Thursday, May 15, 2014

Global Fire – South African author Michael Schmidt on the Global Impact of Revolutionary Anarchism [2014]

Global Fire – South African author Michael Schmidt on the Global Impact of Revolutionary Anarchism


Michael Schmidt is an investigative journalist, an anarchist theorist and a radical historian based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has been an active participant in the international anarchist milieu, including the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front. His major works include ‘Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism (2013, AK Press) and, with Lucien van der Walt, ‘Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism’ (2009, AK Press).

In your recent book, Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism (AK Press, USA, 2013), you argue that anarchists have often failed to draw insights from anarchist movements outside of Western Europe. What lessons does the global history of anarchism have to offer those engaged in struggle today?
The historical record shows that anarchism’s primary mass- organisational strategy, syndicalism, is a remarkably coherent and universalist set of theories and practices, despite the movement’s grappling with a diverse set of circumstances. From the establishment of the first non-white unions in South Africa and the first unions in China, through to the resistance to fascism in Europe and Latin America – the establishment of practical anarchist control of cities and regions, sometimes ephemeral, sometimes longer lived in countries as diverse as Macedonia (1903), Mexico (1911, 1915), Italy (1914, 1920), Portugal (1918), Brazil (1918), Argentina (1919, 1922), arguably Nicaragua (1927-1932), Ukraine (1917-1921), Manchuria (1929-1931), Paraguay (1931), and Spain (1873/4, 1909, 1917, 1932/3, and 1936-1939).

The results of the historically-revealed universalism are vitally important to any holistic understanding of anarchism/syndicalism:

Firstly, that the movement arose in the trade unions of the First International, simultaneously in Mexico, Spain, Uruguay, and Egypt from 1868-1872 (in other words, it arose internationally, on four continents, and was explicitly not the imposition of a European ideology);
Secondly, there is no such thing within the movement as “Third World,” “Global Southern” or “Non-Western” anarchism, that is in any core sense distinct from that in the “Global North”. Rather that they are all of a feather; the movement was infinitely more dominant in most of Latin America than in most of Europe. The movement today is often more similar in strength to the historical movements in Vietnam, Lebanon, India, Mozambique, Nigeria, Costa Rica, and Panama – so to look to these movements as the “centre” of the ideology produces gross distortions.

The lessons for anarchists and syndicalist from “the Rest” for “the West” can actually be summed up by saying that the movement always was and remains coherent because of its engagements with the abuse of power at all levels.

How is anarchism still relevant in the world today? What do anarchist ideas about strategy and tactics have to offer people active in social movements today?

I’d say there are several ways in which anarchism is relevant today:
1) It provides the most comprehensive intersectoral critique of not just capital and the state; but all forms of domination and exploitation relating to class, gender, race, colour, ethnicity, creed, ability, sexuality and so forth, implacably confronting grand public enemies such as war-mongering imperialism and intimate ones such as patriarchy. It is not the only ideology to do this, but is certainly the main consistently freethinking socialist approach to such matters.

2) With 15 decades of militant action behind it, it provides a toolkit of tried-and proven tactics for resistance in the direst of circumstances, and, has often risen above those circumstances to decentralise power to the people. These tactics include oppressed class self-management, direct democracy, equality, mutual aid, and a range of methods based in the conception that the means we use to resist determine the nature of our outcomes. The global anti-capitalist movement of today is heavily indebted to anarchist ethics and tactics for its internal democracy, flexibility, and its humanity.

3) Strategically, we see these tactics as rooted in direct democracy, equality, and horizontal confederalism (today called the “network of networks”), in particular in the submission of specific (self-constituted) anarchist organisations to the oversight of their communities, which then engage in collective decision-making that is consultative and responsible to those communities. It was the local District Committees, Cultural Centres, Consumer Co-operatives, Modern Schools, and Prisoner-support Groups during the Spanish Revolution that linked the great CNT union confederation and its Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) allies to the communities they worked within: the militia that fought on the frontlines against fascism, and the unions that produced all social wealth would have been rudderless and anchorless without this crucial social layer to give them grounding and direction. In order to have a social revolution of human scale, we submit our actions to the real live humans of the society that we work within: this is our vision of “socialism”.

In sum, anarchism’s “leaderless resistance” is about the ideas and practices that offer communities tools for achieving their freedom, and not about dominating that resistance. Anarchists ideally are fighting for a free world, not an anarchist world, one in which even conservatives will be freed of their statist, capitalist and social bondage to discover new ways of living in community with the rest of us.

Is it important to advance anarchism explicitly? Or is it enough to engage in social movements whose objectives we support without adopting the anarchist label?

This is primarily a tactical question, because the approaches adopted by anarchists have to be suited to the objective conditions of the oppressed classes in the area in which they are active, and the specific local cultures, histories, even prejudices of those they work alongside. The proper meaning of “anarchist” as a democratic practice – a practical, not utopian, one at that – of the oppressed classes clearly needs to be rehabilitated in Australia and New Zealand. Just as the Bulgarian syndicalists who built unions in the rural areas relied upon ancient peasant traditions of mutual aid to locate syndicalist mutual aid within an approachable framework, so you too must find a good match for anarchism within your cultures. We, for example, have relied heavily on traditional township forms of resistance to explain solidarity, mutual aid, egalitarianism, and self-management.

Yet, it is also a strategic question because in my opinion, where you have the bourgeois-democratic freedoms to organise openly and without severe repression, it is important to form an explicitly anarchist organisation in order to act as:

a) a pole around which libertarian socialists, broadly speaking, can orbit and to which they can gravitate organisationally – though it is important to recognise that there can be more than one such pole; and
b) as a lodestar of clear, directly-democratic practice, offering those who seek guidance a vibrant toolkit of time-tested practices with which to defend the autonomy of the oppressed classes from those who would exploit/oppress them.

It is the question of responsibility that compels us to nail our colours to the mast. This is for three reasons:

a) firstly, because we are not terrorists or criminals and we have nothing to be ashamed about that requires hiding, even from our enemies (we should be able to openly defend our democratic credentials before mainstream politicians);
b) secondly, that by forming a formal organisation, people we interact with are made aware that none of us are loose cannons but are subject to the mandates of our organisation (with those mandates being public, fair and explicit); and
c) lastly, but most importantly, that the communities we work within, whether territorial (townships, cities, etc), or communities of interest (unions, queer rights bodies, residents’ associations etc) know that we are responsible to them, that our actions, positions and strategies are consultative, collaborative, responsive and responsible to those they may most immediately affect.

We’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Counter Power Volume 2, Global Fire: 150 Fighting Years of Revolutionary Anarchism, is there any news on when it will be released? What ground will you be covering that people might not expect?

Global Fire is really a monstrous work: in research and writing for close to 15 years now, it’s really an international organised labour history over 150 years, tracing the organisational and ideological lineages of anarchism/syndicalism in all parts of the world. We have a lot to get right: we need to have a theory, at least, for why the French syndicalist movement turned reformist during World War I, or why the German revolutionary movement as a whole, both Marxist and anarchist, collapsed over 1919-1923, paving the way for the Nazis. These are issues of intense argument among historians, and we have to be able to back up with sound argument our stance in every case, from the well-known, like the Palmer Raids against the IWW in the USA in the wake of World War I, to the fate of syndicalism in Southern Rhodesia in the 1950s, or of the near-seizure of power in Chile by the syndicalists in 1956, and their fate under the red regimes in Cuba, Bulgaria and China, or the white regimes in Chile, South Korea, or Argentina.

We need to understand the vectors of the anarchist idea in a holistic, transnational sense, but have often been hampered by the narrowness of national(ist) perspectives. Even within the Anarchist movement, histories have been more anecdotal and partisan than truly balanced and rigorous assessments, and have often been very disarticulated by language differences. With lengthy delays incurred by us trying to make sure that Global Fire is the best (in fact only) holistic international account of the movement. You can be assured that Lucien is working on refining the text, which if published in its current format would weigh in at a whopping 1,000 pages, and that we have a pencilled-in release date for 2015, though perhaps 2016 is more realisable.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Stuart Christie's Preface to "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism" (Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt, AK Press)

Stuart Christie's Preface to "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism" (Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt, AK Press)

Stuart Christie, former political prisoner and radical publisher --2009

To use the metaphor of plant life, the seeds of anarchism have been around since time immemorial, but the plant itself—the ideas and the movement as we understand them today—first germinated in September 1869 during the fourth general congress of the First International in Basel, in Switzerland. They quickly began to spread, take root and bloom in towns, cities and villages across Europe, the Americas and, later, throughout Asia and into Africa. The most immediate manifestations of this were the Lyons uprising of September 1870 and the Paris Commune of March 1871.

The subsequent 138 years of the movement’s history have been characterised by egalitarian dreams, the pursuit of justice, and a never-ending propagandistic cultural and educational activity punctuated by violent and nonviolent direct actions, strikes, insurrections, and aborted and frustrated revolutions.

This anarchist presence in political and social life has not gone unnoticed. Since that first meeting in Basel, anarchists have acquired a reputation for honesty, integrity, selflessness, sacrifice, and struggle. Anarchism’s enemies, on the right and on the left, highlight,
in contrast, the anarchists’ so-called “easy” recourse to assassinations and other dramatic headline-grabbing direct actions, with exaggerated, black-and-white images that have influenced historians, media commentators, and politicians.

Since those early days, the red and black flag of anarchism has been—and continues to be—followed by varied and wide sections of the population.

Some historians, such as the Marxist Eric Hobsbawm, believe this is something rather abnormal and atypical. “Normality,” in their view, is that the “scientific doctrine” the proletariat needed was Marxist “socialism”; what they found “abnormal” was the extent to which anarchism and its offshoot, syndicalism, had succeeded in putting down roots in some of the most industrial and modern cities in Europe, cities such as Barcelona, and elsewhere, working-class strongholds where Marxist and parliamentary socialism never achieved striking success. In fact, in electoral terms, of all the cities in Western Europe it was only in Germany that an influential mass socialist party managed to consolidate itself [at the time].

Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism are by no means “exceptional” or “extraordinary” phenomena in the history of political-social movements; it was only after the First World War with the co-option or seduction of “socialist” trade unionism and “socialist” parties into the parliamentary political system that—with the notable exceptions like Spain, Argentina, and Sweden—the influence of anti-political, anti-statist, and direct-action oriented revolutionary syndicalism began to fade elsewhere in the world.

Even though anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism have proved less stable and robust than anarchists could have hoped for—characterised as they have been by both chronological and geographical discontinuity—they nevertheless still bloom when and where least expected. Often disappearing from view and written off by historians such as George Woodcock, they then reappear, unannounced, with explosions of protest.

The present work, however, is neither obituary nor panegyric; it is the first of a two-volume critical analysis of the ongoing evolution of anarchist ideas and movements, the social project for freedom and how best to transform and organise a coercion-free future society based on the principles of communitarianism, direct democracy—and consistency between means and ends.

Nor is it an anthology of anarchist writings or a history of libertarian movements; it is an attempt to define anarchism within the framework of classical Marxism, economic liberalism, and the ideas of P. J. Proudhon, and assess the impact—or not—of these anarchist and syndicalist ideas, and rethink ways to implement these ideas and practices in the global economy of the twenty-first century.

The work is not only an invaluable reference source, it is thought-provoking, insightful and encyclopaedic in scope, synthesizing as it does, a global history of the movement and the ideas which drive it, while at the same time challenging, constructively, many commonly-held views and misconceptions about anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism.

** Stuart Christie is a Scottish anarchist journalist, writer, and translator, born in 1946, who has been active in the movement since the age of sixteen. Having hitchhiked into fascist Spain in 1964 with the intention of assassinating dictator Francisco Franco, Christie and accomplice Fernando Carballo Blanco were arrested. Christie was found in possession of explosives and faced grim execution by garrote, but he was freed three years later after an international campaign for his release by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre. Back in Britain, he helped reestablish the Anarchist Black Cross for the support of political prisoners in Spain and elsewhere—one of the movement’s longest-surviving initiatives—and the journal "Black Flag. " In 1972, he was acquitted of involvement in the Angry Brigade’s sabotage campaign after one of the longest criminal trials in British history. He went on to found Cienfuegos Press and later Christie Books, and remains an active militant contributing to the broader anarchist movement.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Rhodes University, Grahamstown, Oct 2013 launch of "Schwarze Flamme"

"Schwarze Flamme," the German-language translation and revised edition of "Black Flame," was among the books launched at The Rhodes University Annual Book Launch on Thursday 24 October 2013, in Grahamstown, the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Some photos below of co-author Lucien van der Walt at the launch:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

German translation of "Black Flame" is now published - AUGUST 2013

Lucien van der Walt / Michael Schmidt
Schwarze FlammeRevolutionäre Klassenpolitik im Anarchismus und Syndikalismus

Aus dem Englischen übersetzt von

Andreas Förster und Holger Marcks

Deutsche Erstausgabe
Großformat, Broschur
560 Seiten
€ (D) 39,90
€ (A) 41,10
ISBN 978-3-89401-783-5*

*Erscheint Ende August 2013*


»Eine wohldurchdachte und nuancierte Studie der intellektuellen, politischen und Sozialgeschichte des Anarchismus.« *Steven Hirsch, University of Pittsburgh*

Schwarze Flamme ist eine Geschichte der Gegenmacht: die Südafrikaner Lucien van der Walt und Michael Schmidt legen eine umfassende Systematik und internationale Geschichte des Anarchismus und eine Auseinandersetzung mit dessen Kernfragen wie Organisierung, Strategie und Taktik vor.

Vom 19. Jahrhundert bis zu heutigen antikapitalistischen Bewegungen zeichnen sie anarchistische Traditionen und seine zeitgenössischen Formen nach und untersuchen anarchistische Positionen zu Rasse, Gender, Klasse und Imperialismus. Durch ihren eigenwilligen Blickwinkel stellen sie die bisherige Geschichtsschreibung in einen neuen Rahmen. Mit seinem großen Umfang und der internationalen Dimension der Materialsammlung – auch zu Lateinamerika, Asien und Afrika gibt es umfassende Informationen – darf das Buch bereits jetzt als Standardwerk anarchistischer Geschichtsschreibung gelten: systematisch, kontrovers und ausgesprochen gut lesbar.

Ein Standardwerk zur Theorie und Praxis des weltweiten Anarchosyndikalismus der letzten 150 Jahre!

Dieses Buch begann als kurze Einführungsbroschüre in den späten 1990er Jahren, die dann einfach wuchs und wuchs. Wir waren selbst überrascht von der reichen Geschichte der breiten anarchistischen Tradition. Während wir damit gerechnet hatten, einige wenige Lücken zu füllen, öffnete sich vor unseren Augen eine unerwartete Welt: eine Weltgeschichte, die den meisten Anarchisten und Syndikalisten selbst unbekannt ist. Es war eine bewegende und faszinierende Geschichte voller Opfermut, Tragödien, Leiden und manchmal auch Humor und Pathos, durchsetzt mit Heldenhaftigkeit, Kreativität, Schönheit und Errungenschaften. Uns wurde auch klar, dass wir nicht einfach einen Nachruf auf eine Bewegung oder ein Buch von antiquarischem Interesse schreiben, sondern eine lebendige Tradition diskutieren, die für viele Leute von Interesse ist, die die Welt verändern wollen.
Als solches ist das vorliegende Buch auch ein Werk über die Zukunft, das wir einer besseren Welt und einem besseren Morgen widmen wollen.

Zu den Autoren

© privatLucien van der Walt
Prof. Lucien van der Walt, Ph.D., arbeitet an der Rhodes University, Südafrika, und ist (neben Steve Hirsch) Mitherausgeber von Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: The Praxis of Class Struggle, National Liberation and Social Revolution (2010). Er veröffentlichte umfassend zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung und der Linken sowie zu politischer Ökonomie, zu Anarchismus und Syndikalismus. Van der Walt wurde vom Labor History and Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) ausgezeichnet mit den Preisen für die beste internationale und die beste afrikanische Doktorarbeit. Er engagiert sich in der gewerkschaftlichen Bildungsarbeit und in der Arbeiterbewegung.
Michael Schmidt
© privat
Michael Schmidt ist erfahrender Reporter und investigativer Journalist, dessen Reportagen ihn nach Chiapas, Guatemala, die DR Kongo, Mosambik, Ruanda, Darfur, in den Libanon und anderswohin führten. Der frühere gewerkschaftliche Vertrauensmann und Gründer der Professional Journalists’ Association of South Africa nahm 2011 am Clive Menell Media Fellowship der Duke University teil. Schmidt ist Autor der Cartographie de l’anarchisme révolutionnaire (2012) und leitet gegenwärtig das Institute for the Advancement of Journalism im südafrikanischen Johannesburg. Weiterhin schreibt er sowohl für etablierte als auch für alternative Medien.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A "Black Flame" review that has been circulating on anarchist boards and lists...

Stumbled across this, which has been moving through a series of networks and lists:  

Jack Devon:‘Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism’
I came across ‘Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism’ quite by chance and I’m so glad I did; it’s one of the best works of non-fiction I’ve read in years. The authors are a journalist and an academic, a winning combination because they’ve succeeded in combining sound scholarship with accessible prose to launch a bold, unflinching assault on the myth-making, obfuscation, disinformation and downright lies that have served to distort, discredit and obscure the immense contribution anarchism and syndicalism have made to the labour movement globally and to society at large.

Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt adopt a stance of sympathetic engagement; letting nothing pass without critical appraisal, yet their approach is nonetheless sympathetic to the broad anarchist tradition. The result is nothing short of an exhilerating read. I can’t wait to get my hands on volume two.

They begin with the demolition of faulty definitions of anarchism. Paul Elzbacher’s influential ‘Anarchism: Exponents of the Anarchist Philosophy’ (1900) picked seven ‘recognised’ anarchist teachers: Godwin, Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tucker and Tolstoy. His basic assumption was faulty. Godwin derived an antistatist stance from utilitarian principles of the 1790s, but that didn’t make him an anarchist. Stirner was an extreme individualist of the 1840s . Tolstoy was a Christian mystic and contemplative. Godwin and Tolstoy were ascetics, Stirner a libertine. Proudhon was a utopian, a proponent of mutualism. Tucker was a rationalist and an atheist. In other words, Elzbacher ended up with a selection of people with radically different ideas. No wonder he defined anarchism by the lowest common denominator: opposition to the state.

Matters were not improved by the self-serving myth-making of anarchists themselves, some of whom tried to establish the idea that anarchism had always existed in mankind, a phrase that even slipped into the 1910 Encyclopaedia Britannica. The anarchist historian Max Nettlau suggested that the anarchist concept and principles could be found in ancient Greece as well as among scientific writers of the 18th century. In his classic ‘Anarcho-Syndicalism’, Rudolf Rocker said anarchist ideas were to be found in every period of known history. In 1944 George Woodcock found in Taoism the first anarchistic doctrine. If anarchism can encompass economic liberals, Marxists, radical Christians, Taoism, and more,‘ the authors write, ‘it is hardly surprising that the standard works on anarchism describe it as “incoherent”.’

Using a deductive method, the authors start from scratch in seeking to construct an accurate picture of anarchism. ‘The basic premise of all the anarchist arguments was a deep and fundamental commitment to individual freedom,’ they write. ‘For the anarchists, however, freedom could only exist, and be exercised, in society; equally, inegalitarian and hierarchical social structures made freedom impossible. It followed that the anarchist ideal was a society based on social and economic equality as well as self-management, in which individual freedom could truly exist.’

It was simply untrue to claim, as did E.H. Carr in his biography of Bakunin, that the key figure in anarchism was an extreme individualist influenced by Stirner. Bakunin envisaged freedom as a product of society, not a revolt against society by individuals. On the contrary, the struggle against extreme individualism was an essential part of the anarchist project. For the anarchist, duties and freedoms are inextricably linked. So where does this take us? Anarchism and syndicalism are born of the European Enlightenment; specifically, anarchism is rooted in the labour movement of the 1860s.

Anarchism can be said to be rational, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian, and opposed to capitalism and landlordism. For anarchists, the class system has been the fundamental obstacle to true individuality with the state seen as a defender of that class system, a centralised body that concentrates power in the hands of the minority ruling class. ‘The emancipation of the working class and peasantry required a radically different form of social organisation that maximised popular self-activity and self-management – and this was entirely at odds with the state,’ the authors say.

The early anarchists also rejected the classical Marxist strategy of using the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as a means to destroy class society. That would simply replace one ruling elite with another. ‘I am above all an absolute enemy of revolution by decrees,’ said Bakunin. ‘which derive from the idea of the revolutionary State, i.e., reaction disguised as revolution.’ The new regime would only become a class system as bad as any that preceded it. Revolutionary ‘socialist’ governments, Bakunin and Kropotkin repeatedly said, would in fact be forms of state capitalism. The state ‘will then become the only banker, capitalist, organiser, and director of all national labour, and the distributor of its products,’ Bakunin said. How right he was!

For anarchists, the means shaped the ends. The classical Marxist notion that history was a trajectory, a straight line determined by economic production – regardless of what anyone thought, said or did – was crude determinism by anarchist standards. In the anarchist world view, there was a great deal more to life – and history – than productive forces. If history marched anywhere, it did so in fits and starts, and was affected by phenomena such as culture, religion and leisure Anarchists also saw the struggle of the popular classes – the working class and peasantry – as the engine of change. For classical Marxists, the peasantry was dismissed as a declining class that would be absorbed by the spread of capitalism.

Opposed to Marxist notions of the ‘aristocracy of labour’, Bakunin maintained that only through the broadest possible class unity could the interests of the popular classes as a whole be defended. Anarchists were strongly internationalist, seeing war simply as a means for ruling groups to compete with one another globally for raw materials and new markets. From the start the movement also embraced a strong feminist impulse and championed equal rights for women.

‘It is our view,’ the authors say,’that the term anarchism should be reserved for a particular rationalist and revolutionary form of libertarian socialism that emerged in the second half of the 19the century. Anarchism was against social and economic hierarchy as well as inequality – and specifically, capitalism, landlordism, and the state – and in favour of an international class struggle and revolution from below by a self-organised working class and peasantry in order to create a self-managed, socialist, and stateless social order. In this new order, individual freedom would be harmonised with communal obligations through cooperation, democratic decision making, and social and economic equality, and economic coordination would take place through federal forms…’

Thursday, March 28, 2013

REVIEW (+ short response by Lucien): Alex Zukas in 'Labor History'

Labor HistoryAlex Zukas, (2013), "Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism," Labor History, volume 54, number 1, pp. 113-115

Just published, Alex Zukas's positive (but at times critical: see below) review praises Black Flame as a "a rich, provocative, and important study of anarchist history, theory, and practice." It is a "wide-ranging intellectual and political history that will surely stimulate debates about anarchist theory and practice." The authors "synthesize a vast amount of primary and secondary source material on anarchism, their points are easy to follow, their arguments are clearly stated, they address key debates within anarchist politics and anarchist scholarship, and they take clear positions on those debates which are likely to generate even more debate." It also fosters new work by raising a "host of issues for future research starting with most of its main arguments"

Zukas also provides a succinct summary of those "main arguments" which is worth reproducing for its clarity: "The main arguments of the book, all of which challenge widely held views about anarchist history, theory, and practice are (1) the anarchist tradition begins in the 1860s as a response to the rise of capitalism and the modern state and emerged with, and was part of, modern socialist and proletarian movements; (2) not all philosophies that are hostile to the state or promote individual freedom are anarchist because anarchism is the libertarian wing of socialism which seeks to collectivize and self-manage production and replace the modern state with international self-management; (3) historians need a global perspective to counter the pervasive idea of ‘Spanish exceptionalism’ because major mass anarchist movements developed outside Spain in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, and Uruguay and often constituted the majority of organized workers in those nations from 1895 to 1925; (4) anarchist ideas have internal coherence; (5) the politics of class struggle, counterpower, and counterculture are integral to anarchism and syndicalism; (6) anarchism has always been predominantly a modern urban working-class movement rather than a rural peasant movement; and (7) anarchist and syndicalist trends are central to comprehending the history of labor and the Left in much of the world."

 While Zukas does not dispute any of these major claims, he does suggest that there is a tension in Black Flame between its "scholarly or academic agenda" and "polemics of a more partisan agenda that involves building a cohesive anarchist movement today." This (he claims) can lead the latter to sometimes "undermine" or "overshadow" the former, leading the book to have "mixed" results.  His main examples of this apparent flaw are that 1) Black Flame does not pay adequate attention to overlaps within the "broad revolutionary Left" and its "permeable boundaries" (his main example here are the De Leonists) 2) it "exhibits a tendency toward a caricatured, tendentious, reified, and reductive view of Marxist politics by means of selective quotation and by reducing Marxism to Leninism (Stalinism, really)" 3) Black Flame  is critical of classical Marxism yet fails to provide much "critical assessment of Bakunin’s and Kropotkin’s key ideas."
Short response:
As with all reviews, there is much food for thought in the criticisms provided; critique is not a threat to scholarship, but central to its progress, and so, always welcome.

It is in the same spirit of engagement, then, that I will post this short (I was going to say "brief," but it grew in the telling) response.

I would suggest that Zukas's general claim that "partisan" concerns undermine "academic" claims is a bit overstated. As he points out, the mixed mode of scholarship and advocacy is in the best "tradition of a great deal of labor scholarship" and is "laudable"; it is only a problem if the "partisan" position weakens the "scholarly" quality.

But has Zukas shown this? Yes and no, no, and, last,yes but no...

1) Yes and no: Black Flame focuses on the core of the anarchist and syndicalist tradition, and not on the overlaps and syntheses that emerged at its boundaries. So, yes, the issue of fuzzy boundaries is not central to its project and while it certainly merits more discussion, it is a matter for another project. This focus is not an example of partisanship undermining scholarship, but simply an issue of coverage.

It should also be noted that, within this necessary limitation, Black Flame does in fact discuss a number of examples of such overlaps and syntheses, among them the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa, the 1920s-1930s Sandino movement, and the impact of nationalism upon a wing of the Korean and Chinese anarchists.

The issue of De Leonism is quite separate, however, from this matter. Black Flame specifically, and at some length, rejects the view that De Leonism is an example of a synthesis or overlap. The correctness of that argument can be disputed, but it is a separate matter to the question of the importance of examining "permeable boundaries," since the case for De Leonism being an expression of blending at the boundaries must first be made.

Last on this point: as the points about Sandino etal underline, there have always been "permeable boundaries" on the "broad revolutionary Left," and indeed, between that Left and a range of other forces - not all revolutionary, and not all Left. That some permeability exists is undeniable, but this it is at the boundaries that exist between traditions; the fact of permeability does not efface very real, fundamental differences, and to identify those differences  is not partisan, but a necessary part of scholarly analysis. 

Nor should permeability on the "broad revolutionary Left" be overstated. Such matters such as the 1872 split in the First International, the systematic drive to purge anarchists and syndicalists from the Second and Third Internationals, the repression that was meted out by Marxists against anarchists and syndicalists in Russia, Korea, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Cuba and elsewhere is certainly not the whole history of the "broad revolutionary Left," but they are an enormous part of that history.

That said, the issue of overlaps and syntheses is an important one, deserving of more attention in its own right. So, with the reservations expressed above, that point is taken.

2) No: Black Flame does not provide a "caricatured, tendentious, reified, and reductive view of Marxist politics" by "selective quotation" and "reducing Marxism to Leninism (Stalinism, really)."

As we have argued in Black Flame and elsewhere, Marxism is not homogenous; it includes, indeed, a libertarian wing closely akin to anarchism.

Zukas notes this nuanced approach, but then wishes to suggest that Black Flame caricatures Marxism with a
"reductive view" based on "selective quotation" and stressing "Leninism (Stalinism, really)."

The problem with Zukas's point is that the dominant tradition in Marxism  has always been statist; the history of countries like the Soviet Union etc., and of the big parties of the Second and Third Internationals (and the smaller but sometimes pretty substantial parties of the Fourth) is not just a minor moment in Marxism, but the bulk of its history. That is the Marxist tradition that most Marxists have always embraced, and that is why that tradition (explicit) forms the focus of Black Flame in discussing Marxism.

Therefore, quoting Marx, Engels, Kautsky, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao and Guevara is not really being "reductive" or "selective," but instead, being representative and reasonable; the same applies to linking "Marxism to Leninism (Stalinism, really)." One may not like "Stalinism," after all, but it would be a caricature of Marxism as a mode of thought stressing material realities, if one was to discuss Marxist politics as if the Soviet Union or "Stalinism" never existed.

3) Yes, but no: it is quite true that Black Flame does not provide a detailed criticism of Bakunin's and Kropotkin's "key ideas," but that was not its aim; the aim was, first and foremost, recovery of those core ideas, and of their expression in a revolutionary praxis internationally.

The critical discussion of classical Marxism presented in Black Flame is, by the same token, primarily about recovering the anarchist and syndicalist critique of classical Marxism and its analytical and political alternative to classical Marxism. Likewise, Black Flame provides a critical evaluation of many of the major debates and disputes within the broad anarchist tradition, in order to better understand that tradition's ideas and historical record.

To put this another way: revisiting the anarchist/ Marxist debate, and recapitulating, in all its force, the anarchist and syndicalist critique of many fundamental Marxist positions is a necessary method for examining real, fundamental differences; it is not partisan, so long as the account is fair. And as suggested above, Black Flame provides a fair account of the dominant Marxist positions.

A critical assessment of the "key ideas" of Bakunin and Kropotkin on their own terms, and in place of the caricatures that bedevil the literature, is long overdue, and welcome. However, that task, too, falls beyond the scope of Black Flame.

In closing here, again the point is taken - as indicating an issue deserving of more attention in its own right - but with with reservations.


REVIEW ARTICLE: Featherstone in the 'Journal of Global History'

David Featherstone, 2012, "Black flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and and syndicalism (Counterpower  volume 1), by Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt (Edinburgh and Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2009, Pp. 500 and Anarchism and syndicalism in the colonial and postcolonial world, 1870–1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution, by Steven Hirsch and Lucien  van der Walt (Amsterdam: Brill , 2010, pp. lxxiv+434), Journal of Global History,  volume 7 , number 3, pp. 535-538.

Journal of Global History

Featherstone's glowing review is available online here, and variously describes Black Flame as a " a major contribution," with various arguments described as "a very significant and valuable achievement,"  "a significant and creative challenge," and as bound to "stimulate a significant revision of existing understandings of leftist political cultures." Set apart by its global scope, unique in the literature, it presents "powerful challenges to existing accounts of leftist internationalisms," asserts "the importance of diverse forms of political agency and activity constituted through trans-local anarchist organizing," and provides "a major contribution to refiguring understandings of political cultures of the Left."

Featherstone also raises a few issues bearing reflection, primarily centred around the issue of overlaps between anarchism and other political traditions (for instance, in the IWW and in Irish syndicalism), and how anarchism spread globally, articulating with diverse traditions as it did so (for instance, in the 1920s-1930s  Sandinista movement in Nicaragua).

These are valuable points, to which we can only respond: thanks!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

REPORT: van der Walt, 2012, "Anarchism’s historical role: a global view"

Freedom • February 2012 • pp.12-14

Anarchism’s historical role: a global view

Lucien van der Walt, co-author of Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism

Freedom bookshop was proud to host a talk by Lucien van der Walt, co­author of the groundbreaking Black Flame who spoke at length about all aspects of anarchist history and movements.

A flicker
Me and Michael Schmidt, who is the co­author and a friend and a comrade going back many years, we were trying to understand something about the history of anarchism and of syndicalism, to understand what that history meant in the past and what it meant for movements today. Perhaps because we were in South Africa, where there had not really been a movement in the anarchist or syndicalist tradition since the early 1920s, there was no continuity and I suppose that also meant there were no preconceptions, we didn’t have any assumptions.

Volume one, of Black Flame, is meant to be looking at historical themes in the anarchist movement, issues, like what were the big anarchist organisations? Who were the people who joined these movements? Where was it globally? We wanted to look at it at a world scale and not just look at the north Atlantic. Why did anarchist peasant movements take off in some countries? How did it spread into third world countries? and so on.

The other thing we also wanted to look at was theoretical issues in the movement. That’s the [second] part – what is anarchism?

The [key] thing in the book was to make the argument that it’s important to have a global view of the anarchist and syndicalist movement.

Very often the way we understand the history of anarchism is constructed around the idea of ‘Spanish exceptionalism’ – that, for some reason, anarchism [only] really took off in Spain. [Guiseppe] Fanelli was sent there by [Mikhail] Bakunin – he had a huge impact and the legend goes he couldn’t even speak Spanish, but through his articulate gestures everybody thought 'hey, this is great stuff,' and decided to spend the next 70 years fighting for it in their millions.

Spanish exceptionalism
There’s a whole range of literature on this – ‘why were the anarchists big in Spain’? There’s a range of arguments. The "good" Marxist argument is Spain had a backward economy, anarchists reflect a backward society, put the two together and you have the CNT. You get the national character argument: well, these Latin chaps are quite lively, anarchism’s quite lively, put them together and you get the CNT.

Spanish anarchism/ syndicalism: mighty, but not unique
The problem with the backwardness argument is that Spain wasn’t all that much a backward economy.

Where were the anarchists based? They were based in the huge industrialising cities, that was one of their big strongholds; they had a base in the countryside, and very often where in the countryside? In the huge commercial farms. Barcelona in the 1920s was one of the fastest growing cities in Europe so the backwardness thing just doesn’t work. It’s one of these Marxist arguments that as the working class matures it all becomes naturally Marxist.

The thing about Spanish character doesn’t work either. Spain also produced General Franco. To say there’s some natural Spanish inclination towards anarchism leaves out small things like the Spanish Civil War which was between two different types of Spain, two different types of Spaniard, and two different ideologies in Spain.

Case against
We would argue that, in any case, the notion that Spain was exceptional is incorrect. If we want to look at Spain, of course it had a huge anarchist movement, a huge syndicalist union movement, and of course that movement went back to the 1870s, and of course that movement made a revolution in the late ’30s.

However if we want to look internationally we can actually find movements that were at least as big as Spain.

If we use as a small index the size of anarchist trade unions relative to the overall labour movement, in other words, how much of the organised labour movement was under anarchist or syndicalist influence or control ... we look at Spain and we find the anarchists actually only had half of the trade unions, the CNT of Spain represented roughly half of the industrial unions, in some areas more; but there was large social­ democratic rival, the UGT. So they had about 50%.

Looking globally
Bolivia 1935: the anarcho-syndicalist Sindicato de Culinaria
If we look at countries like Peru, Mexico, Argentina, for a short time the Netherlands, if we look at France, if we look at Portugal, if we look at Chile, if we look at Uruguay, if we look for a time at Brazil, these were all movements where the anarchists were the predominant force in the trade unions.

Cuba is [an]other one. And in the Cuban case for example, ... from the 1880s anarchists and syndicalists led [the] trade union movement until the 1930s. And even in the ’50s when Castro comes in, a lot of the trade unions are actually led by the anarchists, and one of Che Guevara’s actions is essentially to clear the anarchists out of the trade unions, and set up a good government trade union that makes sure workers do what the government wants. Which is not quite an anarchist approach I think!

Why do people treat Spain as exceptional? They only treat Spain as exceptional by comparing Spain to other countries in the north Atlantic. What they say is – if you look at Spain it had a lot bigger anarchist movement than in the UK or than Sweden or Norway or Germany. And bigger than the US.

Okay, that’s fair enough but when we look internationally, when we look beyond the north Atlantic, there are a lot of move­ments that, even measured simply by how big were the anarchists in the trade unions, were bigger movements.

Internationally speaking
So when we look globally and we look at this international level, we find anarchist movements are very big.

I only used the trade union [index] as a quick way to do the comparison.

If we want to look at things like running daily newspapers, having vast networks of schools, forming workers armies, if we want to look at revolutionary uprisings, if we want to look at the impact on the culture of the popular classes, if we want to look at a role in the countryside, if we want to look at a role in anti­colonial struggles, in all of these ways we can make the same argument – that anarchism and syndicalism were very big in Spain, but Spain was not exceptional, and that we have to understand anarchism and syndicalism globally and as a global movement to understand its historical role.

Poor cousin
Mass anarchist union, Federación Obrera Regional Argentina
And from that, we can start to make the argument that anarchism and syndicalism were not, as people often assume, always the poor cousin of classical Marxism or of social democracy.

For example, classical Marxism had no real presence outside of west Europe [before Lenin's rise]. And its offshoots, with the interesting exception of Indonesia, had no real presence elsewhere.

Classical Marxism before Lenin said ‘look, no capitalism equals no socialism’ and this meant, for people who were keen on Marxism in say, Argentina: ‘hold on don’t do anything, wait a bit for a bit more capitalism’.
It’s not a line the working class always likes.

You had these vast, poor working classes and the Argentine Socialist Party would say ‘vote for more reforms’ and the working class said ‘well, first we can’t vote. This is a problem, most of us immigrants can’t vote. Secondly, we are not seeing any reforms, this thing is controlled by an oligarchy. Third we’ve got all the capitalism that we want. So we don’t really want to join’.

Poor marxism
If we look right across South America, anarchists and syndicalists predominated on the left and the radical movement.

If you look in southern Africa in the 1910s, anarchism and syndicalism predominate.

If we look [at] a case like Egypt, where there was an anarchist movement from the 1870s, anarchism had a key role there even into the early 1920s. In fact the Egyptian Communist Party, when it was originally set up, was known in Arabic as ‘the party of the anarchists’. When they joined the Communist International, one of the conditions was: kick the anarchists out of the Egyptian Communist Party.

Mexican anarchists today: an important force
The first Communist parties set up in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and elsewhere, were actually set up by anarchists [and syndicalists] and they were essentially anarchist parties. So anarchism was not the poor cousin of the movement.

It is a very important thing for us to understand about anarchism: it was a very important movement.

Predominance of Marxism as a movement of the left and a movement in the labour circles in many countries is only something that’s achieved in the 1940s; it’s really in World War Two that Communist parties grow into mass parties in many countries. And it’s not like the anarchist and syndicalist movements just die out in 1939 or 1945; in many countries it remains a very powerful influence despite these rivals.

Trade unions
One thing in the anarchist movement’s history that we can appreciate is its pioneering role in founding trade unions [from the 1870s].

One example is the Regional Workers Federation of Spain, set up in 1870s; this was the one inspired by Bakunin’s delegate Fanelli. The second is the General Congress of Mexican Workers, the second of the biggest [earliest] syndicalist unions, 1876.

The next big one was in the United States, the Central Labour Union in Chicago: this is where the Haymarket Martyrs came from. This was the key trade union in Chicago; it was part of an anarchist movement that could pull a hundred thousand people onto the streets – at the funeral of the Haymarket martyrs 250,000 people. And of course Mayday commemorates that. It’s one of anarchism’s little gifts to the international working class.

[The] Workers Circle in Cuba was the next important one.

Isabelo de los Reyes, influenced by anarchism
Second thing, in many cases the anarchists and syndicalists pioneered trade unions in what I’m calling colonial or post­colonial countries – either under direct colonialism or were in some way maybe less formally subject to [the] Great Powers.

Again, when we look here we can see a pattern of an important early role and a long-term presence by anarchists in the mass movements.

Isabelo de los Reyes in the Philippines was a Filipino independence fighter – as the Spanish empire starts collapsing in the 1890s the United States moves in and starts to ... take over Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines. He’s locked up in Barcelona with Spanish anarchists, he reads a lot of this stuff, he thinks this is pretty good, and he comes back and he sets up a trade union in Manila in about 1904, modeled on the Spanish anarchist trade unions.

Other voices [points here were linked to images]
Liu Shifu in China – his group, the Anarchist Communist Society, set up the first trade unions in China in the 1910s; into the early 1920s, especially in areas of Yunnan, anarchists led the trade unions. Shifu unfortunately died young – he had TB – but his movement was very important. And for a less glorious legacy of anarchism there a young librarian called Mao Tse­tung was in 1919/­1920 an anarchist and identified with the anarchist movement.

In the early 1920s you could get most of Kropotkin’s key writings in China; there wasn’t an official copy of the Communist Manifesto available.

T.W. Thibedi, African revolutionary
T.W. Thibedi in South Africa. His father was a minister, he studied at a church school and he taught in a church school. 1915, he was in a meeting in Johannesburg, of the International Socialist League which was a revolutionary syndicalist group, thought 'this is damn good stuff' and he joined.

And he was the first of a whole wide layer of African, coloured and Indian cadre in South Africa of the anarchist [and syndicalist] movement, and he was a key figure in a syndicalist union there called the Industrial Workers of Africa, which was the first trade union in British southern Africa for black African workers.

Shanghai 1927: Korean and Chinese anarchists, they’re involved in a number of joint projects. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule and a hell of a lot of the Korean anarchist movement is actually outside of Korea.
China 1927: Korean and Chinese anarchist militants

Very often they were in China or in Japan, and this particular wing was involved in the National Labour University and subsequently in something called the Leader College. These were essentially universities under anarchist control, although sponsored by a wing of the Guomindang, which trained people in classes like Esperanto and gardening and anarchist theory. They were also involved in training militias; there was a Movement for Village Self­-defence, they were involved in that.

Anarchist revolutions
In terms of revolutions there are three that, I think, we could reasonably characterise as anarchist revolutions.

First is the movement of the Makhnovists in the Ukraine in 1918 until 1921 (when it gets suppressed).

Next important one is Manchuria 1929.­1932. This is one that’s not well documented in English, [the] key figure here Kim Jwa­jin: he was a general in the Korean Independence army.

Why were Koreans in Manchuria? Well, Japanese colonial rule in the Korean peninsula was extremely repressive, extremely thorough; in the 1930s for example they instructed all Koreans to change their names to Japanese names.

So a lot of the resistance took place in the borderlands of Manchuria. The Korean Independence Army had several strongholds.

Kim Jwajin memorial, South Korea
Kim Jwa­jin was very famous for winning a number of major victories against the Japanese. Himself an anarchist, he devised a plan along with the Korean Anarchist Federation in Manchuria to set up the Korean Anarchist People’s Movement. This was an area run along the same lines as the Makhnovist area with council systems, a degree of political pluralism; they had co­operatives and a militia defending it.

Kim Jwa­jin was assassinated in 1931 by a Communist, and soon after that Japanese forces came up from the south and crushed this [zone].

This was an important case.

He’s called the 'Korean Makhno', but I suppose you could just as well call Makhno the 'Ukrainian Kim Jwa­jin'.

In Korea these are not small facts. All of these major figures are recognised, they’ll tell you about them in school text books, but usually with the anarchism removed. Kim Jwa­jin’s house is a national monument; there’s a statue of him, they have sometimes Kim Jwa­jin Days; a number of important anarchists have been labelled ‘Independence activist of the month’, [have] even been on stamps, but the anarchism is usually elided in that.

And of course Spain 1936.

Now the important thing is two of these revolutions happened in the context of anti­colonial struggles. 

Nestor Makhno statue,  Ukraine
Very often when we look at the Makhnovist movement, we look [at it] mainly in the context of an aspect of the Russian revolution, but I think you also have to understand that Ukraine was one of the key Russian territories. It was the most commercial­ised farmland in Russia, it was one of the big export earners for the Russians, exported a hell of a lot of pasta, it’s a huge wheat growing area which they exported in the form of pasta – the Ukrainian pasta proletarian was an important revolutionary force!

Nestor Makhno himself had, after he came out of jail, been involved in union activity there.

This was a very developed area, and this was an area where the independence movement was strong. If you look at who the Makhnovists were competing with, on the one hand they were competing with the Bolshevik forces; on the other they were competing with the nationalist[s] of Symon Petlitra and the Central Rada.

If you re­read, with this in mind, the history of the Makhnovist movement, part of what they are trying to do is find an anarchist road to independence – how to have independence for a country, that does not simply transfer power from a foreign to a local power elite, how do you do this?

What they were trying to do was find a different road to de­colonisation.

***This is just part of the two­ hour talk Lucien gave; he also spoke of anarchist theory and organisation featured in the book and gave potted histories of several key anarchist figures. These will feature in Freedom at a later date.

Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism", CounterPower Vol.1, by Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt, published by AK Press at £18.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sverige: 2012 'Arbetaren': Michael Schmidt, 'Black Flame'

Michael Schmidt på Sergels torg i Stockholm.
Schmidt var i Sverige för att delta i en konferens arrangerad av
det globala nätverket Icorn     
Foto: Olle Eriksson

Arbetaren 24-30 May 2012:

Han vill ge ny syn på anarkismen
Olle Eriksson 

Sydafrika har en lång historia av anarkism och syndikalism, men denna har haft liten eller ingen plats i den västliga anarkistiska historieskrivningen. Michael Schmidt, anarkist, journalist och författare från Sydafrika, vill ändra på det.

För Arbetaren berättar han om kommande bokprojekt, rörelser i södra Afrika och sitt arbete med nätverket Icorn.

Michael Schmidt, som är en av författarna bakom den omtalade boken Black Flame, besökte under förra veckan Sverige för att i egenskap av observatör delta i en konferens arrangerad av det globala nätverket Icorn, The International Cities of Refuge Network, som arbetar med yttrandefrihetsfrågor och att skydda hotade och utsatta författare och journalister runt om i världen.

– Det är ett viktigt projekt där personer som flytt från exempelvis Iran, Gambia, Vitryssland och Kenya ges möjligheten att i ett annat land få uppehälle och pengar och på så sätt kunna fortsätta sitt skrivande, säger Michael Schmidt.

Annars arbetar han och författarkollegan Lucien van der Walt just nu febrilt med bokserien Counterpower som består av två delar. Del ett, Black Flame, kom 2009 och del två, Global Fire, väntas bli färdig inom ett till två år. Han berättar att de arbetat med böckerna under tio års tid. Idén med Black Flame, som är en av de mest omtalade böckerna på den anarkistiska litteraturscenen de senaste åren, var att presentera en sammanhållen anarkistisk teoribildning.

Rent allmänt tycker Michael att anarkister har misslyckats med att definiera vad anarkism är för något vilket bidrar till en bild av den som kaotisk, den reduceras till att vara enbart anti-stat och någonting som allt möjligt kan samlas in under.

– Det har alltid funnits en frihetlig sida i mänsklighetens historia men det betyder inte att det alltid funnits en anarkistisk rörelse, säger Michael Schmidt som daterar anarkismens födelse till 1860-talet då Michael Bakunin och hans kamrater levde och verkade.

Förutom teori tar Black Flame även upp en mängd personer, grupper och organisationer som man anser har arbetat anarkistiskt genom historien. Kritiken mot boken har handlat om att dess definitioner varit alldeles för snäva och att författarna å ena sidan inkluderar personer och grupper som inte så självklart uppfattas av andra – eller ens definierat sig själva – som anarkistiska och å andra sidan exkluderar de många aktivister och grupper som själva kallar sig anarkistiska.

I kommande Global Fire är ambitionen att teckna en sammanhängande historia av anarkistisk organisering över hela världen från 1860-talet fram till i dag.

– Vi måste korrigera bilden av att anarkismens historia uteslutande handlar om Europa och USA. Mycket har faktiskt hänt i Latinamerika och andra delar av världen. De första fackföreningarna som bildades i Kina och Egypten var anarkistiska och den första fackföreningen för färgade i Sydafrika var anarkistisk. I arbetet med boken har vi bland annat studerat rörelser i Vietnam, Filipinerna, Uruguay, Algeriet, Kenya och Afghanistan. Många länder där man kanske inte tror att det funnits anarkistisk organisering, säger Michael Schmidt som med sitt författarskap fått ledarna för Cosatu, ett sydafrikanskt fackförbund med nästan två miljoner medlemmar, att börja läsa Bakunin.

– På en kongress för något år sedan citerade Cosatus ordförande ur Black Flame och menade att man måste börja ta intryck från anarkismens och syndikalismens idéer, säger Michael Schmidt.

Anledningen till denna nydaning tror han beror på att de mest öppensinnade inom förbundet förstått att det gamla Sovjetparadigmet är dött. De alternativ som tidigare presenterats har kommit från landets kommunistiska parti som följer en kinesisk modell av nyliberalism och fascistisk korporativism.

– Sedan måste man komma ihåg Sydafrikas speciella historia med apartheidsystemets fall på 1990-talet. Dagens politiska elit har en ganska färsk illegal och revolutionär bakgrund, vilket antagligen gör dem något öppnare för sådana här idéer, säger Michael Schmidt.

Under 1900-talet har det funnits ett flertal anarkistiska och syndikalistiska organisationer i Sydafrika. I dag finns det organiserade syndikalister i Cape Town som arbetar med vinplantagearbetare, där man bland annat samarbetat med svenska SAC Syndikalisterna när det gäller Systembolagets affärer med sydafrikanska vinproducenter.

Michael Schmidt, som varit med att bilda den anarkistiska kamporganisationen Zabalaza, berättar att man har bra samarbeten med anarkister i bland annat Zwaziland och Zimbabwe. Genom informationsspridning försöker man stödja respektive länders kamp för demokrati.

De senaste årens händelser i Nordafrika ger skäl att vara optimistisk och kanske hoppas på en anarkistisk massrörelse där, tror Michael Schmidt.

– Den dagen då vi kommit dithän att anarkister dödas och fängslas och vi upptäcker att vissa av våra kamrater är polisspioner, då vet vi att vi är på rätt väg för då utmanar vi verkligen makten.



Icorn är en global sammanslutning av städer runt om i världen som under två års tid ger husrum och pengar till en person, vanligtvis en författare eller journalist, som på något vis hotas av våld eller fängelsestraff på grund av sitt skrivande. Över 100 delegater, gästskribenter och observatörer från hela världen samlades i Stockholm under förra veckan för att diskutera yttrandefrihet och organisatoriska frågor. Det här var det andra stora Icorn-kongressen sedan bildandet 2008.
Läs mer på

Michael SchmidtMichael Schmidt är 45 år och bor i Johannesburg, Sydafrika. Han arbetar som journalist och författare och har varit med och grundat Professional Journalists’ Association of South Africa.

Han är författare till boken Black Flame: the Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, utgiven av AK Press 2009.