kind of a sense in which that seems much more palatable to the right wing party, to donors and so on, which is where the kind of the motor of this stuff comes from. I would assume that those big funders, who fund lots of US far right, are breathing a sigh of relief that Richard Spencer is no longer the force he was, or many people on the alt right are no longer the force they were. There’s a sense of almost relief, because everything is kind of coming back into the institutional setting of being kind of therefore much better coordinated amongst its various parts, which is why the far right as an institutional force, is having so many victories in the US right now, even as the far right as a movement is splitting up and going in different directions and kind of not cohering in the same kind of way was maybe even last year, or like maybe five years ago.

TFSR: So you kind of talked about this in a recent episode of your podcast, or the last episode that, for instance, Sam, you were a part of about how this is not the approach in the UK that the Conservative Party, the Tories, have towards holding power and towards pulling in folks from the extreme? Can you talk a little bit about that difference?

Sam: Yeah, so the Conservative Party is an attempt to respond… It’s a flexible political organization with a very long history, which responds to the task it has, which is to govern British capitalism. British capitalism is not US capitalism, but they have important key functional differences in their position to in the global economy. The UK is a financial superpower. But it’s not important as a military power. It’s not important as a manufacturing power. It’s kind of important as a cultural power. Like it has very famous institutions, the BBC, NHS, the Royal Family, it has things that it can export around the world, it’s kind of institutional forms. It’s not for nothing that a lot of the post colonial constitutions, when people are kind of hunting around for a constitution to base their system on, they go for the US one, or the UK, one the French one. Those are normally the three models that are employed.

The UK is a big cultural empire, but mostly it’s a financial empire. It’s just a global financial power. So the task of managing that does not necessarily include questions of the relationship between the UK and it’s military as a kind of heroic and unimpeachable guarantor of collective security. We don’t have that relationship to the military in the UK. People walk around with their army uniforms in near where I live, but no one stops them and thanks them for their service. Whereas the US is the global hegemon, whose function is to make the US stay in that position by forcing everyone else to buy dollars in order to buy oil. It guarantees that people will buy it oil and trade oil by threatening to militarily intervene globally. Everyone else funds its military by keeping the dollar more powerful and stronger than it would otherwise be. That’s the position for US.

In that position, you can well imagine that being really intensely nativist in your politics, valorizing the military as a particularly impressive unimpeachable and valiant dimension of life, valorizing conquest and domination and violence, these are all integral parts of what American capitalism does on a global scale. There’s not necessarily a surprise that those things come out in the politics.

The other thing to say is that the UK was a colonial power, but the US is still a colonial situation. Still colonization going on in the US. It’s a live aspect. The unreconciled, the unfinished process of colonization, is the other kind of thing that informs the US, which doesn’t inform the UK. It isn’t there as much. Obviously, the UK is a colonial power, but in regards in its self conception, colonization is having kind of ended in 1948 when we gave back India. That’s kind of the way in which the UK likes to imagine itself as a colonial power. I think that’s true. Alex is grimacing. I think that’s the way the UK likes to imagine it’s relation to colonialism.

Alex: The thing about the Tories is that they have an ability to absorb the far right political positions and energies without actually inviting the far right into them necessarily all that much. And so you see it in various different waves of the far right activity in the UK. For example, the National Front, that was built in the late 1970’s and was completely kind of absorbed by Thatcherism and Thatcher in a way. It wasn’t as if Thatcher took on these far right elements into her party, it’s that she took on their positions and stole their energy and built Thatcherism and neoliberalism as it is along with people in the US.

In the same way, the sting that was taken out of the EDL, and these movements in the 2010’s was the very explicit institutionalization of what Theresa May called “the hostile environment” to migrants, to refugees, and to asylum seekers. We’re gonna make this a hostile environment to anyone who’s coming into the country. That was basically an adoption of far right politics without adopting the far right.

You can see the kind of ingraining of that within the modern contemporary Conservative Party in things like the the policy of deportations to Rwanda, which is very unclear whether that’s ever going to happen, whether they’re actually going to go through with it, but was another one of these moves of creeping authoritarianism explicitly geared against the kind of hippie lefties, Extinction Rebellion, and the disruptive elements of various movements, and a clamping down on those things. Most importantly, clamping down on unapproved by the State migration. I don’t really know how to say it, un-official migration.

TFSR: In some ways, that description kind of makes me think of the way that the Democratic Party in the US relates to the progressive politics. It’s sort of absorbing and identifying itself with those causes, maybe absorbing individuals, and then shifting them into neoliberal politics that they already had going on. But it appears in some ways to be the party of labor, the party of immigrants, the party of multiculturalism, or whatever, or feminism, at the same time.

A group that you’ve mentioned frequently on the show is Patriotic Alternative in the UK. I wonder if you’d say a few words about where you see this group today and why you consider it to be a growing threat? In the US context, I know it’s not your fishbowl, as it is mine, but we do take up a lot of space. So I know you’re educated on what’s going on the side of the pond. Where do you pin groups like Patriot Front in terms of level of threat as a street fascist group?

Alex: Patriotic Alternative, for people who don’t know, it’s a UK fascist… They kind of danced around the term but they are pretty a fascist organization founded by a guy called Mark Collette, who had a extensive career in the British National Party, which was the last mass fascist, far right party, electoral party, before they collapsed in 2010. What makes them a particular threat, is that at the moment, they’re entirely uninterested in building street demonstrations, ie building through through things that are easily opposed by anti-fascists.

This is a break with the classic tactic of building UK far right parties and movements, which is this kind of approach that’s called ‘March and Build.’ So you have a march you bring people into the march, it’s vital, it’s exciting, they want to go to the next March. This is a classic case of the EDL, where they kind of toured the country building these big marches. Then the idea is you grow your organization on the back of these things. The problem with that, of course, is that these situations become targets of anti-fascists, and once enough anti-fascist power has been built up or an organization’s happened, they are opposed to the point where they’re either smashed as got happened in a couple of instances in confrontations in Dover, which was hours of running street battles which resulted in about 50 members of the far right and fascists being sent to prison for kind of quite extensive prison sentences. About two or three anti-fascists receiving the same thing. There’s obviously an unbalanced there and ultimately, those instances destroyed that movement that was growing in Dover.

What Patriotic Alternative is focusing on is what they call ‘white community building.’ So it’s very private event, their politics are explicitly very racist. They talk about the extinction of white people in the UK, they talk about the need to deport non white people. It’s very much a racial politics. But what they actually do apart from the leafleting and whatever is going on hikes or doing fitness activities and fitness clubs or these private, very difficult to oppose things which is meant to build this white community. They have a director of white owned and white friendly businesses. There’s a tea company, there’s various different things. The idea is to build this kind of separatism, at least in the short term.

Colette, the leader of Patriotic Alternative, his history and his kind of political training is in these confrontational marches. It feels like he’s found a way to build a base of power both in number of activists that are actively organizing for Patriotic Alternative, without the opposition that goes along with it. I think that there’s a real danger there, because they’re quite hard to impose without having an extra level of information about their activities, their private schedules, for example. You don’t get this stuff, usually. So, there’s a danger that anti-fascist don’t try to oppose them, because it’s very difficult to, and therefore, this kind of group is allowed to build itself essentially, unimpeded.

What we do know is that, that kind of form of organizing has created a level of… I don’t want to use the term softness, because it implies a kind of macho thing. But, there’s a kind of fragility to the activists, because they haven’t faced regular confrontation or because they’re not hardened street fighters, like the UK far right scene has traditionally been, it means that when they do get opposed, it’s actually fairly effective.

There was a there was an incident in in Kent a couple of years ago, in which a PA hike walk was very severely disrupted. And it took about two years for that group to get itself together again, and reconstitute itself. Because there wasn’t that same level of resilience. In the 80’s, when we had bands like screwdriver, the lead singer of screwdriver was regularly having his window smashed, was regularly getting beaten up on the street, and was continuing to be a neo Nazi singer and organizing and organizing Blood and Honor and all this kind of stuff. He had it as part of his life style. You can’t say the same thing about PA today. So one thing that has been successful has been these investigations that’s been happening about them as well. The way the media has turned to them in recent months, there was a quite interesting documentary about them on Channel Four and things like this. So I think the increased attention will draw more anti-fascists into opposing them. But yeah, I’m gonna stop.

TFSR: So the final chapter of PIFR share some challenges to antifascist organizers including the scope of our work and our vision as well as our breakout of subculture and into coalition’s. For those of us who are trying to do this work, can you break down some of the pitfalls and weak spots that that the book talks about? Or that you’ve come across that you want to share? Where do you see some room for improvement? Give us some tekmil?

Sam: So I guess there are two things I want to say. One is that we make a distinction in the book, sliding scale perhaps, between minimum and maximum anti-fascism. Minimum anti Fascism is the the actually fairly recent practice of anti fascism, which is that you find the people who are doing the sieg heils, or waving the swastikas, and you trying to stop them from organizing politically. There’s no political content to that in the sense that you don’t try and oppose them discursively, you don’t try like argue with them. You just try and stop them from organizing. And you do that against people who everyone would agree, possibly even them, that they are fascists or Neo Nazis or whatever. You oppose those groups. That’s minimum anti fascism.

Then there’s maximum anti fascism. Maximum anti-fascism, at its fullest extent, is just whatever it takes to stop the conditions for fascist organizing happening at all. Right? So at the very limit of that, that means like transitioning to a non capitalist society that doesn’t revolve around personal domination as a whole. Right? As you can see, there’s a lot of stuff in the middle, between these two things. I’m not saying that minimum anti-fascism is good, or that like maximum anti-fascism is good. I’m just saying that there are attempts that represent totally different poles of a total artifact of strategy. And we’re always moving between these two poles.

I think a lot of the mistakes in anti-fascist movement have been down to an attempt to basically to fixate on one of these two ends of the spectrum. It’s only anti fascism, if you’re opposing people who are actually fascist, actual neo Nazis operating in the streets, or it’s only anti-fascism if you’re doing the deep work of transforming the whole of society so that fascism is not even possible anymore.

I think there are there there are arguments in favor of both. Maximum anti-fascism is of course, much more difficult project in some ways, because it is essentially the same as the left as a scale, but there are lots of kinds of other medium anti-fascisms. Minimized. Fascism is much more physically risky, much less politically risky. There’s a kind of a trade off here between the different kind of aspects of doing that work. So that’s the general framework in which I think it’d be useful to think about the way in which anti-fascism is done as a strategic thing and obviously there is lots more in the book on that.

The other thing that I think is a kind of a big pitfall about anti-fascism, in general, is that anti-fascism has a kind of an uneven rhythm. I think I say sometimes that it’s like a third or fourth order consequence of financial crises, which are by their nature are predictable, right? There is a big financial crisis in capitalism. This becomes a crisis of unemployment, or crisis in the economy more generally, and then there are far right responses that mediate that crisis and try and turn it something else. To mediate fury about the declining conditions of life, and try to get to blame Muslims, or blame on the whoever it is. Then anti-fascism responds to that.

Because of that, because you can’t predict the sequence of things that aren’t actually responding to, you get into situations where there are long periods of time, where there’s just not a very clear far right threat. So at least in the UK, what’s been happening, what’s happened in the past, is that people have said, “Okay, well, we’re anti-fascists. There must be something for us to oppose. Let’s find some fascists.” And not in some ways, waiting for there to be some fascists. So you end up kind of conjuring people, boogeyman, for you to oppose. Conjuring people who you might regard as not particularly fascists, like Alex talked about before, people who are bad in lots of ways, but are not adequately opposed by the kind of tactics that anti-fascism has got useful for it or was able to use. So you simply having the proverbial hammer and trying to find some proverbial nails to engage with because it’s an uneven rhythm, that there’s this problem with it. I think the solution to this problem is to not regard anti-fascism as an identity. You shouldn’t think of yourself as an anti-fascist, you should see yourself as someone who is temporarily fulfilling the role of being anti-fascist.

Of course, the counter argument, there’s something it’s always kind of kept in tension with is that there are specific skills that certain people who are involved in minimum anti-fascism need. Certain practices they need to be good at, certain ways of keeping information secure, certain ways of organizing together, certain physical training even, certain ways of coordinating on the street you need to be good at. But somehow we need to get good at those things without thinking, “okay, that means that I am the anti-fascist and that means that I know exactly what fascism is, and that means I know exactly when it’s gone and when it hasn’t. I know exactly how to oppose it. I’m the expert and everyone should follow my lead.” Because then we end up with this kind of peculiar subcultural authoritarianism. And I think we’ve all encountered that in the past and know its risks.

Alex: Considering coalition building, as well. There’s often a danger that anti-fascists come in to build these coalitions and then expect them to be kind of permanent things that have longevity, instead of recognizing that a bunch of organizations and networks that are dedicated liberatory politics, have their own politics and their own activism that they’re doing all the time anyway. They’re campaigning around housing and racial justice, and whatever. You can’t turn everything into anti-fascism. Anti-fascism should be ultimately opening up space for the liberatory in movements to be able to do good stuff, and to be defensive of attacks on them, but also just recognize when you need to fade back.

A counter to that, again, is that there is a benefit… We critique subcultural politics, I think you need to critique it. You need to be building out beyond all the time. But there is a use in having these kinds of anti-fascist bands, or anti-fascist red gyms, or training groups or whatever. There is a use to having that connection to it, to an ongoing history of resistance and struggle, and to lose connection with that history, or to not understand your anti-fascist history, is to lose some of that generational knowledge, and lose some of that generational kind of meaning. The Spanish Civil War. The resistance in the Spanish Civil war has meaning to anti-fascist today, and rightly so. So we shouldn’t let all that aside. I think we’re both kind of teasing out these tensions. You can’t go one way or the other, you’ve got to find your happy place in that tension, I think.

TFSR: It seems like find a happy place and that position is going to shift as needs be and so be flexible enough to be able to find what makes sense for the moment on that spectrum.

One thing that I’ve heard about in the UK, mostly over the show more than any other source, has been the concept of proscription. I don’t know if that’s just the illegalization of a group or what the legal consequences of that are. Combat 18 or I don’t know if BNP, British National Party, or like these other groups who are examples of groups that have been proscribed. I wonder what the consequences are of being in a group that’s proscribed. And also, in your view dealing with the government… We’ve had recently, a number of charges brought against in the United States context, Proud Boys in relation to the January 6th. I think anti-fascists here have various views on how that feels. I mean, fuck around and find out. If you try to overthrow the US government, there’s going to be consequences from the US government. I’m sure that there’s some liberal people who call themselves anti-fascists who are promoting this sort of approach, or people who, after January 6, we’re using their resources of research tools, in order to feed information specifically to the FBI or to law enforcement.

I kind of wonder, just what your thoughts are, in terms of the concept of the three way fight, that not only is the government not our friend, fascists are not our friend, and that as anti-fascists, or as people that are doing anti-fascist work, it’s questionable about whether or not it’s a positive when the government is able to gain the upper hand and say, “look, we’ve done the anti-fascist thing we are antifascists. Join the NSA.”

Alex: So I’ll take the proscription part, and maybe you can take the next bit.

Okay, so proscription is one of the most repressive instruments that the UK State has available to it. It’s not even a matter of passing a law or anything, it’s a decision of the Home Secretary, under consultation of civil servants, but ultimately, it’s on her to proscribe groups. Proscription brings along a number of criminal offenses. It becomes a crime to be a member of the organization. Basically it becomes a crime for that organization to continue existing. Also, the crime carries a sentence of years in prison, up to 10 years in prison.

What we’ve seen how that works in practice, is after National Action got proscribed, which was the first far right group organization in the UK, to be to be proscribed, is that were people going to prison for being members of National Action after proscription for around four years. Four years in prison is a very significant sanction. It also becomes a crime to speak positively in public, or materially support, morally support, that group, that banned organization in public, to publicly declare your moral support, or to raise money for them as well. It’s also a becomes a crime to found a new organization, that’s basically the old organization under another name or made up of the same members.

Obviously, this is a very terrifying power that is available and its ability obviously rests on basically one person because, it’s the Home Secretary, and it’s something, of course, that you would never have in the US. The First Amendment is sacrosanct in regards to the these forms of political organizing. Now, obviously, there’s many other techniques and instruments that are available to the US, and indeed, the UK, in which you can effectively make the leaders of political organizations, to heavily discourage them of continuing or even take them out completely. You could see some of the tactics of the FBI opposing the civil rights movement, there’s all kinds of very illegal or very repressive things that happened there. Later, with the Black Lives Matter movement as well, you’ve seen the similar kind of repression from State police and from the FBI as well. So that’s proscription.

Going back to Patriotic Alternative, they’ve been really desperate to keep the tent of National Action away from them, and keep that kind of proscription talk away from them as well. They’ve done that to some that success. The question to anti-facsists is, “do you want to try and provoke that instrument being used?” Do you want to highlight and publicize links to National Action which could attract a proscription order. I would say the most desirable way to oppose is a mass movement anti fascism that can oppose them physically and ideologically in the communities in which they’re working. But oftentimes there’s a misconception of how the State operates, it’s kind of seen as an anti-fascist thing. As an instrument that can be used. So the problem the problem is, of course, the first point is that of course, the State can ban radical left groups just as much. If it has the justification, if it has the kind of way laid out for it, considering the circumstances.

TFSR: I just looked it up really quickly. I was like, “I’ve never heard of the proscription of left wing groups,” but I was just like, “Was the Irish National Liberation Army a proscribed group?” At least Wikipedia tells me, ‘Yes.’ So it’s not a tool that’s only wielded against the far right, right?

Alex: The case of Ireland is separate, it’s specific as well. A lot of the proscription orders that have taking place in the island of Britain are modeled on the island of Ireland, the stuff that was happening there, but they are distinct. That kind of politics and that history is distinct in the UK.

Sam: Yeah, there are all kinds of legal instruments that are used in Northern Ireland, that are different in quite marked ways. It’s completely different from the mainland. I think what we’ve been consistently doing for the answers to the last three or four questions actually, has been articulating a feel of tensions. On the one hand, this, but also on the other hand, this. There’s a sense in which there are not particularly good or easy answers. I have contradictory thoughts, as you can imagine about proscription as an instrument wielded by the State. I think it is actually not impossible that it would be done in the US, because the explicit justification of in the UK is not that they said bad things. It’s that they advocated for terrorism and in the US advocating violence is not protected speech. That’s not covered in the First Amendment, if you threaten someone directly, you can be arrested for that, as far as I understand.

TFSR: But there is no list of domestic terrorist organizations, for instance, that’s usually the framing. So it would be it would be framed within as opposed to an ideological argument around like criminal specific activity, prosecuted as criminal activity.

Sam: This is what’s really interesting about the Canadian case. So in Canada, they proscribed three organizations at the same time Atomwaffen, The Base, and the Proud Boys. Just when we came on we were talking about the differences there…

TFSR: Is that because they’re all run by the FBI. Sorry, okay. [laughs]

Alex: You are not the first person to make that joke. [laughs]

Sam: We were talking before we came on, I was just confused with eight different organizations. Atomwaffen, had maybe 50 members at its height, something like that. Of those, six committed some sort of murder. That’s a very high rate of murder. The Base had maybe slightly more members, it was a supposedly international network, but overwhelmingly based in the US, but with members in the UK and Sweden and Canada and Russia as well, where it turned out that the leader was staying for reasons that are completely unconnected from the the shadowy world of spooks and had nothing to do with the the decline of the Soviet Union or the CIA. Nothing to it! Then the Proud Boys, which is a western chauvinists drinking club, essentially, that had been responsible for an immense amount of political violence in the streets, but who, to my knowledge, have never committed terroristic murders.

Of course, we can argue about the definition of terrorism as a category. I think it’s a fact that the category ‘terrorism’ is a mark of the distinction that is made between politics proper and violence in politics. Right. They tend to police that boundary. Proper politics is discursive, people talk about things, they argue heatedly. Terrorism is when there is indiscriminate killing of innocent people, right?

That’s not a stable boundary and the proud boys by kind of wandering around on that boundary, have made it much more difficult for these kinds of proscription legislation in Canada to be enacted clearly. But I think it’s still kind of peculiar, because I think really what is aimed at is not violence, but a certain kind of unacceptable politics. A politics of extremity, and undoubtedly Atomwaffen had that politics of extremity. Atomwaffen’s organizing principle was that it was the most extreme organization on the far right. That was its advertising.

TFSR: One of their main organizers called himself ‘Rape.’ Yeah.

Sam: Whereas the proud boys didn’t have that. I think there’s a complicated thing about who gets proscribed. If I was going to say that proscription shouldn’t be used or should be abandoned as a measure, it would be about that level of political inarticulacy, or political misunderstanding on the part of the Canadian State, which I would assume the Home Secretary of Canada is no less well informed the Home Secretary of the UK. I don’t know who the Home Secretary of Canada is. It’s not of interest to me. It would be on the basis of that kind of, obviously wrong decision. But I would seriously question the use of proscription.

TFSR: As for your second book, The Rise of Eco Fascism. What do you mean by the term eco fascism? And what is far right ecologism? How do they relate? And are there any contemporary examples you think are especially informative for the audience?

Sam: So I think we promised earlier, or as Alex promised earlier, that there will be a definition of fascism. So we’re now getting into that. But first of all, we have to answer another question. Which is the question of what is far right politics? I think far right politics is basically, again, in this kind of unclear zone at the edges of liberalism. Far right politics is a collection, like all politics are, I think, a collection of suggestions and practices for reproducing social roles and relations that utilize tactics that are unacceptably brutal for liberalism. Liberalism won’t accept the far right as part of itself. But nevertheless, the far right is a necessary part of the reproduction of liberalism as a whole. Right. So liberal states need their violent border regimes, they need, to some extent, far right movements to scare the left, they need ways for the anger of politics to be articulated, the anger and the daily humiliation of the working class produces in politics. They need some of that to go. And so the far right is a useful aspect of liberalism.

Fascism is something quite peculiar within that more general category of the far right, in that it seeks to unify different parts of the political forms, that the far right kind of contains. So I would say there are basically broad three broad political forms. There’s electoral politics, or like politics of the government. There’s politics of movements. And there’s the politics of violence, or extrajudicial violence in particular. Obviously, governments contain violence, movements contain violence to some extent as well. This tripartite separation is not some sort of eternal law of how politics works. But it’s specific to the history of neoliberal capitalism in particular.

So the fact that movements can’t get themselves heard in government, or can’t transform the practice of governance, which we’ve seen in the US with Bernie Sanders and so on, or the movements version of the Labour Party that we have for Jeremy Corbyn. The fact that there is no relationship between the politics of movements and the policies of the government is a split that is produced by neoliberalism deliberately. The fact there is a split between movements and terroristic violence, the split that proscription legislation tries to police, that is a product largely of the Second World War, and the kind of horror that fascism represented for liberalism.

And so, what has happened since the Second World War is the security state has become much, much, much, much, much more powerful. There are no movements that are able to physically overwhelm the power of a national police force. Obviously, you had this kind of weird exception, January 6th, in the US, it was very quickly stamped out. Now the FBI, which is extraordinarily well equipped, an extraordinary surveillance state and so on, is now coming down very hard on those people who dared to defy its kind of capacity to organize the structure of violence in society. To have that monopoly on violence that defines the contemporary state.

So, there’s a split between these three different parts. Fascism is a political product that attempts to unify their interests to make governments work with terrorists, or what I’m now describing as terrorists, but extrajudicial violence in general, to work with movements, and it’s kind of the unification of these three parts. Now, the way it does that, is by presenting a notion of the unified nation, the whole nation state and that is mediated through ideas of nature and the natural law, but also physical natural landscapes. And it’s that the we describe as eco fashion.

What we describe in the book is far right ecologism, which can be for many different parts. You can have a governmental far right ecologism, you have a movement far right ecologism, you have a terroristic far right ecologism. But it’s when these three things come together as a political unity. When you get governments that are not doing the kind of reflexive thing that contemporary foreign governments do. We just say, “Oh, these terrorists, it’s terrible. It’s horrible. He was crazy. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” “He was on the left,” as the Kellyanne Conway wanted to frame the Christchurch shooter, equating environmentalism with the left. As of course, the US far right is frequently equated fascism with the left. It being a movement with some form of collectivity.

So that’s what eco fascism is, it’s a coordination of these three elements, mediated through a notion of the natural whole. The danger of it, over the period that we’re looking at in the future, 50 years or so, is these three parts of the political separation of neoliberalism will start to recur here and become coherent together. That’s the real kind of terror that I think lies in the notion of ecofascism. All that’s to say, there aren’t particularly good examples right now. Because we’re looking at an emergent political formation, rather than pointing at people who have eco fascist views. Because as we’ve kind of repeatedly tried to get across, the important thing is not to believe, the important thing is what will people able to enact upon the world. That means that the question of politics is not just who is saying the wrong thing or who has the wrong beliefs. But how does the whole structure of society shift and change and fall under the sway of the control of real eco fascist movements, and that is not happening yet.

Alex: Just to build off what what Sam was saying about eco fascism, you have to think about this in the context of the climate crisis, and the increasingly worsening conditions of life that are going to happen, that’re already happening and are going to continue to happen in the next few decades, basically for the rest of both our lives and all of our lives. One of the responses to this increasingly desperate situation that we’re all facing, people in the global south are facing it now and gonna face it much worse. People in the West are going to face it too. In America, there are certain areas that are increasingly becoming completely uninhabitable. You see what’s happening in Texas with the power grid, which fails in cold, and fails in heat. You see what’s happening in Arizona with the water levels, it’s and incredibly dire situation for an area in which millions of people live. The answer is that in these deficit situations, we need to turn to some form of far right, authoritarian environmentalism, in order to make the changes that we need to happen, make him on a top down state level. The only way to do that is some kind of increasingly eco fascist state structure or state intervention.

There’s many problems with this. One is the obvious one, it’s that kind of authoritarianism that comes along with a whole bunch of repressive actions, oppression, the kind of exclusion of people based on their race and the intensification of misogyny and all these things are attendant to this ramping authoritarianism, which we must oppose, and which we probably will be left entirely unequipped to opposed if these authoritarian state instruments are reinstituted and re justified. In the UK, there’s this tendency of the Tories to, every time there’s some kind of thing in the news or thing protesting that they don’t like, they’ll immediately come out with a new law that will will ban it.

So the example for that is Extinction Rebellion, and the groups that came out of them, who used the tactic of locking on to various things, to lock their bodies on to various bits of infrastructure and roadways, and to be as difficult to remove as possible. And that’s not a crime, locking your body to another piece of infrastructure is not the crime, but they brought in a law that has made it a crime and has a prison sentence attached to it. If these kinds of authoritarian instruments are instituted, it means that those kinds of movements that we need, these movements of liberation, are made harder and harder and harder and harder.

The other problem with specifically eco fascist politics is that it only operates on a national scale. Of course, we’re not operating on a national scale, we can’t do that this is a global crisis. For example, the Rassemblement National in France, talk about protecting the French landscape, a kind of green nationalism. What they mean by that is to export their environmental degradation out of France, and to preserve France in some bubble of Western landscapes and all this kind of stuff. And this is obviously inadequate in so many different ways.

TFSR: Yeah. Without a fundamental rejection of capitalism, for instance, whether or not you’re arguing national borders or not, you’re absolutely ignoring one of the essential things that has been contributing and creating the scenario that has put us in the situation that we’re in right now.

Alex: Yeah, I also feel like that for these neoliberal governments and states, the situation will have to get so dire to attract the authoritarian response. But it’s going to be too late in my opinion. You can just see it now with the way people talk about the cost of living crisis in the UK, and the global instability in the oil price, and the war in Ukraine. It seems to me that every answer to a global crisis is to drill for more oil. Russia is this oppressive, authoritarian, imperialist power, we need to increase our national overlooks, and we need to convince Saudi Arabia to drill more oil for us. You know, this kind of stuff. In the UK, the government has started to revive the North Sea oil projects and fracking, shale gas drilling in America as a response, as a kind of thing. We need energy independence, we need UK energy independence, when obviously, once you’ve got that infrastructure in place, capitalism is going to extract as much profit out of it as it can before they have to decommission it. So the the key thing is stopping these projects from happening.

TFSR: Once it’s extracted, it’s gonna get used.

Well, since I have had you on for a very long time. I want to go to my guilty pleasure question of the last one. It may not be a guilty pleasure, it may be like perfectly reasonable question. Is that okay?

Alex: Oh, yeah. I’m interested to hear what your guilty pleasure is.

TFSR: Well, yeah. So I came out of an anti-civilization green anarchist position at a certain point, but I have always felt like I’ve had an allergic reaction to the misanthropy in it. So, this is sort of me reacting in my older age, as I continue to see the misanthropy perpetuated. An element of anti-fascist organizing that I find really important, is working to shift hegemony in contested spaces, which you talk a little bit about in that latter book. It feels like in these contested spaces, we have an immediate agency in pushing hegemonic cultural values. And it’s also spaces where we have the most in common with other participants, or a lot in common with other participants, and so have the leverage to change people’s minds and hearts. I’ve been a bit disturbed by the resurgence and uplifting of Ted Kaczynski in recent years among some anarchists, and this goes back. I mean, he’s identified himself as an anarchist in the past. Green anarchists magazine, the US had a dialogue with them for a while. Crimethinc put out stickers, saying, “Uncle Ted for president,” or something like that in 2000, some edge Lord thing. There was a recent TV show about him… anyway. You’ve alluded a few times in the letter-book with headings like far right ecologism and its future and referenced eco extremist acolytes, ITS or Individuales Teniendo al Salvaje in Mexico, that you list as an example of a climate collapse cult.

One can find themes in Kaczynski’s writings, including in his manifesto, warning of the mitigation of natural scarcity through technology, leading to the weakening of the essence of humans. Also essentialist ideas around gender, sexuality and disability, a post left position embraced by Anders Brevik in his manifesto and other places, by other dastardly people. Misanthropy and concerns about overpopulation mixed in with nativism can be encountered in the writings of Edward Abbey, as you all noted in an earlier chapter of the Eco fascism book, and the early founders of Earth First such as Dave Foreman, notably. While the adherence of these sorts of ideas are quite fringy in the general population, and they’re very few in number. So are anarchists and other libertarian Marxists or like other people that I consider to be comrades? Can you talk a bit about contested spaces? And if you can, a little bit about Uncle Ted?

Alex: Okay, I can see why this is the guilty pleasure.

TFSR: It’s a very long question.

Alex: So this is a really interesting point because what we’ve been talking about for the most part in this interview is not how reactionary, I think we can kind of label the people who coalesce around Ted K as reactionary, in many respects, or are leading to reaction positions. We’ve talked about these kind of reactionary influences in society at large. We talked about borders, we talk about these movements in the left opposing the right. We didn’t speak much about within these spaces, that are our own spaces, what what we can do in them.

I think Kaczynski and the manifest in particular has a really interesting place within both far right and far left discourses. Of course, there’s a far right online subculture, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with called ‘Pine Tree Twitter,’ which actively valorizes Kaczynski and his writing. If you read some of what Pine Tree Twitter writes about, there is an overlap between kind of misanthropic valorization of nature above all else, valuation of wilderness above all else, for example, and the kind of generalized misanthropy against the modern world and the modern human with all his or her comforts and this kind of thing. It’s not something that in the spaces I’ve been a part of in the UK that I’ve particularly encountered. There’s an anarchist bookshop in London, which I am a part of, and there is kind of a generally agreed that certain kind of anti civ writers, not all, but certain particular anti civ writers are not acceptable to have in the shop and this kind of thing.

I think, going forward, a lot of the purchase of Kaczynski’s writing is carried by the violence he carried out. It’s carried out by the bombings and the kind of mystique that surrounded him. I saw that TV show about him, and the investigation to him too. It’s that TV show that kind of translated within, into kind of radical spaces. If Kaczynski had not done those killings, done those bombings, those writings would not have had the same widespread influence that they did have.

So, I think it’s hard because a lot of the anti civ types… I would be very persnickety about definitions again. I don’t think they are fascist and I don’t think they should be opposed using anti-fascist tactics. I think what we need is a way of explaining collapse, explaining civilization, and explaining alternatives to that civilization. So anti civ has ultimately the right ideas in the right direction of travel, I suppose, in that this civilization can’t continue as it is because it is destroying the planet.

But the question is, one, what tactics are opened up in opposing that? What is acceptable to do to other human beings and what isn’t acceptable to do to other human beings? And, two, what kind of world do we want to build? Is it a world built on the exclusion of people who need certain things within civilization in order to live? Now, the obviously the go-to here is people who rely on certain medications that have been produced in contemporary capitalism, but also trans people, for example, as well. A certain anti civ responses to declare trans people unpersons, freaks of contemporary society, who will either cease to exist once this civilization collapses, or will need to be eliminated in some form, societally. Similarly, for people with disabilities, the same thing applies. These people are left aside. That’s one path.

The other path is one of extending and strengthening and kind of all encompassing solidarity with every person who lives in this world as it is now, and how we can transition, together, into some kind of new world, whatever that is. There’s obviously massive discussions about how we get there, and what that looks like. But I think the key thing is, and what we talk about in the conclusion of the book is, the key thing here is solidarity. You need to have solidarity with everyone, all different kinds of people with their experiences and their relationships to the world and their identities within that world as well.

Was that adequate?

TFSR: That’s great. We solved the problem! [laughs] This is going to be in the in the show notes. But would you mind saying a few places where people can find the books, find the 12 Rules project online, social media, whatever, to engage with ya’ll?

Alex: The books, one is available from Polity Press, the Eco Fascism book, and I believe that has now had an American release. So it’s available to purchase domestically in America. The first book Post Internet Far Right, is from Dog Section Press. I don’t think that book does have American distribution, which is a shame but what I’ll do is I’ll check with the publisher and see what they say about it, because I think I’m sure there must be some distro. There should be anyway.

Online we have a Twitter @12RulesForWhat which we put out our episodes on and we have a Patreon if people want to support but you obviously don’t have to, we run book clubs through there and it’s open to subscribers. But also if you want to just get in on joining and discussing the book, you can DM us and we’ll get you in and it’s not a big deal. We have the patreon to pay our RSS fees or whatever it is. We’re not trying to make a particular career out of podcasting, necessarily. And you can follow Sam’s new project on his substack and it’s called collapsology.substack.com. Its a newsletter and he writes it every Thursday.

As for what we’ve got coming up next we’re going to have another episode on Patriotic Alternative and fascist fitness as a kind of historical trend on a contemporary trend. And we’re going to have a conversation was about Q Anon in America and transphobia and LGBTQ-phobia, homophobia. It’ll be coming out very soon as well.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I really look forward to it, and Alex, thanks a lot for having the conversation.

Alex: Thanks. Thanks Bursts!

Adventure Capitalism with Raymond Craib

Adventure Capitalism with Raymond Craib

book cover of "Adventure Capitalism"
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This week on The Final Straw, Professor Raymond Craib talks about his book, “Adventure Capitalism: A History of Libertarian Exit, from the Era of Decolonization to the Digital Age” out recently from PM Press. We talk about capitalist fundamentalists attempting to create free market utopias, right wing so-called Libertarians, Ayn Rand, neoliberalism and the oxymoronic tendency known as “anarcho-capitalism” at the center of the recent HBO Max series called “The Anarchists”.

A quick note: the book on the Republic of New Afrika that Bursts mentioned was Free The Land by Edward Onaci. There was an interesting interview on Millenials Are Killing Capitalism podcast with the author last year.

Stay tuned next week for our interview with Sam & Alex of the antifascist podcast, 12 Rules for WHAT about their podcast and their two books, “Post Internet Far Right” or PIFR, and “The Rise of Ecofascism”. Patreon supporters can get this episode a few days early alongside other gifts. Check out that and other ways to support us at tfsr.wtf/support

Announcement

Eric King at Florence ADX

After a few weeks of being in transit, Eric has arrived at what is expected to be his final prison before release: USP Florence ADX, the Supermax prison of the Bureau of Prisons. He just arrived yesterday and not much is known about any communication restrictions but please shoot Eric a letter to let him know you care.

Eric King #27090-045
USP Florence ADMAX
PO Box 8500

Florence, CO 81226

As we know more about any restrictions or mail rules, they will be shared.

ADX is a controversial prison with most cells being one person only and everyone being on 24 lockdown. The US sends people with high-profile and serious cases here to bury them and is often in the media whenever someone gets sent there like El Chapo or people involved with the 911 attacks. There have been countless lawsuits since ADX was established in the 1990s. It is a BOP facility so one can expect all of the things that happen at any facility with the added cruelty of long term isolated confinement.

Keep up on his support page, SupportEricKing.Org

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

TFSR: Do you please introduce yourself with any name, preferred gender pronouns, and other information that you’d like to introduce yourself to the audience?

Raymond Craib: Sure. My name is Raymond Craib, my pronouns are he/him, and I teach in the Department of History at Cornell University.

TFSR: Cool, I just finished reading your most recent book, Adventure Capitalism, and I really appreciated how much you covered and your treatment of history and the ideas presented in it. I have to admit being slightly entertained reading some of the snipings between Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman and Murray Rothbard, representing ideological strains that have deep impacts to this day in capitalist idealists, and also a lot of differences between the ideas. To set the stage, could you talk about some of these arguments, these thinkers, and what they believed, and if any specific tendencies are around today that you think people might be familiar with that would be representative?

RC: Yeah, sure. And thank you for having me. I appreciate the invitation. Thank you also for reading the book. So there’s a lot of these folks in the mid-20th century who I think, for lack of a better word, I call them US market libertarians because I’m trying to distinguish them from the classical notion of libertarian, which is anarchist, these people are hyper-capitalist. And they’re minimalist in terms of their ideas about government, which, essentially, we shouldn’t mistake as small government, it just means minimalist in the range of its functions. They still want a police force, they still want a military, they still want a judiciary to protect property rights, they want to be protected from fraud, and they want to be protected from physical violence. So that’s not a small state manifesto. It’s just a state that has a limited range of functions. Now, what those functions were is where I think people like Rothbard, Rand, Friedman – you could also probably throw in Robert Nozick here as a philosophical standard bearer for these folks. But Rothbard, if you look at a spectrum, I would put Rothbard in the 1960s and 1970s at the very far end of the libertarian spectrum in terms of– He wanted to do away with national defense, he wanted it to become completely privatized, and driven as a private for-profit entity, he made strange bedfellows at times because he was so adamantly anti-statist. And so at times, you could see him picking up on the rhetoric of certain sectors of the new left who were opposed to the Vietnam War and the like. So, Rothbard, a godfather of US-style libertarianism like this, was at the extreme end of the spectrum. And he changed over time by the 1980’s and the 1990’s. He allied himself with Pat Buchanan, began to advocate for brutal police repression, and became a Paleo-Conservative. But in the 60’s and 70’s, he was probably the most – for lack of a better word – purist in terms of his market libertarian positions.

Rand, I guess you could probably slot in between Rothbard and Friedman, if you were looking at a spectrum. It’s hard to talk about her in some ways, she’s very influential today. I can say more about that in just a second. But, she was, essentially, a Russian emigre, her family had been persecuted under the Bolsheviks – well, they’d been expropriated. And so they came to the United States, and she lived in New York City, but she also lived in Southern California. She was deeply influenced by the culture of Hollywood. It’s a myth about Ayn Rand being a product of what happened to her in Russia. But I think Corey Robin and other writers have made a very compelling case that she was also strongly influenced by the world of Southern California and Hollywood and a developing Orange County and so forth. And so Rand would not call herself a libertarian. She refused it. Her famous phrase, perhaps it might be apocryphal, I’ve constantly looked to see if I could find this quote, and it’s been an I haven’t been in had any success, but she said, “You have to have a state who’s going to jail the communists.” And so she was, again, a minimalist statist, she wanted, essentially, for the state to exist to protect capitalists, protect them from fraud, protect them from direct violence, protect them from the masses. She was worried about the masses and the idea of demagoguery. She had strong disagreements with Murray Rothbard. He saw in Rand and the coterie of people that she had around her what he called “a perfect engine for totalitarianism.” He really saw her as a charismatic, totalitarian, dogmatic figure. So, these are very strong differences of opinion, but Rand is right in the middle of that spectrum.

Someone like Milton Friedman was deeply influenced by a couple of people who also influenced Rand and Rothbard. These are members of what’s known as the Austrian School of libertarian economics, or Austrian School of Economics: Friedrich von Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises, amongst others. Friedman was influenced by them and became part of the University of Chicago economics department. Friedman made a little more space for the role of the state: he and someone like Hayek were willing to accommodate state intervention in things like welfare programs, or certain subsidies to the population at large or business. And so they occupied a space on the libertarian spectrum that would be in some ways – I guess, these terms get problematic – but you might say a little bit closer to how we think about neoliberalism, which is not an anti-state program. It’s a state-generated program. It’s an alliance between capitalists and the state. And so here’s Friedman, this character who’s a little less dogmatic, a little less idealistic in his sensibility and a little more pragmatic. But so you have this spectrum. And these three figures are very, very influential, they remain influential. Rand is extremely influential in the culture of Silicon Valley today, this tech utopian world. And if you look at characters such as Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal, an early investor in Facebook, a strange supporter of Donald Trump, and also one of the owners of Palantir, which is the largest surveillance private surveillance operation, affiliated with the US government. Thiel is a big Rand fan, Musk, Bezos, all of these guys, the founder of Whole Foods (John Mackey), a lot of them are very Randian in this way. The Libertarian Party certainly was influenced by Ayn Rand and remains influenced by her. Ron Paul, his son, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, I don’t know what it is about Pauls, but they all seem to be connected to Rand. So she’s had this resurgence over the years and of course she was Greenspan’s (the head of the Federal Reserve for many years under Clinton and the early Bush years) mentor. And Greenspan was right inside her inner circle and swallowed Randian objectivist economics and libertarian theories wholeheartedly and essentially had to issue a mia culpa in 2008 when everything collapsed.

Friedman is also still very influential today. He was the architect of the radical privatization of Chile’s economy under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The ideas of Friedman and the faith in free enterprise were embedded in words in the 1980 Chilean constitution that was foisted upon the population by the military dictatorship. So “Free Enterprise” would be the only acceptable model for the economy in Chile, and that’s now finally being overturned. That constitution is being now rewritten with the enormous revolutionary transformations that have taken place in Chile over the past few years. Friedman’s son, David Friedman is a very well-known anarcho-capitalist, his grandson Patri Friedman, is also very much linked up with a lot of the projects that I talked about – seasteading Future Cities Inc. Free Private Cities in Central America, and the like. And a lot of this is connected to cultural emancipation or “lifestyle” emancipation if you wanted to use the critique of Hakeem Bay. Burning Man, polyamory, this idea that Burning Man in some ways might be a model for a future society. These are the three of the central figures, and in the background of all of their minds was not only a notion of private enterprise and market transactions being a pathway to individual freedom, but also a way to avoid the trappings of totalitarianism that they associated with Nazism, communism, socialism, they made no distinction between these things. All of those were considered to be totalitarianism, even though of course, it was communism that ultimately defeated fascism.

TFSR: Just a quick note on the critique of Ayn Rand as a totalitarian or whatever the term was that Rothbard had tossed that way. For any listeners that haven’t seen it. There’s a very entertaining and interesting documentary series called All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace that talks about the cult of personality that Rand developed around herself, which was referenced also in the footnotes of the book, which I appreciated seeing.

RC: That’s right. Adam Curtis, it’s a wonderful three-part documentary. The first part is about Rand and her influence on Silicon Valley.

TFSR: Where you left that description of those thinkers and their trajectories lead perfectly to the question that I was going to ask after that. A central figure in your book is Michael Oliver, I’d like for you to talk about this man. As a Lithuanian Jew who lost most of his family to the Nazis, who barely survived the Shoah, himself, and who claimed that his sister was killed by occupying Soviets… Oliver moves to the USA after World War II and is, in understandable ways, allergic to totalitarian states and the destabilization that he sees coming from masses that have been whipped up to do the bidding of these totalitarian states and demagogues. How did he end up alongside white supremacists or CIA-adjacent weapon smugglers and attempting a staged coup in a decolonizing South Pacific Island?

RC: Yeah, Oliver is a central figure in the book, at least for much of it. And it’s a very compelling story that is both deeply painful and tragic. And at the same time, a story of the 20th century in some ways. He was born Moses Olitzky in 1928. You can imagine, he’s basically about 14 when things get terrible for him in Lithuania. His sister is taken away by Soviet troops and then when the Nazis come, his family is killed and he ends up in different concentration camps in Poland and is rescued by Japanese-American troops in 1945. So, he comes to the United States, to Nevada, and he becomes fairly successful. He’s in the US Air Force for a little bit of time, and he’s working in electronics. But he becomes a successful land developer and coin dealer and he sees in the 1960s a lot of things that raise fears for him about just the way the world can turn on a dime. And what’s difficult to read is that he sees these movements and he identifies his concern with totalitarianism and what he calls “Stormtrooper tactics” and things like this with movements that are essentially movements of people themselves trying to achieve some form of emancipation. So, you think about things like the civil rights movement, second-wave feminism, and gay rights… there are a lot of movements in the 1960s that are developing and the language that Oliver uses is a language that seems to indicate that he’s identifying resistance movements on the part of these social movements as where totalitarianism is threatening to come from and where demagoguery might be appealing. He doesn’t talk about things like the John Birchers, the KKK, the Christian Nationalists, or the movements on the right that were developing quite strongly, they have been strong in the 1950s, and they’d grown with Barry Goldwater’s run for the presidency that ended unsuccessfully in 1964. And so there is something there that is troubling and unsettling to have to come to terms with in how he’s identifying where the problems are going to come from, in his mind.

His first project is in the South Pacific, many libertarians, he is trying to develop a new country. He realizes that you can find territory to buy but you’ll have a hard time purchasing sovereignty. In other words, territorial sovereignty in which you can hive off and make your own country your utterly private estate in some form or another. And so he looks at the open ocean. This was not uncommon at the time, other people did this, Ernest Hemingway’s younger brother, there’s another man by the name of Werner Stiefel whose family had fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, he was a pharmaceutical engineer. There’s an array of people who tried this, and they saw – somewhat incorrectly – the high seas as places where they can establish themselves. And it just wasn’t the case. And there are a lot of legal questions around this, also engineering questions and so forth. But he tried in the South Pacific to build an island with the support of several different wealthy figures.

I want to point out here, it’s very important: Oliver is the front figure and much of this and he put himself out there, he did interviews with Reason magazine, he did interviews with People magazine, he published his book A New Constitution for a New Country in 1968. So he made himself a focal point, but he had substantial backing from very wealthy people, Willard Garvey, who was a wheat magnate based in Wichita Falls, Kansas, who also built low-income housing in places like Peru and elsewhere around the world and had connections with the Foster Dulles brothers, in the CIA and elsewhere. He had a big argument about Make Every Man a Capitalist instead of Make Every Man a Communist, and the way to do that was through home ownership, something that’s now come back to bite us if you look at the housing market these days. John Templeton from the Templeton Foundation, if you listen to NPR, you’ll hear the reference to the Templeton Foundation. That’s the same John Templeton was an investor specialist. Seth Atwood was a horologist watch collector, but also a yachtsman. They were an array of people involved in these projects. But Oliver was the frontman. And so the project in the Southwest Pacific to build an island didn’t go very well. But then subsequently, the next project was this effort to essentially back a group of people on the islands of Abaco, which are part of the Bahamas. And this is in 1973. These are islands Abaco, in particular, these are islands that were settled by loyalists to the British after the American Revolution. They fled, and they went to Abaco and settled there. And this includes not only white loyalists, but also Black, and also formerly enslaved people who the white loyalists brought with them.

And they, at least the secessionist movement on Abaco, did not want to be part of an independent Bahamas. There’s several reasons why this might have been the case. But clearly, race is one of them. Many people involved in this movement were very clear that they did not want to be governed by a predominantly black political party, the party of Walter Pindling, who was going to become the first prime minister of an independent Bahamas. And also concerns about communist influences, left-wing influences, the language around communism and decolonization, and so forth. This is something that comes back in other projects that I look at. So, Oliver attached himself to a group of people who were supporting the secessionists. And this included a Wild West figure Mitchell Livingstone WerBell III. His family was originally from Russia, he claimed that his father had been the head of the horse brigade for the Tsar. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But WerBell was in the OSS, which was the precursor to the CIA. He was in Southeast Asia with the E. Howard Hunt who went on to become a Watergate plumber was also involved in the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. Lucien Conien was a French-American paratrooper and the point man for the Kennedy administration’s assassination of Diem in South Vietnam in 1963. And an array of other people… John Singlaub, who went on to a very prominent career in the US Army but also had pretty sketchy attachments to the World Anti-Communist League and things like this that have some proto-fascist tendencies, to say the least. So these were the characters WerBell was involved with and he became a PR man for a while in Atlanta which is where he was originally from and then in the 1960’s, you could find him in various places. He was in the Dominican Republic in 1964, right before a coup d’etat, he was working with Guatemala at various points in time in the 1960’s. He was creating silencers, sound suppressors for some of the deadliest weapons of the era, the Gordon Ingram MAC-10, in particular, which also had a very prominent role in many films in Hollywood. And WerBell also reportedly had many connections to the CIA and it’s very, very difficult to determine the truth and the fiction behind many of these claims. WerBell was an enormous ego and self-promoter. The CIA has not responded or never complied with my Freedom of Information Act requests, I have six or seven outstanding requests with them going back to 2013, so it’s 10 years now. The FBI did comply, and I have quite a bit of information from the FBI. So, WerBell was one of these individuals who was essentially helping to run this operation, to create essentially a private country in Abaco by supporting the secessionist movement in Abaco. And somehow Oliver was linked up with him. When they originally met, I’m not sure. But in 1974, they were clearly connected, because the two of them ran a meeting of eight people total in Washington DC in which they basically hashed out what was going on in the project.

The last figure I’ll just mention here is Andrew St. George, who was a journalist who covered that meeting in 1974 in Washington DC. St. George, both in his archival materials, which I’ve gone through quite closely– And also I’ve had conversations with at least one of his sons. St. George is quite an interesting figure as well. He had covered Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the mountains in 1958 before they overthrew Batista and the Cuban Revolution. He actually was close friends with Che and St. George was critical to the recuperation of Che’s body from Bolivia after his assassination later in the 1960s. So, St. George is quite interesting. And St. George had real concerns about Michael Oliver and about Michael Oliver’s political affiliations and connections with people who he was operating with. It’s extremely difficult to discern the depth of connection that Oliver had with people outside of and within WerBell’s orbit. But what we do know is that they worked together over at least a year, if not more, to try to bring the Abaco secession and new country movement to fruition. And it essentially fell apart because many of the individuals who were advocating for Abaco to not be part of the Bahamas were hoping that Abaco would remain part of the Crown, part of the United Kingdom. That’s what they ultimately wanted. And when that didn’t come through, many of them were clear that they did not want armed insurrection, and to be part of this new country project that would look a lot like, frankly, Freeport on Grand Bahama, which was this early, quasi-sovereign, tax-free, free zone, a free port. They call it Freeport, and they didn’t want that. And so, at that point, things fell apart. WerBell was being investigated by Congress and the FBI, and his name popped up repeatedly in the JFK assassination files. It became quite messy, and things fell apart. And the FBI was investigating quite intensively at that point.

TFSR: His story is so complicated that I mixed up a few of the elements there by asking that question about the South Pacific because there was Minerva, there was Vanuatu, and three different attempts at creating a free island or at least occupying and settling and creating “free” commerce or “free” enterprise-ruled space, allegedly. [laughs]

RC: Vanuatu was his last one, after the Abaco experiment fell through, he then turned his attention to the New Hebrides for five years from 1975 to 1980. And that ended with a rebellion that Oliver and his allies in an organization known as the Phoenix Foundation helped foment, essentially. I should mention them briefly. One of the things I did was I went to Vanuatu and I was very fortunate to have some good support from folks there, many of whom remember the Santo rebellion in 1980 and got me access to the files of the person who had been head of British Special Branch there by the name of Gordon Haynes. And so I got access to his archives. He died, I think, in 2015. And these were embargoed until after his death. But clearly, Haynes made the standard British imperial moves: he was in parts of Africa; and then when those decolonized, and the British left, he moved to the Solomon Islands; and they moved from the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu and so forth. He was a civil servant. But Haynes, essentially his job from 1970 to 1980 in Vanuatu was tracking American libertarian speculators, real estate speculators, and libertarians who were trying to do various projects there. So this included Michael Oliver included a real estate speculator from Hawaii by the name of Eugene Peacock, and several other individuals as well. Clearly, his files show me that the core of his job was tracking these folks.

TFSR: God, that must have been boring, the most mayonnaise people.

But by presenting context on the history of colonialism, which is a thing that I really appreciate about the story that you tell, and about extraction and crony capitalism (as if there were any other kind) in these areas of the world that mostly white men have tried to impose their land grabs on. If that’s possible, you kind of undo the erasure of the concept of Terra Nullius, which, as you show, often harkens romantically back to the mystique of settler colonialism, as it beckons adventurous citizen-consumers to forge their new destinies. And for all their talk of voluntary association, there’s no note of the violence inherent to exclusionary property. So would you talk about the settler imaginary in the US and right-wing libertarianism and these neo-primitive accumulation schemes?

RC: Sure. Thank you for that question. Every once in a while, before the book came out, I read some shorter pieces about this, and a number of people who are “fellow travelers” with these projects wrote me and wondered why I was calling them right-wing and, I was trying to explain to them because it was the primitive accumulation property paradigm, that’s the issue here. It’s not about whether or not you support the Republican party or something, this silly, narrow bandwidth that American politics suffers from. So the primitive accumulation and property question is key. Even to step back and look at the project of building an island in the Southwest Pacific, Oliver’s first project, the Ocean Life Research Foundation, which he created to raise money and the idea was to go to these reefs called the Minerva reefs that sit south of Tonga and Fiji, in between Tonga and Fiji, up to the north, and in New Zealand in the South. And the whole premise here was that these were free for the taking, that you could just go and take these things, and that they weren’t under anybody’s jurisdiction. This was an era in which things like the exclusive economic zone and the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea hadn’t been totally hashed out. And so there was a lot of lack of clarity about this. And there’s a lack of clarity simply about also when you say that the high seas of the oceans are a Commons for all of mankind, what does that mean? Is it a free for all? Does it mean you can create an artificial island? Not create an artificial island? Can you have a floating island versus an anchored island? These questions were up in the air. But many people took this to just mean that these were places that they could just go and colonize.

And the problem – and what I try to explore in close detail in all of the chapters – in the case of the Minerva reefs is these were places of seasonal use by fishermen, lobstermen, crab men, and others from places like Tonga and Fiji. These were places where there had been terrible shipwrecks, including in 1962, in which three Tongan passengers on the ship carrying Tongan boxers and others to Sydney crashed and they were there for three months. And three of them died and were buried on the reefs. These are places of mourning. These are places of history. These are places of poetry. These are not just spaces for anybody to just waltz in from afar and lay claim to and colonize. And so I try to take very seriously how archipelagic peoples, Oceanian peoples think about the ocean, not from a continentalist perspective and not from a proprietarian perspective, but certainly from a perspective of the meaning of history, of use value, and the like. And certainly, these are not places where someone else can just come in and print a property paradigm in the way that the Libertarians tried to do. This has come back, of course, in more recent cases like the Seasteaders, And I can talk about the Seasteaders in a few minutes further when I get to some of the more contemporary projects.

And so I tried to do this, and in all three of the examinations of the projects that Oliver was involved in the 1970’s, I wanted to take very seriously the social histories of the places where these projects unfolded. There’s a lot of writing about these projects is nudge, nudge, wink, wink, isn’t this funny, let’s yok it up. Look at this wacky stuff. I find that problematic, I think we need to make an effort to understand Michael Oliver and the people who funded him where they were coming from, but I also think we need to really understand the places, why they selected the places they selected, and how those populations essentially experienced these projects and the terrible consequences in instances. We’re talking in a place like Vanuatu of a rebellion, in which significant numbers of people were displaced, and a couple of people died. Or you talk about the case of Tonga and the Minerva reefs, or the Bahamas, these are the things that put enormous strain on governments, who are trying to deal with the process of overthrowing colonial rule. And so I wanted to take very seriously the histories of these places, how people understood property, land, the ocean, their own histories, colonialism, and the like. And so you take the case of the New Hebrides, for example, the land was a huge issue there. Anti-colonial politics ultimately arose around the question of land in the 1960’s. And it’s a very intricate process that unfolds there. And I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about it. But I do want to say the upshot of the anti-colonial politics of the 1960s, the process of decolonization in the 1970’s is that with the independence of Vanuatu in 1980, all land comes under the control of native indigenous Vanuatu inhabitants and that land cannot be sold. It can be leased, and it has to be leased according to the agreement by the customary owners of that land. But that’s embedded in the Constitution and it comes out of an understanding of the land, but also it comes out of the context of 70 years of colonial rule in which increasing encroachment into the interior, increasing destruction of the forest in order to raise cattle had unfolded. And so I really wanted to pay attention to different ways of thinking about land, property, history, and use that don’t fit this narrowly defined property paradigm that tends to hold sway amongst the libertarian Exeters.

TFSR: It’s not surprising at all, having read some history. But one part of the struggles that you talk about in Vanuatu, with the Ni-Vanuatu, and you do mention there’s a broad brush painting by reactionaries for the most part around the world and often Colons or settler colonizers in various decolonizing areas where there is the conflation of communism with decolonization. Or, in a lot of these instances, like in the Bahamas, the fear of black majority parties taking control. And at least one of the major trajectories in the independence struggle among Ni-Vanuatu was a party of people that had, among other things, been engaging with this decolonial thread throughout the world, interacting with not only black power movements in the United States but also in decolonizing Africa. And I thought that was really fascinating.

And I didn’t really have a question so much in relation to this as much as last night, when I was thinking about this, I was remembering this book on the Republic of New Africa [Free The Land by Edward Onaci] that I had read through not that long ago, and it was talking about the borderlessness– That project when it was territorializing itself for a period in the so-called US South still wanted to have a decolonial relationship with indigenous people who’s stolen land that people had been re-territorialized on to as their ancestors had. But that’s placing decolonization within this web of relationships… And you could see, that they were deeply influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X and many others, and the concepts that land and freedom are the two central things that decolonization struggles need to struggle with. Just thinking about the influence of some of those same teachers and movements and thinkers and individuals in Vanuatu was pretty inspiring for you to mention the book.

RC: Yes, thank you. There’s been some really remarkable work in recent years that I relied upon and drew from. So there were two political movements in Vanuatu that initially were allied, for lack of a better word. One was the Nagriamel movement of Chief Paul Bullock and Chief Jimmy Stevens. Jimmy Stevens and the Nagriamel were allying with Michael Oliver, and they’re the ones who are supported by Oliver in the Phoenix Foundation in their efforts to secede in the Santo rebellion in 1980. The other party was the New Hebrides National Party, which renamed itself the Vanua’aku Pati, the Land Rises Up Party. And there’s been some really wonderful writing in recent years on Black Power in the Pacific and its relationship to decolonization more broadly. Quito Swan has written two really fabulous books on this, Tracey Banivanua Mar, Robbie Shilliam… there’s really this flourishing of literature that’s looking much more closely at these relationships globally and not solely looking at the places that tend to dominate the literature.

You’re right, what’s quite interesting in the case of Vanuatu is that there’s an internal conflict, there’s an internal conflict between the mostly Anglophone Vanua’aku Pati, and the Nagriamel movement which is mostly in the northern islands of the archipelago. And over time, they come into conflict increasingly with each other, and I try to go through why and how that happens. And why somebody like Jimmy Stevens in the Nagriamel anti-colonial movement, who was a very adamant anti-colonialist in the 1960’s, why he would end up allying with Oliver in the Phoenix Foundation, and he would articulate an argument about: instead of an independent nation called Vanuatu, there should be a Confederation. And this was not unusual. All West African anti-colonial intellectuals also suggested similar things, that nation-state status wasn’t the only option for decolonization. And so this was something that Stevens was fairly adamant about, but in the process of doing this, to bring his dreams to fruition (and he also had his own political aspirations) he ended up allying himself with these other characters. And things didn’t go well, the Santo rebellion was put down, Jimmy Stevens was arrested and sentenced to prison for a long time, and some of his closest allies were sentenced to prison and ended up dying. One from tetanus, right after entering the prison. The after-effects were quite intense.

And of course, the Libertarians, just like the British and the French, went home, they went home free people. It’s a troubling history, in that respect. But it also points toward the complications on the ground, there’s an enormous amount of, again, going back to how sometimes these projects are written about, they allied or ignored the agency of local actors, who are complicated and complex and make all strange decisions and predictable and unpredictable decisions. But oftentimes, they’re ignored, and they shouldn’t be ignored. And unfortunately, those things are being repeated in contemporary writing about Libertarian projects in places like Honduras and Tahiti and even in Chile, there’s been a couple of efforts to put together some of these things. Incessantly, they’re invariably named after John Gault and Ayn Rand or Fort Gault this, John Gault that… and it’s depressingly predictable. But again, the local commentators, the critics of these projects make the same mistake that the generators of these projects make, which is that they’re clueless about the local context.

TFSR: Could you talk a bit about if we consider the international movements for creating spaces – physical, terrestrial, oceanic, in Space, digital, whatever – to create autonomy among– Not to make it too big because you cover a lot of stuff in the book, and even just touching on all the different tendencies and ways that people are trying to experiment with this. Can you talk a little bit about where this venture capitalism or Exiter strategy is now and maybe some of the movers and shakers like Peter Thiel… ? And how has the supposed model of individualism that Oliver and a lot of this early adherence to this thing were presenting, how has that shifted into elitist sovereignty ideas?

RC: Sure. I’ll start with the last point you just made, Oliver embraced this Ayn-Rand, hypercapitalist, individualist, what she called “Objectivist”, philosophy. I think, ultimately, due to his experience and because of his fears about totalitarianism, he called it a moral experiment. If he wanted to avoid taxes or make a lot of money, tax havens were a dime a dozen, he had the money to hire attorneys to help them hide his money. It wasn’t about that. He called it a “moral experiment” and he believed very profoundly in it. I think it was a mistaken set of beliefs. But he believed in those quite profoundly, and it was his concern about totalitarianism and demagoguery and states and their repressive nature that drove him. The contemporary projects are different, you see the projects that Oliver was involved in a lot of these, many different versions of these were experimented with in the 60’s and 70’s, and you start to see them fade away in the 80’s. And I think you see them fade away, in part, because a lot of people that previously might have been interested in them become less interested in them. After all, they can really socially secede in the United States under Reagan, and also in England with Thatcher. The real intensification of the neoliberal revolution began in the late 1970’s, it really takes grip in the 1980’s and the 1990’s. And so you see a lot of people who were more base in their motives in terms of taxation and things like this didn’t need to territorially secede. They could increasingly live in gated communities outside of Atlanta, they could go to the exurbs, and so on. Their tax rates were going down. So, you don’t really see projects like this, there are a few, but I mentioned one of them, which is quite amusing. But I won’t go into it for now for the interest of time, but they’re really not many of them.

They come back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. And really, with the growth of digital life and the internet. And so then you really begin to see this reemergence of interest in stuff like this. I don’t talk about some of the more extreme versions or futuristic versions of this transforming your consciousness into digital code and embedding yourself into a computer that out-survives your corpse… Even the outer space stuff takes an enormous number of people on planet Earth to keep one person alive in outer space. I don’t think that stuff is going to happen anytime soon. But in the spirit of Peter Thiel, he essentially says as much in an interview that he did with the Cato Institute, in which he says, “You have cyberspace, you have outer space, and you have the ocean. And really the more practical mediate possibility for exit is the ocean. The outer space and cyberspace are far-off in some respects.”

So I look at a couple of these projects, more contemporary projects that have really come out of the Silicon Valley digital, what a couple of writers in the 1990’s called the “California ideology”, which weds the commune hippie culture with yuppie entrepreneurial culture. And they call it the “California Ideology”. And this shows up also in the documentary you mentioned by Adam Curtis All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. Even the title is taken from a combination of this tech digital yuppie meets commune culture from Richard Brautigan. And so, I look at two projects in particular that I think are illustrative of projects these days. One is Seasteading, which is an effort that started in 2008 with the creation of the Seasteading Institute, and the idea is to build private floating platforms on the high seas where people can basically select if they want to attach their platforms and make communities or they want to separate it. Patri Friedman, Milton Friedman’s grandson was the first director of the Seasteading Institute. He’s quite closely involved in this. The logo for some of the affiliated groups with the Seasteading Institute is Burning Man on the high seas, so it gives you a sense of the influences here, it’s Burning Man meets the open ocean.

And then the other project I look at is what is called Free Private Cities in Honduras, which build off of charter cities. The idea behind charter cities came out of the thinking of Paul Romer, who was an economist at Stanford, then chief economist at the World Bank for a brief time, and is now at NYU. Romer’s idea was essentially that traditional aid as we know it has just never done what it was intended to do, it’s constantly been a failure. He’s not necessarily wrong about that but I don’t think the result, the conclusion that he comes to is problematic. His idea was with charter cities, that places that were struggling could seed a portion of their sovereign territory, and then an international group of governments or investors would come in and assert control over that territory and build essentially a nostalgic version of Hong Kong as it ever was. Hong Kong has this mythical life in people’s minds about what it was like. And so the idea would be to create a charter city, an open city, it wouldn’t be gated, and you could opt in or opt out as you wished. This is very problematic because the whole idea of easy opt-in and opt-out is just also mythological. There’s a whole array of constraints here, and Romer himself admitted that there would have to be some immigration control. And so again, you’re back to the same question, which is these idealized versions of opt-in and opt-out are not realizable at some level. And so then you start talking about “how those controls are going to be put into place, who’s gonna use them and have them.” But the charter city would have its own judiciary, would have its own arbitration boards, it would have its own constitution, its own police force, and its own labor laws. And these were things that would not be able to be overturned by the voters of the country where the charter city was situated.

It started off in Madagascar, it didn’t get very far because of a coup. And then there was a coup in Honduras. And that’s where Romer set up shop after 2009. He was a big fan at first. But he learned very quickly that it’s difficult to do transparent business with an illegal coup regime. And things got messy quickly, he withdrew around 2014-2015 entirely from the projects. They’ve now morphed into something known as Free Private Cities. It hasn’t gone forward on much of the Honduran mainland at this point. But there is one that seems to be going forward on the island of Roatan, one of the bay islands off the coast of Honduras. It’s a similar idea, but it’s less about opt-in opt-out, it’s really about buy-in, these are more gated communities. Again, they do have their own arbitration boards, and, in theory, their own police, their own judiciary. Very few, if any articles of the Honduran Constitution would apply. It’s not clear if that by voter determination nationally, would voter decisions apply inside these free private cities. So there are a lot of questions that are up in the air, even more so now that there’s been a recent election in Honduras, and the candidate who was elected has promised to roll back these projects. The array of people involved in these projects is quite interesting. You have the usual crowd of tech libertarians, Friedman a little bit, Michael Strong, who calls himself a radical social entrepreneur, he’s got a name for himself. He also issues his own laws and corollaries to his own laws.

TFSR: He is a leftist, right? [joke]

RC: I don’t know what he is, he calls himself a leftist and then says that capitalism is going to save the world. He has a very funny shtick. Some of these threads are quite fascinating to pursue and you wonder how they end up where they end up.

But you also have a host of figures who were involved in Ronald Reagan’s Central America office as well, and it gives you again, a sense of the real Noir, ugly underpinnings here. Not just the libertarian ideology, which I find deeply problematic. But also, folks who were deeply involved in policy-making of a government that fomented civil wars and backed coup d’etats and led to the deaths of tens of thousands, if not more of people, and have also forcibly put people on the move from the societies in which they want to live and where they want to vote, and where they want to raise their children – Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador. And of course, these are folks who are going to make their way to the US border and be forcibly separated from their children and detained in cages and called names, and persecuted and killed… The cast of characters is not pretty. And then you’ve also got people involved in Brexit in the UK and long histories of advocating that the state is nothing more than a protection racket. And so, the best thing to do is buy-in, and let’s go back to feudal monarchy. This is the Neo Reactionary movement, NRX, which also has a following.

TFSR: I found it really refreshing. I only saw the little bit of it that you put into the book, but Romer’s disillusionment with the Free City idea and the honesty right there saying, “Well, if this is being set up in such a way that there’s going to be no transfer of power or democratic approach for the majority of people that are affected by the choices that are made here.” I don’t hear this thing from capitalist idealists very frequently saying, “Well, why would I want myself, my children or my grandchildren to be living in this?” It comes out to be neofeudalism, as you point out. That moment of clarity was priceless right there.

RC: I tried to give them credit, but he withdrew. I found that surprising that he was surprised that that happened. I was a little sharp in my tone because I took umbrage at the New York Times glowing interview in which, the Times reporter said something like “Romer saw something that should be obvious to all academics, but isn’t.” And it went into this great praise of Romer. And I was like, “Well, if you’ve paid more attention to academics, you would know maybe that you’re setting yourself up for a real problem if you’re doing business with a coup regime in Honduras,” which would have been obvious, if you’d read some history of Central America and US involvement there. But you’re right. Romer said, “Look, I don’t want to support a place where I wouldn’t want my grandchildren growing up.” I may not agree with the nostalgic vision he has about Hong Kong and the idea of charter cities. I don’t agree at all. But on the other hand, I think it’s important that understanding that as being distinct from going all in with this illegality and a willingness to make excuses and do business all oftentimes hid behind a smarmy, self-righteous we’re-going-to-make-the-world-a-better-place-and-make-a-lot-of-money-at-the-same-time rhetoric, which I find totally disingenuous, delusional, and quite offensive. So, I think Romer was serious. It didn’t end well. But for the people who are ongoing in these projects, it’s a little like the Anarchapulco stuff on HBO Max…

TFSR: Which I was about to ask about.

Before going into that, by talking about these extranational zones of exchange or shifts in sovereignty to private ownership and charters and the citizen-consumer model that, as you say, you can opt in if you can pay for it. But it desubjectivizes all of the other individuals who maybe lived there or might want to participate and maybe don’t have $50,000 to put upfront or whatever. Or a lot of these schemes try to avoid the discomfort of having to be around class conflict by shipping in their labor and then shipping them back out. Because who wants to live next to dirty people who clean your toilets? Their hands are dirty, how’d they get that way?

Speaking of dirty people, though. Our conversation is happening briefly after the release of a couple – now three, I’m one behind – episodes of a series on HBO Plus called The Anarchists featuring interviews with participants in a so-called “anarcho-capitalist” gathering in a place they like to call Anarchapulco. So what have you thought so far of what you’ve seen, and I wonder if you have observations about the appropriation of the term ‘anarchist’ and ‘libertarian’ and whatever the hell these people are?

And if you wouldn’t mind just referencing for the audience the conscious efforts by Rothbard and others to actively appropriate the terms ‘anarchist’ and ‘libertarian’ towards right, pro-capitalist, minarchists or whatever?

RC: Sure. I mentioned that Ayn Rand totally rejected the term ‘libertarian,’ and she also rejected the term ‘anarchist.’ Milton Friedman, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything in writing where he embraced anything akin to the term ‘anarchist’ either. Rothbard is one, there were a number of other people. There was a brief flurry in the late 60’s and early 70’s, in which the word ‘anarchism’ or ‘anarchist’ and ‘anarchy’– Which I always find interesting, I teach a class on the history of anarchism. And despite my insistence that students say ‘anarchism,’ the desire for them to say ‘anarchy’ all the time, I’ve always found quite fascinating. I started to keep a log book about it, just because I thought it’s fascinating that they just insist that that’s the term they need to use. I just can’t imagine there’s a philosophical basis to anything here. But the late 60’s and early 70’s was a moment in which Rothbard, also Gordon Tullock, James Buchanan whose figures are very prominent in Nancy MacLeans book Democracy in Chains, people who’ve gone on to found the Public Choice School, George Mason University, or someone else that I talked about briefly, Tyler Cowen. Recently in a book review he called me “a defective thinker.”

TFSR: Congratulations!

RC: Thank you. We’re hoping it will be on the cover of the second edition of the book. So, they did use the language of anarchism and theories of anarchy, they use the term ‘anarchy’ more frequently than ‘anarchism.’ But there was this brief moment where they appropriated the term and didn’t use ‘Libertarian,’ and instead use this term ‘anarchy.’ And it’s interesting, I didn’t delve into it in much detail, but I suspect it’s something that came out of a desire to connect with the efflorescence of, the dynamicism of youth culture at the time, amongst other things, and then faded over time. I try very hard in my book to distinguish between the people that I look at who I call Market Libertarians. I really don’t like the term anarcho-capitalists, it just puts two things together that don’t belong together, I strongly feel that the tradition of anarchism is an anti-capitalist and anti-state tradition. And in fact, I tend to accentuate the anti-capitalist side of it more so than the anti-statist side of it. So, I tried very hard to just use the term market libertarian, you could say market authoritarian for some of these folks, if you wanted to, I think there’s a case to be made.

TFSR: That’s where the sovereignty lies [for them]. It seems like that’s the authority.

RC: Yeah, exactly. And one that’s radically unequal. The disequilibrium is substantial. I noted a certain point in the book that the language of freedom is everywhere with the market libertarians, but the language of equality is not. And there’s two ways to think about this. One is that for classical liberals, freedom in the market is, in their theory, at least, going to gradually lead to a certain form of equality for everybody, it’s a sequential argument. So you start with freedom in the market, and you get to social equality, which anybody who’s not a liberal doesn’t agree with. But there were others who, like the late Murray Rothbard who said “equality doesn’t matter.” “Equality is a totalitarian ideology.” And so it wasn’t even about equality. And then, for socialists and communists, and others these are things that happen that have to happen simultaneously, you have to have equality and freedom together. They’re mutually reinforcing.

So, that was the language of anarchism. It is interesting to me, watching the documentary, how committed the subjects of the documentary are to calling themselves anarchists. They’re very adamant that they call themselves anarchists. I think I’ve only heard the word ‘libertarian’ come up once or twice, which is quite fascinating. And I’m not exactly sure why that’s the case. This Anarchapulco conference that’s been covered in the documentary started, I think, in 2016-2017. And it really took off in 2018. But in 2017, I went to an event in San Francisco, a conference created by an organization called the Startup Societies Foundation. And this is very much along the same lines. Their slogan is “Don’t Argue – Build.” It’s that Libertarianism that embraces the market and also says that politics is a pain in the ass because everybody’s arguing about things when you should just be out there building. And my response is “Okay, you got a multimillion-dollar home. Let’s not argue, I’m just going to build a giant billboard in front of your windows. How’s that?” They’ll be the first one to say, “You got to talk about zoning, you got to talk about wastewater treatment,” all these things have to be talked about in the community. That means politics, that means arguments. And so it’s just so unbelievably naive and silly and strange slogan.

But anyways, The Startup Society Foundation had this thing in 2017, it was a little mini version of this an Anarchapulco to some degree. A lot of it was people attempting to sell people on their latest thing related to blockchain or a new cryptocurrency, they wanted to do an initial coin offering or something like this. And then you had about 40% of the time were speakers, “thought leaders” pontificating about this or that. Including this fairly prominent guy from Stanford based in Silicon Valley, Balaji Srinivasen who just released a book called The Network State. His premise for Exit is a little bit different, it’s interesting to follow the logic through, he’s very much on the Market Libertarian side of things. I haven’t read the book, but as he presented it in 2017, part of the idea was that you get like-minded people together and you come up with a whole set of criteria about what your ideal place would look like, yearly average temperature, laws around whatever, taxation rates, closeness to an airport. And that you pump all of this algorithmically into this machine and it’ll turn out places that most closely fulfill their requirements. And then you and your friends who’ve got money get together and go to the space and set yourself up, and then negotiate better terms with the state wherever you are at because you’re bringing in your money. I’m not sure if this is what he gets into in The Network State, his most recent thing, but he talked a little bit about this in 2017.

So, there’s this array of these market libertarian gatherings where there’s a range of people, not all of them with a lot of money, but many of them with a good chunk of money, trying to create something that they see that is different. But it is interesting and strange that they use the language of anarchists. And I think it’s quite revealing, actually, and it does go back a little bit to what we saw in the late 60’s and early 70’s. That the language has a certain secondary meaning that they’re drawing from. It’s not pure political confusion. A lot of it is political confusion and a lack of historical understanding of anarchism, but also some of it is a-

TFSR: Marketing, if you will?

RC: Exactly. This is a marketing scheme.

TFSR: There was a point in the book where you talked about the shift in language around Libertarianism and pointing to the social conservatism that started developing at a certain point in the United States, the adoption of the term in relation to some of those rich – and I am sure in a lot of cases whites-only – enclaves outside of Atlanta that Newt Gingrich came out of similar to behind the Orange Curtain in California. I would imagine there’s probably a lot of people, having watched a couple of his episodes, that are positioning themselves as anarchists because it’s edgy and it’s in contradiction to the social mores that are imposed by the Evangelical-inflected Libertarianism and sovereign sheriff movement, constitutional sheriffs, and all this devolution of government – things that are being pushed by some in the US.

RC: I think that’s exactly right.

TFSR: What are you working on now? Where can people find your stuff?

Before that, I want to ask the question about “leftist” approaches towards sovereignty and exit.

RC: I’ll just say the latter part very quickly. I don’t use the language of “Exit” to talk about some of the left approaches. I end up using the word ‘exile’ that I draw from Andrej Grubacic and Dennis O’Hara’s Living at the Edges of Capitalism. They have a section on the Zapatistas, the Cossacks, and solitary confinement prisoners. It’s a book about mutual aid and exile. They use the term ‘exile.’ I found it very useful to make that distinction. Because there is a tendency– I get this question a lot, which is what about the Zapatistas? What about Rojava? It’s important to not equate form and content. It’s easy to say, “Oh, look, these are similar forms, they’re against the nation-state. They’re trying to create something different, autonomous territories. But my response to that is, first of all, we can’t equate a “green eco-village” capitalism with runaway slave communities or something like this. I just think that’s really problematic to equate those things. Perhaps, the more important point here is that the exit communities increasingly to me don’t appear to be a form of exile or exit, they appear to me to be a new instantiation of the state and an effort to increasingly privatize the state, new forms of primitive accumulation, new ways of resource capture. I just don’t see them as comparable at all to something like the Zapatista communities of southern Mexico, which are built on solidarity rather than individuality. They’re built on cooperation and mutual aid rather than competition, they see themselves as having to have in some form or relationship with the Mexican state. They’re not an utter rejection of the Mexican state. But they see themselves as having to have some relationship with that state, they actually invest in the promise of the Mexican Revolution in Article 27 from the Mexican Constitution on the Ejidos and agrarian reform. But at the same time, they’re trying to create something that is autonomous and unique in its own right, but you don’t have to have money to opt in. It’s just an entirely different structure. These things have to be distinguished pretty substantially. I see the exit projects as actually much more mainstream than they would like to see themselves.

And I disagree, actually, there’s been a couple of people who have reviewed the book and suggested that I focus on these outlier projects that are unusual and wacky and exceptions. I guess I didn’t get my point across because what I was trying to demonstrate by the end of the book is that in fact, these things are actually quite mundane, quite mainstream, and this is why if you want to understand them, you don’t need to read Peter Thiel or Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos and I would hasten to say you probably should read but don’t need to read William Gibson and Neal Stephenson and Ursula Le Guin, you can read J.G. Ballard, read his trilogy Cocaine Nights, Supercon, and High Rise to get a sense of what the future looks like in these communities.

TFSR: Yeah. Or in these instances, too, rather than talking to the people that are paid to fly into this hotel to give a presentation on whatever high-minded ideals they might have about changing the world, talking about the opportunities there with projects like Zapatista communities or what was the ZAD and Notre-Dam-des-Landes in France, or Unist’ot’en or the resistance at Standing Rock, either the creation of these autonomous, the opening up of space moments that are ideally more than just a TAZ ala Hakeem Bay, but oftentimes, what is meant to be not only a reimagining of the existent relationships around property, sovereignty, belonging, ecology, but they’re often an act of decolonization and removal of the imposition of the settler state, depending on where these are taking place.

There’s room for those of us on the left to think in terms of taking space, if we approach things honestly, from this perspective of solidarity and engagement, where it’s not me taking it from this blank slate that’s presented in front of me. Or those people that are like “let’s build some more factories here and call it Cancer Alley” or whatever. As long as we actively start engaging as folks from a colonizer country with populations and with landscapes that exist in a place, we can have a responsible way that, in the creation or recreation of these spaces, undoes some of the trauma that’s already happened and builds a path forward. That’s way more utopian and way more realistic than the crap that Thiel’s spouting.

RC: Yeah. You take something like the projects that I look at, but you can also look at the folks in the Anarchapulco, the HBO show, and I try to reference this in the book… When you come down to it, when you get past the glossy handout and the investment prospectus and all the other stuff, when you get past the glitter, it’s not Thomas Moore that you’re getting, it’s JW Marriott. It’s timeshare-sovereignty, that’s essentially what you’re getting in the end. And that’s why I’m saying it’s ultimately mundane and very mainstream in certain ways and reproduces all of these property and settler colonial relationships.

I have a very harsh critique in the book of the Seasteading book, Joe Cork and Patri Friedman did this book on seasteading. It’s just filled with the most fairy-tale version of history. There is hardly any mention of dispossession, violence, or anything like this. It’s like they read Lynn Cheney’s picture book Patriotic Primer for children and turned it into a history lesson. It’s really quite appalling. That’s the distinction I try to make in the book at various points in time.

The question about where people can learn more about what I’m doing. I’ve worked in Chile for many years, and I’ve been trying to get back there, but the pandemic has made research there difficult. In the meantime, I’ve been doing a couple of things. I’m working on an essay called “Selfish Determination,” which tries to go into a little bit more detail about how libertarians in the 50’s and 60s, especially in the 60’s, use the language of self-determination. There’s a UN resolution 1514 that was passed in the early 1960’s about the independence of colonized peoples and self-determination. I’m interested in the way in which they take up the idea of self-determination but appropriated for selfish determination just to give them their Ayn Rand credit. And then, a good friend of mine, Geoffroy de Laforcad, has written a lot on anarchism and has been involved in anarchist movements for many years in Buenos Aires and elsewhere. He’s from Marseille originally and teaches in Norfolk State. Geoffroy and I have been slowly working on a broader global history of things like exit and exile going back to the early 19th century. And this goes to your question about thinking about exile, Left projects of autonomy and things like this. We want to try to actually make those distinctions analytically and historically more evident and rich. So he and I are starting to write something together.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I look forward to checking it out for sure.

Well, thank you so much for having this conversation and for publishing this book. It’s sadly always timely. But not just because of HBO Plus, but yeah, I really appreciate it. I hope the listeners get a chance to read it and check it out. And thanks again for taking the time to have this conversation also.

RC: Yeah, thank you too. I was really grateful for the invitation and I really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks so much.

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

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Mèo Mun is an anarchist collective working to make anarchist materials and ideas more accessible to a Vietnamese audience, together with providing an analysis of social struggles from a Vietnamese anarchist lens. Over the next hour you’ll hear three collective members, Mai, Will and tùng share their critiques of leftist misrepresentations of the Vietnamese State as Socialist, lasting impacts of imperialism and war on populations of Vietnam, the centering US imaginaries of Vietnam, the struggles of working class people in general (and queer folks and sex workers in particular) in Vietnam, nationalism promoted by the government and other topics.

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Transcription:

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves with any names, preferred gender pronouns, affiliations or political identities as make sense for this conversation? Can you tell us a little about… is it pronounced Mèo Mun?

Mai: Yes, it’s pronounced Mèo Mun. I’m Mai, I use any/all pronouns. I don’t particularly use any political label, but I adhere to many anarchist principles.

Will: My name is Will. I use they/them pronouns. I’m an anarcho-communist.

tùng: Hi, I am tùng. I use any/all pronouns, I am an anarchist against the state and capitalism.

TFSR: Thanks for being here!

So, I am excited to have this conversation with you, thanks for making time and effort to chat! As anarchists from Vietnam, could you give us some highlights of the history of libertarian anti-capitalist and anarchist ideas and movements in Vietnam and what the milieu looks like today? And what sorts of topics and engagement drive those groups?

Will: As a preface, we are quite cut off from our roots. Many of us had lived for decades until we even heard of the word that encompasses our ideas and ways of life. The elaborate and complex history of the struggle for liberation in 20th century Vietnam is painted with a single stroke: you were either a patriotic Stalinist or a reactionary traitor, a colonial, fascist collaborator. The Marxist-Leninists who now rule the country only came into power by systemically eradicating all the other oppositional currents, labeling them traitors, and so yeah, of course they’d like to have a clear black and white narrative, of course they’d like for there to be no nuances; they’d look kind of bad otherwise and that’d weaken their grip on power. So, documents about anarchism or general radicalism in Vietnam, that divert from the State’s narrative are usually inaccessible in Vietnamese, either as hard copies, or scattered around obscure corners of the internet. That’s why we are on our very own bumpy road to learn and reconnect with our roots.

Historically, anarchism in Vietnam never grew into a wide-spread political movement. However, the struggle against the state, particularly states of the most populous ethnic group—the Kinh / Viet—can be traced all the way back to feudal times. Ethnic minorities living in upland Vietnam have been resisting the Kinh / Viet state’s expansionism for a very long time. James C Scott remarks in the book The Art of not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia that many aspects of their cultures and ways of living can be read as anti-state and anti-authoritarian, meaning that they have, in a way, long practiced the tradition of keeping the state at arm’s length, out of their affairs. Their struggles continue until this very day, and we have much to learn from them. We must stress, though, that we should not retroactively apply the label “anarchist” to these groups and their practices, nor should we call what they do “anarchism.” As Simoun Magsalin, our Filipino comrade, observes about the anarchist milieu in the archipelago: we should be critical of the anarchist equivalents of a “noble savage” trope, and the search for a “pure” indigeneity unspoiled by the State that decolonization can return to. In the same vein, we have before criticized the idea popular amongst many Marxist-Leninists, that homophobia in Vietnam is solely a product of Western colonialism, and pre-French colonial Vietnam was a haven for queer people. Oof.

Anarchists, as well as radicals influenced by anarchist principles, also participated in the struggle against colonialism and imperialism of the 20th century. For example, under the yoke of French colonialism, the radical Nguyen An Ninh called for the youth of Vietnam to “reinvent itself and take control of its own destiny.” He critiqued the Confucian family values of parental authority, gender inequality and traditional morality, encouraging people to “break with the past and free themselves from tyranny of all kinds.” He fought side by side with other anarchists and libertarian communists such as Trịnh Hưng Ngẫu and Ngô Văn (a former Trotskyist), in the labor movement. But as we’ve mentioned before, the Stalinists came into power by systematically eradicating all the radicals from oppositional currents like the anarchists, and indeed the Trotskyists who were brutally slaughtered. Ngo Van, the former-Trotskyist-turned-council-communist who we mentioned earlier, went on to produce many materials critical of the authoritarian, counter-revolutionary nature of the Stalinists after fleeing their persecution to France.

Mai: As for the contemporary anarchist milieu in Vietnam, it is extremely vulnerable and atomised. We simply don’t have contact with other groups, even though there might be quite a few out there. Those groups might wisely want to keep more to themselves rather than reaching out, since state repression is quite severe. This is a challenge for us, as one of our goals is to find a way for Viet anarchist groups to safely connect, communicate, and exchange experiences, if they so wish. Another reason is that our milieu has been chronically isolated from the milieus in other countries. There are many reasons for this lack of international interaction, such as language barriers and, again, state repression, but also a relative lack of support, solidarity and understanding from the Western left and anarchist community. We believe that anarchism, as a method of revolution, cannot be applied successfully by an isolated group, in other words, without international solidarity. The exchange of information and ideas, as well as the interlinking of our struggles are absolutely essential for the mutual strengthening of anarchist communities. And so, at the moment, building coalition with other milieus in South East Asia is one of the tasks that we prioritize. It’s also why we really appreciate the opportunity you have given us here on the podcast today!

Having said that, we are aghast that in many leftist circles in the West, Vietnam is painted as this Socialist haven where people think and act like a hive-mind, and the only ones speaking against the state are reactionary traitors, or CIA agents. So-called anarchists are paying to be fed those lies; so-called anarchists are capitalizing on those lies. We’ve lost count of how many times we have been fed-jacketed without any evidence whatsoever, and the people exposing us to harassment and doxxing got away scott-free. This stems from how the struggles in Vietnam and other over-exploited countries have been ignored by the majority of Western leftists for decades, especially when we can’t be used as ammunition in their own political discourse. This makes talking about our experience in Vietnam all the more dangerous, and it actively discourages anyone who might start speaking out.

As we touched on a bit before, organizing outside of the state framework in Vietnam, whether online or on the ground, is dangerous: the threats of police violence and incarceration are always looming over us and our loved ones. Many leftists seem to think of Vietnamese police as heroic defenders of the working class. It really shouldn’t need to be stated, but no, they’re not. Vietnamese police exists to protect the State and capitalist property in Vietnam. Police violence and deaths in custody in Vietnam are a well-documented reality. In Vietnam, the ruling party holds all executive, legislative and judiciary power. Cops don’t even need a court subpoena to enter our houses. Commoners like us grow up being taught to stay away from cops and everyone is used to bribing them. As for the law, there is a clause against the making, storage and spreading of material for the purpose of opposing the state and you could be sentenced to 5 or 12 years, if you’re caught.

Speaking from personal experience, many Viet anarchists seek out anarchism because we are marginalised in other ways on top of being exploited by capitalists as workers. Within Mèo Mun, many of our members are queer, disabled, and/or young. Some were radicalised while trying to organize rather unfruitfully within the liberal framework. Some have cited the horrible abuse they have suffered under the education and medical system. Some used to organize as Marxist-Leninists, simply because Marxism-Leninism is synonymous with Communism in Vietnam, but then can’t reconcile their reality with such an ideology anymore. So queer liberation, youth liberation, as well as disability justice and care are some of the passions that keep us going.

And also, I think I forgot to introduce a bit about Mèo Mun as a collective. Would it be possible for me to do that now?

TFSR: Of course!

Mai: Ok, so Mèo Mun is an anarchist collective working to make anarchist materials and ideas more accessible to a Vietnamese audience, together with providing an analysis of social struggles from a Vietnamese anarchist lens. Specifically, we do the work of archiving, translating, and disseminating anarchist texts, which can be found on the online Southeast Asian Anarchist library. There is also a very gradual translation of English Wikipedia pages related to anarchism into Vietnamese. You know, because Wikipedia tends to be the first place people come to for a basic understanding of new concepts. We try to reach a wider audience on social media as well, and we write and speak to educate people on what our experiences in Vietnam are like. The anarchist milieu in Vietnam is very atomized, so one of our goals is to connect Viet anarchists together, and provide a safer space for them to express themselves and exchange ideas, without fear of state repression, or mass harassment from statists and nationalists. Naturally, we make an active effort to include Viet anarchists in the diaspora in our organizing.

Individually, our members also participate in feminist, queer liberation, youth liberation and prisoners solidarity organizing.

TFSR: Awesome, thank you so much for the really thoughtful answers you’ve been giving, very clear.

So, you’ve already spoken on the pervasiveness of the police state and mentioned capitalist property and some other things in Vietnam. I would love to hear your perspectives on the political and economic direction of the State of Vietnam. An essay of yours that caught my attention is entitled “The Broken Promises of Vietnam” in which you argue that the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam” is not actually socialist. You describe similar instances of neo-liberal national economic infrastructure development taking precedence over preserving ecosystems and leaving intact indigenous communities, let alone general public health. You also describe a government wielding a Nationalistic vision of citizens that excludes ethnic and sexual minorities and that allows for billionaires to rise while the working classes and peasants are displaced. Can you talk about this, about those broken promises and who are some communities most imperiled by the Nationalistic tenor of the CPV?

Will: So, in terms of politics, Vietnam is a crony Capitalist country. The success of a business depends entirely on how well they could navigate the unofficial channels of the state, on their relationships with the government or Party members and how much money they are willing to spend on bribery. Officially, Vietnam is dubbed a Socialist country, but the class stratification can be observed in our everyday life. We have a so-called “People’s” billionaire, Pham Nhat Vuong, who, allegedly, built his empire from shaking hands with government officials to hoard land at a dirt-cheap price. He owns a total of $7.3 billion in assets, equivalent to the total assets of about 800,000 Vietnamese (on average). Very Socialist! Not to mention that Vietnam also has many other billionaires, enough to have a Shark Tank show right on national television. The very first promise, that the commoners who sacrificed everything for Vietnam’s liberation would be directly in charge of it, was shattered the very moment the Vietnamese government came into being.

The current Secretary of the Communist Party also openly praises capitalism, spicing it up with some superficial lukewarm critiques of capital! He said, and I quote: “We acknowledge that Capitalism has never been as global as it is today and has achieved many great achievements, especially in the utilization and development of productive capabilities and scientific-technological progress.” So, we’re just supposed to ignore all the toils the working class has historically and currently endured under capitalist Vietnam, for a Communism that may never even come! The end justifies the inhumane means, apparently.

As for nationalism, we mentioned it in the article “The Broken Promises of Vietnam,” but if you speak up and criticise the State, no matter how valid your points, how copious your evidences, you will be seen as going against the Vietnamese people, the Vietnamese nation, because the government has a vested interest in confusing party loyalty with the very natural and precious love that we have for our culture and fellow Vietnamese.

And as you know, nationalism sells the lie of a trans-class solidarity, that we Viet workers have more in common with Viet capitalists like Pham Nhat Vuong, rather than with fellow workers from China, Cambodia, Myanmar, or indeed the US. While in reality, Vietnamese capitalists and government go hand in hand with capitalists the world over to brutally exploit Vietnam’s cheap labor and natural resources. This can be observed in the outsourced manufacturing of electronic components and textile products to Vietnam, in the many Special Economic Zones that are mushrooming all over the country. There can’t ever exist any meaningful solidarity between us, between the capitalists and the working class, and the people in power are understandably frightened that the workers in Vietnam would one day see through this gross lie.

Consequently, they are dead-set on stoking the nationalist flame in Vietnam. That’s why career communists based in Vietnam spew absolute nonsense like “nationalism is crucial to communism in Vietnam.” Actually, Vietnamese nationalism is crucial to Vietnamese capitalism and authoritarianism. And the indoctrination process starts young.

Let’s examine the 5 commandments that Uncle Ho, Ho Chi Minh, taught Vietnamese youth:

1. Love your Fatherland, love your compatriots.

2. Learn well, work well.

3. Good unity, good discipline.

4. Good hygiene.

5. Be modest, honest, and brave.

These are hung in almost every classroom in Vietnam (usually with a photo of Uncle Ho). Many students are forced to learn them by heart. What comes first in these teachings? “Love your Fatherland.” Your fatherland comes before your compatriots. Children, who have not yet understood the concept of a “Fatherland,” let alone fully grasping what loving a Nation-state implies, are taught to put their “Fatherland” before themselves, before their family and friends. The next commandment: “Learn well” and “Work well.” For whom? In our opinion, also for your Fatherland, which is to say, for the state and the capitalists.

If you dare to question any of that, you’d likely be branded a traitor, a reactionary, a fake Vietnamese. If you dare to be “lazy” and not “work well,” you are a burden on society (disabled veterans in Vietnam are literally called “invalids;” we have “The Ministry of labor – War Invalids and Social Affairs”). The purpose of Vietnam’s education system, in our opinion, is to shape students into obedient workers or cogs in its capitalist machine, similar in essence to any other capitalist education system.

Also, many well-known authors whose works are featured in Vietnamese textbooks also incessantly preach nationalism and the idolatry of political figures like Uncle Ho, Lenin, and yes, Stalin. A 1993 poem by Tố Hữu, famed Vietnamese poet, reads:

Oh, Stalin!

Alas, do the earth and sky mourn Your departure

If I’m to love my father, my mother, my husband

and myself one, then I love You ten.”

So, “I love you three thousands, Stalin.” Ouch! That’s not very good…

Consuming products from Viet brands and Viet media is widely considered “patriotic.” Which makes non-consumption unpatriotic. How convenient for the market economy! Oh and, not only Viet media, but also foreign media which uses Vietnamese labor. In 2018, a Hollywood blockbuster was filmed in HaLong Bay, Vietnam. The film set was then utilized by the authority as a tourist attraction. The whole issue of how that movie depicts US soldiers in Vietnam and local people asides, as we read about and cheer for the ongoing IATSE strike, we can’t help but wonder if Vietnamese actors, extras and crew hired in film productions outsourced to Vietnam are compensated fairly and equally compared to their US counterparts. Fun fact: there hasn’t been a legal strike in more than 25 years in Vietnam. The General Confederation of labor, which is supposed to represent the interests of the workers, hasn’t been organizing strikes, and so all the strikes that did take place were illegal. It’s apparently unacceptable for the workers to organize and demand better conditions for themselves; a workers’ struggle is only legitimate in the eye of the state if the state can control its direction.

Mai: A field where nationalist sentiments are particularly intense is sport, mainly soccer. There was this photo of a person holding a portrait of Uncle Ho at a soccer match, which went viral a while back. That photo was said to be the evidence that Viet people love Uncle Ho. What was conveniently not mentioned is how the sport scene in Vietnam is one of the best showcases for how poisonous Vietnamese nationalism is.

Rampant on Vietnamese Social Media is the xenophobic attitude when our national football team have a match, especially with other Southeast Asian teams. If the referee makes a decision that’s unfavorable for the Vietnamese team, their Facebook or other social media accounts will be flooded with tons of vitriol and death threats. The same thing will happen to the opposing team’s players if they were deemed “too aggressive” or simply scored the decisive goal. It’s even worse with women teams, where there’ll be slews of misogynist, transphobic and degrading language. Many Viet sport fans like to joke that all Thai women are transgender women, with the heavy implication that they are not “real” women. To the nationalist sport fans, all the other teams are inferior, mixed-blooded, full of unnatural citizens, and hence has an unfair advantage. To them, the Vietnamese team is simply the best; any losses are only due to these unfair advantages.

As you may also know, nationalism seeks to create an in-group, out-group mentality, and Vietnamese nationalism constantly and violently excludes Viet ethnic minorities. A stark example is how the education-indoctrination system strips them of their culture and language. There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, with more than 100 Vietnamese dialects, yet there is only one official language taught in school and used in exams, the language of the dominant Viet Kinh group. This naturally puts people from other ethnic groups at a huge disadvantage. Many schools force their students to wear áo dài as uniform, regardless of their ethnicity, even though áo dài is a Kinh garment. Attempts to even out the ground for ethnic minorities face vicious backlash from Viet Kinh people, such as when the government tried to give bonus points in the national university entrance exam for ethnic minority students. Instead of getting rightfully angry at an education system which dehumanizes its students, forcing them to brutally compete with their peers for a chance to be exploited by capitalists, many Kinh people blamed and unleashed their wrath on ethnic minorities.

Those are our observations about the political and economic situation in Vietnam. Based on those symptoms, and dare we also draw some parallels with certain formerly “Communist” countries, we could tentatively share our guess on the direction of the Vietnamese state and its so-called Socialism-oriented market strategy, should it continue to fester unchallenged. However, we are not prophets speaking gospel, nor scientists playing with solid statistics here; we will not invoke some sacred words like “science” and “materialism” and from that claim absolute truth. What we will say is this: without mass mobilization and resistance of the working class, the Vietnamese state will strengthen its grip on the populace, through law, nationalism or hierarchical social conditioning. And capitalism, hand in hand with the state, will dig its claws further into the exploited classes, drawing out from them all they can offer. The working class of Vietnam will be further fragmented as capitalism consolidates its influence together with its exploitation, delegitimizing worker struggles against it. This would ingrain a sense of resignation and self-absorbed struggle in individual workers and prevent the building of solidarity amongst them.

TFSR: Some proponents of what’s called “Socialism” in Vietnam will argue that, in fact, the work that the Communist Party has brought forth has improved the quality of life of people in Vietnam. Have you heard of this claim, does that ring true in your experience that there has been development in the quality of individuals’ lives economically or educationally that could be attributed specifically either to so-called Socialism in Vietnam or through improvements from market society?

Mai: Why yes, we’ve heard this argument before, and our eyes roll every time. First, it is undeniably true that the qualify of life has been raised. And so what? That doesn’t prove that the same couldn’t have been achieved under another political system; life everywhere has been improving. Where is the evidence to pin this development on the so-called Socialism of Vietnam? It’s a wishy-washy way to justify the authoritarianism of the Vietnamese state and deflect from valid criticisms.

Will: And to add on to that, a suitable analogy would probably be prisoners not having to work as much. Sure, it’s an improvement to before, that still doesn’t change the fact that they’re still prisoners, still robbed of freedom and forced to toil under the same old master. Same thing here. Great, now we have internet; we also have no union to defend us against exploitation by the capitalists. Great, we get fastfood; we also have a state that’s just free of any control mechanism and can do what it wants (that’s how’s hierarchies of power work!). Great, we have iphones, ipads and gucci. The workers manufacturing for those corporates certainly can’t afford iphones, ipads and the newest gucci bag! But, whatever. So, okay, nice, quality of life has gone up. We’re not gonna say that’s bad, that’d be kind of stupid. But at what cost, in what context? The growth of quality of life is a good thing, but you can’t just ignore everything else surrounding it. A pizza party is nice, but you know what is nicer? Being in charge of our own life, our fruit of labor, and not being exploited and robbed of freedom. Partially because it includes a pizza party in it.

Mai: This line of argument also exposes a double standard casually applied for us people in over-exploited countries by many leftists and anarchists. Would you say the same to, say, queer people in more prosperous countries. “Hey you can get married now, you can even adopt children now. Why don’t you praise and be grateful to your capitalist government?” I’m sure there are people saying this to marginalised groups in more prosperous countries, but any anarchists worth their dime would vehemently and rightfully refute it. Yet everyone seems to be fine when this argument is casually thrown at people in so-called Third World countries. As if we’re supposed to be grateful for more crumbles! No, we want a seat at the table. We want everyone to have a seat at the table!

TFSR: Yeah, and when you’re referring to industrialists in Vietnam having an income level equal to, I think you said, 80,000 other people.. At what cost and how is that distributed?

Will: Yeah, also it’s 800,000 people.

TFSR: Excuse me, factor of ten… Thanks for being willing to tackle that question

What might be visions of libertarian communist approaches to some of the questions of raising the quality of life for people in Vietnam? Is that the sort of framing that you would use for a positive anarchistic vision forward? It seems like, just to add on, I’ve heard that in some countries that are ostensibly Communist or Socialist that people who are critical of the government sometimes have an allergy to those terms, to a positive turn of those turns, because it’s been shoved down their throats in such a negative way.

Will: Yeah, well…

Mai: Definitely, yeah [laughs]

Will: To me, it’s about representation. The State, this grand old thing, imposed all of those things on them, so I mean what choice do they have?

First and foremost, it must be said before any libertarian communist or anarchist vision can be realised, the people in Vietnam have to recognise that there exists deep problems with the current political system, and that there are solutions to those problems. The sad reality is this: the majority of Vietnamese people are alienated from politics (as authoritarian states tend to do to the people they oppress). So, politics is something done to them, rather than by them.

The state has built up for itself a shining image of legitimacy. And so even though many will say that there are problems with Vietnam as a whole, they are unlikely to be able to pin that to the political system. Maybe they can say that corruption is a severe problem of Vietnamese society. Maybe they can connect it to individual politicians and their supposed moral failing. But they won’t be able to say that corruption is only a symptom of the system and that, more specifically, hierarchies of power are simply incompatible with the interests of those at the bottom of the hierarchy, of the majority. Maybe they would even say that the one-party system is clearly not working, but mistake the illusion of choice of multi-party system for total liberation, for freedom. The root of the problems just eludes many.

There is also a sense of apathy and learnt helplessness that has been ingrained into the population, and so, as of now, the potential of political action and change is not great. This exacerbates the previous problem, in the sense that, even if a majority of people recognize the root of the problem, they do not think that they themselves and, only themselves, have the power solve it. Or they think that the alternatives would only be even worse: either U.S. capitalism/liberalism or the kind of “Communism” with severe scarcity and corruption before the Đổi Mới reform — which mind you many Vietnamese still remember and are understandably frightened of. This is what we mean when we say Vietnamese people are alienated in politics.

We also recognise that historically in Vietnam, the traditional labor movement has alienated many groups, such as ethnic minorities, sex workers, people of marginalized genders and sexuality, disabled people, unemployed people, criminalized people, and young people. Moving forwards, it is important to make our movements inclusive enough for the many fronts against various forms of oppressions, not just class struggles. Of course, the working class is the only class capable of toppling capitalism, but our definition of “work” and “workers” needs to change radically.

So… a vision—a hope even—is that, through putting their predicament under the capitalist society of Vietnam into perspective and laying bare the fact that no one but themselves have the power to change it all for the better, people will gradually be free of the mental limitations and have the want to take control of their lives instead of putting it at the mercy of “the powers that be.” And when the recognition, the will and the want, happens, we trust that they will go only one short step further and come to adopt libertarian communist approaches for their struggles, even if they don’t declare themselves to be affiliated with any specific ideology. Again though, we are not prophets and to prophesize on a strict revolutionary form is an unwise and pointless endeavor.

But if we can say one thing about our approaches and our visions for a better quality of life in the future, we may call attention to community building. Given what we mentioned earlier regarding the alienation of the worker and the fragmentation of the working class, there is merit in considering a parallel process: of healing the wounds of alienation that capitalism left on all of us; and of educating each other on essential political knowledge, examples being food sovereignty, pre-figurative social organizing, and independent union building. And in an age where technology has become an integral part of our lives, it is short-sighted to overlook or undermine the importance of online organizing. The social relations produced and reproduced through online organizing is every bit as pre-figurative as the social relations of on-the-ground organizing. Certain aspects are different, sure, but the essence of it is the same: the building and maintaining of structures capable of facilitating our interactions as equals. Through our own organizing, we’ve also found online archiving and dissemination of anarchist materials to be critical in the context of our milieu in Vietnam, where severe censorship and state repression have proven to be highly effective in weeding out dissenting voices, and isolating those who would otherwise band together to collectively speak out against the state narrative.

And as to the framing… Yes! I think this is the framing that we will proceed with. Unlike the previous revolution in our history, ours won’t be one where the people are pushed into a so-called revolution by some self-righteous vanguard party. That kind of revolution has proven itself to be undeniably disastrous. And we would love to not repeat that. The true revolution should be a continuous process, in which everyone can partake right here, right now, on their own volition.

TFSR: Would you speak about the situation in Vietnam for people of marginalized genders, queer folks in Vietnam as well as folks criminalized for sex work?

Mai: Sure. The situation for queer folks is not great, though getting better. Same-sex marriage was criminalized until 2015. Then, the law prohibiting same-sex marriage was abolished, but it is still not legalized. So, since marriage comes with certain privileges in our current society, many queer people in Vietnam are stigmatized and barred from the medical, financial and other material privileges that their non-queer counterparts couples enjoy. Marriage equality is the front in which liberal organizations working within the state framework seem to pour a lot of effort.

For transgender people, as far as we know, there isn’t a single hospital in Vietnam that is allowed to perform gender-affirming surgeries for so-called “normal” people, only for people who were in an accident or have “birth defects.” At the same time, non-consensual, non-medically necessary medical interventions are still performed on intersex children, as they are permitted by law.

Transgender people who wish to undergo gender-affirming surgery often have to go through an intermediate center, and the whole process (examination, papers and surgery) is usually done in Thailand. Hormone therapies are not easily accessible through mainstream methods, but through the black market. They really have to bet their lives if they want to use hormones. Not only that, because of low supply and having to do surgery abroad, the amount of money one needs to spend to undergo gender-affirming surgeries can be approximately $20,000, even more if you account for long-term hormone treatments. To put this into perspective, the average yearly household income of a Vietnamese person is $2,235, before food and rent/mortgage and such. And remember, the $20,000 is only for the surgery. So, the cost is an absurdly high amount for the majority of Vietnamese people, who have to work hard just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

About sex work in Vietnam, we will speak not from personal experience, but from a place of legality and personal observation. Legally, sex work and even pornography are criminalized; sex workers used to face incarceration in so-called “rehabilitation centers” and still are charged with hefty fines if caught in raids, they are subjects of systemic stigmatization and discrimination as well, especially sex workers living with HIV. It was not until 2013 that detention center number 05 was shut down; it’s the rehabilitation center in which sex workers and drug users were detained and regularly subjected to forced labor disguised as “career training.” Supposedly, the closing of this detention center happened under the pressure from, as far as we know, an organization by and for sex workers in Vietnam called Vietnam Network for Sex Workers, amongst others. We could not find other sources to corroborate this, however, so we can’t say for certain this is what happened. Although, we certainly hope so! We suspect the reason for the scare sources has to do with the media not wanting to acknowledge sex workers’ existence since sex workers in Vietnam exist in this limbo wherein they’re criminalized, stigmatized, but also hyper-visible.

As for major queer, feminist, and sex worker organizations outside of the State framework, we are not aware of any, unfortunately. Yes, organizations that do not directly associate with the government exist; NGOs are by no means illegal. But that doesn’t mean they’re outside of the State framework. To truly be outside of the State framework, an organization must have the aim to work outside of that framework in the first place, hence giving a reason for organizing that doesn’t involve the State and doesn’t subject itself to the bounds the State establishes. There is no such thing as being accidentally outside of the State framework. And indeed, the organization we mentioned above express quite a bit of friendliness towards the state, which they view as well-intentioned but incompetent in execution with regards to programs for sex workers. We by no means wish to undermine or devalue their achievements; we applaud them for their efforts and are glad to know that there exists an organization standing for the interests of sex workers in Vietnam! But we cannot ignore the fact they achieved this only through the State framework, by cooperating and showing understanding to the machine which in the end perpetuates capitalism, and wish to see them exploited as workers. What they have accomplished is undeniably good, but in the long run, the state can never be a liberatory tool. Another thing is that a substantial part of their funding comes from liberal NGOs and NPOs. They themselves acknowledge that it is a challenge for them to organize without that funding, which will eventually go away. So once again, in spite of the good, we are obligated to point out that this form of organization cannot lead to the total liberation of the oppressed: an organization dependent on funding from liberal sources can never work to break free of the chains of the status quo, only the painstaking lengthening of those chains.

So we would say that the blindspots of the organizing by and for folks of marginalized genders, sexualities and sex workers in Vietnam is that there is no interlinking of struggles. The feminists can pinpoint the un0level playground between men and women, but many are oblivious to, say, class struggles, of ethnic minority women, of queer people and of sex workers. Indeed, feminism in Vietnam applauds the icon of a successful career woman, a girl-boss CEO who are not dependent on men. The same with queer people: many strive to assimilate into the cis-het society by broadcasting that they can be as “normal,” as successful in their careers as non-queer people. And so the poor queers, the disabled queers, the queers who are not Kinh, and many more, are further marginalized and don’t have a place within the queer community. On top of that, their organizing are dependent on the State framework, on funding from NGOs and NPOs: they need NGO and NPO money to campaign for the government to give them more rights. And in our opinion, that kind of organizing is not sustainable and will never lead to total liberation. There will always be people who are unlucky enough to be the scapegoat, who are at the bottom of the hierarchy and cast to the fringe of society.

TFSR: Speaking as someone from the so-called USA, which participated in much of the 35 years of war Vietnam experienced in the mid-20th century following centuries of colonial extractivism at the hands of the states of France, China, Japan and others, I wonder if you can talk about the legacy of colonialism and war are on the peoples and environment of Vietnam?

Mai: This is personal to us. In my family, leftovers are seriously frowned upon, even just a single grain of rice. I remember, this was when I was about 5 or 6, leaving the dining table after finishing the meal, and got called back to eat one single grain of rice left in my bowl. This is because there are family members who are still alive, who survived the Vietnamese famine of 1945, caused by Japanese and French colonialism, together with the US bombing the transport system. An estimated 2 million Vietnamese people starved to death. There is also the persisting catastrophe of Agent Orange. Personally, someone in my direct family was exposed, and we have to deal with various medical complications. Ironically, if you Google “Agent Orange,” the top results are almost all about its effects on US veterans; few are about its lasting effects on Vietnamese people and our ecosystem.

If you’d like to learn more about the atrocities that the US army committed in Vietnam, we’d recommend you to first, well, talk to Vietnamese people. You can also read the “Winter Soldier Investigation,” which consists of first-hand testimonies from GIs about the many daily My Lais that they themselves had committed or witnessed in Vietnam. You may notice that this investigation has the same name as a fictional character from a famous franchise widely regarded as pro-US military propaganda. Now, of course this could very well be a total coincidence, but even so, the incidental effect is quite real. It casts a shadow over the investigation mentioned above regardless. The way information about war crimes and its devastating aftermath on people outside of the US is obscured like that is just one in a million ways how US imperialism and cultural hegemony are harming us right this moment. And as far as we know, the documents from that [Winter Soldier] investigation hasn’t even been translated into Vietnamese for the younger generation to access and read about what happened to our predecessors.

Another product of US-centrism, which manifests plentily in anarchist and leftist circles: in political discourse, Vietnam, a country, a people with our own complex and diverse history, is constantly reduced to and talked about solely in our relation to the US. Not the whole span of that relation either, but only 20 years of slaughter and ecocide. For example, on the website of the longest running anarchist magazine in the US called The Fifth Estate, they have a page about Vietnam that is described as: “VIETNAM The failed US war and resistance to it from an anarchist/anti-authoritarian perspective”

Vietnam is not just a “failed US war.” Refusing to view us as humans with our own complex history and ongoing struggles leads to dissidents like us Viet anarchists, who don’t solely paint Vietnam as the US’ helpless victim, being branded “fake Vietnamese, CIA pawns, agent provocateurs.” The irony here is palpable. If you stop for one second and just look at the whole span of Vietnam’s relation with the US, you’ll see how the Vietnamese capitalists have no qualms shaking hands with US capitalists in their quest to exploit Viet workers. The Vietnamese and the US militaries are being all pally now, with weapon trades and personnel training courses! The US framework of every political topic is also routinely forced upon us, to the point that a Viet person who doesn’t understand every nook and cranny of US politics and its lexicon won’t be able to participate in political discourse without risking being torn apart, figuratively. Meanwhile, many US leftists/anarchists will brazenly insert themselves and their narratives in almost every conversation about Vietnam that we try to have, without taking the time and effort to learn the Vietnamese context.

And this benefits no one but US imperialism and, ironically, the Vietnamese authoritarians and statists. They capitalize on the very real frustration of Viet people who know that their struggle is completely ignored and dismissed by the US and Western left. They’d constantly and only talk about how horribly awful the US is, reducing Vietnam to its helpless victim — a glorious, brave and united nation against a common foreign enemy. On top of that, because social media favors moralized content, they’d build their platform on moralized, hateful language and rhetoric. They target a clueless Western audience who prefer self-flagellation and tokenism, rather than carefully examining information, educating themselves and developing their own analysis. When faced with criticism, the statists will weaponize their identities to silence and even harass their political opponents, accusing any Vietnamese speaking differently of being fake Vietnamese. Statists and career communists capitalizing on disinformation about Vietnam have threatened us with state violence and we have no doubt they will report us to the authority the first chance they’ve got. Of course, US imperialism permeates many corners of this earth, but to view, for instance, a Kinh Viet person living in Vietnam as merely a “person of color” erases the privilege that their ethnicity affords them domestically, erases the reason for their loyalty to the Vietnamese nation-state. We humbly ask people to de-center the US and its bloody war from conversations about Vietnam — it is long overdue. Thank you.

tùng: To add on to that, after the war, information about Agent Orange was slow in reaching Viet people, and so a lot went on to have children without having been adequately informed and prepared. I personally knew a family whose first child is blind deaf with intellectual disability, due to their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange. Without any compensation from the US nor adequate disability care from the Vietnamese government, the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have to fend for themselves on their own, generation after generation. They receive about from $5 to $20/person/month, depending on the severity of their conditions and I think this money is not enough to survive on for a whole month.

And there are the millions of people who were displaced by the war, cut out from their cultural roots and families, forced to assimilate into a new society. Many lost their lives fleeing a war torn country with a shiny new state high on victory and hell bent on vengeance. The ones lucky enough to have reached their destinations and settled down know no ways of reconciling and reconnecting with their “đồng bào” — compatriots back in Vietnam. They can’t learn about the struggle in Vietnam without being manipulated and fed lies, thanks to state censorship and hateful nationalist sentiments.

TFSR: How can international listeners in the international community looking to be solidarity with struggles in so-called Vietnam and learn more & help? Are there any projects they can support or other sources of learning that you would suggest?

Will: There is a proverb in Vietnamese: “Nước xa không cứu được lửa gần,” which roughly translates to: “Water afar cannot put out a nearby fire.” So, the absolute best thing you can do for us, specifically, is to organize in your own community, and to educate yourself about the struggles in Vietnam, without unquestioningly absorbing disinformation like a sad sponge. It also helps if you rethink and refrain from projecting your own localized societal standards and frameworks onto situations in Vietnam, which usually have little in common. And this should be obvious, but: don’t use our struggles as mere ammunition in your struggles. When you go to do solidarity, you should not reduce us to media tokens and talking points.

As of now, Viet anarchists are outnumbered, our voices drowned out by pro-state propaganda. And so, every single person who refuses to fall for said propaganda is a win for us! You don’t need to listen to us, to Mèo Mun specifically, of course—we don’t claim to be the best source on every single topic related to the struggle in Vietnam, far from it—but please be very cautious of the disinformation from statists. Talk to as many Viet people as possible, and remember that we are not a hivemind and our experiences and opinions do vary! If you’re a reader, there are many texts on the Southeast Asian Anarchist Library concerning Vietnam and its history. So, do read close if you’re interested.

And if you’re into direct action, please pay attention to the migrant worker scene in your community. The conditions of Vietnamese migrant workers, especially undocumented ones, are often abysmal and they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. And I’d dare to say that many so-called-Global-South migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation. We’d be very happy to know that someone is looking out for them.

TFSR: Is there anything I failed to ask about that you’d like to discuss?

Will: Not really, but I’d like to, on behalf of Mèo Mun, express our heart-felt thanks to Burst for reaching out to us, for your very thought-provoking and interesting questions, and for spending time with us today. We appreciate your giving us this platform, and though we try our best to cover what we experience in Vietnam, at the end of the day, our experience is just an experience. It is not universal and by no means can we claim to speak for every Viet person. We only hope that our speaking up gives you some tiny glimpses into our lives and struggles, which similar to any lives and struggles, are human, messy, and imperfect. So thank you for listening and seeing us!

Mai: Thank you!

TFSR: Thank you, all of you, for participating in this and also to the collective for collaboration in the answers. And I appreciate you taking the time doing this in English for the audience, I’m looking forward to this being a contribution towards more international understanding and solidarity. So, thank you!

History Repeats Itself?: Peter Gelderloos On Where We’re At

History Repeats Itself?: Peter Gelderloos On Where We’re At

A shadowy Peter Gelderloos speaking about his book, 'Worshipping Power"
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Its not uncommon to hear pundits and regular folks making comparisons between the crises we are now facing and other historical moments, such as the 1920s in Germany or the global rebellions of the 1960s. But is this an effective approach for gauging the potential of now?

For the hour, anarchist author and activist Peter Gelderloos shares some of his thoughts on those comparisons, on the revolutionary potential of this moment were living in and some lessons from past movements that we might keep in mind now to make the most out of these dire times. You can find many of Peters writings on TheAnarchistLibrary.Org, available through AK Press and independent bookstores. You can hear our past interviews with Peter by visiting our website.

Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami

Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami

Photo taken from Al Jumhuriya

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This week on The Final Straw we’re featuring a chat with Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami. In this conversation, Joey tells us of some of the history of Lebanon, since the civil war that ended in 1990 and up to the current demonstrations against the clientelist warlords in power in that country. Intertwined with this, Leila speaks about the sparking of the resistance to Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, the tumult of the civil war, and the state of anti-authoritarian and social justice organizing and media work in that country. Then the two talk about the experience of countering disinformation, conspiracy thinking and poor solidarity in the so-called Left in the West and ways to combat ignorance.

This is another long conversation, covering a lot of the last 30 years in these two neighboring nations.  The guests proposed speaking about the interrelations across that border because of the similarities, differences, and shared experiences between the two places.  Lebanon has Syrian refugees, it was occupied by Syria until 2005. Both spaces share Palestinian refugees, experienced war with Israel, are politically influenced from Hezbollah, mostly speak Arabic and even the flames of the recent wildfires that ignited anti-regime sentiment in Lebanon last fall crossed the border between Lebanon and Syria. We hope to have future chats that play with borders in this way to explore ways we can bridge these borders in our understanding in hopes of increased solidarity.

Joey Ayoub is a Lebanese-Palestinian writer, editor and researcher. He publishes frequently on https://joeyayoub.com/ as well as on the blog https://hummusforthought.com/ and the related podcast by the same title.

Leila Al-Shami is a British-Syrian activist and co-author of ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War‘, a founder of the international solidarity site, TahrirICN and writes on http://leilashami.wordpress.com/ .

Below are links to some resources that Joey and Leila suggest interested listeners check out to for perspectives by folks on the ground in the region:

Lebanon links:

Syria Links:

Timestamps:

  • Sean Swain [00:02:32 – 00:09:34]
  • Intro to Lebanon & Syria [00:09:34 – 00:21:35]
  • Lebanese Protests of 2015 & 2019 [00:21:35 – 00:31:40]
  • Syrian Revolution to Civil War [00:31:40 – 00:41:34]
  • Current Social Justice Struggle in Syria [00:41:46 – 00:45:56]
  • Daesh / ISIS and Syrian Civil War [00:45:56 – 00:49:56]
  • Solidarity with Syrians in Lebanese Protests [00:49:56 – 01:05:38]
  • Leila on Tahrir-ICN [01:05:50 – 01:09:18]
  • Educating Ourselves on Syria and Lebanon [01:09:18 – 01:23:07]
  • White Helmets and other Conspiracy Theories [01:23:07 – 01:32:59]
  • Syrian Diaspora and Western Left [01:32:59 – 01:37:19]
  • Rojava and the Syrian Revolution [01:37:19 – 01:41:56]
  • Better Practice in Solidarity with people in Syria and Lebanon [01:41:56 – 01:53:38]

Announcements

Michael Kimble Benefit

Last week we announced a fundraiser for Michael Kimble.  Because of issues with the platforms, the fundraiser for Michael Kimble’s legal benefit to help raise money for his fight to get him released from prison has been moved.  Now you can find it at ActionNetwork.org/Fundraising/Support-Michael-Kimble . Because the fundraiser had to be moved a couple of times, some of the initial push to get word out and initial donations may be irreplaceable. So, folks are asking for an extra push to help rasie this money to get our comrade out and organizing on the outside after 33 years behind bars.

BADNews February 2020 (#31)

This month, the A-Radio Network released it’s monthly, international English-language podcast featuring voices from anarchist and anti-authoritarian radio shows, pirate stations and podcasts from around the world. The episode is up at A-Radio-Network.org by clicking the B(A)DNews. If you’re interested in joining the network or learning more, info’s up on that site.

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Playlist

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Transcription

The Final Straw: I’m very happy to be joined by Leila al-Shami and Joey Ayoub. Joey is a Lebanese-Palestinian writer, editor, and researcher; he was the Middle East and North Africa editor at both Global Voices and IFEX until recently, and is co-editor of the book Enab Baladi: Citizen Chronicles of the Syrian Uprising. Currently he is doing a PhD at the University of Zurich on postwar Lebanese society. Leila is a British-Syrian activist and the coauthor of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War.

Thank you both very much for taking the time to chat with me.

Leila al-Shami: Thank you.

Joey Ayoub: Thank you.

FS: I thought we could talk about anti-authoritarian aspects of popular movements against the regimes in both Lebanon and Syria and for new ways of living, and what solidarity can look like, within that region and from outside, with those popular anti-authoritarian movements. This is a really big conversation, and I’m very excited for the information that y’all are going to present.

First can y’all lay out a thumbnail of the post-colonial development in the respective countries—in Syria and Lebanon—including a bit about the interrelation between those neighboring countries, at least up until those anti-corruption and anti-authoritarian protests known as the Arab Spring?

JA: The primary thing to remember when it comes to the relationship between Syria and Lebanon is that historically they are the same region, “Greater Syria.” With regard to contemporary events, what’s important to understand from a Lebanese perspective is that the Syrian regime was one of two military occupiers of Lebanon—the other being Israel—between 1976 and 2005, when it was essentially forced out after a popular uprising.

Since then, the relationship between the two countries is extremely complicated, to say the least. On the one hand there is a major Lebanese political party that is active in supporting the Assad regime in Syria—I’m talking about Hezbollah. On the other hand, when we speak of Syrians in Lebanon we have to differentiate between the Syrian regime and Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees are effectively powerless and living in pretty bad conditions—I’m phrasing this lightly. It is really bad these days. They are often the victims of scapegoating by xenophobic sectarian parties that have played the same card against Palestinian refugees in the past—they are just using it against Syrian refugees today.

Any relationship is very complicated; there are historical links, but there are activist links as well. But other than that, the two countries are fairly separated due to this power dynamic.

LS: From my side, I think it’s important to understand how the Syrian regime, the current regime, came to power. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party came to power in 1963 through a military coup, and it was founded upon an ideology which incorporated elements of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, both of which were witnessing popular resurgence in the wave of decolonization. Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970 through an internal coup within the Ba’ath Party. It was under him that the totalitarian police state was built, which repressed all political freedom. Any opposition or dissidents were dealt with very severely under Hafez al-Assad, and what became known as the ‘Kingdom of Silence’ was built. People were not able to express themselves politically.

Bashar inherited the dictatorship from his father in 2000, and when he came to power, Syrians were hoping for an opening—that they would have more rights and freedoms. But really he continued the policies of his father in terms of political repression, and the prisons were full of Muslim Brotherhood members, Kurdish opposition activists, leftist activists, and human rights activists. And there was also a very desperate socioeconomic situation: a wave of liberalization of the economy under Bashar which really consolidated the wealth in the hands of crony capitalists who were loyal to or related to the president, meanwhile subsidies and welfare that the poor relied on were dismantled.

It was these two factors, both the political repression and the very desperate socioeconomic situation, which led to the uprising which broke out in 2011—which of course arrived in the context of this transnational revolutionary wave that was sweeping the region.

FS: I think a lot of people in the West get confused with the term socialist in the expression of Ba’athists, and don’t have a specific understanding of what that term means in that instance. Can you break it down for those of us who are confused about what socialism refers to in terms of Ba’athism?

LS: The Ba’ath Party advocated socialist economics, but rejected the Marxist conception of class struggle. The Ba’ath believed that all classes among the Arabs were united in opposing capitalist domination by imperial powers, proposing that nations themselves, rather than social groups within and across nations, constituted the real subjects of struggle against domination.

So when they came to power, they pursued top-down socialist economic planning based on the Soviet model. They nationalized major industries, and engaged in large infrastructural modernization to contribute to this nation-state building enterprise: redistributing land, erasing the land-owning class, and improving rural conditions. It was these kinds of populist policies which brought the party a measure of cross-sectarian public support.

But at the same time, leftists were purged from the Ba’ath Party right at the beginning. Hafez al-Assad’s coup within the Ba’ath Party was against the leftwing faction. And later, all left opposition was either co-opted or crushed. Independent associations of workers, students, and producers were repressed, and para-statal organizations said to represent their interests emerged—a kind of corporatist model.

And like I said, under Bashar there was an increasing liberalization of the economy; it really moved away from any kind of socialist economic model towards a model which created a great deal of wealth disparity within the population.

FS: Joey, I wonder if you could set up how, after the civil war and occupation in Lebanon, power was distributed through the state structure there.

JA: It’s been thirty years since the end of the civil war. The postwar era, as we call it, started in 1990, when the civil war officially ended with the signing of the Taif agreement—Taif being the city in Saudi Arabia where they signed it. So it’s been almost exactly three decades since then.

The postwar era is defined by a number of things. The primary two components relevant to what is happening today are the format in which this so-called peace happened, and what happened after that. The format can be symbolized through an amnesty law that was passed in early 1991, which pardoned most crimes which were committed during the war—the only exception being the killing of other important people. If you had assassinated a prime minister or something like that, you might be exempted from the amnesty law. Other than that—if you were involved in kidnappings, enforced disappearances, torture, murder, all of these things—all of your crimes were wiped clean overnight.

Warlords who made their names during the war became the warlords who entered government in the nineties. They removed their military uniforms, put on their business suits, and became the government. The people we’re dealing with today for the most part are the exact same people who were the warlords during the civil war. The two very easy examples I can give are the current president, Michel Aoun, who was a warlord in the eighties, and the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, who was also a warlord in the eighties.

These people have each created clientelist networks—we call it wasta in Arabic—and the result is we don’t really have one state. We do in theory—but that state is subsumed within these sectarian networks.

The second thing that happened in the postwar era which is also important is what you might describe as actually-existing neoliberalism. There was a rabid form of capitalism, the “shock doctrine” scenario that Naomi Klein famously coined in her book, wherein all the ruins of the war were further demolished. The most symbolic example of that is downtown Beirut, which saw a lot of the violence. Large parts of it were completely demolished instead of being renovated and public spaces being made accessible again, and everything was privatized.

Fast forward three decades: what we’ve been seeing since October 17, 2019, this symbolic date when the current uprisings started, are attempts by a number of protesters to reclaim this public space that has been privatized, and to reclaim a sense of identity that transcends these sectarian limits which were implemented in the postwar era.

They were always there—they have been part of Lebanon’s de facto legal reality. Sectarianism is institutionalized. Political confessionalism is the official term for it. In the postwar era there have been quite a lot of protest movements trying to move beyond sectarianism, calling for some kind of secularism, some kind of trans-sectarian identity, with the knowledge that sectarianism isn’t just a social ill in itself (as in, it’s bad to be sectarian) but also understanding that sectarianism is used in a specific way in Lebanon that benefits those who are already at the top.

That’s a simplistic summary, of course, but that’s essentially what we’ve been seeing since October 17. And this time there is a momentum that is explicitly anti-sectarian, and an awareness that as soon as sectarianism wins, the movement immediately loses. There’s an extreme sensibility towards remaining anti-sectarian.

FS: Would you mind talking a little bit about how the clientelism and expectations of social infrastructure, and the lack of following through on these expectations, led to the October protests, and how clientelism stands in opposition to the idea of a social contract?

JA: It is very difficult in Lebanon to do anything unless you have the connections. Education, healthcare, basic services like electricity and water—people tend to rely on private networks for all these things. I went through a private education. Most people in Lebanon have to pay two electricity bills, one private and one public, because the public one is not 24/7. For water, technically you pay three different bills, because there’s public and private running water, and separately there is bottled water because the tap water is not potable. This is a small example of how the clientelism functions in Lebanon.

It really precedes the civil war, and going all the way into that would require a different kind of analysis which I’m not the most capable of giving. But what we saw in October—and in the months and years preceding October 17—was this lack of social contract becoming even more painful. Before then, there was always a way for a percentage of the population—I can’t even say for sure it’s a majority—to sort of get by. There was always a way to make ends meet, so to speak, one way or another. Living conditions were never extremely good, but they were decent enough for you to have an okay life. Especially, obviously, if you’re middle class. That has declined in the last decade or so.

The 2011 uprisings had an impact on Lebanon. Cutting off Syria economically from Lebanon impacted business locally. It also reduced significantly any kind of Gulf investment, which had been reliable up until 2011-12. That’s what has been breaking down slowly in the last decade, and that’s part of the spark that led to October 17, 2019. But that week, that same week, there were very bad wildfires that ravaged through the country and even reached parts of Syria; it was over forty-eight hours before they were fought off through a combination of luck—it started raining—and airplanes that were donated by foreign governments.

And just a day later, the government decided to impose a tax on WhatsApp calls, which are obviously free and used by virtually all Lebanese because actual phonecalls are so expensive due to the corruption and clientelism. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

On the night of 17 October, the day the WhatsApp tax was proposed, people spontaneously went to Beirut, to Nabatiyeh in the south, to Tripoli in the north—people went out in cities across Lebanon. In the first couple of weeks, the momentum was so overwhelming. It was on all levels across all regions of Lebanon, with almost no exceptions, touching all socioeconomic classes (there were even protests where I live; this has never happened before), and there was a very explicit anti-sectarian component.

This is remarkable because sectarianism in Lebanon has created a reality where it is virtually impossible—in practice it just never happens—that if you are from a certain region and you’re just used to seeing people from a certain sect (with the exception of the big cities like Beirut), you don’t really know much about other parts of the country where a different sect has a majority. If you come from Mount Lebanon you don’t necessarily know much about the south or the north, unless you have family connections.

That’s been our reality for three decades. And nonetheless in the first month or so, it was very common to see people in Tripoli (the Sunni-majority city in the north) sending their solidarity to Nabatiyeh (the Shia-majority area in the south) and vice versa. In Jounieh (which is Christian majority) and Beirut (which is very mixed) and Mount Lebanon (which is Druze majority), there were always explicit statements of solidarity from one region to another, from one sect to another, saying, essentially: we have this thing that unites us beyond our sectarian allegiances.

The other extremely important component is summarized by the chant kelon ya’neh kelon, which means “All of them means all of them.” It’s very simple. Every single politician that has participated in this postwar status quo has to go. It’s a complete rejection of every single political leader of the postwar era, basically, whether they are currently in government or not.

That’s very important, because there have been a number of sectarian parties that were previously in the government and currently are less so—they still have MPs but they are not the ruling parties—that have been trying to ride the wave of the revolution by presenting themselves as opposition parties, trying to play with the binary that is the March 8 and March 14 movements.

What are these two? March 8 and March 14 are the names of two coalitions that were formed on those dates in 2005. Following the assassination of then-prime minister Rafic Hariri on February 14, 2005, there were mass mobilizations on these two dates with different orientations towards the Syrian regime. On March 8 was the pro-Syrian regime protest, led by Hezbollah and Amal at the time. On March 14 was the anti-Syrian regime protest, led by the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Phalangists, and the Progressive Socialist Party and other parties. Since then they have created a power-sharing agreement following the model of the postwar era, where it’s one coalition or the other that’s ruling, always fighting with each other but always finding more things in common than things that distinguish them—especially when there are independents trying to run against both of them, that’s when they close ranks.

Because the current government, for various reasons, is a March 8 government—Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement—there are parties that were traditionally associated with March 14—the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, and the Phalangists—that have been trying to place themselves in the position of opposition against the March 8-led government.

The protesters are rejecting that. No. All of them means all of them; you will not be able to ride the wave of the revolution. In five days it will be the four-month anniversary of these protests, and the momentum has changed, but it is still firmly anti-sectarian.

FS: Let’s turn and rejoin Leila in the chronology of how anti-corruption movements had been developing in Syria and then come back to anti-corruption in Lebanon. Leila, Joey had mentioned Syrian refugees being present and the way the forest fires crossed the border; these two countries have had a lot of interaction between each other. I’m wondering if you could talk about how the anti-corruption and reform movements and revolutionary movements of the Arab Spring effected and impacted Syria, with the Syrian revolution and subsequent civil war.

LS: People in Syria were generally quietly against the regime prior to 2000. The last major uprising had been at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, and started off as a broad-based movement against the regime but ended up becoming very dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood due to the severe repression of those who were participating in it. It culminated in the massacre of Hama, when thousands of people were killed and much of the old city of Hama was destroyed by Assad’s forces. In addition to that, thousands of people disappeared into regime detention; many of them were never seen again. This experience of such brutal repression had kept Syrians quiet since that time.

But when the Arab Spring, as it came to be known in the West, emerged in 2010-11, people in Syria were seeing what was happening in Egypt, what was happening in Tunisia, and the governments being brought down there, and they began to ask, “Why not us?” This gave people—a new generation that hadn’t directly experienced the repression that had occurred before—the strength to go out onto the streets and start demonstrating themselves. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, though, people in Syria didn’t go out into the streets calling for the fall of the regime, initially. What they were calling for was reforms: things like a multi-party system, the release of political prisoners, a free press.

These were demands which had been taken up in 2000 when Bashar first came to power, and people thought there was an opening for change. There was a small movement—it wasn’t a popular broad-based movement like we saw in 2011, but it was a movement among intellectuals and human rights activists that started to call for reforms when Bashar came to power. That movement, again, was severely repressed, and all hope for change under Bashar died at that point—until 2011, when what happened in Tunisia and Egypt really reignited the hopes of a new generation.

So they came out onto the streets calling for reform, but the brutality of the response by the state—which immediately began meeting peaceful, unarmed pro-democracy protesters with gunfire, massive waves of detention, and repression—radicalized the movement. It caused it to spread rapidly across the country, and it encouraged people to start calling for the fall of the regime and even for the execution of the president. It was the regime’s repression which really catalyzed the movement’s spreading and becoming a revolutionary movement.

I think it’s very important to recognize that when this happened in 2011, it was a broad-based, inclusive movement. It included many women from all different backgrounds, a diversity of Syria’s religious groups and ethnic groups, all united around the demands for freedom, for democracy, and for social justice. The social justice element is often not focused on very much in the West. But it was a large component of the revolutionary demands.

Many people went out on the streets and chanted against the crony capitalists who had amassed a great deal of wealth under the current regime. For example, Rami Makhlouf, who is Assad’s maternal cousin, was estimated prior to 2011 to control some sixty percent of the Syrian economy through his business interests—in real estate, mobile telephone companies, etcetera. There were large chants against him on the streets and against other crony capitalists.

There was a strong element of awareness and strong social and economic demands as part of the revolutionary movement, but those were not focused on very much in Western reporting.

FS: In your book Burning Country that you coauthored, y’all made a point of saying when people took up arms to defend themselves against the government, the inclusivity of the popular movement started to dissipate. That’s how I remember reading it, at least. Can you talk about what the integration of armed struggle into the movement against the government did to the dynamic of the revolution, and how it became a civil war?

LS: Taking up arms was a response to the massive repression by the state against peaceful protesters. At the beginning it was still inclusive—this wasn’t an organized military or army. This was people taking up weapons in their communities to defend their communities and their families from assault. People were being taken from their homes and detained; there was also a mass rape campaign carried out in oppositional communities by Assad-affiliated militias. So people took up arms to defend themselves in loosely-coordinated defense brigades.

By the summer of 2012, we started to see the Free Army label being used. Now, the Free Army was never really an organized army; it was never centrally controlled or centrally funded, although there were failed attempts to do so. It was an umbrella which different groups and different militias could come under with two main aims: one was the fall of the regime, to force Assad out of power, and the other was to see some kind of democratic transition take place. The people who signed up to the Free Army label were people who were united behind those aims.

But as time went by, the armed opposition became more and more fragmented, due to external pressures on them. They couldn’t get the weapons that they needed to really defend themselves and their communities from regime assaults. There were light weapons going in, but the anti-aircraft missiles which people desperately needed were not being provided. Aerial assaults were the main cause of destruction and main cause of death, and it was Assad who was controlling the skies—later alongside his Russian ally.

We also saw, around December 2013, an increasing Islamization among armed groups in Syria. The main reason for that was the failure of the democrats of the Free Army to attract funding and support from the Western states that they were reaching out to. Some brigades started Islamizing their rhetoric in order to attract support from Gulf donors specifically.

So there was an increasing Islamization of the opposition groups, and an increasing fragmentation of armed opposition groups. There were so many different armed brigades that were present at that time, and we see now that most of the armed groups operating in Syria do have an Islamist leaning and have eclipsed in strength the democrats of the Free Army.

But while there was this fragmentation of the armed opposition—which was due in large part to this competing struggle for weapons, competing struggles for military dominance and political dominance in areas they were controlling—there was also, in parallel, a continuing civil movement which was committed to the original goals of the revolutionary struggle and remained an inclusive and diverse movement.

FS: Fast-forwarding now into what has been nine years of one of the most deadly civil wars of the twenty-first century so far, I’m sure what a lot of people are experiencing on the ground in opposition areas at this point is simply a struggle for survival against this genocidal regime. But can you say anything about what exists, as far as you’re aware, of democratic movements for social justice in Syria?

LS: There are plenty of Syrians who are still committed to those ideals of the revolution, and there are plenty of Syrians working today within their communities trying to keep things functioning; plenty of civil society organizations that are continuing to do media work, continuing to assist the displaced, trying to keep hospitals functioning. But it has become a matter of survival, a struggle for survival. Today the main area which is outside Assad regime control, or still in the control of rebel groups, is Idlib. Idlib today is facing an absolutely relentless assault, a war of extermination against the civilian population there.

Since the assault on Idlib began in April 2019, over a million people have been displaced, nearly 700,000 since December alone—just gone. There have been massive attacks on civilian infrastructure; dozens of hospitals put out of action. People are fleeing for their lives. It’s very hard in such circumstances to talk about any kind of organized movement, because people are really just struggling to survive. People are fleeing outside of Idlib city or to the north of Idlib, and there’s no place left to go, no remaining safe haven for people. Many of these people had already been displaced multiple times, when their communities came under attack or were forced to surrender and recaptured by regime forces. And the borders are not open. The situation on the ground today in Syria is completely desperate.

In areas that have come back under regime control, whether we’re talking about Dera’a in the south or the Ghouta around Damascas, there have been massive waves of repression against the population who stayed. Anyone who is seen to have been in any way affiliated with the opposition has been arrested and detained. Young men have been rounded up and sent to the front lines to fight, basically on missions from which they are not going to return.

But we have also seen that resistance has continued. There have been waves of protests happening in Dera’a. Extremely courageous people in regime-controlled areas have still been protesting, calling for things like the release of prisoners, protesting against the desperate economic situation. Just in the last couple of weeks in Sweida, which is a Druze-majority area, people have been out on the streets protesting against a very desperate economic situation, protesting against the corruption they’re seeing.

In Dera’a, we’re seeing waves of assassinations against regime forces as well. So while the organized resistance movement and organized civil society has been very much crushed over recent months as the regime has taken control, we see that those desires for freedom, for justice, for this regime to end, have not gone away. And when others have a chance to organize, they’re still trying to organize—they’re very clear that they’re not going to accept this regime. There’s no life for people under this regime.

FS: This is a subject that I’m sure gets brought up a lot in conversations about Syria with Westerners, but it seems like the democratic social movement had a few different fronts on which they were being attacked, including with the uprising of Daesh as a movement across Iraq and Syria. In your experience, is Daesh still a threat against social movements, or has it been crushed, as it’s been presented in the Western media?

LS: Daesh hasn’t been crushed. There’s this idea that you can defeat an ideology militarily when the conditions that fed that ideology are still very preset, when the chaos which allows such extremist groups to thrive is still there. Daesh has certainly lost a lot of its organized power, but it has the ability to regroup and re-form—we’ve seen that in Iraq, and in attacks that have been carried out in Syria in recent months.

It’s not just Daesh which is a threat. If we look at Idlib—I said that Idlib was the main province still under rebel control. The group in control of a large part of Idlib is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra, which is a very extremist Islamist militia. They have repeatedly tried to wrest power away from the democratic opposition structures which were established in Idlib following the liberation from the regime, and have tried to impose their own extremely authoritarian religious strictures upon a population which overwhelmingly rejects them.

This is something which is not spoken about much in the West. People often say Idlib is an “al-Qaeda enclave” because this group HTS was formerly affiliated to al-Qaeda. What they’re overlooking is all the people protesting against the group. We’ve seen continuous demonstrations in Idlib, up until now, people calling for HTS to leave their communities and hand over power to democratic opposition structures.

So yes, Syrians have had a battle on two fronts. They’ve had a battle against this fascist tyrannical regime which is committing genocide against a population which demanded freedom, and a struggle against extremist Islamist groups such as Daesh and HTS and others.

The third battle, of course, has been against people in the West, often people who identify as being on the left, who have continuously slandered revolutionary Syrians, have equated revolutionary Syrians with groups like al-Qaeda, and have in fact thrown their support behind the Assad regime. Free Syrians have found that they have very few friends. But they retain their desire for freedom, and they continue to maintain that they are not going to accept one tyranny being followed by another.

FS: Joey, on an episode of the Arab Tyrant Manual from November 2019, you and another guest, Timour Azhari, were talking about calls for solidarity with the Syrian people that were coming up in the chants of Lebanese protesters, and I wonder if you, or both of you, could talk a little bit about solidarity against authoritarian structures across that border, between Lebanon and Syria, and between the popular mobilizations against sectarianism that you’ve seen.

JA: The anti-sectarian component of the protest movements in Lebanon essentially appeals to some kind of national identity. It’s one thing to have my religion as a Christian, as a Shia, as a Sunni, as a Druze, and that’s fine, but there should be something that unites us further than that—we’re all Lebanese. Of course that’s a double-edged sword: nationalism can unite people across sects within one nation-state, and it can also otherize people who are not Lebanese.

That’s a very common thing, and it’s a reality that anti-authoritarians, progressives, radicals, lefties, and others in Lebanon have to contend with: the overwhelming presence of xenophobia. Much of it was created during the civil war; the Syrian regime was an occupier, so many Lebanese, especially those of the older generation, equate Syrians with the Assad regime. This is very ironic and self-defeating, because obviously Syrian refugees in Lebanon are fleeing a conflict that was started by the Assad regime; there could have been opportunities for cooperation and unity. But what is happening is xenophobia and nationalism.

In the same way as in Hong Kong, where there is a segment of the population which is anti-China in the ethnic sense rather than being anti-Chinese-government, there is in Lebanon a segment of the protesters that is anti-Syrian, not just anti-Syrian regime. There are even Lebanese who oppose the Syrian regime, who oppose Hezbollah, who still share the same xenophobic, racist attitudes towards Syrian refugees.

And this power dynamic is worsened by the fact that the economic situation in Lebanon is already shit. It’s really bad. It creates the opportunity for scapegoating Syrian refugees, modeled after the scapegoating of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the Nakba: they faced this type of attitude, especially during the civil war because there was an armed Palestinian faction, but that’s a different story.

To try and counter that, there is a segment of Lebanese protesters, most notably the feminists, who are trying to create a movement that is more inclusive. They are openly intersectional and speak about class struggle, and about gender equality beyond the confines of citizenship—which is already very restrictive in Lebanon. You cannot become Lebanese other than by marrying a Lebanese citizen or inheriting it—and even then it is only passed on by a man. You can inherit citizenship if your father is Lebanese, but you cannot inherit it if only your mother is Lebanese. So there is a percentage of the population in Lebanon that are “not even Lebanese” but who are in fact Lebanese. What the progressives are saying is that if someone can be Lebanese and not Lebanese at the same time, we can also accept that there might be more than one way of being Lebanese. This is why I insist on calling myself Lebanese-Palestinian, to refuse to relinquish my grandfather’s identity. It’s not even considered something that can be a reality. You’re either one or the other, and that’s it.

Something being called a “revolution” or having revolutionary momentum does not automatically mean that everyone participating in that uprising has the best politics in the world. Even in Syria in 2011-12, there were conservatives who would take part in the protests. That’s completely normal. There’s more than one way of expressing opposition to illegitimate authority. If we’re talking about the Assad regime, there are multiple ways of opposing it. There are even Islamists who oppose the Assad regime. As a progressive who would not want to have an Islamist regime either, you still can’t automatically reject everyone who doesn’t share every single one of your politics. It’s complicated.

In Lebanon it’s complicated in different ways. In the beginning, there were sectarian people participating in the protests. There were members of Hezbollah, members of the Lebanese Forces, and members of other sectarian political parties among us. Even to this day, there still are, but to a lesser extent. They were in fact going against their own parties, without renouncing their parties. What happens in that space, within that momentum, is a sort of negotiation. Chanting kelon ya’neh kelon made lots of people uncomfortable. Calling out certain specific politicians by name made certain people uncomfortable. That alienated some people, whereas other stuck around. Some people were “converted.” Other people still participate without chanting these specific chants.

So there’s an ideal: kelon ya’neh kelon, anti-sectarianism, a vision of a fair society. And within that ideal, there are multiple ways of negotiating, because at the end of the day, if I want a society that is better than the current society, I have to face the contradictions of that society. Those contradictions, whether we’re talking about sectarianism, xenophobia, nationalism—all of these things exist everywhere in Lebanon. They exist within your own family, within your community networks. It is very difficult just to say, “Screw all of you, I am going to create something without all of you.”

FS: Leila, the reason I first heard your name besides Burning Country was in reference to Tahrir-ICN coming up in the 2010s. Can you talk a little bit about that project and what became of it, how it developed, and what impacts you saw it have?

LS: Tahrir-ICN was an attempt to address the issue of a lack of knowledge of anti-authoritarian struggles in the region, outside of it. A group of activists came together, myself included, with the idea to build this network among anti-authoritarian activists in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. It had two components to it. The first was an information-sharing platform, establishing a blog and social media accounts. The second was to build a physical network where we could work on practical actions and build solidarity together, sharing experiences.

The first aspect of it was quite successful. It started in 2012, just after the revolutions in the region broke out. Different collectives from across the region and in Europe started sharing information of what was happening in their country. This was a time when there were lots of uprisings across the region and also in Greece and in Spain: the Occupy movement, a lot of exciting things were happening. It didn’t have one vision. It was trying to learn from a wide variety of experiences and struggles loosely labeled anti-authoritarian. We had quite a wide readership for our blog, and I think it was very useful for people outside, in Europe or in America, to find out more about anti-authoritarian struggles in the Middle East and North Africa, and vice-versa..

The second aspect, building a physical network—we had a number of discussions about having an event to bring people together. There was certainly a lot of interest in that. But then the counterrevolutions broke out very strongly. People became very bogged down in what was happening in their countries. People started losing a lot of energy, and the network kind of fizzled out. I myself decided that I had to prioritize what was happening in Syria due to my connections with Syria. People got very caught up in their own stuff, and it kind of died out. But I think that for the time when it was operative, it provided a useful source of information to learn about each other and to see the wide variety of struggles that were occurring.

FS: For the sake of us staying informed and educated about what’s actually going on in this region of the world, can y’all talk about maybe some resources that we have, particularly in English, that we could be relying on to get a better grasp? And also maybe some resources that you think are trash and we should avoid? That would be very helpful.

LS: I would encourage people to look for resources which are produced by people who are living in or connected to the regions themselves. It’s very important to try to go to native sources where possible, to people who have a very real understanding of the issues because they’re directly affected by them. We’ve been very privileged that there is so much information available in English. There are so many activists who are very active on social media across the region who we can connect with on Twitter, on Facebook, who are telling their stories. From Syria, there are so many great independent media initiatives. There is Enab BaladiJoey worked on producing a book of some of their texts—which was established by women in one of the main revolutionary towns known as Daraya. There were some amazing experiences of self-organization in that town. There is al-Jumhuriya, which was established by Syrians, which is great for analysis of the region.

I would encourage people to find out a bit more and to go to these sources, and to try to educate themselves. The first and most important aspect of solidarity is correcting the information. There is so much disinformation circulating about what is happening in the region. It’s so exhausting for activists who have much more important struggles than focusing on correcting the narrative. It would be great if some of that work could be done from the outside. It would certainly free up Syrian activists to focus on other more practical things that they need to address.

JA: On the Lebanon side of things, I can start by recommending a podcast that’s called The Lebanese Politics Podcast. Starting with the episode which was released just after the October 17 revolution started, they’ve put out about an episode a week, in English, in which they go back to the events of that week and interpret them and talk about them. It is as objective as you can get, from an archival perspective. Both of them are on the left and are analyzing from the anti-sectarian angle.

Other than that, most good media in Lebanon is in Arabic. Recently, especially since 2015 when there was another uprising—which was not as successful but laid the groundwork for what was to come—there were things like Megaphone News, which is mostly in Arabic but sometimes has English stuff; they are really good. There is the Public Sourceagain, these are mostly in Arabic but occasionally have some English stuff.

A lot of the voices of anti-authoritarian Syrians are present in mainstream Anglo media. Just recently there was For Sama, the documentary that was nominated for an Oscar and won many film festival awards. There was the White Helmets documentary from 2017. There are a bunch of really good war-related but more personal-narrative documentaries popping up. All of these are available with English subtitles, and are very easy to find these days.

The main thing to challenge, really, is disinformation. The decision is whether people want to believe what they are seeing with their own eyes. For Sama is literally just footage put together to tell a story. You can think whatever you want, but if you’re starting to doubt what you see with your own eyes, the bombing that you’re literally seeing in front of you, then we’re entering a world that has not just implications for Syrians and Palestinians and Lebanese and others, but indeed implications for everyone else.

The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote and the so-called wave of far-right populism (which is a nice euphemism for fascism a lot of the time) didn’t really surprise a lot of us who live on this side of the world and have been involved with anti-authoritarian politics. Some of the signs that we were going into a dangerous international moment were already present in Syria as early as 2013, with the chemical massacre in Eastern Ghouta, among other things. The reactions to that started signaling that we’re slowly moving towards a normalization of blatant violence against civilian bodies.

What progressives in Lebanon are trying to do right now is create a different media landscape outside the norms, a counternarrative to the dominant narratives in Lebanon, because they are very influenced by the sectarian status quo. Many of them are owned by the sectarian parties. With Syria it was very different at first, because there wasn’t really any independent media before 2011. But an explosion of creativity came after 2011 (Enab Baladi, the project I worked on, is one of the examples of that), so now it is very easy to get very decent, advanced, sophisticated information. The question is how much energy people are willing to put into it.

It’s always good to inform yourself as much as possible about what’s happening in the rest of the world, just as a general rule, and there tends to be enough information these days. But the other thing is calling out disinformation when you see it online. To do that convincingly, you do need to arm yourself with quite a lot of knowledge, because the disinformation campaigns, especially since Russia decided to intervene militarily in Syria, have been pretty extraordinary. We’re not just dealing with RT and Sputnik. There are horrific takes being taken for granted which if they were on Palestine would be the abode of the far right, but for some reason when it comes to Syria, lots of lefties repeat basically the same things that rightwing Zionists would repeat on Palestine—the same takes! They just go with that narrative instead of looking at the facts on the ground and reading the books by Syrians who have been writing for decades now, many of whom are translated into English.

Information is power, and it can be used for good. But we have to deal with all of the disinformation around us. It’s been exhausting. Many of us have experienced months of burnout. Most activists I know, including those who were in Aleppo until recently, or in Ghouta or in Idlib or in the south or wherever, have completely given up on trying to challenge anyone online, or are just working locally. Some still spend entire days sometimes arguing with mostly Westerners online about their own country and their own homes that they just had to leave.

Westerners are not going through fascism in the same sense that Syrians are. There is definitely that threat, especially these days, but it’s still not at the level of the Assad regime controlling everything and dropping barrel bombs, and having foreign militaries invited into your country. I don’t know how to say this, but privilege is a responsibility. Having privilege means you should do something with it. Use the access to knowledge that you have and inform yourself on what’s been happening in Syria, especially since 2011, or since 1982 with the Hama massacre as Leila mentioned, or wherever you want to start, instead of just getting stuck in these echo chambers which have been so common, unfortunately, with the Western left.

FS: I’m wondering if either of you have the energy to talk really briefly about that or touch on some of the conspiracy theories we need to challenge? You don’t have to answer if you don’t have the energy.

LS: Very briefly, the White Helmets are volunteer first responders, men and women, people who are often the first on the scene to assist victims of Assad and Russia’s aerial bombardment, taking bodies from the rubble, taking people to makeshift hospitals for treatment. I think it’s because they are first on the scene to record and witness these state crimes that they have come under vicious attack. A lot of the assault on the White Helmets does originate in Russian state media; the Russian state has carried out a massive disinformation campaign against the White Helmets. We’ve seen them being accused of being al-Qaeda operatives; we’ve seen them being accused of being behind chemical weapons massacres. There have even been reports that they are engaged in organ harvesting. All sorts of horrendous and malicious accusations have been thrown at them.

The problem is that a lot of these accusations, which are starting in Russian or Syrian state media, are then being propagated and spread by people who identify as being on the left. We’ve seen a lot of these disinformation campaigns carried out by purportedly leftist activists, and these kinds of conspiracies also find their way into the mainstream. It’s very difficult now to even mention the White Helmets. I spend quite a lot of my time traveling and giving talks about Syria, trying to build solidarity for Syria, and even when I come across people who are generally sympathetic to what I’m saying—they’re not supportive in any way of the Assad regime; they seem to want to stand in solidarity with free Syrians—they’ll come up to me at the end of the talk and say, “Well, what about these White Helmets? We’ve heard this, we’ve heard that.” So this campaign of disinformation has been very successful in polluting the public space in such a way that really makes any kind of practical solidarity with revolutionary Syrians almost impossible.

It’s so dangerous at the moment in a place like Idlib, where international aid agencies have all pulled out. We’re seeing massive targeting of residential infrastructure and survival infrastructure—hospitals, schools, water supplies. It’s the White Helmets who are there, who can provide any kind of lifeline to people who are facing that kind of assault. They are maligned and slandered, when they are really the people who we should be standing behind and supporting—they are in desperate need of funding to continue their work. It’s very difficult to constantly face these kinds of attacks.

JA: Russia’s online disinformation campaigns have been widely studied by now. The discourse that Russia appeals to, or that pro-Assad or pro-Hezbollah folks appeal to, is identical to the War on Terror narrative that was popularized by George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. The whole “You’re either with us or the enemy” mentality was literally almost quoted verbatim by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, just a few weeks ago. This discourse has been reinforced and rendered hegemonic in some circles of the broader left, especially (but not just) the Western left. Russia has an obvious interest in people believing that the White Helmets are terrorists, because under the War on Terror, terrorists are fair game. You can shoot them. It’s really that simple.

The Russian embassies on Twitter (some particular embassies, like the one in South Africa, have a particular notoriety for some reason) post disinformation against the White Helmets, and against the documentary about the White Helmets—they posted a photo of Osama bin Laden receiving the Oscar. All of these things are Islamophobic smears that have been widespread especially since the aftermath of 9/11. Russia has utilized this in the past, in Chechnya. Chechnya is particularly important to mention here because one of the Russian embassies also tweeted at one point some years ago, during the fall of Aleppo, a before-and-after picture of Grozny—eradicated by Putin and rebuilt—and the message was, “This could be Aleppo.”

If those among us who call ourselves anti-authoritarians do not understand the consequences or the connotations of this, then we’re basically saying that we do not really care about groups of people that are vulnerable in our own societies, let alone in other societies or in the wider world, including Syrians in this case. The disinformation campaigns don’t just tell you something—they also tell you what not to think. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. It’s that sort of mentality. It stays in the back of your mind, it just festers there, and that alone is enough to reduce any momentum towards solidarity. What it does is discourage people from looking further.

That is the success of the disinformation. You pollute the media sphere. If you just google the White Helmets, on the first pages you will find a lot of horrible things being said. If you go on Twitter it’s dominated by Russian disinformation campaigns. When I say Russian disinformation I don’t just mean RT and Sputnik, but anyone who hovers around that world. That is extremely dangerous in a situation where these people are literally being murdered as we speak. They have even been targeted by al-Qaeda. Calling them al-Qaeda is not just a horrific, racist, Islamophobic smear—it actually puts their lives in danger.

FS: We haven’t really touched on the Syrian diaspora. I didn’t think about how a lot of this conspiracy theory stuff plays into the rightwing xenophobic rhetoric about people escaping the civil war there or escaping war in Libya or other parts of the world that the West often views through an orientalist and Islamophobic lens: that they are bringing this contagion of terrorism with them or whatever.

JA: Leila’s coauthor Robin Yassin-Kassab observed that before Syrians arrived on the shores of Fortress Europe and were being demonized by the far right as terrorists and demographic threats and all of these slurs, they were already being demonized and treated with hostility by large segments of the left. That scapegoating was already there—it’s not just that suddenly Syrians started appearing in Europe and there was massive reaction against them by the right. Of course there was that as well. But the stories of Syrians arriving in Europe (most are not in Europe, obviously; they are in Lebanon and Turkey and Jordan and so on) were canceled, deleted, smeared, and demonized in advance, accelerating the process of dehumanization.

Understanding what’s happening, the context of a country, especially one in “conflict” like Syria, also means supporting the refugees that come to your shores.

FS: A lot of the coverage that this show has done on war in Syria has been specifically focusing on the struggles in northern Syria, particularly as relates to the Kurdish-majority areas and the PYD and the PKK-affiliated Kurdish movement. This is partly because there’s a better infrastructure for communication and discourse in the West, but also a lot of anarchists and leftists have been for a long time in very active solidarity with PKK-related struggles.

Leila, as someone who’s covered the war in Syria and the revolution before that, could you talk a little bit about how the PYD has related to that?

LS: That struggle has certainly gained much more solidarity in the West, and you touched on the reasons for that: the Kurdish diaspora in Europe and the US has been there for a long time and has been able to build solidarity networks that take a long time to build, and Syrians living in other parts of the country had not had that. They didn’t have so much connection with the West. It’s very difficult, obviously. Even prior to the revolution it was difficult for Syrians to travel, to get visas, to be outside. So there wasn’t that much exchange built up for people to know what was happening in other areas.

Some of it also comes down to a Western orientalism that often likes to focus on minority groups as being the most persecuted, combined with Islamophobic racism towards Sunni majorities in Syria and elsewhere. This does tend to have a disproportionate impact on the way minority groups are able to attract solidarity.

That said, there are lots of very inspiring things happening within the Kurdish movement in northern Syria which are directly attractive to anti-authoritarians and anarchists in the West, and I see why there’s an appeal. But there have also been plenty of very inspiring things happening in other parts of Syria. One of the untold stories of the Syrian revolution is how in the absence of the state, when the state collapsed or was pushed out of the majority of the country, people came together and began to build alternative structures for self-organization within those areas.

For example, when the state withdrew and pulled out services, people realized that they needed to build forums to keep their communities functioning. The model that they looked to was developed by a Syrian anarchist called Omar Aziz, who advocated for the establishment of local councils, grassroots forums in which people could come together to discuss the needs in their community and self-organize to keep services functioning, such as electricity supply, hospitals, water supply systems, education systems. That model spread throughout Syria, leading to the establishment of hundreds of local councils throughout the country.

These experiences of self-organization and autonomous politics that happened as a direct result of the Syrian revolution should have been something that people outside were looking at and learning from, and that was a missed opportunity. Possibly some of that was on us, on our inability to communicate effectively what was happening. But also we had a lot of other priorities. It should have been people on the outside looking at what was happening inside Syria and seeing how they could find access to better information.

FS: To close, where do you think the people’s more democratic movements in these two venues are going? Are there any things to keep an eye on? Any direct ways, other than countering disinformation, that folks in the listening audience can support people who are struggling for autonomy and to uplift their dignity in Syria and Lebanon?

LS: I would love to talk about all the opportunities for political solidarity, to build the free Syria that we all want to see. But Syrians are facing a war of extermination right now. The situation on the ground is so absolutely desperate in places like Idlib that any immediate call has to be a purely humanitarian call, to try to pressure a ceasefire, to stop the assault by Russia and the regime on residential communities, to stop this humanitarian crisis from spiraling absolutely out of control, which it is doing at the moment.

I would encourage people to look at some of the Syrian-led organizations which are providing support to these internally displaced people on the ground. The Molham Volunteering Team is a wonderful organization doing wonderful work. Violet Organization, Kids Paradise—the immediate needs for survival take precedence over any other call I think of right now.

And then I’ll reiterate what we’ve been saying about being more informed—there are still many Syrians working to try to hold this regime accountable, to try to keep going with their desire to live in a free country. I encourage people to find out who they are and to see which ways they can stand in solidarity with them.

JA: As for Lebanon, what’s been happening in the past almost four months is often described as a rebirth. There is a lot of very new momentum. Some of the media outlets that I mentioned before were literally launched in the past few weeks. A few of them are the offspring of the 2015 movement, but others are really much newer than that. There are websites that only have half a dozen articles and they are just building on that.

That’s the exciting part. We’re having an emergence. There is an emergence of a civic-society mentality—though that has a lot of limitations. Sometimes it’s limited by a liberal paradigm. But it creates a space. It’s a moment to push for ideas that are more progressive. That’s what folks like me are trying to do. I am just a writer. Other people are doing much more direct work on the ground. There are soup kitchens that have popped up in places like Beirut and Tripoli. There are independent unions being formed because the current unions are either co-opted or useless. There are independent media workers—while there are good people working within mainstream outlets, they tend to be limited by those outlets’ priorities.

At the same time, in the same way as in Syria, there has been an outburst of creativity. Arts and music genres that hadn’t been explored before are now being explored, like metal and rap and hip-hop. Lebanon is freer than Syria as a society, there are fewer restrictions. There is a lot of self-censorship, but not as much of the overt censorship that there is in Syria. You can pretty much say whatever you want, within some limits sometimes, and that has allowed us a little bit more breathing space compared with what Syrians have had, to create some of this infrastructure that is now booming. Currents like environmentalism, feminism, queer rights, and so on are also finding momentum in the ongoing revolutionary upheavals.

The only limitation so far is refugee rights, and migrant domestic worker rights. The revolution hasn’t really addressed these issues as much as it should. But hopefully the more we continue and the more progressives and others manage to steer the revolution in a certain direction rather than in a nationalist direction, that might be possible in the near future. I personally think it’s going to be extremely difficult, but there is hope in that matter.

LS: One other area that I’d like to draw attention to is the prisoners’ struggle. The prisoner issue is something that everybody should be supporting. There are thousands of Syrians in prison, and we know the horror stories of how widely practiced torture is within regime detention. Those are our people. Those are the peaceful pro-democracy activists who were struggling against this regime. They are the people who are inside prison who we should be supporting.

There are some fantastic organizations that people can get behind. Families for Freedom is a women-led movement set up by Syrian women: the mothers, wives, sisters of political prisoners. It is a movement that was inspired by Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, and by a similar women-led movement looking for the disappeared in Lebanon. They’re doing as much work as they can trying to keep the issue of prisoners on the international agenda, calling for the release of not only those detained in regime prisons but also those detained in prisons by Islamist groups.

That’s something that everybody should be getting behind and finding out about and seeing how they can support, because it’s never on the agenda even though for every Syrian, it’s one of the most important issues because we all have family members or friends who have disappeared in regime detention.

We spoke a lot about how exhausted and traumatized Syrian activists are right now because of the strength of the counterrevolution and what they’ve gone through over the past few years. But one thing that has given us so much hope and strength and inspiration is seeing the protests happening in Lebanon. Also in Iraq, where people have been out on the streets and going through extremely challenging circumstances—this is also very inspirational in the way they are using anti-sectarian slogans. Also what’s happening in Iran with the protest movement there. All these movement have given us a lot of hope and courage.

Syria has been used to silence people across the region as a kind of bogeyman: if you raise your voice and demand freedom, this is what’s going to happen to you. You’re going to end up like Syria. The revolutions and uprisings that happened in 2010-11 have been crushed, they’re over. But they haven’t been crushed. This is part of a long term process. Although each country has its own specific situation, there are a lot of similarities: the authoritarian regimes, the corruption, the bad socioeconomic situation. And people are not being silenced. Something changed in 2011, and despite the massive repression these protest movements have faced, something has changed within people. That’s going to have a massive impact on the future. There’s going to be a lot of change happening in the region, and we’re only at the start of that process.

FS: Thank you so much for having this conversation, I really appreciate it.

LS: Thank you for inviting us.

JA: Thanks a lot.

Anarchy and Indigenous Resistance to AMLO in Mexico

Anarchy and Indigenous Resistance to AMLO in Mexico

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This week on The Final Straw, an anarchist living in Mexico talks about the reign of the MORENA gimpparty of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka AMLO), the new face of capitalism it presents, it’s relation to social movements and indigenous sovereignty and the anarchist and indigenous resistance to the regime. We cover mega-projects being pushed through around the country, the repression of activists and more in this whopper of an episode.

Here’s a great English-language blog based mostly out of Oaxaca that covers struggle in Mexico and across the northern border: https://elenemigocomun.net/

 

To learn more about the Anarchist Days that our guest spoke on, you can email janarquistas2020@protonmail.com!

Channel Zero Fundraiser

The gofundme can be found at https://gofundme.com/Channel-zero-network-2020-fundraiser/ .To check out the video to match the audio you just heard so you can enjoy and spread it around, check out our show notes or at https://sub.media !

Final Straw Notes from the guest:

If you want to understand the politics of Mexico, listen to the voices of Indigenous peoples and communities, women in struggle, campesinos

Indigenous populations and megaprojects:

Airport Lake Texcoco

New International Airport of Mexico City proposed in 2001 by Vicente Fox, but cancelled shortly after due to organized resistance

AMLO cancelled project after carrying out a “popular consultation”

Cancel one mega-project to impose three more

  • Expansion of Santa Lucia and Toluca airports
  • Naucalpan- Toluca highway
  • Interurban train

– Tren Maya (Mayan Train)

  • 950-mile train connecting principal tourist destinations in the states of Chiapas, Campeche, Tabasco, Yucatan and Quintana Roo
  • 17 stations including Playa del carmen, Tulum, Palenque, Merida, Cancun
  • Infrastructure projects to be built around train stations
  • For tourists and cargo

– “Corredor Transistmico” Interoceanic corridor

  • Industrial corridor connecting the ports of Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, on the pacific coast, and Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, in the gulf of Mexico.
  • The project is meant to compete with the Panama Canal, as a route of land transportation connecting the Pacific with the gulf of Mexico.
  • United States has been trying to get this project going since the 19th century
  • Train routes and a super highway, modernization of ports, and various older train routes

– Proyeto integral de morelos (PIM) (Integral Project of Morelos)

Project that began in 2012 and has faced stiff resistance from the Frente de pueblos en defensa de tierra y agua Morelos-puebla-tlaxcala (People’s Front in Defense of Land and Water Morelos-Puebla-Tlaxcala)

The PIM roject includes:
  • Thermoelectric plant in Huexca, Morelos
  • A natural gas pipeline to supply gas to the plant which passes through 60 Indigenous and campesino communities in Tlaxcala, Puebla and Morelos
  • An aqueduct that seeks to move 50 million liters of water daily to the thermoelectric plant from the Rio Cuautla
  • Italian and Spanish transnationals

Zapatismo:

Armed Indigenous rebellion in Chiapas in 1994. After failed talks with the government, they took the path of autonomy
2003-formation of five caracoles (zones of autonomous self-government) The caracoles are regional administrative units where autonomous authorities come together and from which clinics, cooperatives, schools, transportation and other services are administered.
The Zapatista communities are managed by the Juntos de buen gobierno (Good Government Councils), which are made up of representatives of the autonomous councils of the rebel municipalities.
Expansion of autonomous territory: In august of 2019 the Zapatistas announced 7 new New Centers of Autonomous Zapatista Rebellion and Resistance (CRAREZ) and 4 new rebel Zapatista autonomous municipalities. Added to the 5 original Caracoles for a total of 16. In addition to the 27 original autonomous municipalities, giving us a total of 43 (CRAREZ). Made up of different assemblies, autonomous municipalities, etc.
Zapatista communities made up of Insignous tzotziles, tzeltales, mames, choles, tojolabales y zoques
 
Zapatista activities in December of 2019: Celebration of Life: A December of Resistance and Rebellion
Film Festival 7-14 of December 2019
Dance Festival December 15-20
Forum in Defense of Territory and Mother Earth December 21-22
 
3,259 women
95 little girls
26 men
From 49 countries
Celebration of the 26 Anniversary of the Beginning of the War Against Oblivion December 31 and January 1
EZLN declaration to continue struggle.

CODEDI assasinations:

  • On February 12, 2018- Ignacio Ventura, Luis Angel Martínez and Alejandro Diaz Cruz.
  • On July 17, 2018- Abraham Hernandez Gonzales
  • On October 25, 2018- Noel Castillo Aguilar

COPIG-EZ assasinations:

  • Concejo Indígena y Popular de Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata CIPOG-EZ (Indigenous and popular council of Guerrero-Emiliano Zapata)
  • May 2019- José Lucio Bartolo Faustino, Modesto Verales Sebastián, Bartolo Hilario Morales, and Isaías Xanteco Ahuejote of the Nahua people organized as the Indigenous and Popular Council of Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG – EZ).

Other assasinations

  • Samir Flores Soberanes of the Nahua people of Amilcingo, Morelos.
  • Julián Cortés Flores, of the Mephaa people of the Casa de Justicia in San Luis Acatlán, Guerrero.
  • Ignacio Pérez Girón, of the Tzotzil people of the municipality of Aldama, Chiapas.
  • Juan Monroy and José Luis Rosales, of the Nahua people Ayotitlán, Jalisco.
  • Feliciano Corona Cirino, of the Nahua people of Santa María Ostula, Michoacán.
  • Josué Bernardo Marcial Campo, also known as TíoBad, of the Populuca people of Veracruz.

Political prisoners

Building international networks of solidarity, both anarchist and otherwise, with Mexico

Anarchist Days- July 13-19, 2020 in DF Email: janarquistas2020@protonmail.com

Las jornadas en defensa del territorio y la madre tierra “Samir Somos Todas y Todos” February 20-22, 2020

. … . ..

Music for this episode by:

U.N.E. – Explosion Humana

The State of Resistance and the Struggle for Dignity in Chile: An interview with a Chilean anarchist about the current protests there

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This week William had the chance to interview someone, a 20 year old anarchist from the territory of so called Chile, about the uprisings which have been occurring there. The protests began on Monday October 14th in Chile’s capital, Santiago, as a coordinated fare evasion campaign by high school students which led to spontaneous takeovers of the city’s main train stations and open confrontations with the Chilean Police. While the reason for these protests was a fare hike for public transportation by the government and the transit companies, this was only the tipping point in a much larger and diffuse situation of economic pracarity. We will post a great info graphic on social media about all that is tied up in this situation, but in short education and healthcare are private and so are very expensive, jobs pay very little (400 US dollars a month on average), and it is the only country in the world where water is privatized. According to Food and Water Watch, having a privatized water system increases the yearly cost of water by 59%, or over twice the amount as public water. Many of the systems that people are forced to live under, such as the current mechanisms of the State of Emergency and the pension system, were created under the Pinochet dictatorship and have not been updated to reflect the so called “democratic” rule.

 

Our guest outlines these situations, and also speaks about the violence that protestors are facing from the police and from the state. They also speak on the relationship of this current violence to the violences that Indigenous Mapuche people have been facing from the Chilean state all along.

According to the Wikipedia article on the 2019 Chilean Protests, as of yesterday October 26th “19 people have died, nearly 2,500 have been injured, and 2,840 have been arrested. Human rights organisations have received several reports of violations conducted against protesters, including torture.” Our guest outlines the peaceful nature at the outset of these protests, which were quickly escalated by hyper repressive tactics on the part of the police, and says that these actions are making it clear that the “democracy” – which was fought for by the generations above them – is a fake system.

To keep updated on this situation, and away from the tvs like our guest suggested, you can follow Radio Kurruf, an anarchist radio station in Chile, and read their analysis on the current wave of repression here. https://radiokurruf.org/2019/10/26/state-of-rebellion-in-chile/

You can also visit our blog at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org for a partial list of links and accounts to follow, including some on the ground reporting by crimethInc.

@RadioVillaFrancia

Here is the transcript of a brief exchange between TFS and other comrades in Rojava (podcast only):

Solidarity with Rojava

Here is an announcement on behalf of the IDOC Watch:

IDOC (Indiana Dept of Correction) Watch is an organization in Indiana, composed of people directly affected by the prison system and prison abolitionists, that is organizing to expose and stop the widespread abuses in the Indiana prison system, with the long-term objective of dismantling the prison system. (check out IDOC Watch at idocwatch.org)

This event will be a panel discussion on the base-building IDOC Watch is doing in prisons and communities affected by incarceration, prisoner struggles and counter-insurgency in Indiana, and the effects of the prison-industrial complex on individuals, families, and communities.

Featuring:

Zolo Agona Azania, former Black Liberation Army activist and long-term New Afrikan political prisoner from Gary, IN, who beat two death sentences after being falsely accused and convicted of murdering a Gary police officer during a bank robbery. Zolo was released from prison in 2017, after serving over 35 years. He is currently working to establish re-entry housing for people being released from prison in Gary, through the Gary Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated.

S.T. : A mother and grandmother from Gary who organizes with IDOC Watch and currently has a son incarcerated at Indiana State Prison, a maximum-security facility in Michigan City, IN.

An organizer with FOCUS Initiatives LTD, an abolitionist re-entry project in Indianapolis, IN: focusreentry.com.

Location
1845 Sheridan Rd, Evanston, IL 60208
217 Fisk Hall

Tuesday, October 29, 2019 at 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM CDT

. … . ..

Music for this episode in order:

Llueve – La Trova Pank

Somos Peligrosos – Los Crudos

An Indigenous Activist on Post Hurricane Relief in Eastern NC

Mutual Aid in Post-Hurricane-Florence Lumberton, NC

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This week we had the opportunity to connect with Vanessa Bolin, who is an indigenous artist, community organizer, and activist who has been helping with flood rescue and rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Florence in Lumberton, NC, which is in Robeson County. In this interview we talk about what still needs to be done in this area, how to help out, some important parallels between post hurricane relief and anti pipeline organizing, and the importance of foregrounding marginalized voices in mutual aid efforts.

Our guest mentioned the Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice (IACJ), which has a fundraiser right now that is benefiting the indigenous communities of Robeson County. Here is the donation link via Facebook, or you can go to their website to donate that way.

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is also coordinating a bunch of efforts, you can learn more about this group at mutualaiddisasterrelief.org or look them up on any social media platform. If you have 4-14 days spare and want to get down to Robeson County to help out, especially if you have proficiency in Spanish and skills in logistical coordination, you can send them an email to get networked in at WeKeepUsSafeVC@protonmail.com.

There is also a GoFundMe for mutual aid efforts in Asheville, benefitting affected areas in Robeson County.

Links to some things our guest mentioned:

To learn more about the Indigenous Wisdom Permaculture Model and convergence, just follow the link for information and future convergence dates.

To see the Water Protector Arts Facebook page, you can just go to Facebook and search the name of the page.

You can follow this link to reach directly out to the Lumbee Tribe if you are intending to do direct support work.

To connect with EcoRobeson, the group which is doing anti pipeline work in Robeson County that is mainly affecting already disenfranchised people, you can follow this link.

Somethings we’d like to mention:

When Vanessa talks about the struggles of the Dine people (who are sometimes known as Navajo) where she mentions uranium mining, this is a huge issue that spans many generations. You can visit Black Mesa Rezistance, which is an organized effort in Black Mountain and Big Mesa (also known as Arizona) on the part of the Dine and Hopi people to defend themselves and their existences. You can learn more about this effort at https://blackmesa.rezist.org/ and follow the links for further material to learn about the history and present day projects and struggles.

And finally, for a look into some of the truly amazing legacy of the Lumbee Tribe in so called NC, we at The Final Straw recommend the book To Die Game by William McKee Evans. This book details a resistance movement at a time when Lumbee youth were being targeted for conscription into the Confederate army, and how they along with a diverse coalition of other resistors, eluded capture in the swamps of eastern NC for over 5 years. You can also read about this in the book Dixie Be Damned, along with many other lesser reported moments of resistance in the American Southeast.

Announcements for Prisoner Support

Jalil Muntaqim

Jalil Muntaqim, former member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army is facing the parole board in November as his August visit was postponed due to clerical issues. He’s going to be getting a lot of pushback from the Policeman’s Benevolent Association, Fraternal Order of Police, Corrections Guards associations and the rest of the gallery of reactionary so-called unions for cops. Those groups are on alert, as we’ve seen with the tug of war around the release of Herman Bell, any time an aging political prisoner, especially one accused of involvement in the killing of a cop, comes up for parole. The parole boards are often made up of former judges, D.A.’s, Prosecutors and law enforcement, forming an added blue wall for prisoners facing parole boards. So, Jalil needs us to write letters of support for his release. Although some of the links are dead from the earlier parole push, you can check this IGD link (see our shownotes at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org for the link) for a list of achievements Jalil has since his incarceration.

Also, Jalil’s birthday is October 18th, so feel free to send him a separate birthday greeting!

Also, also, check out our website to hear past episodes featuring interviews with Jalil conducted by buddies at Prison Radio on CKUT in Montreal.

To support Jalil, follow these instructions passed on from National Jericho NY:

Write a letter in you own words in support of parole for Jalil, address to:

Senior Offender Rehabilitation Coordinator
Sullivan Correctional Facility
325 Riverside Drive
Fallsburg, New York 12733

BUT SEND TO:

Nora Carroll
The Parole Preparation Project
168 Canal Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10013

The subject line should be “Anthony Bottom 77-A-4283”

We are making an effort to include letters of support for Jalil that are personalized and from people who are familiar with him and his work. If you want further instructions for how to write a strong, personalized letter of support, please email carroll.nora@gmail.com.

Also, please send a copy of your letter to Jalil for his files:

Anthony Bottom #77A4283,

Sullivan Correctional Facility,

P.O. Box 116, Fallsburg,

NY 12733-0116

More on Jalil can be found at http://freejalil.com

. … . ..

Casey Brezik

Casey is an anarchist political prisoner who also has a parole hearing coming up, his one and only for his 12 year stint for the stabbing of the president of a university in Missouri. Casey recently got married to a woman being held in another Missouri prison. He’s studying calculus so he can go to school to be an aerospace engineer once he’s released. He goes before the parole board November 2018. He’s unsure of exactly when he gets out, but knows he isn’t eligible until November 2020. He’s currently saving his money (and asking for help) to afford a cheap vehicle when he gets out in order to transport himself to work and school. His intentions are to parole out to the St. Louis area and attending a community college until he gets his basic credits and can transfer to a university. His eyes are set on the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Casey suffers from depression and has a history of schizophrenia. he describes himself as socially awkward and says he often feels misunderstood. He has a kind heart and he looks forward to getting out relatively soon and getting to see all of those who have shown him support over the years. He thanks you all.

Casey was recently transferred to the Farmington Correctional Center in Farmington, Missouri. In November, he will go before the parole board for the first and ONLY TIME and he needs your help!

Thoughtful and professional letters to the parole board by people who care about Casey and are willing to offer support to him during his transition back to life outside of prison can make it more likely that Casey will be released.

*Even though the letter should be addressed to the parole board, all letters should be sent directly to Casey and he will deliver them to the parole board:

Casey Brezik #1154765
Farmington Correctional Center
1012 West Columbia Street
Farmington, MO 63640

More on Casey at https://supportcasey.org/

. … . ..

Sean Swain

Anarchist prisoner Sean Swain is still being silenced by the state of Ohio and could use your letters. He’s potentially in the process of being transferred in an inter-state deal which will make his life way harder. Sean has communicated that he was at one point on hunger strike and is extremely isolated. You can write to Sean at :

Sean Swain #243-205
Warren CI
P.O. Box 120
Lebanon, Ohio 45036

It’s suggested that concerned listeners call

ODRC Director Stuart Hudson (614) 387-0588
Governor’s Counsel Kevin O’Donell Stanek (614) 466-3555
Callers should voice concern over Sean’s health, access to communication and the blocking of counsel from his recent RIB hearing that threatens to transfer him out of Ohio.

More info on his case can be found at seanswain.noblogs.org

. … . ..

NC Prisoners repressed from #PrisonStrike

On IGD you can read the list of demands specific to NC prisoners that Joseph Stewart wrote back in July. He was transferred after the outside published his statement in support of the strike and has intermittently been left off of prisoner support call-ups so he can surely use some supporting letters at Polk CI where he is currently housed. You can write Joseph at :

Joseph D. Stewart

#0802041

Polk CI

Box 2500
Butner, NC 27509

Three other prisoners in NC, are held within the Hyde Correctional Institution, a facility in Fairfield, NC, are being threatened with retaliation for their active support and organizing in solidarity with the national #PrisonStrike. They’re facing threats of administrative repression, as are any other fellow prisoners connected to the national strike. More info in our show notes

Please write letters of support to:

Randy Watterson #427985
Hyde Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 278
Swan Quarter, NC 27885

Todd Martin #1071227
Hyde Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 278
Swan Quarter, NC 27885

Jace Buras #1522417
Hyde Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 278
Swan Quarter, NC 27885

. … . ..

The Vaughn17

From a statement by the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM) and Vaughn17 Support in Philly:

On Feb. 1, 2017, after a series of peaceful protests yielded no results, incarcerated comrades took over a building at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware to demand slight improvements in their treatment. After a 20-hour stand-off, the prison’s response was to literally bulldoze their barricades and figuratively bulldoze their demands, retaliating with constant beatings, destruction of prisoner property, and denial of food and medical care.

Furthermore, the state has accused 17 of the incarcerated with egregious offenses even though these charges have no basis in reality. The state’s response shows once again that any prisoners standing up for themselves, to regain dignity and achieve decent treatment, is a threat. And the state will collectively punish everyone and anyone to hide its barbarism. The only role of prison guards, wardens and the Department of Corrections (DOC) is the perpetuation of slavery and subjugation.

There is a call for court support for the 17, who will be attending trail in small groups, at New Castle County Courthouse, 500 N. King St., Wilmington, DE 19801. The first trial starts on Monday, October 8th and the last is slated for February 11th, 2019. People in the area interested in helping volunteer for court support can learn more by reading this IGD article.

A pdf of a poster with addresses, pictures and info on the 17 prisoners pulled into this case can be found here

. … . ..

Show playlist here.

No More Deaths: Border Abolition And More

Download This Episode

This week William spoke with Maria and Jeff, who are two long term members of the humanitarian aid group based in Arizona called No More Deaths. This group does solidarity work with those who are crossing the border in that region, as well as advocacy, legal work, and work which runs along many other vectors of solidarity. We will speak about the group and how each member got involved, the exact nature of the work and some media myths that the group gets leveled at them, along with the rise in repression that No More Deaths has faced in recent weeks, culminating in highly militarized raid on Bird Camp, a remote outpost that serves as a clinic, on Thursday, June 15. We will go on to discuss the strategy behind Border Patrol’s surveillance and repression of those who are crossing and aid workers, and will talk about asks for assistance that the group is thinking of.

You can visit NMD online at nomoredeaths.org, plus follow them on Facebook and Twitter if you want to keep up with calls for solidarity and with updates on their situation.

Those titles that Maria mentioned for further reading if folks want to learn more about the border and how it got that way are:

No Wall They Can Build, out recently by CrimethInc.
– The Insurgent Southwest here
– Designed to Kill via CrimethInc as well
The Disappeared Report
– Dispaches from the Borderland thru the anarchist media collective It’s Going Down here

The first musical track in this episode is by Calle 13 with “Pa’l Norte”. They are a Puerto Rican hip hop group that often tackles themes that are oppositional to the border, border patrol, and FBI. The episode closes with a track from an Argentinian atmospheric metal band called Ruinas​/​Raíces with Dos Colores Fundiéndose which is the first track off their title album that just came out in April. You can find them on the blog Red and
Anarchist Black Metal
.

Playlist

2 views on migrant struggle in Germany + the E.U.

Migrant Movements in E.U.

http://oplatz.net/
Download This Episode

In this hour we’ll be hearing two perspectives on migrant struggles in the EU, Germany in particular, dating back to roughly 2012. The first we’ll hear is Adam Bahar. Adam is an immigrant from Sudan who currently works on emergency phone networks connecting Coast Guards with migrants cross the sea in distress. In the second, we hear from Adams interviewer, a Berlin-based German-born no-border activist about their experiences. We tried to cut overlapping information to decrease redundancy but there will be a little overlap in order to make space for both differing experiences expressed.

In this first interview Adam Bahar talks about his participation in migrant struggles, including taking part in the public migrant march in 2012 from Wurzburg to Berlin, the tent occupation of Oranienplatz in Berlin by 150 migrants for a year and a half followed by the squatting of an empty school building. In German, the word Lager is used as a storage place, also used for the camps or shelters where asylum seeking refugees are kept isolated from the rest of the German population. Another word that may be difficult for listeners to understand is Adams phrasing of Guardsea, comparable to Coast Guard. Adam also talks about the cooperation between corrupt African governments and the German government either in their business of dictatorship or the deportation of Africans back to their continent of origin.

For the rest of the hour we’ll be hearing part of an interview conducted by myself and William with the activist who held the conversation with Adam in the first half hour. Here, our German friend talks a little more about the occupation of Oranienplatz from 2012-2014 in Kreutzberg, Berlin and more generally we discuss the Shengen Zone for the understanding of non-regional audience members. Later, they speak about their understanding of border situations in the Balkans as they’ve been closing down and thoughts about relationships between richer countries and the intolerable situations in the poorer nations from whence come many of the refugees.

Thanks to our buddies affiliated with Anarchistisches Radio Berlin for helping us out with setting up these recordings. More content from them at http://aradio.blogsport.de

Announcements

Prison Resistance Updates

First, a couple of announcements. Here’s a wrap up of prisoner resistance activities this week around the U.S., followed by a few specific prisoner updates.

Momentum is growing behind the bars. After two intense rebellions in four days at Holman prison in Atmore, Alabama last month things have really heated up. Prisoners in Texas called for and initiated a state wide series of work strikes on April 4th, the Free Alabama Movement announced a shutdown of ADOC for the month of May and prisoners across the country announced and called for a nationally coordinated strike and protest this September.

Reports from Texas prisoners are still coming in, but at least 7 facilities participated enough to get locked down by prison authorities. There have been a lot of threats and harassment by staff reported, but no specific reprisals or people targeted as leaders, yet.

On Saturday, April 9th outside supporters gathered for solidarity events across the country, including, Austin, Houston, Phoenix, the Bronx, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Providence, Denver, Tucson, Minneapolis and Fayetteville Arkansas, as well as a protest at Holman prison in Alabama by the Mothers and Families of the Free Alabama Movement.

These events were either protests at corporations that profit from prison slavery, or workshops and planning sessions about prison slavery and supporting the growing wave of prisoner resistance. Supporters hope to see this tide continue to rise leading up to the September 9th work-stoppage, since attention from the outside is essential to protect striking or otherwise rebellious prisoners from violent reprisals.

The Incarcerated Worker’s Organizing Committee of the IWW is heavily involved in support efforts. You can keep up to date by following their website at http://IWOC.noblogs.org or by monitoring and signing up for the email list at http://SupportPrisonerResistance.net.

on twitter:
#SupportPrisonerResistance
#EyesOnTexas

Alvaro Luna Hernandez (Xinachtli)

Supporters of Alvaro Luna Hernandez sent this message:

“Alvaro is in dire need of immediate, practical solidarity from all who support his emancipation from unjust incarceration and cruel punishment.

Alvaro’s Recent Hardship
In these past few weeks it has come to our attention that Alvaro is enduring multiple forms of inadequate and cruel treatment by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

He is in need of dire medical attention; the TDCJ has placed him in more inhospitable holding conditions; the TDCJ has confiscated and stolen from him; the TDCJ has limited his mail correspondence; and when in transport to Lubbock, TX, the TDCJ transported him with—what you will certainly agree is—little to no regard for his health or comfort.”

Therefore, Alvaro’s supporters are urging you to email or call relevant TDCJ authorities by Thursday, April 14th, 2016 (at midnight) to protest these conditions and demand immediate improvements. More information at http://FreeAlvaro.net

Playlist