|Michael Schmidt in Stockhom. Photo: Olle Eriksson|
Arbetaren 24-30 May 2012. Online in Swedish at http://arbetaren.se/artiklar/vill-ge-ny-syn-pa-anarkismen
He wants to give a new vision of anarchism
By Olle Eriksson, Arbetaren, Sveriges Arbetaren Centralorganisation, Sweden, 24 May 2012
South Africa has a long history of anarchism and syndicalism, but this has had little or no place in the Western anarchist historiography. Michael Schmidt, an anarchist, journalist and writer from South Africa, wants to change that. For Arbetaren, he talks about upcoming book projects, movements in southern Africa and his work with the network Icorn.
Michael Schmidt, who is one of the authors of the famous book Black Flame, visited Sweden last week as an observer to attend a conference organized by the global Icorn, the International Cities of Refuge Network, which works with freedom of speech issues and to protect threatened and vulnerable writers and journalists around the world.
“It is an important project in which people who have fled from countries like Iran, Gambia, Kenya, Belarus, are given the opportunity in another country to subsist… and thus be able to continue their writing,’ said Michael Schmidt.
Otherwise, he and fellow author Lucien van der Walt are right now feverishly working on their Counter Power book series that consists of two parts. Part one, Black Flame, was introduced in 2009 and part two, Global Fire, is expected to be completed within one to two years. He says that they worked on the books for ten years. The idea of Black Flame, which is one of the most talked-about books on the anarchist literary scene in recent years, was to present a coherent anarchist theory.
In general, Michael thinks that anarchists have failed to define what anarchism is all about, by reducing it to being merely anti-state and something into which everything possible can be gathered, contributing to a chaotic picture.
“There has always been a libertarian page in human history, but that does not mean there has always been an anarchist movement,” said Michael Schmidt, dating anarchism’s birth to the 1860s when Michael Bakunin and his comrades lived and worked.
Besides theory, Black Flame also raised a host of individuals, groups and organisations that they believe worked as anarchists in history. The criticism of the book has focused on its definitions being too narrow and that the writers on the one hand, include individuals and groups who are not so obviously perceived by others – or even defined themselves – as anarchistic, and on the other hand, exclude many activists and groups that call themselves anarchists.
The aim of the upcoming Global Fire is to conclude a coherent history of anarchist organising worldwide from the 1860s until today.
“We must correct the impression that the history of anarchism deals exclusively with the U.S. and [Western] Europe. A lot has actually happened in Latin America and other parts of the world. The first unions formed in China and Egypt were by anarchists, and the first trade union for people of colour in South Africa was anarchic. In the work on the book, we have studied movements in Vietnam, the Philippines, Uruguay, Algeria, Kenya and Afghanistan, many countries where people may not believe that anarchist organisations existed,” said Michael Schmidt, who with his writing, [inspired] the leaders of Cosatu, a South African trade union with nearly two million members, to start reading Bakunin.
“At a conference some years ago, Cosatu’s general secretary [cited] Black Flame and said that we must begin to take inspiration from anarchist and syndicalist ideas,” said Michael Schmidt.
The reason for this regeneration, he believes is due to the most open-minded people within the union who understood that the old Soviet paradigm was dead. The options previously presented came from the country's Communist Party who follow a Chinese model of neo-liberalism and fascist corporatism.
“Then you have to remember South Africa's particular history of apartheid… Today's political elite has a fairly fresh illegal and revolutionary background, which probably makes them somewhat more open to these kinds of ideas,” said Michael Schmidt.
During the 1900s, there were a number of anarchist and syndicalist organisations in South Africa. Today there are organised syndicalists in Cape Town working with wine farm labourers, who among other things worked with the Swedish SAC syndicalists in the system’s [fair trade] business with South African wine producers.
Michael Schmidt, who helped to form the anarchist Zabalaza struggle organisation, says that they have good relationships with anarchists in particular in Swaziland and Zimbabwe, and through the dissemination of information, seek to support these respective countries' struggle for democracy.
The events of recent years in North Africa gives reason to be optimistic and perhaps hope for a mass anarchist movement, Michael Schmidt believes.
“When the day comes that anarchists are killed and imprisoned and we find that some of our comrades are police spies, then we will know that we are on track, that we really challenge power.”