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An Interview with Howard Zinn on Anarchism: Rebels Against Tyranny

By Ziga Vodovnik (January,2010)

zinnHoward Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010) was a Professor Emeritus of political science at Boston University. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1922 to a poor immigrant family. He realized early in his youth that the promise of the “American Dream“, that will come true to all hard-working and diligent people, is just that—a promise and a dream. During World War II he joined US Air Force and served as a bombardier in the “European Theatre“. This proved to be a formative experience that only strengthened his convictions that there is no such thing as a just war. It also revealed, once again, the real face of the socio-economic order, where the suffering and sacrifice of the ordinary people is always used only to higher the profits of the privileged few.

Although Zinn spent his youthful years helping his parents support the family by working in the shipyards, he started with studies at Columbia University after WWII, where he successfully defended his doctoral dissertation in 1958. Later he was appointed as a chairman of the department of history and social sciences at Spelman College, an all-black women’s college in Atlanta, GA, where he actively participated in the Civil Rights Movement.

From the onset of the Vietnam War he was active within the emerging anti-war movement, and in the following years only stepped up his involvement in movements aspiring towards another, better world. Zinn is the author of more than 20 books, including A People’s History of the United States that is “a brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those who have been exploited politically and economically and whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories…” (Library Journal)

Zinn’s most recent book is entitled A Power Governments Cannot Suppress, and is a fascinating collection of essays that Zinn wrote in the last couple of years. Beloved radical historian is still lecturing across the US and around the world, and is, with active participation and support of various progressive social movements continuing his struggle for free and just society.

Ziga Vodovnik: From the 1980s onwards we are witnessing the process of economic globalization getting stronger day after day. Many on the Left are now caught between a “dilemma”—either to work to reinforce the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and global capital; or to strive towards a non-national alternative to the present form of globalization and that is equally global. What’s your opinion about this?

Howard Zinn: I am an anarchist, and according to anarchist principles nation states become obstacles to a true humanistic globalization. In a certain sense, the movement towards globalization where capitalists are trying to leap over nation state barriers, creates a kind of opportunity for movement to ignore national barriers, and to bring people together globally, across national lines in opposition to globalization of capital, to create globalization of people, opposed to traditional notion of globalization. In other words to use globalization—there is nothing wrong with idea of globalization—in a way that bypasses national boundaries and of course that there is not involved corporate control of the economic decisions that are made about people all over the world.

ZV: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once wrote that: “Freedom is the mother, not the daughter of order.” Where do you see life after or beyond (nation) states?

HZ: Beyond the nation states? (laughter) I think what lies beyond the nation states is a world without national boundaries, but also with people organized. But not organized as nations, but people organized as groups, as collectives, without national and any kind of boundaries. Without any kind of borders, passports, visas. None of that! Of collectives of different sizes, depending on the function of the collective, having contacts with one another. You cannot have self-sufficient little collectives, because these collectives have different resources available to them. This is something anarchist theory has not worked out and maybe cannot possibly work out in advance, because it would have to work itself out in practice.

ZV: Do you think that a change can be achieved through institutionalized party politics, or only through alternative meanswith disobedience, building parallel frameworks, establishing alternative media, etc.

HZ: If you work through the existing structures you are going to be corrupted. By working through political system that poisons the atmosphere, even the progressive organizations, you can see it even now in the US, where people on the “Left” are all caught in the electoral campaign and get into fierce arguments about should we support this third party candidate or that third party candidate. This is a sort of little piece of evidence that suggests that when you get into working through electoral politics you begin to corrupt your ideals. So I think a way to behave is to think not in terms of representative government, not in terms of voting, not in terms of electoral politics, but thinking in terms of organizing social movements, organizing in the work place, organizing in the neighborhood, organizing collectives that can become strong enough to eventually take over —first to become strong enough to resist what has been done to them by authority, and second, later, to become strong enough to actually take over the institutions.

ZV: One personal question. Do you go to the polls? Do you vote?

HZ: I do. Sometimes, not always. It depends. But I believe that it is preferable sometimes to have one candidate rather another candidate, while you understand that that is not the solution. Sometimes the lesser evil is not so lesser, so you want to ignore that, and you either do not vote or vote for third party as a protest against the party system. Sometimes the difference between two candidates is an important one in the immediate sense, and then I believe trying to get somebody into office, who is a little better, who is less dangerous, is understandable. But never forgetting that no matter who gets into office, the crucial question is not who is in office, but what kind of social movement do you have. Because we have seen historically that if you have a powerful social movement, it doesn’t matter who is in office. Whoever is in office, they could be Republican or Democrat, if you have a powerful social movement, the person in office will have to yield, will have to in some ways respect the power of social movements.

We saw this in the 1960s. Richard Nixon was not the lesser evil, he was the greater evil, but in his administration the war was finally brought to an end, because he had to deal with the power of the anti-war movement as well as the power of the Vietnamese movement. I will vote, but always with a caution that voting is not crucial, and organizing is the important thing.

When some people ask me about voting, they would say will you support this candidate or that candidate? I say: “I will support this candidate for one minute that I am in the voting booth. At that moment I will support A versus B, but before I am going to the voting booth, and after I leave the voting booth, I am going to concentrate on organizing people and not organizing electoral campaign.”

ZV: Anarchism is in this respect rightly opposing representative democracy since it is still form of tyranny tyranny of majority. They object to the notion of majority vote, noting that the views of the majority do not always coincide with the morally right one. Thoreau once wrote that we have an obligation to act according to the dictates of our conscience, even if the latter goes against the majority opinion or the laws of the society. Do you agree with this?

HZ: Absolutely. Rousseau once said, if I am part of a group of 100 people, do 99 people have the right to sentence me to death, just because they are majority? No, majorities can be wrong, majorities can overrule rights of minorities. If majorities ruled, we could still have slavery. 80% of the population once enslaved 20% of the population. While run by majority rule that is ok. That is very flawed notion of what democracy is. Democracy has to take into account several things—proportionate requirements of people, not just needs of the majority, but also needs of the minority. And also has to take into account that majority, especially in societies where the media manipulates public opinion, can be totally wrong and evil. So yes, people have to act according to conscience and not by majority vote.

ZV: Where do you see the historical origins of anarchism in the United States?

HZ: One of the problems with dealing with anarchism is that there are many people whose ideas are anarchist, but who do not necessarily call themselves anarchists. The word was first used by Proudhon in the middle of the 19th century, but actually there were anarchist ideas that proceeded Proudhon, those in Europe and also in the United States. For instance, there are some ideas of Thomas Paine, who was not an anarchist, who would not call himself an anarchist, but he was suspicious of government. Also Henry David Thoreau. He does not know the word anarchism, and does not use the word anarchism, but Thoreau’s ideas are very close to anarchism. He is very hostile to all forms of government. If we trace origins of anarchism in the United States, then probably Thoreau is the closest you can come to an early American anarchist. You do not really encounter anarchism until after the Civil War, when you have European anarchists, especially German anarchists, coming to the United States. They actually begin to organize. The first time that anarchism has an organized force and becomes publicly known in the United States is in Chicago at the time of Haymarket Affair.

ZV: Where do you see the main inspiration of contemporary anarchism in the United States? What is your opinion about the Transcendentalism i.e., Henry D. Thoreau, Ralph W. Emerson, Walt Whitman, Margaret Fuller, et al.as an inspiration in this perspective?

HZ: Well, the Transcendentalism is, we might say, an early form of anarchism. The Transcendentalists also did not call themselves anarchists, but there are anarchist ideas in their thinking and in their literature. In many ways Herman Melville shows some of those anarchist ideas. They were all suspicious of authority. We might say that the Transcendentalism played a role in creating an atmosphere of skepticism towards authority, towards government.

Unfortunately, today there is no real organized anarchist movement in the United States. There are many important groups or collectives that call themselves anarchist, but they are small. I remember that in 1960s there was an anarchist collective here in Boston that consisted of fifteen (sic!) people, but then they split. But in 1960s the idea of anarchism became more important in connection with the movements of 1960s.

ZV: Most of the creative energy for radical politics is nowadays coming from anarchism, but only few of the people involved in the movement actually call themselves “anarchists”. Where do you see the main reason for this? Are activists ashamed to identify themselves with this intellectual tradition, or rather they are true to the commitment that real emancipation needs emancipation from any label?

HZ: The term anarchism has become associated with two phenomena with which real anarchist don’t want to associate themselves with. One is violence, and the other is disorder or chaos. The popular conception of anarchism is on the one hand bomb-throwing and terrorism, and on the other hand no rules, no regulations, no discipline, everybody does what they want, confusion, etc. That is why there is a reluctance to use the term anarchism. But actually the ideas of anarchism are incorporated in the way the movements of the 1960s began to think.

I think that probably the best manifestation of that was in the civil rights movement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—SNCC. SNCC without knowing about anarchism as philosophy embodied the characteristics of anarchism. They were decentralized. Other civil rights organizations, for example Southern Christian Leadership Conference, were centralized organizations with a leader—Martin Luther King. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were based in New York, and also had some kind of centralized organization. SNCC, on the other hand, was totally decentralized. It had what they called field secretaries, who worked in little towns all over the South, with great deal of autonomy. They had an office in Atlanta, Georgia, but the office was not a strong centralized authority. The people who were working out in the field—in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi—they were very much on their own. They were working together with local people, with grassroots people. And so there is no one leader for SNCC, and also great suspicion of government.

They could not depend on government to help them, to support them, even though the government of the time, in the early 1960s, was considered to be progressive, liberal. John F. Kennedy especially. But they looked at John F. Kennedy, they saw how he behaved. John F. Kennedy was not supporting the Southern movement for equal rights for Black people. He was appointing the segregationists judges in the South, he was allowing southern segregationists to do whatever they wanted to do. So SNCC was decentralized, anti-government, without leadership, but they did not have a vision of a future society like the anarchists. They were not thinking long term, they were not asking what kind of society shall we have in the future. They were really concentrated on immediate problem of racial segregation. But their attitude, the way they worked, the way they were organized, was along, you might say, anarchist lines.

ZV: Do you think that pejorative (mis)usage of the word anarchism is direct consequence of the fact that the ideas that people can be free, was and is very frightening to those in power?

HZ: No doubt! No doubt that anarchist ideas are frightening to those in power. People in power can tolerate liberal ideas. They can tolerate ideas that call for reforms, but they cannot tolerate the idea that there will be no state, no central authority. So it is very important for them to ridicule the idea of anarchism to create this impression of anarchism as violent and chaotic. It is useful for them, yes.

ZV: In theoretical political science, we can analytically identify two main conceptions of anarchism a so-called collectivist anarchism limited to Europe, and on another hand individualist anarchism limited to US. Do you agree with this analytical separation?

HZ: To me this is an artificial separation. As so often happens analysts can make things easier for themselves, like to create categories and fit movements into categories, but I don’t think you can do that. Here in the United States, sure there have been people who believed in individualist anarchism, but in the United States have also been organized anarchists of Chicago in 1880s or SNCC. I guess in both instances, in Europe and in the United States, you find both manifestations, except that maybe in Europe the idea of anarcho-syndicalism became stronger in Europe than in the US. While in the US you have the IWW, which is an anarcho-syndicalist organization and certainly not in keeping with individualist anarchism.

ZV: What is your opinion about the “dilemma” of meansrevolution versus social and cultural evolution?

HZ: I think here are several different questions. One of them is the issue of violence, and I think here anarchists have disagreed. Here in the US you find a disagreement, and you can find this disagreement within one person. Emma Goldman, you might say she brought anarchism, after she was dead, to the forefront in the US in the 1960s, when she suddenly became an important figure. But Emma Goldman was in favor of the assassination of Henry Clay Frick, but then she decided that this is not the way. Her friend and comrade, Alexander Berkman, he did not give up totally the idea of violence. On the other hand, you have people who were anarchistic in way like Tolstoy and also Gandhi, who believed in nonviolence.

There is one central characteristic of anarchism on the matter of means, and that central principle is a principle of direct action—of not going through the forms that the society offers you, of representative government, of voting, of legislation, but directly taking power. In case of trade unions, in case of anarcho-syndicalism, it means workers going on strike, and not just that, but actually also taking hold of industries in which they work and managing them. What is direct action? In the South when black people were organizing against racial segregation, they did not wait for the government to give them a signal, or to go through the courts, to file lawsuits, wait for Congress to pass the legislation. They took direct action; they went into restaurants, were sitting down there and wouldn’t move. They got on those buses and acted out the situation that they wanted to exist.

Of course, strike is always a form of direct action. With the strike, too, you are not asking government to make things easier for you by passing legislation, you are taking a direct action against the employer. I would say, as far as means go, the idea of direct action against the evil that you want to overcome is a kind of common denominator for anarchist ideas, anarchist movements. I still think one of the most important principles of anarchism is that you cannot separate means and ends. And that is, if your end is egalitarian society you have to use egalitarian means, if your end is non-violent society without war, you cannot use war to achieve your end. I think anarchism requires means and ends to be in line with one another. I think this is in fact one of the distinguishing characteristics of anarchism.

ZV: On one occasion Noam Chomsky has been asked about his specific vision of anarchist society and about his very detailed plan to get there. He answered that “we can not figure out what problems are going to arise unless you experiment with them.” Do you also have a feeling that many left intellectuals are loosing too much energy with their theoretical disputes about the proper means and ends, to even start “experimenting” in practice?

HZ: I think it is worth presenting ideas, like Michael Albert did with Parecon for instance, even though if you maintain flexibility. We cannot create blueprint for future society now, but I think it is good to think about that. I think it is good to have in mind a goal. It is constructive, it is helpful, it is healthy, to think about what future society might be like, because then it guides you somewhat what you are doing today, but only so long as this discussions about future society don’t become obstacles to working towards this future society. Otherwise you can spend discussing this utopian possibility versus that utopian possibility, and in the mean time you are not acting in a way that would bring you closer to that.

ZV: In your A People’s History of the United States you show us that our freedom, rights, environmental standards, etc., have never been given to us from the wealthy and influential few, but have always been fought out by ordinary peoplewith civil disobedience. What should be in this respect our first steps toward another, better world?

HZ: I think our first step is to organize ourselves and protest against existing order—against war, against economic and sexual exploitation, against racism, etc. But to organize ourselves in such a way that means correspond to the ends, and to organize ourselves in such a way as to create kind of human relationship that should exist in future society. That would mean to organize ourselves without centralize authority, without charismatic leader, in a way that represents in miniature the ideal of the future egalitarian society. So that even if you don’t win some victory tomorrow or next year in the meantime you have created a model. You have acted out how future society should be and you created immediate satisfaction, even if you have not achieved your ultimate goal.

ZV: What is your opinion about different attempts to scientifically prove Bakunin’s ontological assumption that human beings have “instinct for freedom”, not just will but also biological need?

HZ: Actually I believe in this idea, but I think that you cannot have biological evidence for this. You would have to find a gene for freedom? No. I think the other possible way is to go by history of human behavior. History of human behavior shows this desire for freedom, shows that whenever people have been living under tyranny, people would rebel against that.

Ziga Vodovnik is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, where his teaching and research is focused on anarchist theory/praxis and social movements in the Americas. His new book Anarchy of Everyday Life – Notes on anarchism and its Forgotten Confluences will be released in late 2008.

Republication from AK PRESS

Anarchists Against Hitler: The Underground FAUD in the Rhineland

Antlitz des Krieges Syndikalistkleiner

On 5th November 1937, Julius Nolden, a car plant worker from Duisburg was sentenced by the “The People’s Court” in Berlin to a ten year prison term for “preparing an act of high treason with aggravating circumstances.” Nolden had been at the head of the FAUD (anarcho-syndicalist Free Union of German Workers) in the Rhineland when that underground Organisation was dismantled by the Gestapo in January 1937. Arrested with him were 88 other male and female anarcho-syndicalists who stood trial in the Rhineland in early 1938.

In 1921 the FAUD in Duisburg had around 5000 members. After then the numbers fell and by the time Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, only a few tiny groups remained. For example, there were about 25 militants active in the Duisburg area and the Rhineland regional union had around 180-200 dues-paying members.

At its last regional Congress, held in Erfurt in March 1932, the FAUD had decided that, in the event of the Nazis taking power, its federal bureau in Berlin would be shut down and replaced by an underground directorate (based in Erfurt) and that there would have to be a general strike by way of reply. The latter decision proved impracticable: for one thing, the FAUD right across Germany was decimated by a wave of arrests.

In April-May 1933, Dr. Gerhardt Wartenburg, before being obliged to flee the country, managed to find a replacement for himself as secretary of the FAUD in the person of Emil Zehner, an Erfurt blacksmith. Wartenburg fled to Holland, to Amsterdam, where he was welcomed along with other German émigrés, by the Dutch anarcho-syndicalist, Albert de Jong. Similarly, the IWA (the International Workers’ Association embracing trade unions of a libertarian and revolutionary bent) secretariat was moved to the Netherlands but that did not prevent the organisation’s archives from falling into the hands of the Nazis.

In autumn 1933, Emil Zehner was replaced by Ferdinand Gotze, a member of the Saxony Chamber of Labour, then run by Richard Thiede from Leipzig. Meanwhile in the autumn of 1934 Gotze, on the run from the Gestapo, turned up again in the west of Germany where support from the Dutch federation of the IWA (the NSV) had made it possible to establish an underground FAUD group. At the same time and in all haste an FAUD secretariat in exile had been set up in Amsterdam.

Duisberg, The Liaison And Agitation Centre For The West Of Germany

Up until the Nazis took power, labourer Franz Bunged had headed the Duisburg federation. He was interned in the Bogermoor concentration camp without any semblance of a trial in 1933. Bungert was released within a year but found it absolutely impossible to engage in even the least illegal activity because of the strict surveillance under which he was kept. His place was taken by Julius Nolden, a Steelworker unemployed at the time. Up to that point, Nolden had been treasurer of the Rhineland Chamber of Labour. Nolden too was arrested by the Gestapo who suspected that his job with an incineration plant was a cover for illegal contacts with other FAUD members.

In June 1933, a little after he was released, Nolden met Karolus Heber, a member of the underground Erfurt directorate, The object of their meeting was to organise the clandestine escape of compromised colleagues to Holland and to launch a resistance organisation in the Rhineland and Rhur districts, Nolden and his colleagues laid the groundwork for a network to smuggle people out to Amsterdam and distributed antifascist propaganda. It transpires from the court records that anti-Nazi pamphlets circulating at the time under cover of the title “Eat German fruit and stay healthy’, were so popular among miners that they used to greet each other with: “Have you eaten German fruit as well?”

After 1935 and the improving economic position inside the country, it was increasingly difficult to keep an illegal anarcho-syndicalist organisation afloat.

Many comrades had found work again after years of unemployment and casual labour and were reluctant to involve themselves in active resistance. The Gestapo terror did the rest. Furthermore, the support from Amsterdam dried up in 1935.

The outbreak of the Spanish revolution in 1936 gave a boost to anarcho-syndicalist activity inside Germany. Nolden built up his contacts with Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Cologne, organised meetings and launched subscriptions to raise financial support for the Spanish comrades. At the same time, Simon Wehre, from Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), used the Rhineland Chamber of Labour’s network to recruit volunteer technicians prepared to go to Spain. In December 1936, the Gestapo, thanks to a spy planted within, managed to uncover the existence of groups in the cities of Munchengladbach, Dulken and Viersen. At the beginning of 1937, the political police rounded up 50 anarcho-syndicalists from Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Cologne. Nolden was among those arrested. A little later, further arrests were made and these brought the number of members of the outlawed FAUD in Gestapo clutches to 89. It took a year to build the case against them. These male and female comrades were charged with “preparing acts of high treason” and they were brought before the courts in January and February of 1938.

Only six were not convicted for lack of evidence. The rest were sentenced to terms ranging from several months to six years imprisonment. Julius Nolden was committed to the Luttringhausen prison and remained there until the arrival of the Allies on 19 April 1945. On Pentecost Sunday of 1947 he met in Darmstadt with other comrades to establish the Federation of Libertarian Socialists (anarcho-syndicalists),

Killing Of Militants

Several comrades were murdered in prison. The Duisburg lathe-operator, Emil Mahnert, according to the testimony of four other inmates, was hurled from two storeys up by a police torturer. The bricklayer, Wilhelm Schmitz died in prison on 29 January 1944 and the circumstances of his death have never been properly clarified. Ernst Holtznagel was dispatched to the notorious 999 punishment battalion, where he was killed. Michael Delissen from Munchengladbach was beaten to death by the Gestapo in December 1936. Anton Rosinke from Dusseldorf was murdered in February 1937.

In August 1946, the Dusseldorf anarcho-syndicalist Ernst Binder wrote: ‘Since mass resistance was not feasible in 1933, the finest members of the movement had to squander their energy in a hopeless guerrilla campaign. But if workers will draw from that painful experiment the lesson that only a united defence at the proper time is effective in the struggle against fascism, their sacrifices will not have been in vain.”

From A Peace Museum To A Hitler Barracks

Ernst Friedrich (1894-1967), an Anarchist, founded the first international anti-war museum In Berlin (1923) as a testament to the German anti-militarist movement. He was conscious of the fact that the world was still thinking of Germany as irreconcilably militarist, despite the discrediting of the old Prussian aristocratic military state, and wanted to show many German workers had struggled against the military state. He also wanted in turn to show other German workers how vital that struggle was, and to demolish nationalist lies. The horrors of the war, on the front and at home, were overwhelmingly portrayed in his International Anti-War Museum at No. 29 Parochialstrasse, Berlin,

When the Nazis took power, they seized the Museum, burned the exhibits and books and transformed the place into an SA-Heim (storm troopers’ barracks) They could not wait for the necessary alterations to be made and overnight painted out the word “Anti” from the fascia and posted a guard on the door.

Translated by: Paul Sharkey

Republication from katesharpleylibrary.net

Translated in greek, here

“Connecting European Struggles”,Lund, Sweden

affischEurope has been gripped by a common problem: the crisis. The crisis has proletarianized a huge part of the southern European working class with the political support or tolerance of the European Union and the IMF. Unemployment has reached severe levels, particularly for youngsters, a fact that is true both in Sweden and in the rest of the EU. Public services have been cut down which has affected the social security of millions of people. As a result, thousands of Europeans had to take refuge in the nuclear family which also serves to reproduce traditional gender roles. At the same time, wage increases have in many places slowed to a halt or been cut. The crisis has also incubated and gave birth to a new racist offspring while it created space for old fascist subjects. The whole European continent is for one more time contaminated by the plague of fascism against immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims, disabled people, and all those who ‘interrupt’ and struggle against the racist European normalcy.

The crisis has created mass social movements in diverse sectors. Migrants/refugees and people in solidarity are struggling against the imposition of harsher immigration laws, border controls and concentration camps. Women fight against conservative regimes and laws that attempt to dictate control of their bodies. Millions of workers have gone on strike and brought down governments. Students have organized to take power over their own education and their future. Antifascists in the streets of European cities challenge the presence and political action of fascist and racist groups. Several counter-information projects initiated by activists challenge the monopoly of mainstream media in news’ broadcasting.

Beyond the strict borders of fortress European Union, the Arab Spring, the popular uprisings in Ukraine, Turkey and Bosnia and the events around the Mediterranean Sea suggest that the world has entered into a new era of conflicts and class struggle. Millions of people rise against oligarchic bourgeois or theocratic dictatorships, against police and bureaucratic violence, millions of people struggle to choose their own destiny and to eliminate nationalism. It is of great importance for radical mass social movements in the capitalist periphery to be able to coordinate their actions with revolutionary groups of the capitalist center.

We are a diverse group of radical left, anarchist and autonomous activists who are organizing the conference “Connecting European Struggles”. We are currently working on a program which will host a number of participants from different European areas. We invite everyone who shares the interest of connecting struggles across – and beyond – Europe to participate. We are interested in having both attendees but also participants with presentations to the conference concerning the following program points.

We are primarily interested in struggles concerning migration, solidarity work, crisis, feminism, racism and (anti)fascism, exploitation of nature, workers’ struggles, student movements, counter-information media, activist journalism and so on. We will offer a wide range of program points from movie projections, lectures and talks, coordination meetings, soup kitchen, solidarity work and so on. We stand for housing for far-away attendants. Mark the dates in your calendar now!

More info and applications for contributing to the conference program at: connectingeuropeanstruggles@riseup.net

Raúl Zibechi: Latin America Today, Seen From Below

BoliviaCocaleros

Here Raúl Zibechi (via Upside Down World) offers a wide-ranging look at the geopolitical reality of the continent from the perspective of social movements, touching on the organizing model of the indigenous Chilean Mapuche and Mexican Zapatistas, conflicts occurring over the extraction industries in many countries, and the increasingly dominant role of Brazil in the region.

Raúl Zibechi is a Uruguayan writer, professor and analyst whose newest book “The New Brazil: Regional Imperialism and the New Democracy” was just published in English by AK Press.

Original interview published in the June 2013 issue MU Magazine, from the La Vaca popular media collective in Buenos Aires. Translated by Margi Clarke. Reprinted with permission.

1- ECUADOR

In Ecuador there is a government that proclaims a “citizen revolution” and that has a constitution with explicit environmental values that speaks of Well Being and the rights of Nature. At the same time, there are 179 or 180 indigenous leaders and activists accused of sabotage and terrorism for doing what they always have done: blocking roads and occupying public land to protest and stop the mining projects that threaten their livelihood and communities. The greatest struggle of the social movements right now is to defend water and to halt open-pit mining. President Correa calls them “full-bellies” (‘pancitas llenas’) who have plenty to eat and can dedicate themselves to criticizing the government and the mining industry alongside their imperialist NGO allies (non-governmental organizations).

MU: Bolivian President Evo Morales also calls out NGO’s as organizations promoting imperialist interests with the intention to erode Latin American state power.

Yes, Correa and Morales accuse the social movements of being manipulated by the NGO’s, as if the indigenous communities were underage children. Ecuador and Bolivia have several things in common: one, the popular movements are strong; another is that the governments call themselves ‘revolutionary’; and in both countries there is an fierce confrontation between the governments’ modernization policies with the social movements who are criminalized and persecuted.

But an interesting fact is that the dominant classes in Bolivia as well as in Ecuador are changing rapidly. The financial bourgeoisie in Guayaquil (in the south) has collapsed and today it is the financial sector in Quito (the northern altiplano) that is dominant. At the same time, new analyses coming out of Bolivia speak of a new bourgeoisie in which the Aymara and Quechua indigenous leaders have an important role. This contradiction was evident in the conflict over Tipnis, when a huge indigenous mobilization halted a highway project into their ancestral lands, which are part of a national park. In Tipnis the conflict is between the coca-producers who are now part of the ruling structure against the indigenous [whom they had previously been allied with to bring Evo Morales into power]. We see this process happening in several countries.

MU: So, what does the power map look like now?

Basically what we have on the one hand is the old ownership class, and on the other hand the “management” class (‘gestores’). People who are not the owners of the banks but who manage the banks, those who control the pension funds, the capital that is the raw material for financial speculation. These managers are now the critical players, they are paid well and they are part of the ruling class even though they do not own the industrial means of production. They dominate the financial-economic circuit that reproduces capital. We see contradictions in these countries between the owners and the managers who are allied with each other in some ways, but not in others. It is interesting to see how the dominant class that has become more complex and where there are conflicts. And how parts of the ruling class make use of the popular sectors and others depend on other social sectors, in service of their own interests, and that there are points of unity and points of conflict between and among them. Basically we are seeing a re-structuring and re-positioning of the ruling classes and we see these shifts very clearly in Bolivia and Ecuador.

2- BOLIVIA

Bolivia is where the social movements are strongest and have gained the most and have intersected the most in the dominant systems. They have the great virtue of being very diverse. There are the Aymara of the highlands, and the peoples of the lowlands. In many cases the exploiters are multinational corporations, but in other cases the threats are from Aymara or Quechua economic sectors. This creates a very complex web in which at this time the lowlands are at the bottom of the power structure.

We see an interesting reconfiguration of the ruling class which is no longer the bourgeoisie that speaks ‘gringo’ but another group that wears a poncho and speaks in Aymara or Quechua, for example Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera. He is the theorist of the new practices of the dominant structure, the hinge between the western and the indigenous we might say. Bolivia is the ideal laboratory for this process: we can see from the perspective of the elite when an indigenous movement contests for power the government tries to create a parallel power structure. There is a process of cloning that creates confusion, coopting leaders and creating brutal divisions with the goal of muddying the waters. This slows things down, allowing the elite time to reposition itself and continue to promote its projects. We are seeing dominating practices that are much more refined than before.

MU: What has happened to the concept of ‘dispersion of power’ that you speak about in your book about Bolivia?

Bolivia continues to have those practices. We see for example, the monthly magazine called Pukará; we have the katarista movement which had some connection with Alvaro Garcia Linera but which has maintained a certain autonomy. We have feminist groups like Mujeres Creando (Women Creating): they are the ones saying “This continues to be a colonial state, though we call it pluri-national.”

This is an interesting statement because it clearly describes the situation. If we look at the Latin American indigenous movements today we see two clear tendencies: the “pluralistic state” which is the most visible but which has not fundamentally transformed the Nation-State; it continue to be the same colonial model but with a multi-colored stamp. And we see the autonomous indigenous movement, represented by the Mapuche, the Zapatistas, some Colombian organizations, and all those who do not defend that plural State as their goal.

The plural state has been a little door that the colonial Nation-State has opened but allows it to perpetuate its practices. A state is not transformed simply by writing a new Constitution. The state is made up of practices. There is a very interesting piece by Bolivian writer Luis Tapia who expressed this very clearly. He asks: “How can it be a pluralistic State if we have a presidential office with more power than ever, with the ability to serve three terms?” If government is highly centralized and does not distribute power, where is the pluralism? Bolivia is a case where those above try to mask themselves with the poncho, and those below are permanently denouncing them. There is a line of independent thought and action and in the long run that is the most powerful force.

3- PERU

I was recently in Peru [in 2013] and I can say that the principal struggle today is over mining. In Peru there are 30-40 places where there are conflicts over mining, and 200 environmental conflicts. A key case is in the north, in Trujillo where the Conga gold mine has faced a lot of local resistance. In Peru there are lots of long-standing organizations: the Peasant Confederation whose representative is Hugo Blanco; the National Agrarian Confederation which is linked to APRA; the CGT, the General Workers’ Confederation. And there are new organizations like the National Confederation of Communities Affected by Mining. Yet, none of these established groups plays a decisive role in these struggles. The resistance today is outside of institutional organizations.

So who is organizing the resistance? It is the communities in the highlands themselves organizing based on their own traditions. For example, look at the peasant councils: the villages have always organized local watch committees: originally to guard against cattle thieves, then to protect themselves from the military, then from the paramilitary, then from the Sendero Luminoso rebels; and now it is against incursions by the mining companies.

MU: Are these watch patrols armed?

Yes, these are villages that arm themselves to provide night patrols. It is self-defense. And the watch councils have become over time an organization called the Guardians of the Lake. The lagoons are the principal sites of conflict with the mining companies. The big problem with mining is that is contaminates the water sources that the community uses. In order to stop that, they organize collective self-defense mechanism to protect the lakes from contamination. They camp there to prevent mining operations from setting up.

MU: How does the government respond?

The government of President Ollanta Humala is inclined to favor the multi-nationals. In his first two years in office there were two significant crises. Both of them had to do with local resistance to mining. He dismissed his whole cabinet. The government tried to establish a state of siege and militarize the areas of conflict. The mining companies organized “white guards” (death squads). There was a whole military and paramilitary apparatus set up, along with media coverage and governmental administrative efforts: but even with all this, they have not been able to turn back the resistance. On the contrary, the anti-mining struggle is at a high point. Together with Guatemala, Peru is today spearheading popular action against mining and is the most important example in the continent.

MU: What is the impact of the resistance?

They have succeeded in stopping several projects, for example the Conga gold mine is at a standstill. And while there are many communities who stand up to the mining projects in order to negotiate benefits, there are also those who intend to stop the projects altogether and they are winning. In the south of Peru they succeeded in stopping a Brazilian mega-construction project that would have built 5 dams on the Inanburi River.

MU: What characterizes the strength of the resistance?

This popular resistance does not have political party structures, does not have institutional organizations, but rather is based in struggle, is community-based and is strong, achieving local and intermediate levels of organization that coordinates to address particular timely topics but without establishing permanent coordinating structures. Some analysts question this: Isn’t it curious that such strong struggles have not given birth to powerful organizations? Do they lack structure or do they not want structures? This is a reality in Latin America today: struggles are occurring and resistance is strong without the need to generate political apparatuses, at least not purely in service of the particular struggles. But perhaps this is not a defect but an important lesson.

4 – CHILE

I was in Chile in January [2013] and saw two large struggles: high school student organizing (in addition to the university student movement); and widespread Mapuche organizing.

The high school students have created the Coordinating Assembly of Secondary Students which had participation of more than 100 high schools at the peak of the 2011 mass rallies for reforms in the educational system; today they still have 60 schools actively participating. They have created a horizontal space for debate and political consciousness-raising that is enormously participatory where the students have marvelous experiences of self-expression, organizing and advocacy.

This year [2012-13] they carried out a national campaign called “No, I will not give my vote” in the city elections and 60% of the eligible voters did not participate. And now a group of intellectuals has taken up the same campaign calling for a boycott of the next elections. This electoral abstention is a form of disobedience. Another micro-example is fare-evasion in the Trans-Santiago, the public transit system in the capital. Fare-evasion exceeds 30% of passengers. The government put young people to work as vigilantes in red shirts denouncing those who do not pay the fare. But even with that, the refusal to pay is very high. I think there is an important process of civil disobedience, at least in Santiago, led basically by the youth of the popular [poor] neighborhoods.

In terms of the indigenous Mapuche organizing we see the true paradigm of dispersed power. There is not a single Mapuche organization: there are dozens. Perhaps this is what has allowed them to always have a sector that is never co-opted. Today there is a lot of dynamism created by a new generation of Mapuche activists and intellectuals. For example, there is a collective of historians that has produced a great deal of very illuminating work.

We have to realize that the Mapuche are perhaps the only people in the world with five centuries of resistance (against colonial oppression) and of victories. Many people do not know that the Mapuche defeated the Spanish militarily and forced them to recognize the existence of a Mapuche Parliament in Valdivia. For two centuries the Spaniards could not cross south of the Bio-Bio River. But the Mapuche are not farmers; they are ranchers. For that reason they never established larger towns, rather they live in dispersed villages. They have local family and clan leaders. There is no single Mapuche authority, there tons. There is a richness that those of us outside it are just beginning to see.

MU: How does this differ from the other indigenous resistance movements who have mentioned?

The Mapuche do not feel they are Chilean. In their minds their identity has nothing to do with the concept of the Nation-State. Neither Pinochet nor democracy succeeded in domesticating them. While it is true the Mapuche society has a lot of machismo, it is a strong patriarchy, in all the other ways this movement is very disruptive and breaks with the mold (of the left). What I have noticed recently is the strong links between the student movement and the Mapuche. The young people go to Araucania (southern Chile) and work together with them. They don’t just offer solidarity from the cities; they go and work with them.

MU: What is the difference?

It is difficult to work with them. If you think they are fragmented you are wrong although it is true. There is a unique historical Mapuche corpus (body of work) that has a thousand tentacles. This is how they learned to struggle, not in a single unified form. On the other hand, in Chile we have a so-called anti-terrorist law that is only applied against the Mapuche. They have many leaders in prison with very long sentences. Why? Because their struggle has not been symbolic, it is real. En Mehuin for example there is a Mapuche coastal fishing community. A company wanted to build a mega-project and the authorities were requiring an environmental impact study. But the Mapuche thought: “If we let them to do the study we have lost.” So with their fishing canoes they surrounded the ship that brought the experts to do the study. They did not let them come. It was a naval battle, canoes against a modern ship. And the Mapuche won.

5 – MEXICO

I am pro Zapatista. And from that sympathy, I am enthusiastic that they have gone into hiding in the last 6 years, disappeared according to conventional media. But in those 6 years of silence they have become ever more autonomous: they have their health system, their educational practices, their own production, their power, their own armed forces. They are their own society, their own world. Last December [2012] they decided to demonstrate this with a march: forty thousand participants with hoods marching without saying a word. Forty thousand people who had to come from very long distances, some having to walk 2 or 3 days to get to the nearest county seat. And they did it. Their level of logistical organization has no precedents and it clearly shows their level of organizational development: forty thousand people doing the same thing at the same time. All walking in silence, their fists raised, the only sound their boots marching on the paving stones, without speaking and the men carrying the children. This was the evidence of what they have been doing for the past several years.

MU: So what is Zapatismo at this time, in terms of social organization?

In the state of Chiapas there are 5 “caracoles” (snails), which are areas controlled by the Zapatistas, each with slightly different levels of development. The most well-known are Oventic and La Realidad deep in the Lacandon jungle near the border with Guatemala. In these zones of control they have Good Government Councils, production cooperatives, primary school and secondary school and a hospital. They are truly autonomous communities. A special aspect of the health system is that nearby villagers, even if you are not a Zapatista you can be seen for free. All this they have done without money and without the State and without international cooperation: they have support of some Mexican civil society groups who are in solidarity and from their own labor. The caracoles in this way have built everything they need to live and their own power structures to administer it all. At the community level the ruling body is the assembly. A gathering of 30 communities is an autonomous municipality. The network of municipalities makes up the Good Government Council, which controls the caracol. The caracol is thus the physical zone of autonomy, and the Good Government Council is the political space.

MU: How does the Council function?

Through the elected representatives from each autonomous municipality. The interesting thing is that these representatives change every 15 days or every month. The Councils have between 10 and 20 members, with men and women in equal numbers. A caracol can include up to 200 communities, which means we are talking about 20,000 people or more. These people participate in a rotating political system: there are no permanent representatives. Every 15 days or every month, the governing body’s composition changes. Imagine what this means in real terms: calculate how many people over all these years who have had a concrete experience of what power and representation means.

MU: What is most inspiring to you about the Zapatista experience?

I would not say that it is a general tendency (in Latin America) but I do say that there is a growing political tension that puts in question the role of the State, and among the Zapatistas this is true in way not seen in any other popular movement. And now they have gone another step further: they have created a Zapatista political school. It is only be invitation and they invitation says: ”Well, you who never spoke against us when that was the fashion, can come to this school. We are not going to pay your way here, but once you are here you can share our food and our home with us.” When you get to the school you find that the villagers are the professors. The students come to listen and learn. These special invited students are intellectuals, unionists, social movement leaders, we who are more accustomed to speaking and being listened to, not to learning and much less going to school to listen to others. How could I not be inspired by an experience like this?

6 – VENEZUELA

Venezuela without Chavez means many things. It means that the process has a timeframe; that the process [of popular power] has come to a plateau with a certain maturity but at the same time, in my view, has become corrupted, is failing. We have come to a turning point: continue to walk alone, or continue to look up. I believe it is time to walk alone, time to stop looking up at traditional seats of power and walk our own path. The processes of change in Latin America, but specifically in Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina, have already given what they can give. From the standpoint of liberation those processes are not going to give more. They have achieved what could be expected and now the people need to choose. I believe the people need to self-organize and walk into their own future, and then see what to do with the governments. I believe we can no longer keep waiting, and that is the message to take from Chavez’s death.

7 – ARGENTINA

I see in Argentina the very best and the very worst. I see a society where the powerful and the media are in a fierce downward spiral. I believe there are few countries in the region where the political decomposition is so deep. In few countries have there been media scandals like Lanata [a scandal revealed in WikiLeaks regarding the Kirchner government’s pressure on the media through censorship and threats]. It almost seems like a joke doesn’t it? It is like a Machiavellian fable, outside of reality. I say this because this trend [of corruption of the media in service of the government] reflects how low the level of debate has fallen and reflects a headlong path of political decomposition. But on the other hand I see another society that is fighting against this. When I go into the barrios I see a lot of garbage, but I also see interesting things going on.

I was in a little health post in the Villa 31 (slum in Buenos Aires), that the young people from the medical school created. They are training health promoters and they are doing it with a high degree of political consciousness. I saw real commitment and real work. There are a lot of these examples in all fields that I find very hopeful. I don’t know who will win the elections but that does not seem so important either. What is important is to recognize that the political collapse is not something one administration or another is going to stop because it has deeper roots than that. In the slums like Villa 31 we see some going into drugs and bribes. But we see others creating new realities. But we have to see that both of these realities are occurring, they are inter-related. I think in Argentina we are in a moment like the end of the 1990’s [when the economic policies and corruption produced the 2001 financial crisis]. I am not saying there will be another crisis like the one in 2001 but we are coming to another crossroads. What gives me hope is that I see many people learned from the last time. We already know what can happen and what to do.

8 – URUGUAY

Uruguay is an artificial country. I had a professor who said: “Uruguay in reality should be called Ponsonbylandia”, in honor of Lord Ponsonby who negotiated the creation of Uruguay so that Argentina and Brazil would stop having border wars. He was a British bureaucrat who called his strategy “Putting a piece of cotton between two crystal glasses.” What he did not say was that this strategy also guaranteed waterways for British commerce. Today this history is repeating itself. Uruguay is going to build a huge port at Rocha. Many of us suspect, although there is little information available, that this deep-water port is the ideal place for the U.S. Fourth Fleet to be anchored. If you look at the map you can see this is the closest location to the Brazilian oil reserves at Paloma on the southern Atlantic coast. Rocha is an ideal geo-political site for US imperialist interests.

MU: What is the US imperialist strategy toward Latin America?

The US strategy toward Brazil is the same as its strategy vis a vis China. Surround it with conflicts, which is why the US seeks to destabilize Brazil’s principal allies Venezuela and Argentina.

9- BRAZIL

My intent in analyzing the role of Brazil in the current conjuncture is to point out several things I think are important for social movements to be aware of. Number one: we must be alert to the importance of geo-politics. We have to pay attention to geo-political trends and to understand them in order to understand how they affect us. Number two: it is important in and of itself to understand and pay attention to Brazil. It is important to understand what is happening in Brazil not just from the moment of the rise of Lula [Brazil’s Workers Party President from 2003-2011]. What Brazil is today is built on what happened long before.

In particular, Brazil’s importance in the continent today began with the creation of IIRSA in 2000 under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. IIRSA is the mega-construction and engineering company that became the cornerstone of the UNASUR/MERCOSUR (South American Union/Common Market) strategy to integrate trade and infrastructure throughout the continent. Now named COSIPLAN, this is a set of mega-projects to connect Latin America with 12 cross-continental corridors that run from the Atlantic to the Pacific and two north-south corridors — among them the Parana-Paraguay highway — to accelerate the movement of goods. These are projects of the Sao Paolo bourgeoisie with the support of the international banking system that Cardoso initiated and Lula continued. Some things were changed but basically they are the same: they are multi-modal corridors of highways, air corridors, ports and fiber optic cables, everything oriented to industrial communication and trade. The concept is that these are infrastructure mega-projects that can only be built by Brazilian construction companies. And the only bank that has sufficient resources to finance them is the BNDES (National Development Bank of Brazil). So it is a perfect circular business.

MU: In your view this is also something more: the project that best illustrates Brazil’s emergence as a World Power.

The Brazilian ruling class is not just any elite [in the region]. Brazil is the 6th largest economy in the world so its ruling class is therefore the 6th largest as well. In addition, Brazil had its own Peron, who was Getulio Vargas [Dictator 1930-45, and President 1951-54] who broke the old landowning oligarchy, built up Brazil’s industries, and outlined the main systems of today’s Brazil. One of Vargas’ key creations was the War Academy of Brazil (Escola Superior de Guerra). I would invite anyone interested to take a look at their website and see what you find. Today it is the biggest think tank in the global south. The topics they investigate and analyze include globalization, climate change, soy monoculture and many others. This is where much of the Brazilian elite studies and they take on a strategic perspective that does not exist in the elites of other countries in the continent.

MU: So is neo-liberalism part of this ideology?

Well not in the sense of neo-liberalism as the dominance of US corporate intervention in Latin America, as in Argentina or Chile. But yes in other ways: Fernando Henrique Cardoso was the great privatizer of Brazil. Two example of how Brazil is unique. One: the Health Minister under Cardoso was Jose Serra from the Brazilian far right. But it was Serra who, in the 1990’s, led the fight against the pharmaceutical sector to allow generic drug production. Two: All the privatized national assets ended up in the hands of Brazilian capitalists, not foreign corporations.

MU: Is this then state capitalism?

No State Capitalism is China’s model. Brazil is a more complex capitalism in which the power is shared among the State, the Brazilian capitalists, the military and the unions. I return to my first concept: it is the capitalism of the manager class (gestores). A capitalist model with greater strategic integration. And that is where the War Academy comes in: there they give courses in strategic planning.

10 – THE FUTURE

My intent is to alert the popular movements to become more familiar with two things:

  1. Strategic Planning: This is having a long-term vision. We have to think not just about what we will eat tomorrow but what our grandchildren will eat. That’s where we need to focus our work. When we see the people in the slums and they talk about Father Mujica [current leftist President of Uruguay], or in the industrial complex of Cordoba and they speak about Tosco [union leader who led the 1969 uprising against the Argentine dictatorship], you realize that the people have never met these leftist leaders but they share their vision of where we need to go in the long term. I think this is how we must think: what are we leaving behind for the next generation to build on.
  2. Geo-politics: This is a having a global view that permits us to see the changes occurring the world. Within 50 years, US imperialism will be history. So we are in a moment when we can influence what comes next in our future. These are times to think about what we can achieve and to believe we can do it. I know it is a dangerous time for Latin America, precisely because of the great crisis that is beginning to shake the North. There is no Plan B for the extractive economic model. And I know that the Good Governance model has no electoral traction, and that we do not get out of the extractive model with votes. We are seeing that the transition from the extractive model will be full of brutal crises. But we will come out of that crisis if we have solid alternatives to offer society. There are small spaces that are telling us: It is possible to live autonomously. These are the spaces that we need to sustain today because they have strategic value: they tell us there is an alternative and we need to create things differently that what we have today.

MU: is it possible to change everything from a small perspective?

I am very tired of groups that say: “We have to leave local work to do politics on a bigger scale.” That is how you lose, along with Lanata! [who sought support for freedom of the press by going to US Embassy to help him against the Argentinian government’s censorship].

It is in local efforts that we do the real work: sustaining a cooperative, creating a project, without knowing what will happen tomorrow. That is not small: that is fundamental. The key is not elections: create a great campaign and win 5% of the vote. The key is to have certain spaces that are viable. Because those spaces in the process of transition to a new society have the potential to be the regenerative nuclei of a new social structure.

The other day when I was in Villa 31, Dora who is a Paraguayan immigrant woman of about 50 years old was there to inaugurate a women’s center, that offers among other things, self-defense classes. And she says to me: “This is something clean.” There was nobody imposing conditions on them with the funding, nothing like that. Dora, whose family lives in one of the worst homes in the slum, spoke of something ‘clean’. She spoke with great internal peace. This is what we need. Clean things.

***

Uruguayan writer Raul Zibechi works as a journalist with the cooperative magazine “Brecha” (Breakthrough), created by Eduardo Galeano and Mario Benedetti among others. Since 2001 Zibechi’s work has focused on popular movements throughout Latin America, which he researches by traveling wherever he is invited. His book “Genealogy of the Uprising” is the best analysis of the Argentinian popular revolt of Dec. 19-20, 2001. “Politics and Misery” gained him recognition as one of the most valuable intellectuals in the Global South. His most recent book is “The New Brazil: Regional Imperialism and the New Democracy” is published in English by AK Press.

Neo-nazi Frequencies

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The far right is a hot topic right now and Chrissi Avgi\Golden Dawn (GD) are increasingly making headlines all over Europe, as this recently small neo-Nazi group suddenly stumbles onto the political stage; rabid and unclean compared to many of its European cousins, punching and threatening and speaking of civil war whilst for a long time no one does anything even though migrants and other undesirables are beaten and killed, and the cops are participating actively or at least not preventing it as the government tries its best to do even better in its own bureaucratic way. The murder of the antifascist Pavlos Fyssas by a GD member has created a sharp u-turn that recently saw surprised members of GD marching on their own as cops busted in on them and the state went antifascist. I have chosen the term ‘far-right’ to act as a massive umbrella term under which fascists, Nazis, xenophobic populists and nationalists can be categorised. I know that this is a simplification, but simplification is necessary if one is to talk about a new political climate which is spreading over Europe, a climate which is created by many groups with differing backgrounds and ideologies but which most significantly is characterised by racism and cultural protectionism. When analysing Golden Dawn it is relevant to look at Greek history as well as the ideologies of fascism and national socialism, but the international context is also important. If we look at international connections between GD and other far right groups, we can narrow our definitions, because we find the solidarity coming from a very specific political grouping: the neo-Nazis.

InterNational Solidarity

Neo-Nazis are more complex than one might at first think. Though they do exist in the shape of political parties, these parties are a part or product of a larger movement. I would suggest that part of the ideological and perhaps practical content of GD consists of an ideology which is connected to this movement. The European neo-Nazi scene has its roots in the 1970s but matured in the 1980s and 90s. For many years it has been possible to read about GD on Swedish neo-Nazi websites as they have had contact and even visited GD for a number of years. GD members have in return visited Sweden, and many other European countries such as Germany, to form links with neo-Nazi groups. In fact, much detailed information about the current situation is available on the website of the militant national socialist group (not a political party), the ‘Swedish Resistance Movement’ (SRM), who are in regular phone contact with their ‘comrades’ in Greece. They organised coordinated Scandinavian manifestations against Greek embassies in solidarity with GD, together with their sister organisations in Finland, Denmark and Norway when the GD leadership was arrested. Similarly, the Swedes Party (SP) (formerly National Socialist Front) carried out a solidarity manifestation at the Greek embassy and have eagerly followed the political rise of GD as they have steadily gained popularity and parliamentary success. This is an unlikely path for SP but one that they nevertheless dream of as the most openly national socialist party in Sweden. This party has even hosted members of GD on at least one occasion and receives regular updates.

On the recent 70th anniversary of the Crystal Night, SRM demonstrated through the streets of Stockholm to the Greek Embassy in solidarity with GD and against the assassination of GD members Giorgos Fountoulis and Manolis Kapelonis. The demonstration gathered 93 participants (they counted) and was carried out pretty successfully even though it was met with a sizeable resistance and was protected by police the whole time. Even so, the Nazis did manage to break out of the police lines and carry out some coordinated attacks against counter demonstrators. Considering the lull in neo-Nazi activity in Scandinavia in recent years- since the peak of the annual Salem demonstrations(1) close to Stockholm in the early 2000s that drew neo-Nazis from all over Europe and for some years led to the biggest Nazi demonstrations outside of Germany- it is not surprising to see the current enthusiastic excitement amongst these groups. The Scandinavian Nazis are excited both about what is happening in Greece and the possibility to come out in the streets again where they have not been able to have much presence in recent years due to anti-fascism, state repression and perhaps the fact that other populist right wing groups are currently better at attracting xenophobes. The fact that Nazis in the north of Europe have in the past attacked Greek migrants seems to be a comfortably forgotten memory.

On the same historical day that the Nazis were on the streets in Sweden, a manifestation took place in London as some of the relatively few british neo-Nazis gathered at the Greek embassy and started a new group imaginatively named ‘New Dawn’. The protest was advertised on the neo-Nazi website Stormfront and though some participants were confronted at another location by anti-fascists the manifestation went by peacefully and gathered little attention. Similarly, solidarity protests have been reported from France, Colombia, Argentina, Serbia, Italy, Spain, Russia, Hungary, Germany and the Czech Republic. Those carrying out these protests are neo-Nazis, not some other right wing factions. In fact in France Marine Le Pen has recently complained about her party ‘Front National’ being labelled ‘extreme right’ as that is a term that refers to groups such as GD with whom she does not want to be associated. This takes us to a point of terminology in relation to the far right.

Three Shades of Brown

For the sake of simplification I would categorise the far right in Europe into 3 camps. Firstly, the neo-Nazis, many of whom who are connected to the Blood and Honour, Combat 18, white power music and subculture scene of the 1980s and developments thereof. Though this category contains the stereotypical skinhead Nazi that many people are aware of, ideological developments have created more complex neo-Nazis who organise as parliamentary parties, resistance movements and international networks. Common factors include antisemitism, sexism, homophobia as well as a belief in a connection between blood and land as a geographical cultural identity of a people, and hierarchical divisions between different kinds of people. The original ideology still exists in these groups and some ideas that were around in the early days of national socialism, such as the anti-capitalist and socialist wing known as Strasserism, have played a part in a more complex theoretical foundation. This also creates different characteristics as some reject the legacy of Hitler and others are split between christianity and paganism as religions of choice. Though mostly a subcultural movement with ideological continuations of national socialism, new ideas and a romanticism of the past, national socialism is increasingly sneaking onto the political stage. Whilst in northern Europe this movement is largely young male dominated and subcultural, recent parliamentary success in Hungary and Slovakia suggest a broader appeal.

The neo-Nazi category differs from the second category which is a more reformed version and more likely to win votes as the anti-semitism and Nazi references are swept away and the boots and shaved heads are replaced with suits, since Nazi discourse proved to be a hindrance in many countries. The white power concerts, drunkenness and violent street confrontations that were central to the neo-Nazi movement from the late 1970s to the early 1990s were not only not attracting normal people, increasingly they were being met by strong antifascist resistance and repression from the state. Inspired by political parties like Front National in France, these Nazis put on suits to gain credibility and try to follow the parliamentary path to power. In this transition it has been common for anti-semitism to be replaced by islamophobia and whilst national socialism is, at least officially, abandoned and new members are attracted by a more moderate xenophobia, the old neo-Nazis often criticise the new political party for being too liberal and forgetting their roots (which is exactly what this second category is hoping that everyone else will do). One such political party are the Swedish Democrats who polled as the 4th biggest party in August 2012. In the early nineties they wore Nazi uniforms at meetings, planned attacks and used Nazi symbols; now they wear suits in parliament.

The third category is one which has no apparent historical connection to national socialism and fascism. Born as out of some immaculate conception, there is no parental lineage to speak of and the modern xenophobic populist party neither has to defend their belief in national socialism nor reject any connection to it. Modern populist parties have appeared across Europe with great success in the last 10-15 years and whilst the result of their politics are very similar to the two other categories, they are free from Nazi accusations and can enjoy formulating a kind of innocent unhindered racism. The Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn is perhaps the most obvious character who showed the possibility of a new xenophobic approach. An openly homosexual former marxist, he considered islam as a backward culture and his xenophobia was based on the negative effect that he believed that it and other foreign cultures had on the liberal Dutch society. Though against immigration, he distanced himself from far right parties in Europe and on most matters could not be considered conservative. Though he was assassinated just before the general elections in 2002, he changed Dutch politics and paved the way for the populist right wing “Party for Freedom” headed by the islamophobe Geert Wilders who wants to limit muslim immigration as part of a defence of liberal western culture. The discourse surrounding this defence against islam is directly connected to the ideas that were behind Anders Breivik’s terrorist attacks in Norway which left 77 people dead just over two years ago. More recently, the populist right wing party, ‘The Progress Party’ (a party which Breivik left some years before his attacks because he considered it too liberal), entered parliament as part of a coalition government, led by a female party leader who has proposed that women have some responsibility when it comes to rape. The party are against migration and for traditional hetero-normative family structures, and now hold several important ministerial posts in government. Though groups within this category are without links to fascist or national socialist movements, they nevertheless tend to attract people from these milieus.

The Hydra That Won’t Die

“What is needed in Greece right now is a military junta, which would not need public approval and could use tanks against strikers and demonstrators.”

— True Finns MP Jussi Halla-aho.

Along come the ‘Finns Party’ (previously called the ‘True Finns’) and challenge my simple categorisation. They have 38 out of 200 seats in parliament and are currently the biggest opposition party. Their xenophobia even extends to the crisis-ridden south of Europe, as Finland has had to participate in the Greek bailout packages. As a recently formed party they should belong in the third category though they lack the sophistication of many of their counterparts and amongst their incredibly crude homophobic and racist remarks one can also find many that question the extent of the holocaust and appear sympathetic towards Nazi Germany. Even though they have no direct organisational link to neo-Nazis, they certainly do not self-censor themselves in a way to exclude Nazi ideas. Maybe this shows that the days of careful political positioning where a closeness to national socialism and fascism seemed incompatible with parliamentary success are over.

There seems to be some attempts of Golden Dawn to take a leap from the first of these categories to the second, as the appreciation of Nazism has some problematic elements for a populist party who might just have progressed a little too quickly to work on its facade. There is no doubt that GD have roots and inspiration from recent Greek history, but if we look at the sources of current solidarity these come from the neo-Nazi groups and parties of Europe and beyond. A source of inspiration, GD give hope to Nazis who have not yet watered down their politics as a tactic for parliamentary rewards, while years of contacts between GD and foreign neo-Nazi groups also places GD in a larger neo-Nazi context. Even though the broad appeal of open national socialist ideas in Greece is problematic historically, maybe the time for the Nazi is here once again, as the political centre is increasingly pulled to the far right. GD will either have to reinvent themselves slightly to become more presentable, or perhaps convincing people that the Greek is the real übermensch will be enough.

A new political Europe is taking shape as political parties of different backgrounds and ideologies, but similar in their nationalist and xenophobic stances, are winning parliamentary victories that would have seemed impossible not long ago. There are hardly any countries in Europe that currently do not have successful anti- immigration parties. Some of these parties are neo-Nazi, some have neo-Nazi roots and some seem free of such a past whilst whipping up strong nationalist feelings as an opposition towards the perceived cultural threat of immigration. It is easy to say that people are drawn to these parties due to a lack of confidence in the mainstream parties, but the inherent racism and hatred towards ‘undesirables’ that goes along with this is harder to explain. Looking at the far right tendencies around Europe might however be an important tool in understanding the appeal of these parties and groups, and discovering effective ways of developing anti-fascist tactics. Even though they are not all friends many are connected and they are growing and making alliances by looking beyond their borders. Antifascism must keep up with these developments in order to confront the fascists in all their forms and wherever they pop up, our internationalism is a weapon.

“The one thing with writing stories about the rise of fascism is that if you wait long enough, you’ll almost certainly be proved right. Fascism is like a hydra- you can cut off its head in the Germany of the ‘30s and ‘40s, but it’ll still turn up on your back doorstep in a slightly altered guise.”

– Alan Moore

Written by: Coraline

Republication from The Barbarian Review

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1. Salem is a small city close to Stockholm. In the end of 2000 a young skinhead was killed there by a gang of kids, some of which had foreign backgrounds, which sparked yearly Nazi demonstrations against ‘violence towards ethnic swedes’.