ARTIVISM: TAKING THE OFFENSIVE
Artur Żmijewski, Noah Fischer and Paweł Althamer
Daniel Mützel and Joulia Strauss
“ARAB SPRING IS NOT OVER, BUT CONTINUES IN A DIFFERENT WAY”
A conversation with Youness Belghazi and Hadeer Elmahdawy
A conversation with Susanne Gerber
DON’T MOVE, OCCUPY! SOCIAL MOVEMENT VS. SOCIAL ARREST Mehmet Döşs¸ emeci
THE GEZI COMMUNE — EXPERIENCES OF AN UPRISING Errol Babacan
LOS INDIGNADOS — RADICAL TRANSFORMATION IN REAL TIME Raquel Gómez Ambrosio
“A LARGE COLLECTION OF SMALL WINS” A conversation with Tal Beery
“I DON‘T FEEL THAT WE ARE PART OF THE SAME GLOBAL MOVEMENT” A conversation with Federico Geller
CONSTRUCTIVE SUBVERSION: A GUIDE TO ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE Liam Barrington-Bush
PERFORMING BARE LIFE: OCCUPYING THE LIMINAL SPACE BETWEEN CIVILIZATIONS Imani Jacqueline Brown (Quezergue)
PREPARATIONS FOR WINTER HOLIDAY CAMP
“FACING FUKUSHIMA, ART HAS TO BE SOMETHING ELSE”
PAVLOS FYSSAS — REST IN PEACE
“THE ILLUSION OF NON-VIOLENCE TAMES PAST AND CURRENT STRUGGLES” A conversation with Saharnaz Samaienejad
INSURGENT ANARCHISM: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME
A conversation with Katya Samutsevich
A conversation with Lucas Oliveira
“ONLY DIRECT ACTION CAN CREATE REAL TRANSFORMATION”
“WE DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY TO HOPE FOR A BETTER FUTURE. WE NEED CHANGE NOW!” A conversation with Napuli Paul Langa
MONEY TALKS — HOW I JOINED THE REVOLUTION GROWTH AND THE DEATH DRIVE OCCUPY
A conversation with Christos Giovanopoulos and Antonis Vradis
“OUT OF THE RADICALISM OF SYNTAGMA SQUARE MANY THINGS COULD BE BORN”
“ILLEGAL LAWS MUST BE VIOLATED”
TITANS OF THAT INDUSTRY: FINANCIAL FICTION
IN MEMORY OF AARON SWARTZ Eva Wilson
THE SLOW, SURE DEATH OF PALESTINE MTL (Nitasha Dhillon and Amin Husain)
EDITORIAL: Daniel Mützel Joulia Strauss
CONDUCTING OF INTERVIEWS & COPY EDITING: Daniel Mützel
TRANSLATION PROOFREADING: Imani Jaqueline Brown Annie Buenker Joshua Vidich
COLLABORATIVE DRAWINGS AND DIGITAL PAINTINGS: Joulia Strauss Florian Wolf
LAYOUT: Sebastian Bayse Schäfer
PRINTED BY: Druckerei Conrad GmbH, Berlin
EDITORS OF KRYTYKA POLITYZCNA WARSAW:
Thomas Kieschnick Linnea Semmerling
Yael Bartana, Magdalena Błędowska, Kinga Dunin, Maciej Gdula, Maciej Kropiwnicki, Julian Kutyła, Jakub Majmurek, Sławomir Sierakowski, Michał Sutowski, Artur Żmijewski www.politicalcritique.org
ADDRESS: autonome universität berlin www.autonome-universitaet-berlin.net firstname.lastname@example.org
Sisters and brothers, this is not a magazine. It is a tool for political practice in the current global revolution.
This special issue of Krytyka Polityczna is designed to complement the exhibition global aCtIVISm at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe. While the team of ZKM presents a view of recent revolutionary events through an institutional lens, the editors and contributors to this edition manifest the revolutionary knowledge gained from active engagement in the events themselves. Our aim is to map the new architecture of today’s revolutionary struggles in a way that both analyzes their local differences and highlights their interconnectedness. This architecture is embodied in the diversity of protest forms that we have been witnessing since 2011: tactics, infrastructures, gestures, interventions and experiences. The guiding question of this endeavor is: What is the new universal in the global movements, and what, in contrast, is their irreducible otherness? In what way do these movements construe something new — cognitively, structurally, practically —, and in what way are they an image of the future? We reject the idea of Universality. Capital is a universal idea. The global is not. The global is a becoming. But this does not entail that global protests can be compartmentalized into isolated particularities. Thus, we aim to deuniversalize particularism by revealing the common bonds of resistance within the specific instances of revolution.
Being an image of the future, rather than dreaming of one, seems to be the only rationale in a present where the ‘sparks of hope in the past’ are constantly consumed, reappropriated and commoditized by capitalism.
onary consciousness”. What we need is to keep up with what’s already happening. Change is taking place before our eyes. We have to recognize and make visible the revolts in everyday life.
We dwell within the schizophrenias of our daily routines, ironically entertaining ourselves with the contradictions of our existence, desiring one life, but buying another, and often wondering how this beautiful liquidity of Capital can somehow be destroyed.
Today, we are all revolutionaries. There is nothing peculiar or distinct about being a revolutionary. The revolutionary has become the ordinary. Thus, we claim that Revolution is not the solution. It is the problem that is to be solved. It is the question of how we save our very existence; of how we stop creating something that has long since turned against us. We do not know how to do it, but we are already in the process of making it. There is no blueprint, but an infinity of experiments.
Capitalism, however, is not some abstract monster, a “system” external to ourselves. We produce Capital, and it is nothing without us. We create what dominates us. This is our strategic advantage: Capital needs us, but we don’t need it. It can be undermined by building other social relationships, by ‘behaving differently toward one another’.
People of the world, press on!
Nothing more simple. Nothing more difficult.
Daniel Mützel and Joulia Strauss
In a time when all vanguards are being dumped into the dustbin of history, we don’t need to call for a change, nor to “educate the masses”, hoping to evoke a “revoluti-
Let me begin with a confession: Monitored as we all are, I candidly confess that I am the author of the exhibition global aCtIVISm. However, I will not bow to the terror of surveillance, but instead protect myself from the search engines run by the global information corporations and the detectives from the National Security Agency by disguising myself. I am protecting my identity through anonymity: “Protection by Anonymity” is written across this balaclava. This is the service that the ZKM can offer you, to protect you from the control mania of the NSA.
I know that this raises some legal questions. Does my disguise break the law against masking oneself at public gatherings or does the legal expense insurance of the ZKM protect me first? Or — worst case — would it save me to call upon the freedom of art?
You will encounter masked people dressed in black throughout the exhibition: They can provide you with black masks at a cost price of six euro. Because you too probably have a need for anonymity in order to avoid the wrath of the security junta. After all, we are all under suspicion, even the allegedly so well-meaning German chancellor. The NSA is ever creative: It is constantly creating suspicion. Indeed, we are always under suspicion. That‘s why we are recorded on camera when entering banks, hospitals, soon even churches and museums. This is why we are stripped of all of our belongings and examined down to our skin at the airport. Everyone of us, according to the security apparatus, could potentially be a criminal or a terrorist.
Art notoriously offers spaces of freedom. The freedom of art is adjured again and again, but do we still know what is meant by this? Does this mean that something can take place here that can‘t take place in other social spaces — such as in parliament, in church, in the lobby of a corporation? The church was once a free space. Again and again we hear that asylum seekers and the homeless find refuge in the churches of Paris or Vienna. Is the asylum that the church can offer similar to that which art can provide? Yes. Did the members of Pussy Riot seek out the protection of the free space of the church or did they use it or even abuse it? Media Art in any case has become the place of exile for many forms of art. Films that are neither shown on TV nor at the cinema, because they are ostensibly too sophisticated, are shown in the museum. Sound experiments that are too unusual for the ears of the concertgoer can be heard in the museum. Theater plays that are too innovative are presented as performances in the museum. The humanities in their entirety have long since migrated to the media sciences. Quantum physics lab environments are presented at the documenta. Even religion has become a part of media theory. Just remember the exhibition “Medium Religion” (2008) at the ZKM.
But suspicion is not only raised towards individuals. In a society dictated by a security junta, every single object is under suspicion, too. The airport announcement “Security advice: please do not leave your baggage unattended. Please inform the police or airport personnel of any suspicious items!” now goes for all objects, even outside the airport. Just as we humans are potential terrorists, all objects are potential bombs. Objects are suspicious by definition. Freedom is no longer at the center of society. In the face of day-to-day observance, a liberal society is turned into a despotism run by surveillance. This state of constant surveillance and the omnipresent suspicion are legitimized by the desire for safety. The US claim that they can only guarantee their citizens’ safety by placing them under constant surveillance. In order to detect a few terrorists, all free citizens must be observed. This is the axiom of the “War on Terror” which, however, triggers terror itself. The media society is a society of mistrust. Ultimately, this global form of paranoid suspicion harbors fear. A “phobo-cracy”, a reign of fear, is shaping the social climate of the present day. This is why we protect ourselves behind masks that render us anonymous.
More and more, media are becoming the place of exile for the arts, culture and sciences. Will politics that allegedly have become too sophisticated also find their place of refuge in the museum? Will asylum seekers also claim protection by the museum in the future, when it is systematically refused by the state? Will art and the museum become the last free zones of humanity? If we answer these questions with yes, we are left with nothing else to do but to take the offensive; and to declare the connection between activism and art — “artivism” — as the first new art form of the 21st century. Who is with us?
Our view of social movements has remained enthralled to an obsolete liberalism. It is high time to call the occupations what they are: social arrests.
Mehmet Döşemeci On 17 December 2010, the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit seller set off a wave of uprisings that spread, with mercurial speed, around the Mediterranean basin and across its democratic divide. Within months, permanent occupations or tent cities had become fixtures of the urban landscapes of Spain, Greece, Israel, Egypt, Libya, and Syria. By fall 2011, these uprisings had cascaded as far North as the UK and, jumping the Atlantic, inspired both the form and name of the Occupy protests in the United States. In the summer of 2013, Turkey, Brazil, and Bulgaria all followed suit.
of mass political protest in the first decade of the 21st century. In the tradition of the French Revolution, uprisings against authoritarian rule are signified as acts of popular sovereignty whereas similar protests within liberal representative democracies are marginalized as the acts of a raucous minority. Alain Badiou has correctly remarked on the irony of Western responses in this regard, which nominated 500.000 protesters in Egypt’s Tahrir Square as legitimate representatives of 80 million, when within their own societies, reasonable and legal people express their will through opinion polls or elections. When similar numbers of Americans protested against the Iraq war in 2003, the White House condemned the demonstrators to insignificance with a single sentence. When things get a little nastier, as Erik Swyngedouw has pointed out, participants in mass uprisings in the Global North are described as rebels or anarchists and every effort is made to assure that the “rioters” are not identified with The People. The most important effect of this split response has been to obfuscate the global nature of these uprisings. The second continuous refrain of the Western response was the repeated exhortation by Western governments to ensure an “orderly transition to democracy” in the Arab states. In one respect, this refrain can be viewed as a strategic attempt by the West to exercise some control over the events unfolding in the “Arab Spring”. But, much more importantly, these responses are the latest manifestation of a silent yet powerful recalibration of the terms democracy and revolution within our collective imaginations, a recalibration that has been ongoing since 1989. The revolutions of 1989 and their afterlives inaugurated a historical taming of the term, a taming that has carried over into the 21st century. This historical taming consists of two interrelated “police operations” conducted by Western liberal democracies: the first involving a particular way of talking about non-democratic revolutions, the second consisting of a conservative periodization of their own foundational pasts.
The global interconnectedness and resonance of these uprisings, so evident to the protesters, has largely been ignored by its commentators. While notable exceptions exist, the overall tendency of most accounts has been to compartmentalize and classify. Middle-Eastern resistance to dictatorship, Northern Mediterranean unrest against externally enforced austerity measures, and an AngloAmerican revolt against the tyranny of the financial sector, have been analyzed as discrete cases each with their own structural and contingent dynamics. The results of this compartmentalization are all too predictable. Two years on, instead of a single image of global rebellion, we are left with fractured portraits of localized discontent. In an effort to examine the uprisings since 2011 through a global lens, I want to focus on a form they shared in common: the continuous occupation of public space. Beginning in 2011, people from all walks of life came to the central squares of the world’s cities and formed various types of semi-permanent sites of protest. What happened during these uprisings, how the people who were present took part in them, presents a radical challenge to two assumptions common to the liberal understanding of contemporary politics: the association between democracy and representative government; and the association between contentious politics and the category of movement. Rather than view these uprisings within the recently sanitized history of revolution and an increasingly ineffectual grammar of social movements, it is high time to call the global occupations of public space what they are: social arrests.
The first operation takes aim at the historical baggage acquired by the term revolution over the course of the 20th century: the violent overthrow of a political regime in an orchestrated action, commanded by a secular (as in Russia in 1917) or religious (as in Iran in 1979) vanguard. From a 21st century perspective, these revolutions are increasingly being judged not by what they achieved (the overthrow of the previous socio-political order) but by the new regime’s convergence or divergence from a free-market liberal democratic state. The same criteria that were used to assess the success or failure of the 1989 revolutions are now being applied to the revolutionary legacy of the entire 20th century. In this way, the Russian, Chinese, and Iranian revo-
The Police Conception of Revolution The first striking aspect of the Western response to the uprisings was its fragmentation almost exclusively along the world’s democratic divide. The uprisings against authoritarian rule in Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Egypt were uniformly proclaimed as “expressing the will of the people”, while the strikingly similar manifestations of their Spanish, Greek, and American counterparts were all but ignored. This fragmentation of Western responses, one equally evident in governments and the mainstream media, is indicative of how we have come to perceive the role 12
Don’t Move, Occupy! Social Movement vs. Social Arrest lutions (and their offshoots) are increasingly qualified as failed or hijacked revolutions, tossed alongside the 1933 Nazi “revolution” into the dustbin of history. As Timothy Garton Ash aptly put it during the height of Egyptian uprising, “Forget 1917, 1848 or 1789. There is no longer any doubt that 1989 has become the early 21st century’s default model and metaphor for revolution.”
of the same act became criminalized within the newly emergent democratic state. This dual standard has historically allowed the elites of Western representative democracies to legitimate their governments as those of “the people” while simultaneously circumscribing all expressions of popular sovereignty outside of the new representative bodies which they themselves controlled. Policing this contradictory posture toward their past and present has been one of the constant historical tasks of liberal democratic regimes — amplified whenever a new generation of activists has invoked this revolutionary past to sanction their own (now criminalized) practices. Yet this is only half of the story. The participants in the 2011 global uprisings have another story altogether, one that not only fundamentally disrupts this police conception of revolution, but also challenges the dominant form and practice of global contentious political struggle over the last half century. To understand this story, it is useful to take a closer look at the mass political protests of the 21st century and ask what is new about the global uprisings that began in 2011.
The second police operation against the history of revolution entails a conservative re-reading of liberal democracy’s own foundational past. It makes the link between revolution and democracy, but does so through a periodization that temporally separates the two. This is especially true of the two foundational revolutions of the 18th century. The dominant narrative of both the American and French Revolutions acknowledges revolution as a period enabling, but distinctly preceding, democracy. Within this narrative, revolutionary acts from the Boston Tea Party and the Declaration of Independence to the Tennis Court Oath and the storming of the Bastille, are given their due importance but also separated from the actual functioning of democracy that followed them. The mass political uprisings that occurred after the establishment of democracy have, by this same narrative, been interpreted in a markedly different light. In the new American Republic, the crushing of the Whiskey and Shay’s Rebellions have been seen as the (necessary) assertion of federal power and sovereignty, while in France the continued intrusions of the will of the French people into the National Assembly after 1789 are commonly cited as causes of the descent of the French Revolution into demagoguery and terror. This periodization has had two major effects on our understanding of democracy, revolution, and their interrelation. First, it has effectively bracketed off revolution as a period of transition between a non-democratic past and a dem-ocratic future. Bookended by the old and new regimes, the time of revolution becomes momentary, a lightning strike that changes the affairs of human beings and not a temporality that humans themselves inhabit. Second, it has constructed two different sets of rules and acceptable practices that apply separately to transitional revolutionary time and the democratic regime that would follow it. This is especially the case concerning the fundamental issue of what does and does not constitute an act of sovereignty. One need hardly mention how the events surrounding July 4th and 14th, self-nominated as the first sovereign actions of the American and French people respectively, would today constitute acts of high terrorism.
Social Movement vs. Social Arrest To get an idea of what differentiates the 2011 uprisings from previous forms of popular political struggle, let’s start with a short vignette from a protest action that typified the expression of extra-parliamentary discontent with governments before the 2011 uprisings. The vignette is from an anti-war rally I attended in Washington D.C. in February 2003 where half a million Americans assembled to protest the US invasion of Iraq. They had bussed in from up and down the East Coast to gather, march, sing, and shout. Everyone was excited; there was a sense of collective energy, fueled in part by the sheer size of the demonstration. But then a curious thing happened. The march, whose time and route had been pre-planned and pre-approved, ended at 2pm on the Washington Mall. Nothing else had been organized and the demonstrators, mulling around for a moment, began to disperse. As the crowd thinned, I saw a group of young Middle Eastern males waving Palestinian flags, staring in confusion at an activists’ table set up on one corner of the large grass field. Behind the table stood four rather skinny women and in front of it was a bright purple banner that read “modern dancers against war and anorexia.” The two groups — standing 10 meters apart — looked at each other, in perhaps one of the most bizarre encounters in the history of social movements. The men particularly were dumbfounded, literally unable to comprehend or give meaning to what they saw. Behind them, at some distance, were a die-hard group of white Rastas chanting “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!” Given the time and space, perhaps these human beings would have found
This dual standard is by no means a historical accident of modern representative democracy but rather a contradiction fundamental to its operation. Mass rebellion against perceived injustice was at once canonized as the foundational act of a democratic revolution while subsequent iterations 13
Mehmet Döşemeci that they had quite a bit in common. Perhaps they would have realized that their particular worldviews and languages were too far apart to form a shared ground. But the fact is that they had neither the time nor the space, and, after a few catatonic seconds, they all went their sepa-rate ways. An odd scene, no doubt. But this anecdote underscores the effective crisis in the theory and practice of social movements that defined the closing decades of the 20th century — a crisis linked to the very category of motion itself. It was the death rattle of a type of politics which — from the calls to abolish world slavery to the struggle for gender equality, from communism to civil rights — has defined contentious political struggle over the past 200 years through the category of movement. Instead of asking what kind of movement the new uprisings of the 21st century represent, the time has come to review the relevance and efficacy of the term itself. To do so we need to reconsider, both epistemologically and in praxis, the kinetics of contentious political struggle.
While the former is predicated on disruption, the latter above all ensures the constant circulation of people, goods, and services: “The police say there is nothing to see, nothing happening, nothing to be done but to keep moving, circulating; they say that the space of circulation is nothing but the space of circulation.” In this newer function of the police, whatever happens, whether a simple accident, an ethical dilemma over cheap clothes produced in sweatshops, or a mass protest, the role of the police is always the same: Keep people, goods, and services moving at all costs. For Rancière, the police are less concerned with arrest and repression as they are with making sure that nothing appears which may itself arrest the functioning of society, cause society to pause. The gradual reversal of the police function in recent years has, I argue, also changed the aim of contemporary political struggle. Slow Food, Conservationism (be it ecological or local-cultural), Anti-War, Anti-Globalization, Radical Environmentalism — all of these sites and banners of contentious politics are directed not at a static state structure that arrests movement but are themselves in fact about stopping or arresting an unbridled and accelerating capitalist system. In this light, the very names given to struggle — the environmental movement, the anti-globalization movement, the slow food movement — become at best oxymoronic and at worst open to co-optation by the very forces they oppose (green-washing, the fair trade industry, etc.). We need to ask ourselves: why do we still use the term movement to characterize contentious politics? What political conceptions and practices does this term privilege? What forms and histories of resistance has it obfuscated? Or in the words of Walter Benjamin: “Marx says that revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But the situation may be quite different. Perhaps revolutions are not the train ride, but the human race grabbing for the emergency brake.”
One of the key images of the uprisings that brought down the Eastern Bloc was that of East Germans “voting with their feet” across the Hungarian-Austrian border to the other side of the Iron Curtain. Nothing better encapsulates the kinetics of a struggle against the final bastions of an outmoded, oppressive, and above all static state structure than this image. Yet, rather than serving as the model for future revolutions, 1989, I argue, stands as the last of the revolutions of movement. To see why, it’s useful to turn to the French political theory and their evolving ideas about the social function of the police. Forty years ago, the French philosopher Louis Althusser described how individuals are interpellated as subjects by the state. To illustrate his point, he gave the now famous example of a police officer shouting out “Hey, you there!” in public. Upon hearing this exclamation, an individual turns around, and, “by this mere one-hundredand-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject.” In the act of acknowledging that it is indeed s/he who is addressed (arrested), the individual thus recognizes his subjecthood. Althusser’s image of the hailing of the police officer speaks of a state apparatus (and a correlative subjectivity) that is premised on the idea of arrest. The policeman’s shout essentially stops whoever hears it in his/her tracks, freezes the comings and goings of people. In 21st century liberal democracies, this arresting function of the state apparatus, while by no means inoperative, has gradually been ghettoized: pushed out of the mainstream culture and squeezed into immigrant and minority communities. In its place, as Jacques Rancière has pointed out, has come an altogether different policing function, one encapsulated by the police officer urging bystanders to “move along!”, that “there is nothing to see here.”
Equally important to the epistemological question surrounding movement is a crisis in the practice of political struggle: Aggrieved humans momentarily gather, coalesce around some site or issue, then, all too predictably, re-atomize into their daily routines and routes of circulation and consumption. Besides the obvious point that these tactics have done very little to change the policies of contemporary society, we need to critically evaluate their structural affinity with the investment and withdrawal of international capital itself. The police conception of revolution and the crisis in the theory and practice of social movements form the dual backdrops for the global uprisings of 2011. Beginning in January of that year, a new form of revolt emerged in North Africa and spread around many parts of the globe. What actually took place at the sites of these revolts offered a seismic challenge to both the police conception of revolu14
Don’t Move, Occupy! Social Movement vs. Social Arrest tion and the theory and practice of political struggle. What happened in these squares was not movement but arrest, not dispersal but permanent occupation.
of the next five hours, they broke up into small groups of 15-30 people and began to talk to each other. They talked about what had brought them there and what they felt should be done. They collected their stories and ideas and presented them to the other groups in the first General Assembly meeting of the Park that evening. Through this talking with and talking through, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was born.
The Democratic Space of Occupation Starting on January 25, 2011, hundreds of thousands of people from all over Egypt descended on one square in Cairo and, what’s more, decided to stay. As the state apparatus withdrew (though not before committing 800+ murders), upwards of a million people, left to their own devices, had to figure out how they would live together in a square in order to sustain a revolt aimed outside of it. The people of Tahrir organized and orchestrated their own security, dealt with human and regular waste, and opened and operated a kindergarten so that mothers with small children could come to the square. They converted a Hardees restaurant into a free kitchen, a Kentucky Fried Chicken into a free clinic, organized networks for digital and print information, set up a pharmacy, handled hired agitators, and protected each other’s religious practices. It was in this manner that Tahrir Square became something more than a central site where a million atomized and individuated Egyptians came together to protest their president. It became, through the life of the occupation, the stage on which the new Egyptian society was performed and presented. In their generosity, their tolerance, their humor, camaraderie, and song, the Egyptian people asserted their values and boundaries both to themselves and the whole world. A few months later, a similar restructuring of social space took place in Syntagma Square, the heart of the uprising in Greece. The people occupying the square instituted nightly General Assembly meetings, various subcommittees charged with food, protection, outreach, horticulture, information, tattoos, and media, creating plural spaces and redefining it daily. Yet perhaps even more telling has been the extreme detail the occupation paid to the structure of participation itself. In this respect, the minutes of the People’s Assembly of Syntagma make for fascinating reading as they illustrate how much attention has been devoted to the question how political and social life should be structured in the square: the ban on party and union insignia, the drawing of lots and time limits governing speech in the assembly, the coordination of meetings with public transit to assure greater participation, etc.
Over the course of the following weeks, Zuccotti Park became both a site of protest against the hegemony of the financial sector and a miniature of the just American society in which the occupiers believed. The permanent encampment became a thorny injunction to the ceaseless traffic of goods, people, and transactions that defined lower Manhattan. Its kinetic structure was not one of movement, but one of arrest. The occupation forced one to stop, and said: “Look at what we have set up here.” Nearly two months later, at 2am on November 15, hundreds of New York City riot police descended on the park, brutally evicted the occupation and threw into dump trucks their OWS’ material infrastructure: thousands of books from the People’s Library; 200 tents and mattresses; laptops; medical center and kitchen supplies; a water filtration system and many other items. To understand Occupy Wall Street and the other sites of global occupation, one needs to conceive that in these destroyed items lay the true significance of the occupation: They stand as the material objects of an organic society instituting itself in democratic fashion. Within two years, when large segments of the Turkish people had risen up against the ruling AKP government, the 2011 script had gone global. In the first week of June 2013, the actions taken by a coalition of activists against the destruction of a public park in central Istanbul spread to more than 60 cities and provinces, bringing several million people onto the streets. By June 8, the police had withdrawn from Taksim Square, leaving it at least temporarily in the hands of protesters. The protesters erected networks of makeshift barricades at 50 meter intervals along all major routes leading to the square. Within a week, Taksim and the adjacent Gezi Park became a “liberated zone”, a fragile oasis amidst the ongoing and increasingly violent clashes with police forces throughout much of Turkey. Inside, the resistors set up a people’s library; dozens of free food, blanket, and medical supply stations; LGBT and gender awareness tents; and areas for musical performances and political speech. For the religious holiday of Kandil, protesters set up alternate spaces for prayer and dance and invited all those in the square to find a stranger with differing political beliefs with whom to sit and chat. These spontaneous structures and initiatives that mushroomed amidst the ubiquitous graffiti and political banners offered a stark contrast to the scripted choreography and corporate
In the American Fall, similar scenes took place beginning on September 17, 2011, when an initial group of about 1,500 people gathered to occupy Wall Street. Having found the street symbolizing global finance capital heavily barricaded by the police, they marched up Manhattan’s financial district to Zuccotti Park. Instead of shouting and going home, those 1,500 humans all sat down. Over the course 15
Mehmet Döşemeci sponsorship of festivals previously organized by the municipal-capitalist alliance. More than an assertion of the right to the city, the self-organization of life in the square attests to the power of ordinary people to actively structure the social space itself. Following the brutal police assault that cleared Gezi a week later, dozens of local decentralized parliaments bloomed in the neighborhood parks of Turkey’s major cities, each holding nightly assembly meetings to discuss both local matters and their contribution to the national resistance. They organized free exchange days in the parks, a kilometer long communal iftar banquet laid on newspapers to break fast during Ramadan, and adapted models of direct democratic practice popularized by the occupations in Spain, Greece, and the United States.
understood that the hour has struck for them to save the situation by taking into their own hands the direction of public affairs.” The appropriation and re-determination of social relations forms a common thread across the global democratic divide. The occupations were just as much about setting up a new society as they were about criticizing the chains of the old one. Whether revolting against an authoritarian regime or a nominally democratic society that denied their existence, the occupiers of the world’s squares, through their very occupation, put into practice the democracy they believed should take its place. It is this communal and democratic re-organization of public life that presents the greatest threat to the world’s states, whether or not they are “democratic.” More than any slogan or protest, these communal occupations challenge the state’s self-nominated role to regulate the lives of human beings on earth. They have shown, not by their words but through their daily actions, that a cross-section of humans not only have no need for the state, but in fact they do a much better job of organizing life without it.
The Birth of the Democratic Subject There is no doubt that the Greeks, Egyptians, Americans, Spaniards, Tunisians, and Turks first occupied the public spaces of their urban centers to voice political opposition. As the days passed, however, people had to figure out how to live and act together inside a square in order to sustain a revolt outside of it. In these sometimes very quotidian decisions, they came to define themselves by how they occupied and existed together. This communal aspect of the occupations has gone almost completely unrecognized by the global mainstream media and governments. But it is in this aspect of the collective occupations of public space that democracy and revolution became conjoined. The journalist Fareed Zakaria expressed this interdependence and simultaneity of democracy and revolution when he tweeted “Tahrir Square is the only democratic place in Egypt right now. And I constantly go there just to experience this revolutionary freedom.” So too was this dual subjectivity (both revolutionary and democratic) evident in the powerful statement of a young Egyptian who was among the first to occupy the square, “Starting today, the 25th of January, I take charge of the affairs of my country.”
Enter the Police State Authoritarian states have not taken this challenge lightly. The 800+ plus murders committed by the Egyptian security forces unfortunately paled in comparison to the atrocities later carried out in Libya and Syria, respectively, by Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. Overt police brutality, by contrast, is usually the last resort of well-functioning liberal democratic regimes. It appears when the movies, the football rivalries, and the soul-deadening holiday music no longer suffice. Its entrance into the mainstream spotlight, in the United States, in Turkey, Greece, and Spain, is an indication that the urban occupations pose a fundamental challenge to representative democratic states and the clearest signal that its “soft” ideological apparatus is malfunctioning. If, for example, Occupy Wall Street could simply have been incorporated into the liberal democratic system, effectively absorbed by a slight left-ward shift in Democratic Party policy, there would have been no need for tear-gas, sonic cannons, and pepper-spray. Yet, within two months of the birth of OWS and over 1,000 sister occupations throughout the US, the federal government coordinated a collective assault on these democratic spaces. The FBI and the Bureau of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the mayors and police departments of over 18 cities, forcibly evicted every major occupation throughout the US. The same story has been repeated in the Northern Mediterranean democracies, the most recent being the crackdown in Turkey, where over 130,000 gas canisters were fired in the span of two weeks.
This same refrain heard countless times in Tahrir was repeated a few months later by the People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square, whose May resolution read as follows: “For a long time decisions have been made for us, without us. We are workers, unemployed, retirees, youth, who have come to Syntagma Square to fight and struggle for our lives and our future. We are here because we know that the solutions to our problems can come only from us. We call all residents of Athens to come to Syntagma Square, and all of society to fill the public squares and to take life into their own hands.” A resolution with striking affinity to the Declaration of the Central Committee of the 1871 Paris Commune, which proclaimed, “The proletarians of Paris, amidst the failures and treasons of the ruling classes, have 16
Don’t Move, Occupy! Social Movement vs. Social Arrest Coupled with this reappearance of an increasingly militarized police force on the streets of representative democracies has been the more shadowy infiltration and surveillance of non-violent “movements” by the intelligence apparatuses of these states. That the monitoring and entrapment of non-violent dissidents has been funded and conducted under the banner of counter-terrorism task forces is an even greater cause for alarm. These signs of an emergent police state within liberal democratic regimes (or more aptly: its passage from shadowed ghettos to front-page visibility) are the strongest testament to the novelty and latent strength of the 2011 uprisings. Though a sign of weakness, the state’s frontal assault on the global occupations has nevertheless been effective. Despite the new slogan of OWS following the evictions — “You Can’t Evict an Idea!” — there is no denying that the police actions have been a severe setback. By dismantling their physical space, the state has in effect transformed the manifestation of direct democracy from the reality of the occupations to a homeless “idea”, an “idea” wandering through online forums and materializing in sporadic actions. That is to say, the evictions of the protesters from urban squares transformed these uprisings from a permanent occupation predicated on the logic of arrest to the ephemeral tactics of collection and dispersal predicated on a logic of movement.
Yet there is also no denying that almost all of these uprisings have ended in failure. The urban occupations have been dismantled and the aims of the occupiers have either been largely ignored (representative democracies), brutally suppressed (Libya, Syria), or their victories shown to be premature (Egypt). Nevertheless there are signs for hope. Contacts between the global occupations, formed during the height of the uprisings, have persisted after their evictions. The common form of these occupations has allowed participants not only the opportunity to escape their individual isolation by talking and acting collectively, but more importantly, to draw connections across national grammars of discontent. There is an increasing recognition, evident in the many instances of Brazilian-Turkish solidarity, that people are engaged in a common global struggle. These connections have also drawn attention to the increasingly international nature of an emerging global police apparatus, encapsulated so perfectly by the photograph of a “made in Brazil” teargas canister used by riot police in Istanbul, with its bitter irony sending it viral on Turkish and Brazilian social media. Whether these connections will be enough to dislodge future occupations from their national contexts towards a global uprising against the neo-liberal order and its police must remain a speculative question. One thing, however, is certain: the 2011 uprisings that began in North Africa have already resonated across the world’s democratic and income divides, forging connections between people and their circumstances that have not been made since the 1970s.
Towards A Global Script Regardless of their final present political fate, the global uprisings since 2011 have already established mass continuous occupation of public space as the dominant form of political struggle in the early 21st century: the coming together of people who have both withdrawn their consent to be governed by the existing order and, equally importantly, discovered the responsibility, dignity, difficulty, and — above all — joy of instituting a society outside of it. In so doing, they have challenged the periodization that separated a mass political uprising from the democracy that may follow it. The common feature of all these occupations was the creation of democratic forms within the space and time of the uprising itself. This was made possible not through a politics predicated on movement, but rather one of arrest, of occupation, in order to create sites for the collective restructuring of social relations and space.
When a dozen activists took a stand against building machinery in defense of the trees in the Istanbul’s Gezi Park on May 27, 2013, no one knew that this small action would mark the beginning of a national uprising. While the occupation of the park was merely planned as a rescue mission by a handful of environmentalists, the first clearing by the police provoked a mobilization that later led tens of thousands to return to the park and occupy the neighboring Taksim Square. In the following days, a collective field of experimentation for solidarity and a communal form of socialization spontaneously unfolded; in the grand tradition of the Paris Commune, the Gezi Commune was born. In nearly every city across the country, hundreds of thousands took the streets to express their solidarity with Gezi and to protest the injustices of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which had governed the country for over a decade.
space according to neoliberal parameters and at the same time serve to produce the marketable image of an ascending and prospering nation. For example, the planned replica of an Ottoman-era barracks, whose architecture was to be referenced in the shopping mall, was not chosen randomly, but was meant to conjure identification with the government‘s goal to regain an air of Ottoman splendor.
Through massive police action that left thousands of protesters severely injured and several dead, the government eventually forced a complete eviction from the park. Yet they couldn‘t prevent the rise of a robust grassroots movement that mobilized against the neoliberal-authoritarian governmental practices of the AKP and later, bolstered by the experiences of the uprising, developed a complex network of solidarity organizations.
Defense and Counteroffensive
At the same time, the action was directed against those population groups that felt threatened by this development. The shift of the conflict around the contested new building to a level of ideological tension was intended to distract from deep socio-economic cleavages. For, in reality, the privatization of the public park benefits only the investors and serves only those with the requisite purchasing power to shop there.
The occupation of Gezi Park pushed the people’s discontent with the AKP’s development model into the national and international spotlight. In contrast to many Occupy actions in the last few years, such as the Occupy encampment in front of the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt/Main, this occupation was not merely a symbolic act, but also a tactical defensive strategy against expropriation through privatization. The park is one of the few places in Istanbul‘s city center where one may dwell without pressure to consume. The public green, shaded by trees, offers respite from the hot periods of the year and provides a place to rest amidst the bustle of the urban space of capital. The persistence of the insurgents silenced the government‘s grandiose proclamations that the redevelopment of the park would continue at any cost. This was undoubtedly an accomplishment, but considering the persistence of the political scheme for massive privatization of Turkey, only a small reprieve.
Expropriation, Control and Divide The government’s plan for the construction of a shopping mall on the grounds of Gezi Park stands in line with a development model that has been successfully taking over Turkey since the 1980s. Indicators of this model include the advancing dispossession of public goods and communal property, as well as the expansion of a consumer-oriented capitalist lifestyle. The model is manifested in the dramatic expansion of construction activities that increasingly organize the social 19
The Gezi Commune — Experiences of an Uprising was realized in the broad rejection of nationalist practices and a critical reflection, fostered by feminist groups, on the patriarchal tendencies of traditional protest culture. This practice of solidary and (de)constructive criticism marks an incision in the battle of identities fomented by the government.
to the fact that this so-called advancement is implemented without any degree of consideration for humanity. The funeral ceremony of one of the victims, for whom the government spared no sympathy, will most likely go down in history as an extraordinary paradigm of collective grief. In the small Mediterranean town of Antakya, thousands of mourners formed a twenty-kilometer human chain, passing a rose from hand to hand from a garden to the burial site of the deceased. Such deep bonds were formed in the throes of the uprising.
Single acts of solidarity supported insightful forms of selfempowerment and self-organization during brutal police onslaughts. Despite short-term successes, the barricades didn‘t provide a real defense against the sheer might of the government. Instead, they became the moral pillar of the uprising and united disparate groups of actors beyond established differences. A photograph of two demonstrators, which quickly became famous, epitomizes this new synergy: a young female protester with a Turkish flag escapes from a gas attack by the police hand-in-hand with a demonstrator carrying a Kurdish flag. The deeply ingrained national separation between Kurds and Turks was momentarily suspended in this simple gesture.
PM Erdogş ˘an‘s self appointed victory in Gezi Park, in: PENGUEN #561, by Cem Dinlenmis, www.cemdinlenmis.com
alization. Just as the caricature deconstructed the demonstration of power to the symbolic level of bravado, the insurgents succeeded in breaking the dominance of the AKP as the sole political power on a virtual level.
A far-reaching achievement lay in the recognition that the recipe of the AKP’s success could be deciphered and unraveled. The use of satirical cartoons and slogans became a widely adopted frame through which to critique power and spread alternative messaging. During the uprising, Erdoşg ˘an regurgitated belittling statements on the insignificance of the insurgents in contrast to the power of the government. A clever caricature depicting Prime Minister Erdoşg ˘an in a desperate bid to regain the power of initiative in the face of the occupation of the park boldly illustrates the crux of the issue at hand. The caricature deconstructs the staging of power and unveils its absurdity. It depicts Erdoşg˘an in Gezi Park, rabidly claiming that he can do everything bigger, better and faster than the demonstrators. Issues of environmental protection? Erdoşg ˘an is the most sincere environmentalist! Protection of the trees? Erdoşg ˘an plants more trees than any who have come before him! Mobilization? Nobody mobilizes as well as he does! There is insurgency everywhere? Erdoşg ˘an is everywhere!
Thus, the strength of their movement lay in the fact that they didn’t resign themselves to simply postulating demands and postponing alternatives to an indefinite future, but rather set out to effect its immediate implementation. The Gezi Park uprising brought forth a communal practice and mediated the possibility of an alternative form of socialization. Personal and collective investment in communal space (for example collective cleanup operations and an exploration of their history) and de-commercialization (free food provisions and the construction of a freely accessible infrastructure including a library and city garden) were immediately directed against capitalist expropriation and expressed the longing for a co-existence free of commercial constraints and class restrictions. Self-empowerment was encouraged and actualized in the square through the foundation of direct-democratic mechanisms of decision-making, the establishment of a Speakers Corner and the rejection of centralized representational structures. In Taksim Square, a libertarian dynamic emerged, fostering collective awareness of the mechanisms of separatism and suppression. This mindset
Appropriation, Empowerment and Close Ranks The insurgents demonstrated an alternative practice to Erdogş˘an’s mandate for growth and the means of its actu20
What remains? The movement reinvented itself after its shattering in Taksim Square. Once again, Çarşı initiated the call to hold decentralized meetings in the city’s parks. Over a period of weeks and months, public assemblies took place debating how the resistance against authoritarian expropriation politics would continue. The assemblies strengthened the infrastructure of a solidary network for future activities. Places of refuge organized through direct democracy were established, fermenting a collective district culture that organized communal activities such as the planting of collective gardens and shelters and the care of street animals. These assemblies enabled the continuation of exchange and offered a platform for different social groups to broach concerns on a broader level than ever before possible. The solidarity on the barricades that bridged the existing political and ideological differences between the protesters could be continued and intensified in the city parks.
Not to be forgotten are Çarşı, the organized football fans of the Istanbul club Beşiktaş, who took the streets, inventing inspirational slogans, chanting in a buoyant yet assertive manner, and rousing the people from their homes and into the streets. Their determined actions bridged some delicate situations during police ambushes, bolstering the demonstrators’ capability to persevere. During one clash, Çarşı commandeered a bulldozer, which they used to run down a TOMA armored water cannon (translated as Vehicle of Intervention in Public Incidents), which eventually had to surrender. They christened the liberated bulldozer “POMA” (translated as Vehicle of Intervention in Police Incidents).
Even though the dynamic of the parks has waned and the group has quieted, a Gezi ghost continues to haunt the country, reminding the people of the experiences of the uprising and societal opposition to disruptive and authoritarian politics. It remains to be seen whether these experiences can be processed in such a way that an efficacious alternative to the neoliberal-authoritarian power dynamic will develop. What is certain is that the experience of Gezi — communal learning through the collective re-appropriation of a public space — has opened new potentialities and spaces of political action for many. Thus, Gezi’s emphasis on direct-democratic organization and unequivocal solidarity is worth holding in high esteem as a serious challenge to the arrogantly superior belief of the AKP that they hold a mandate to control the lives and future of the Turkish people.
Even after the brutal crackdown and seemingly disastrous defeat, the insurgency re-invented itself in a new form. When every possibility for collective protest was suppressed by the police force, suddenly a new form of action surfaced: The standing Man. In the beginning, this form of demonstration consisted of a single man standing in the middle of Taksim Square, staring into open space. The police and the government didn’t know how to react to this silent and passive protest. This autonomous action was soon replicated by others who took a stand beside him. With this form of demonstration, the government’s escalation strategy was to no avail. Once again, the government’s reaction illustrated the ideological challenge at hand. They interpreted the symbolic „standing man“ as a desire to bring the nation to a standstill, a counter to the restless advancement postulated as the motto of the AKP. The thousands of victims of police brutality, including six demonstrators killed, bear witness 21
Raquel Gómez Ambrosio
This is the story of the Indignados revolution. The story of how a society learned that it could solve its problems better than any politician or economic oligarch. And, most importantly, it is the story of its victory.
September 2007, Madrid: When asked about the housing crisis in the US, former Prime Minister Zapatero answered: “Spain plays in the Champions League of the world economy”. It was the 11th of September and the beginning of the complete de-legitimization of both the political and business classes in Spain. At that point, while people were struggling to reach the end of the month and to pay off their debts, politicians and the media were stoking the myth of meteoric economic growth: Spain as the ninth economic world power — almost a miracle! The socialist prime minister was reelected, but shortly thereafter the bubble blew up and the miracle vanished into the nothing it had come out of.
The revolution 2.0 In Spain, the real estate bubble exploded in a very similar way to the American one. At this time, it was easier to get a loan in order to buy a house than to rent a flat at a reasonable price. But suddenly, in 2011, the rollercoaster stopped rolling. Banks, which had been gambling with loans and credits for decades, decided from one day to the next to become more “social”. Thus, they asked the state for cash.
In less than 24 hours they received their first money injection: around 30 billion euro. At the same time, they severely cut the flow of credit on which many businesses and families depended. As a consequence, thousands of small businesses had to close and the unemployment rate rose from 8 to 26 percent in only four years. By then, many people realized that if someone was playing in the Champions League, it was definitely not them. The “crisis” began. And it was followed by the largest uprising in Spain’s recent history. In May 2011, days before the local elections, thousands of people took the streets and shouted “Lo llaman democracia y no lo es!” (“They call it democracy but it ain‘t!”). The government, far from listening to the protests, declared them illegal for disturbing the “democratic normality”. What a symptomatic response. Almost needless to say, this reaction widened the gap between society and politicians even more — and gave birth what would become known as the Indignados movement.
Raquel Gómez Ambrosio A New Form of Organizing
lar, the draconian law targets demonstrations that “disrupt electoral processes” or take place in front of strategic government buildings, but the dissemination of pictures of policemen is also heavily fined.
Instead of going home, the people started to organize themselves in urban camps. The largest of those camps were built in the main squares of Madrid and Barcelona. With the help of social networks, the news spread in minutes. Citizens of all kinds would come by the camps to bring the Indignados food, drinks, mattresses, plastics to build their tents, kitchen utensils, electric generators and so on. On May 15, a new hope for revolution was born. Inspired by the Arab uprisings, the idea of toppling non-democratic regimes and creating a different future from the bottomup went viral. People from all over the world began to follow this flow, and, through the Occupy movement, the dynamic became something truly global.
This blunt assault on fundamental civil rights is not only a carte blanche for the police apparatus to crack down on any peaceful protest gathering, but also a long-term strategy to criminalize all those who oppose the politics of austerity and impoverishment. Needless to say, the official reading of the bill is the exact opposite: According to Prime Minister Rajoy, the law “guarantees freedom and will have the support of a majority of Spaniards.” And war is peace, freedom is slavery…you know the rest.
Los Indignados — Radical Transformation in Real Time king group that handled the case — lawyers, economists and journalists — he was sued and brought to court to face charges. The first hearing took place in December 2012, and the procedures continue to this day. While I write these lines, the legal team of “15M pa Rato” continues to collect evidence and will present the accusations at trial.
mobilization and direct action. In 2011, many people joined the PAH through 15M and the neighborhood assemblies, which helped launch over 200 PAH groups across the country. The platform organizes mass actions of civil disobedience that prevent the state from evicting people from their homes. The technique is simple: a crowd of people blocks the entrance of the house that is to be evicted and prevents the policemen and bailiff from entering to implement the eviction. When critical mass is achieved and the action successful, the eviction is either postponed or canceled. Sometimes, even firefighters and locksmiths, who are supposed to seal the eviction by changing the locks, join the crowd, which makes a successful eviction nearly impossible. To this day, the platform has prevented almost 1,000 evictions.
It was interesting to see how the whole process, which included many actions and a highly diversified working structure, was organized without a hierarchical command structure — let alone by any profit-driven action — but on the basis of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. People learned in practice what it means to act collectively and to reach a common goal without being controlled by the logic of state and capital.
Developments Within the Movement What made the movement so popular in the so-called developed world was the fact that the majority of the citizens, namely the lower and middle classes, were fed up with the system they were living in. The tactics, strategies and organizational forms that characterized the movement and that, by some observers, were considered “revolutionary”, are in fact nothing extravagant. They are based on a fundamental trust in the power of the people to self-organize, collective intelligence, horizontal structure, decentralized networks and non-violence. Following these principles, in the first days of the movement a multiplicity of working groups emerged and general assemblies were held all over Spain. In these assemblies, everyone had the right to speak and proposals were discussed on a consensus-oriented basis. Mobilization tools and actions ranged from simple five-minute flashmobs to legal interventions and mass actions of civil disobedience.
But as the increasing state repression is clearly a sign of fear, a popular uprising like the Indignados movement cannot be silenced in the long run. On the contrary, the movement becomes more mature every day: Actions are more elaborate, assemblies more professional; people are less naïve, more aware, and, despite these new laws, less scared. The experience in the squares — that people can actually produce change when they organize themselves — is impossible to suppress. After two years, a vast human network has been built that is carrying on actions on a different level and that can be reactivated to take the streets again when the time has come. No one knows how big this net is, nor who is part of it, as there is no spider and no center to identify. It connects people from different social backgrounds, generations and countries. And, most importantly, it is organized horizontally.
Bringing the Police State Back In It‘s worth noting that at the same rate that the Indignados movement — or 15M, named for its date of birth — was on the rise, new laws were being passed in order to contain it. The state apparatus understood the message that not only “greedy banksters” were the targets of the revolt, but the very foundations of our politico-economic order as well.
Grassroots Organizing and Direct Action
Nowadays, laws in Spain can be compared to those in place under the dictatorship of Generalísimo Franco. In October 2013, a new set of laws was passed for the city of Madrid that, according to an analysis by the British daily newspaper The Independent, is more restrictive and repressive than the laws during the ‘60s. The anti-protest bill — which officially goes by the name “Citizens Security Law”, but has been labeled “Kick in the Teeth Law” by civil rights activists — sets penalties of up to 600,000 euro for “unauthorized” street protests and up to 30,000 euro for offences such as burning the national flag. In particu-
“15M pa Rato”1: Experiments in horizontal collectivity Combining crowd-sourced funding techniques with a series of legal interventions, “15M pa Rato” was initiated to bring the former president of the bankrupt bank Bankia, Rodrigo Rato, to court. Rato managed to drive the institution into bankruptcy and, despite the many irregularities during his administration, still receive a 2 million euro pay-off. Thanks to the movement’s network and to a special wor-
A vast array of actions, assemblies and working groups has been established since 2011. The following three examples mirror the multiplicity of the movement’s experiments in collective action:
Untranslatable pun that means in Spanish both “15M is out to get Rodrigo
Rato” and “15M is here to stay”.
“Yo no pago”: A lesson in civil disobedience The “Yo no pago” (“I don’t pay”) campaign operated on two fronts. It first took place on the highways of Catalonia, where people protested against high tolls by blockading the tollgates. The action proved to be very effective and the tollgates were left open many times to assuage the huge traffic jams created by the disobedient drivers. Initially, the company showed some willingness to negotiate, but this was just a strategy to win some time. In January 2013, the law was changed in order to fine these drivers.
In October 2013, the platform occupied an empty block of flats with several homeless families in the city of Salt. The flats, owned by a “bad bank”, were to be immediately evicted, but a legal intervention by PAH at the European Court of Human Rights stopped the eviction. The court mandated that the government clarify how they would preserve the human rights of the 43 inhabitants in the case of an eviction. In a society where more and more people are living on the streets while more and more houses are empty due to “inefficiency” and a “meager rate of return”, this campaign strikes at the very core of Spain’s power structure. Recent polls show that PAH is supported by almost ninety percent of the Spanish population. In 2013, the PAH won the “European Citizens of the Year” prize awarded by the European Parliament to “honor exceptional Europeans”. This generated a huge scandal among the political class and the most reactionary sectors of the society who usually compare the PAH to the “terrorist group” ETA.
On other occasions, the movement invited fellow citizens to practice civil disobedience when using public transportation by simply not paying. After a fifty percent fare increase in January 2012, hundreds of people slipped into the subway system without paying, an action that was synchronized with similar actions in Greece and Sweden. Though provoking some arrests, it received the attention of the public and twice as many people joined the subsequent actions. The other front of the “Yo no pago” platform targets pharmacies in Catalonia and Madrid, where, as of 2012, every prescription purchased was subject to a one euro tax. Again, the strategy was to create pressure through sheer numbers, leading to an untenable situation where the pharmacies ran out of letters of complaint and had to deliver the medicines “untaxed”. Through these actions, the case was eventually brought to the constitutional court, which decided to suspend this tax, at least temporarily. The fun part of the story is that the Spanish government itself went to court, probably to pretend that they were on the side of the people.
Epilogue The 15M experience taught us, among many other things, that a radically transformative practice can not only be successful, but can also receive spectacular support from large sectors of society. The key concept that helps one to understand this synergy of transformation and critical mass is horizontality: through organizing from the bottom-up, including people in the decision-making process and focusing on their needs, a radical practice can evolve that transcends the realms of state and capital and activates the so-called ordinary people.
“PAH”: De-commodifying housing rights The “Anti-Eviction Platform” (“Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca”, or PAH) was formed in 2009 and responds to the capitalist housing crisis through grassroots 25
Krytyka Polityczna: The exhibition global aCtIVISm is exploring the overlapping dimensions of art and activism. How is art related to political activism in your own biography?
an artist and activist who has been involved in Occupy Wall Street and
Tal Beery: I came into activism and art through pedagogy. A few years ago, I was living in a commune and together we founded an educational organization that ran democratic educational programs for youth. I came to art through the understanding that we can change the very basic vocabulary or terms of conversations that youth were having. By creating new frames of reference, we could give them visions of how things could be.
Occupy Museums, an OWS offshoot.
KP: So you are not the type of art-activist that became an activist through a moment of political awakening, but an activist who, at a certain point, discovered the potential of art to transform the political? Tal: Exactly. If art takes the form of a political tool, its unique potential lies in its power to change the basic coordinates of how we understand our environment. The role of the symbol is very important. Art as a tool can produce a specific type of social practice, a politically engaged art to elicit certain responses from other people, or an artistic gesture that transforms the setting of a conversation.
KP: What tools — artistic or not — characterize the global protest cycle that began in 2011? Tal: The revolutionary movements that erupted in 2011 were struggling for a real democracy, at a time when the so-called Western democracies are trending toward an oligarchy of the wealthy. The Arab Spring, the Indignados and Occupy were trying to imagine a future when people’s voices would be included in decision-making processes by creating horizontal structures where they would take the decisions themselves. Based on his very general idea, the 26
Tal Beery movements of the squares became a huge ground for experimentation with new democratic aesthetics. All sorts of gestures and environments were created, and activists made various other aesthetic choices to symbolize and facilitate their processes. We took many different tools from other movements, which helped us to make decisions by consensus and really get to a place of direct democracy. For Occupy Wall Street it was the cardboard signs, the hand signals, and the tents became symbols for a radical politics. What excited me most was that everybody took very seriously the notion that if we want to change something in outside we have to change our own interactions. An autocratic or profit-driven movement for real democracy is a contradiction in terms.
opportunities for creativity. Occupy Museums has used a variety of tactics over the last two years. In the broadest terms, the tactics come down to a sort of hacking — how we can manipulate institutional logic to use the resources and influence of conventional institutions and further a truly radical agenda. We must clearly identify our options. For instance, when we negotiate a contract, we can challenge the notion of exclusive rights of image reproduction, or the authorship of the artist; we can find ways how to channel money to radical political organizations; or try to link our creative projects to ongoing political struggles and generate more press attention for the cause which is basically the questions if we can use the visibility of the arts to enact real political change.
KP: How can art be an effective tool for a movement that mainly promotes a practical critique of representative democracy and global capitalism?
KP: Transforming existing institutions is only one part of the revolution business. One of Occupy’s main concerns was to build new social infrastructures that open up an alternative space of society.
Tal: Capitalism and global finances are mirrored in the sphere of art and culture. When I was working with Occupy Museums, we took the fight to the museums to illustrate that capitalism is very much present in our culture and our cultural institutions. It was a good move because it really caught people’s attention.
Tal: Transforming institutions and creating new revolutionary structures are equally important. Occupy Wall Street actually focused on the latter. An excellent example for this was when Hurricane Sandy struck in New York in October 2012, where the movement reacted immediately with a tremendous effort for a hurricane relief. This really showed people that we could start doing deep transformative work on the ground without getting the kind of media support we were getting in Zucotti Park.
KP: Occupying a museum is a more violent act than changing it from the inside. Nevertheless, it is not easy to transform an institution without interacting with it.
KP: How did the movement organize an action of this dimension?
Tal: This is why we have to focus on transforming these symbolic institutions, to show that it is possible to build institutions that are organized democratically, even horizontally. In our Winter Camp project at the CCA Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, we are currently developing the tools for institutional transformation. I don’t think we had those tools during Occupy. We have neglected to consider ways to interface with and transform institutions that already exist.
Tal: Occupy Sandy was a major grassroots disaster relief operation. As soon as “Superstorm Sandy” hit New York City, the Occupy networks were activated to share information about safety and the progress of the storm. It started as #occupysandy on Twitter, which helped to organize information about volunteering and relief operations in the wake of the storm. When it became clear that government disaster relief operations would not be available or effective for far too long, Occupy Sandy started to organize donations of actual goods — food, blankets, shelter, clothes, and more — in the communities hardest hit by the storm. About a week after the storm, the movement organized tens of thousands of volunteers and a number of storage facilities. Volunteers would come in and out of the major relief hubs assigned with specific tasks. They helped in everything from mold remediation, feeding and caring for the elderly, general clean up, legal services and so on — everything the government should have provided but didn’t. These were neighbors helping neighbors — an entire relief response based on solidarity — it was beautiful. Alongside the relief effort, Occupy Sandy activists worked
KP: Which tools proved effective to transform an institution? Tal: The tools for institutional transformation come from experimentation and need constantly to be refined. We are learning to take the time to investigate the complex systems that define each institution’s operations, and to develop a unique strategy for each case. We realized that have more agency when presenting ourselves as an institution based on revolutionary values instead of as a collection of individuals. These collaborations, between conventional institutions and radical ones, inevitably result in a conflict of institutional cultures, which becomes visible in contract negotiations, mutual expectations, meeting agendas and aesthetics. But these conflicts can be productive; they are 28
“A large collection of small wins” with neighborhood residents to organize against disaster capitalist responses, and instead to use the destruction as an opportunity for building more stable, resilient, and supportive communities. The Sandy operation was a result of the networks built during Occupy Wall Street, and Occupy Sandy itself resulted in a broadening of those networks to include even more opportunities for resistance and political organizing.
vast network of activists has been established since 2011, which connects many different political groups, organizations and independent activists. Moreover, Occupy Wall Street has been inspiring a lot of people who were not politically active before.
KP: That doesn’t sound depressing at all. Tal: Well, on the other hand, the world did get a little worse. Real change will only happen slowly. If you look across the board at some recent successes in the U.S. that we did achieve, I think we’re doing very well. For example, we stopped many major pipeline projects in the US like Keystone XL and Enbridge…for now. These were real successes on the ground — a large collection of small wins. But in terms of the national and global level, we haven’t seen much change in our economic system. We were hoping to see that at least some of the bankers who drove us into the bailout and took down the economy were held accountable; that politics would be less dependent on the decisions of the wealthy; and that our political system would become a little more democratic. But it did not happen. The policies that nearly dragged us into a global economic catastrophe are carried on, including all the negative effects they have on people’s living conditions.
KP: What is global solidarity: a power effect, a strategy or a political ideology? Why do we need solidarity? Tal: Apart from the solidarity structures on the local level I just mentioned, global solidarity is important because many of our problems are global. When we were in Zuccotti Park, it was really energizing to attend a general assembly and to meet people from Germany, Turkey or India who came to support the process. On one level, you can describe it as the gaze of the supportive Other, when somebody from outside your community is recognizing the important work you are doing in your community. In this respect, global solidarity is an extremely energizing power.
KP: Globality is nothing you can see. It is a question of “knowledge”, and created through political agendas and social practices of people connecting each other.
KP: Are you currently planning actions or preparing events? Tal: I agree. This is why the experience of Zucotti Park was crucial for many people: You meet people from different countries who are confronted with similar problems at home. And all of a sudden you realize that the struggle you are experiencing on the local level is so deeply linked to other struggles on the planet. The struggle is truly global, albeit with many local differences. This is the other — somehow darker — side of the coin: Global capitalism is a homogenizing force that affects us all, in one way or another. There are powerful economic institutions that substantially change the political structures and economies of entire societies. This is why we have to react on a global level, too. Moreover, the current form of imperialism is far more pernicious than it has ever been. Billions of people worldwide are suffering because of this. It is a very sad development.
Tal: The movement is still very active, and I can only mention a fraction of the activities that are currently organized. For example, we, as Occupy Museums, have launched the DebtFair, a series of experimental market-actions meant to turn commercial art fairs and auctions like Frieze New York and Sotheby‘s on their heads. A friend from Occupy is working on The Wildfire Project which trains, supports, and networks grassroots groups to help build a broad movement for political, economic, and ecological justice. Using democratic, experiential methods, it fuses political education, skills training, group development, and direct organizing support. Arts and Labor is an Occupy working group that explores new methods of sustaining the livelihood of artists, artworkers, and other low-income populations. They research ways how ideas — like the commons and solidarity economies — can nurture more sustainable art worlds and encourage relationships based on mutual aid rather than competition.
KP: Acknowledging the fact that measuring the success or failure of a social movement somehow misses the point, what where the achievements of Occupy Wall Street since 2011? Did the world change? Tal: I’m afraid I have a rather depressing answer. The world got worse and it got better in the last three years. It got better because we had this moment of democratic awakening that is still scaring the 1%. Also, there are so many connections we have made through these movements. A 29
Youness Belghazi and Hadeer Elmahdawy
A conversation with Youness Belghazi, a Moroccan filmmaker and activist involved in the February 20 Movement, and Hadeer Elmahdawy, an Egyptian journalist and MA researcher, who took part in activities before and during the Tahrir revolution.
Youness Belghazi and Hadeer Elmahdawy Krytyka Polityczna: Not long ago, almost everyone involved in thinking about global politics observed the social eruptions in the Arab world with great interest. Following these events, revolutionary movements popped up on every continent of the planet announcing their inspiration from the Arab revolutions. Today, three years later, these movements seem to have been silenced. Is the Arab Spring still going on?
Youness: Arab societies were never used to this kind of social dynamic or to revolutionary situation. So I think it is unrealistic to expect a quick transformation, especially if we are talking about institutional change. Hadeer: Besides, we also have to talk about the cultural achievements of the uprising. For instance, the word “protest” plays a completely different role in daily conversations and public language now. It is a lot easier for someone to protest because the concept has become normal. The culture of protest that was born in the Arab Spring has spread to many societies, from Tunisia, to Egypt, to Syria, to Libya, and even to Europe and the US. This is a great achievement.
Hadeer Elmahdawy: It is getting complicated now because it is easier to agree on removing authoritarian regimes than it is to agree on alternatives. In Egypt, for instance, we now have two competing forces — the military and the Islamists — striving for power, and you can’t really support either of them, so you keep your distance and just observe. There are few things you can do now because it is a very serious conflict.
KP: But is the spirit still there, after all the repression the state has exerted? State repression is not limited to physical violence or the blocking of political opposition; it also aims to suppress the revolutionary spirit, intimidating the people and crushing their hopes that change is possible.
Youness Belghazi: I don’t think that the Arab Spring is over. It is not an event that began and ended at certain points. It is rather something that continues inside the society in a different way. There is still a lot happening inside the country, just on a smaller scale and more subtly. The mainstream media certainly doesn‘t show as many images as at the beginning. But when you are there you can feel that there are a lot of things changing.
Youness: If we‘re talking about the globally spreading culture of protest, I think we also have to talk about the culture of counter-resistance passing from one regime to the other. Sadly, we can witness the domino effect also on the side of the regimes. For example, the regime in Morocco learned from the regime in Egypt not to repeat the same mistakes. So I think it‘s more than intimidation, more than repression, rather a shared experience between dictatorial regimes in all Arab countries. In Morocco we also experienced a time of big protests. But as they started only in February 2011, after the Egyptians had already brought down Mubarak, it was easy for the Moroccan King to learn from Mubarak’s mistakes. Instead of confronting the media, he sought dialogue with them, and he didn’t censor Facebook and Twitter. That was a clever move. So the networking is not only between activists but also between regimes. And they have more tools than we do.
KP: The Tahrir movement spectacularly, and in a very short time frame, achieved the overthrow and subsequent imprisonment of Mubarak. For quite a while it seemed that many things were possible in Egypt, that the country could go in previously unthinkable directions. Even the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that was criminalized and suppressed by the regime for decades, had the opportunity to attempt to shrink the power of the military. In summer 2013, this move completely failed. In a bloodless coup, the generals dissolved the Morsi government, brutally cracked down on protests organized by supporters, and imprisoned senior leaders of the Brotherhood. In retrospect, was there too much focus in the Tahrir movement on getting rid of Mubarak instead of the whole regime?
Hadeer: Or they support allied regimes in suppressing uprisings to prevent the transfer of the revolution to their country. This happened in Bahrain, for instance, where the Saudi-Arabian military played a crucial role in the crackdown on Bahraini protesters.
Hadeer: The Egyptian political system is dominated by a “deep state”, as for example in Turkey. We are confronted with a very old and bureaucratic state and almost an organic connection between the military and the economic elite. Changing these institutions is not an easy task. Still, I don’t think that it‘s finished. It is a dynamic process. The only assurance for the revolutionaries is to stay awake and to confront any regressive developments that occur. The Muslim Brotherhood and the military are somehow both part of the old regime. The fight against both is now a part of the revolution that, in some sense, continues. So the movement’s focus has been also changed by the events, you cannot choose it independently of them.
KP: Not to forget the German regime selling small arms and tanks to Saudi Arabia. Hadeer: Or the US sending tear gas and arms to the Egyptian military, which they used against the protesters. It is a global network whose members support each other.
“Arab Spring is not over, but continues in a different way” KP: The “deep states” collaborate.
KP: …which is exactly the idea behind a black bloc: It was not designed as an aggressive force, but as a means of self-defense. What was the experience with the Egyptian black bloc?
Hadeer: Sadly true. Finally, the viral nature of the revolutionary spirit also has a reverse effect. The domino effect stopped in Syria, where the revolution was transformed into a civil war by the regime. Of course, this was also disappointing for all the other movements and their own prospects for change.
Hadeer: It was formed during the protests, but it was not so effective. The regime targeted it very harshly, so after a while it disappeared. Youness: I don‘t consider it a non-pacific movement. For me a non-pacific movement is a movement that is organized to fight the police. But if there are a bunch of people at Tahrir square, from Ultras or from the black bloc, who are trying to defend the square in order to liberate political prisoners or to reclaim the space, this doesn’t make it a non-pacific movement. The majority of the people have still opted for non-violence. It is a bit like the Zapatistas: Everyone in the world calls them a military movement, but how many times have they used their weapons?! It is an autonomous movement that defends its space.
KP: What were the specific tactics or tools with which the movements countered the increasing oppression? Youness: As they were, with some exceptions, mostly pacific movements, it was difficult to deal with repression by the police or the army. In Morocco, we stated clearly that we were not against the police, and that we knew that it was being used by the regime to send us messages. So we opted for techniques to organize the protests without confronting the police and to be visible in the public differently. Sometimes, it was even funny to go to the police and give them flowers, for example.
KP: What is the difference between the Moroccan movement and the Egyptian movement in terms of tools, tactics, and in terms of how they organized protests?
Hadeer: We did the same in Egypt. It‘s provocative… Youness: It‘s provocative and at the same time we gave a very intelligent message that we didn’t want a confrontation.
Youness: There are a lot of differences between the Egyptian and Moroccan experience, beginning with the nature of the systems. Egypt is a republic where Mubarak had held power for over 40 years, whereas Morocco is a monarchy, an institution that has been holding power for more than 12 centuries now. So we are talking about a much older institution and practice of the regime. The king has a lot of popularity so even the part of the population that is fed up doesn’t realize that the king is one of the main problems in Morocco. Furthermore, when we talk about the protests in Morocco we predominantly talk about “movements”, not about the whole population participating in the protests. For sure, in Egypt there is the April 6 Youth Movement and the Kefaya movement. But, after January 25, everybody was talking about “the people” making the revolution. In Morocco we still talk about the February 20 movement, which is just a small social movement that doesn’t represent the population. Of course politicians and the media also try to promote this kind of propaganda in order to isolate movements from the population and to say they are just elitists.
KP: And if flowers don’t work anymore because the water cannon is approaching? Hadeer: Of course, in the situation of a confrontation on the street, this doesn’t help against the tear gas and the rubber bullets. There are other, more direct, ways to react to them. Youness: But at the same time we were not opting for a kind of black bloc resistance against the police, because we are not fighting against the police, but against the regime. If we fight the police they send the army, and if not the army, then they send the mercenaries. So I think it is more clever to react passively.
KP: In Egypt, there were serious clashes between the people and both the police and the army, and not only on the streets: During the course of events hundreds of police stations were attacked and set on fire. Was this still pacific protest?
Hadeer: In terms of movement tactics, you can observe many similarities, whether in Egypt, the US, or in Greece. The idea of occupying public squares is central to all these protest movements, as is the intense use of social networks for disseminating information, mobilizing people and coordinating actions. Moreover, they share some common problems, like lack of leadership and organization. After all, most of them are anti-capitalist, which I consider the
Hadeer: But there was no violence. We were confronted by armed forces and we had to defend our square. We used rocks, Molotov cocktails and other things which were not violence, but just a means to protect the square…
Youness Belghazi and Hadeer Elmahdawy core of the movements. In Egypt, it is not articulated that clearly, but the primary issues are of economic exploitation and other injustices produced by global capitalism.
protesters were very quick to react to this new situation, and recruited taxi drivers to go downtown in order to give people free rides to Taksim square. This was very inspiring, to see how people get into solidarity. In Tunisia, I learned what important role rap songs played to mobilize people. It is a very basic tactic there to organize protests. There are always a couple of rappers with them on demonstrations.
KP: How were tactics shared? Hadeer: When we started our protests at Tahrir square, the Tunisian activists quickly started to post advice on how to avoid tear gas and how to escape from police forces. They sent us instructions on the use of onions to overcome the effects of the gas. We adopted this practice and sent recommendations to activists, when it started in other countries, like Syria…
Hadeer: In Egypt as well, or in Iran: For instance in 2009, when the Green movement took the streets against the regime after the election fraud, there were many rap songs against Ahmadinejad that went viral among university students.
KP: What were your experiences with building viable social infrastructures like Asambleas or neighborhood committees at the time when the movements were still out on the streets?
Youness: …or in Turkey. The entire Arab world was giving advice to Turkey. In Morocco, many people tried to take part in the Gezi protests digitally, you could call it “clicktivism”, by spreading information via social media and other channels. It‘s a form of digital solidarity and everyone is trying to share experiences.
Youness: It‘s very difficult to deal with political representation in the Arab awakening. If we desire better institutions or an independent court, this can’t be done by protests on the street. We are not politicians. As a movement, we can go on the streets and say that it seems wrong, but at a certain level we will need representation, and institutions that reflect this. We cannot coordinate two million people on Tahrir. For sure, if you opt for a more autonomous and grassroots organization and don‘t want to gain political power, if you want to live in a space without authority, without politicians, without anyone who can lie to you, I accept this as a political position. But when we talk about a whole population that wants to improve their living conditions, and where many people cannot even understand their problems, this is not a realistic option. It is good to have this utopia or dream side of the revolution, but all the same we don‘t want to be a hippie movement. We want real change and we know it‘s a big task. It might take forever, but at the same time we want to push this regime.
Hadeer: Transnational networks were built, also in order to synchronize actions. For example, when protests were flaring up, we organized solidarity protests in front of each other‘s embassies, as happened in the US and Greece to support the Egyptian revolution. Solidarity is one of the core elements of the movements now. But the crucial aspect is that this global repertoire of tools and tactics, and this new culture of protest are present not only in Egypt, which is an authoritarian state, but equally present in, for instance, Greece, which formally is a democratic system. Despite the many differences between Egyptian and Greek society, both political systems are marked by this culture of protest.
KP: Did you travel to other countries to strengthen international ties, and to support other activists the old school way?
KP: The question is which option is more utopian, the one that assumes that we can develop new institutions among ourselves or the one that claims that substantial change is possible on the basis of the existing institutions. After all, a new type of politics isn’t something you can expect from elements of the ruling class — even though they will assure you otherwise. Instead, it must, by definition, come from somewhere else.
Hadeer: I didn’t travel myself, but some friends of mine went to Istanbul, others to Tunisia, and finally some even went to the US. Youness: I went to Tunisia and Turkey, which were both inspiring. I‘ve met a lot of activists in Istanbul and I was happy to know that there were a lot of anarchists who got involved in social movements without being fanatics about their ideology or their way of thinking. Moreover, when I went to Taksim square the first time, I understood how important the infrastructure of place can be for the success of the protest and the mobilization. It was very easy for people to access Taksim square, as it was well connected to the public bus transport system. But as soon as the authorities realized that all the busses going to Taksim were full of protesters, they cut this infrastructure. However, the
Hadeer: Theoretically you might be right, but in reality it is more complicated. For example, in July 2011, we started to organize an assembly in Tahrir. We discussed the rules, had some meetings and took the concept of horizontal structure very seriously. We created different working groups, with some taking care of cleaning, others with financing the square, or with providing food, blankets and 34
“Arab Spring is not over, but continues in a different way” KP: On the one hand, there is a lack of trust towards the ruling institutions, on the other hand there are no charismatic leaders that are able to reassert them at least symbolically. Doesn’t this show a crisis of the entire system? In a situation like this, the social movements might find themselves forced into exactly the dreamer position you mentioned before and to develop new forms of social organization.
other means of accommodation, all in a grassroots manner. However, the old regime was quick to prevent any kind of strong political organization that could somehow refuse the system. We were dispersed, and the initiative dried up. On the other hand, there is a mass feeling of distrust towards the existing institutions, the political parties, and even representative democracy. This also paralyzes potentially progressive developments.
Youness: But it can be a very dialectic debate if we take it this way. You will certainly not find an activist who wants to be ruled by someone, because an activist knows that no one will be able to represent him as he really wants to be. A social movement is certainly a way to see that the state institutions are de-legitimized and to opt for another form of organization. But I‘m wondering what possibilities there are for the social movements to create institutions that are able to represent the people or that are structured direct-democratically. Especially when we talk about the Arab world, it takes time, first and foremost, to educate people. And certainly, if the social movement becomes a way to educate people alternatively, that would be a very good result. But I don’t think that could happen now. We are all a result of these regimes; we went to school with the regime, later to university, and now we are watching a lot of TV with it. It takes time to get rid of this. I am more confident to wait for any party to take power.
Youness: People have a tendency to want people that have never lied to them before…
KP: …which is clearly an illusion, when the institutions remain the same and nobody creates alternatives. Then it’s merely a matter of time until the new political figures repeat the actions of their predecessors. Youness: Maybe you’re right. However, the illusion is real. This is why the majority voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, which had never been part of the government. For many people this was enough reason to trust them. This deeply rooted skepticism towards the whole political system is a problem.
KP: It is not a question of creating new institutions that could replace the existing ones here and now, but a question of how a social movement defines itself: as a system of checks-and-balance for the people in power, or as a social realm that produces the political forms of tomorrow in the present. Hadeer: There was a similar phenomenon in Sudan, when in August 2013 a flood led to a serious humanitarian crisis, also because the Sudanese government was unable or uninterested in coping with the situation. A couple of activists, close to the Girifna movement (“We are fed up”), which has become very popular since the Sudanese antigovernment protests of 2011, formed Nafeer, a voluntary organization that organizes support for people affected by the flood. The initiative came out of a discussion on social media among a group of friends, but the organization grew up to 8,000 activists that are delivering material support like food and sheets, coordinating the donations they receive from other countries, and even sending teams to less accessible areas to help people. However, I agree with Youness in the respect that it‘s difficult to make these kinds of institutions out of the social movements, because of the loose organization, and because of the fear of taking responsibility.
A conversation with Federico Geller, a member of the Argentinian collective AC (Abriendo Caminos), which creates communication tools for grassroots organizations and launches legal interventions like the campaign against amnesty laws for members of the Argentinian junta.
Krytyka Polityczna: In the exhibition global aCtIVISm our focus is on the global citizen, an ordinary cliché citizen who at some point is fed up with how things are going and decides to take to the streets. We challenge the separation between “activists” and “citizens”, as the global citizen becomes the activist. The concepts coincide. Does it reflect your experiences as an activist?
an important transmission to the global level. It was a huge trigger and inspired us in our fight against the effects of dictatorship inside the university, where many professors had been exiled, made to disappear or killed. Like many public institutions the faculty of science had been formed by the repressive state. Democracy did not just arrive all at once; there was a continuity of authoritarian power structures like in Germany after the fall of the GDR. There was a gravitational force that pulled people back toward the old normalities, so that they could go on with their lives and protect the privileges they got in a very nasty moment of history. This was the force we were trying to counter.
Federico Geller: It does, but this fusion of concepts depends on the societal context. Considering my own biography, I couldn’t make that distinction even if I wanted to. Since my early childhood I have been involved in politics, as my Argentinian parents were an active part of the socialist experiment in Chile. We overheard a lot of conversations at home from the time we were children, and my parents didn’t put a strong filter on things to try and shelter us from what was happening. After Pinochet’s military coup in Argentina, politics came to me in a very violent way. Our neighbors were connected to Chilean fascism, and one day they made an announcement to the military that we had weapons and subversive materials at home. A military vehicle came to our house looking for my parents, who luckily weren’t at home. So we had this violent situation that forced us to leave the country. Then, in 1976, there was the military coup in Argentina, and we saw our friends being killed, and again we had to flee. So in some ways my life has been determined by political events.
KP: How? Federico: Well, we chose a very interesting tactic in that situation: We changed the basic terms of our intervention. The most interesting teachers were completely marginalized, whereas the scientifically mediocre ones, usually right-wing professors affiliated with the old regime, were in power. When we realized that our effort to raise awareness about the connection between science and ideology was too distant or disturbing to our fellow students, we shifted the discussion to the subject of academic quality — which was our battle horse. We claimed that in order to improve the quality of our education, we needed to change the university. This was used as our entry point for inciting critical discussions about our recent history of dictatorship and its political effects on the university.
KP: Did this change when the Argentinian junta fell in the 1980s?
KP: What were the results? Federico: The junta fell only in a formalistic way. The dictatorship, since 1989 with Menem at the top, continued through other means and mechanisms. The political fabric of society was destroyed and demoralized. But then the Zapatistas appeared, which meant for me that history goes on. It was a very powerful moment, and the struggle continued for us.
Federico: We were successful in raising the awareness among students about how you can understand and, as a second step, substantially alter the unity of politics and science. As a consequence, we were able to sack some professors and to have an influence over the system for selecting teachers. Plus, we made the system more transparent. But there were also changes simply because time was passing and new teachers were coming. Every passing day that put a distance between the dictatorship and us was positive in itself: a cultural change effected by the accumulation of time. Another important aspect was the networking with students and teachers of other faculties. One of the university’s main problems was its fragmentation that had come about as a result of the repression.
KP: What was the impact of the Zapatista uprising on your political activities? Federico: We were talking already at the end of the 80s about autonomy and horizontal organization, the fight against verticality. So the experiments were there, but we were acting locally. Through the Zapatistas, we witnessed 36
Federico Geller The social sciences were very disconnected from the natural sciences; even agronomy was far away from biology. The fragmentation was also spatially organized: The strategy was to separate the faculties geographically, so that a collective university community could not develop.
similarity in this. But only because some elements and symbols are similar it doesn’t mean that we are talking about the same thing. For example, there are protests in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador with very angry people who are against their governments, and some of them even have very good reasons for doing so. Aesthetically, then, these protests are not far away from the protests in Egypt, Spain or in the US — but they are not the same. Politically they are not the same. As in all the South American countries I just mentioned, you now have governments that are trying to make amends for history and trying to help the poor — but they rose to power out of the classic ruling classes. Also you can observe people today who were always supporting the military and the cops against workers and peasants that now take to the street for the first time in their lives. I wouldn’t say, that they are part of the global movement.
KP: Without a campus or a main hall, you cannot gather… Federico: …and without Taksim Square, there is probably no Occupy Gezi.
KP: Do you have another example of horizontal tactics being successful in confronting vertical power structures? Federico: Yes. At the end of the 90ies, after Seattle, I joined the activities of the HIJOS, an organization that was created in 1994 by the sons and daughters of the “Desaparecidos”, the ones that “disappeared” during the dictatorship. The main activity of the HIJOS was the so-called escrache. It was a form of direct action directed against the impunity laws that guaranteed the military, the police and those civilians that were part of this dictatorship that they would not be sued for their human rights violations. These people were living a normal and quiet life, without even being asked about the cruelties they perpetrated. In order to counter this normalization, the HIJOS organized noisy demonstrations right in front of their houses to break that silence and raise awareness about their crimes. It was a symbolic action that was mostly conducted without physical violence against them.
KP: Perhaps not part of the same movement, but their struggles are similar, or at least connected.
“I don‘t feel that we are part of the same global movement” because the authoritarian way out is has been suspended for some time suspended. So I don’t feel that we are part of the same movement. The Argentinian society still suffers from a long history of injustices dating back to the times of colonialism. However, now you have a government that is trying to distribute some wealth, to include people instead of excluding them. You may not like everything about it, some of the tactics, some of the words, some of the allies they have, but it is quite clear that it is a different situation. Of course you also have people who are connected to a culture of radical democracy, but they are only a small faction. The power in Argentina is held by a complex array of institutions: the military, the church, the landowners, the media corporations, the financial sectors and so on. They are not a democratic force.
Federico: Sure, but that is a matter of definition. You give me that definition, and I accept it. You can say that although we don’t know each other we all are part of a big culture that, for the same moral reasons, doesn’t like capitalism.
time for political activities. Then you have other people who don’t separate their political activity from their work. For example, I worked with a group that was doing communication work for social organizations on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. We have also been working with peasants in Argentina. What was very impressive to see, was that for the peasants who organized there was not such a strong separation between working and doing politics, because they were trying to work in a manner that is not the capitalist way of producing and commercializing food. So they understood the economy as a social system that is politically charged. They produced without the use of transgenics, implemented a communitarian way of working, shared information, and at the same time they held demonstrations, went to the city, created markets, and so on. This was amazing for me to see, that in these political discussions they put so much emphasis on analyzing the political situation and its ramifications. And when the discussion was over, they completely switched the topic, talking about a pig that was ill, or a dam that was broken and had to be repaired. But they didn’t “completely switch the topic” because both subjects were equally part of their life. Thus, it is important to be aware of our actions so that they are consistent with our own reality, with our job and the way we live. We are not free, we cannot work doing whatever we want, but it’s also wrong to separate your activism from the other part of your day when you’re working, and to just accept that you are being exploited. You have to bring it all together.
KP: It’s only one element among many.
KP: Like the global citizen…
Federico: I agree, it is not enough for covering it all, but it is a good one. But if you keep looking, you see that not all the energy fueling these demonstrations is anti-capitalist. For example, in Spain there is a lot of ambivalence within the movements. Some people are fighting because they are excluded from the system and they want to be included. And it’s a fair demand, it is not nice to be excluded. But more needs to be done than simply asking to be included. It is necessary to address the question of the nature of the system you want to be included in. It’s like the discussion of integration in Germany: They say people should be integrated. Integrated into what? We have to talk about what society is.
Federico: As I said in the beginning: It depends on the societal context. If people can live without politics, without any deep polarizations, there is no global citizen. I know you are going to say that the context is changing at the moment and that this is why this concept is emerging. But we have to see.
KP: The concept of global revolution doesn’t assume that the movements are all the same, but that they are characterized by some common features. Federico: For example?
Federico: I would like to problematize this. The protests in Brazil in the summer of 2013 weren’t the same thing that happened in New York. In Brazil, they were protesting against the rise of prices in the public transportation system. Sure, as a social movement, you have to support this fight. But it was driven mainly by the participation of the corporate media of Brazil, which always protected the ruling classes, even during the Brazilian dictatorship. Those were the ones that connected the Brazilian protests with the Indignados, Occupy and the Arab Spring.
KP: What was the reaction of the public? Did the actions push the government, who backed the impunity, to revise these laws?
KP: The Movimento Passe Livre, which initiated the protests, inscribed itself into these movements. Besides, it doesn’t necessarily counter the argument if other elements are making the same connection.
Federico: At first, it wasn’t supported by large parts of the society. But after a while, the actions became increasingly popular and more people were supporting it. Eventually, in 2007, with the new president De Kirchner, the government decided that the impunity laws had to be discussed again in parliament, and eventually they changed them. Suddenly all the trials that had been started in the 80s were re-opened, and now there are more than four hundred of these people in jail.
Federico: Of course, if you go to Brazil then you will find people who are fighting against injustice. They want to live in a society with no racial and social discrimination. But they were in the street making a physical alliance at that moment with people that just wanted to topple the Lula-Dilma experience. So in terms of “movements”, it’s problematic: Where does this movement start, where does it cease to be called a movement? Because when we talk about movements we want to feel a glow in this, that they are a positive light in society. But I believe that it is not enough to make demonstrations. You have to ask yourself who benefits from this demonstration. Of course I think it is very good that the right wing in Argentina and in Brazil has to demonstrate now instead of asking the military to seize power. The society is more democratic now than before. It’s only that you have to realize that these people never had a genuine democratic agenda; they have to do it,
KP: Coming back to the global citizen: Do you consider the revolutionary movements of the last years part of the same global struggle? Federico: When you make a statement like this, it’s okay. But we have to see what they really have common. If you see photos of two different people standing angrily in the streets and both are wearing the Guy Fawkes mask and using their mobile phones to document it, there is lot of 38
KP: The struggle against injustices, exploitation and exclusion that are considered a result of global capitalism.
KP: But anti-capitalism is not a mere effect of a post-materialist culture, or solely a feature of the educated middle classes. It is also a result of an experience, of a practice, and it integrates different terminologies. Federico: I would go even further here. There are activists that work within the system, pay their bills, live ordinary lives and so on. Only after work they invest some of their 39
Liam Barrington-Bush Jobs: one of the most glaring contradictions faced by anarchists in capitalist society. We don’t believe we should have to have them, but we know how hard it can be to stay afloat in a transactional world without a certain amount of income coming in. All but the most hardcore of us accept jobs of some kind, as ‘necessary evils’ of life under capitalism.
into participatory democracies, is a considerably different challenge than to do so in many smaller organizations, with more staff who have experienced horizontalism in grassroots organizing work (and thus may be less-likely to accept as much top-down authority). What I do believe — and have seen and experienced — is that pockets of autonomy can be carved out of hierarchy, and that more radical work can be done in those spaces, once liberated. Organizational IT teams are my favorite example of this, often having a culture (and physical space) that is all their own, considerably less-restrained by the politics and structures found in the rest of the office. This is in significant part because few others in the building actually have a clue what they do, but is also because they’ve rarely relied on formal channels to create these spaces. As a result, a range of more self-organized approaches have begun to take root around countless organizations, as people slowly begin to see the wider relevance of ‘tech solutions’ such as agile methods, ‘hack days,’ and open and free software.
Some of us manage to work for ourselves, as trades people or freelancers. Others, in an attempt to minimize the contradiction, opt for ‘the lesser of three evils’ (the other two being government and business), finding positions in NGOs, charities and trade unions that have at least a theoretical alignment with some of the things we believe in. Gradually we find ourselves not just in the lowest organizational ranks, but scattered at various levels around campaigns, IT, research, and supporter services teams. In a strange twist of fate, our practical organizing experiences offer us considerable advantage in these settings, creating the double contradiction of not only working a job, but of finding ourselves in the ranks of management from time to time!
Is this worth our time?
While we go into these organizations aware of the contradictions with our broader politics, once inside we often go in one of two directions:
I’ve decided to write about this for two reasons: 1. Many of us already spend 40+ hours a week in these organizations, twiddling our thumbs or slowly forgetting that we can’t change the world without changing the unequal social power dynamics most organizations perpetuate. Neither is ideal and we shouldn’t accept them as inevitable. Therefore, why not try to do something outside the Non-Profit Industrial Complex playbook and see if we can put the time, effort and resource of these institutions to use for something better than it otherwise would be?
1. We gradually buy into the incremental reforms they offer, bit-by-bit leaving our grassroots organizing work behind, while becoming increasingly jaded by the dehumanizing experience of hierarchy, or 2. We treat our jobs as any other form of wage slavery, mindlessly punching the clock, keeping our evenings and weekends free for the real action.
What can we do about it?
2. There are lots of people who don’t identify themselves as anarchists, but who are nonetheless fed up with the soul-sucking bureaucracy, the tragically inept bosses promoted to their level of incompetence, and the out-of-touch services and campaigns that are being run by so many organizations. Constructive subversion offers us the opportunity to practice anarchism with those who’ve often never seriously considered it, building subversive networks of frustrated colleagues, to do more than complain together at the pub. I would never suggest this as an alternative to any other form of anarchist organizing. Just an adaptation of our wider politics to a situation I’ve discovered many of us find ourselves feeling powerless within.
I think there’s an alternative. I call it ‘constructive subversion.’ It lies in our ability to ‘hack’ these hierarchical reformist organizations we spend our days in, weaving networks of subversion to undermine the bureaucracy, and ‘prefiguring’ radical pockets (creating microcosms of wider change) within and around the existing structures. In other words, we bring our wider politics into our workplaces and create spaces and relationships that can operate beyond organizational control. But could we actually transform traditional organizations via constructive subversion? Maybe, maybe not. The range of organizations out there varies too dramatically in terms of politics, size, history and investment in the status quo, to say definitively, one way or the other. The challenge of making the Red Cross or Save the Children 42
Constructive Subversion: a Guide to Organizational Change Internal system change / external system change
Some practical approaches to constructive subversion
Alessandra Pigni of Mindfulnext.org and others have written about the relationship between internal organizational hierarchy and external organizational impotence, so I won’t dwell on it here. What I’m advocating is subversion of both the elitist internal systems that keep power in the hands of a privileged few, as well as of the piecemeal social change efforts pursued in these organizations, led by these same privileged few. A hierarchical elite with considerable personal benefit in maintaining their own jobs and social standings, will be far less likely to pursue the social transformation needed to strip away inequality, one facet of which is of course that of top-down workplace authority and employee pay gaps. Therefore by undermining bosses with a vested interest in only minimal social change, we remove one of the most ubiquitous organizational barriers to wider social transformation. This can help us create the space for self-organized groups to address questions about the organizational drive to preserve and perpetuate itself, the insidious effects of institutional funding regimes, and other barriers to radical organizing efforts.
The following are a few ideas for constructively subverting your NGO, trade union, charity or voluntary organization to do some good with the people and resources they’ve too often held hostage. There is no silver bullet in this approach, and it is not meant to be seen as in any way replacing non-organizational forms of direct action, but as a way of turning the time we spend meeting our financial needs, into something that offers some hope of wider benefit. You’ll inevitably find your own ways that work for you, in your context, as long as you don’t buy into the ideas that the change you want will be achieved by asking permission of the right people, or writing an eloquent enough project proposal.
1. Grow the network, build an alternative organizational structure You’re not alone. Many NGOs are filled-to-the-gills with more and less expressive dissidents. At first there’s something cathartic about just knowing there are others who are frustrated with what the organization is doing, internally and externally. But networks also offer an alternative organizational structure, more like the movements we are part of outside of work, in which people are directly connected with one another, unrestrained by job titles and departments. The emergence of these networks could be the first sign of change — the establishment of a group that operates beyond the divisions of hierarchy and specialization, and the constructed separations of ‘staff,’ ‘volunteers’ and ‘beneficiaries.’ Thus, establishing a network is an important first step to challenging the existing power structure. Without these divisions, the power at the top of the pyramid is thrown into question as relationships begin to supersede the structures that get in their way. Pubs and online social networks are great ways to start to find co-conspirators. Drop hints, make allusions to the kind of change you believe in, the kind of group you’d like to be a part of, and see who responds. Move the conversations beyond the sometimes necessary whinges, and start to explore what you could do differently together, without asking for sign-off or approval.
In spite of all these wider factors, I believe that if there is to be any hope for radical organizing within a traditional social change organization, we can’t ignore the internal dynamics that prop-up wider inequalities. Therefore, efforts to create direct democracy in the places we work may help to enable wider change, as more people (with less investment in the status quo) are able to participate in the decisions that determine the organization’s work and direction. One of the keys to constructive subversion, is in noticing that the ways we accept the rule of hierarchy are often deeply internalized, and don’t always relate to the kinds of things we could actually be disciplined or fired for. We can usually ruffle feathers for some time before our jobs are actually put at risk from it, so if we can challenge the internal policing that keeps us ‘manageable’ we can begin to address the internal and external aspects of system change more effectively. As David Graeber has described, experiencing direct democracy for the first time is incredibly powerful. When you’ve been told for your whole life that it isn’t possible to selforganize anything more complicated than making a cup of tea, it doesn’t take much experience of doing so to leave you wondering how we’ve remained handcuffed by hierarchy for so long!
Figure out questions like: • Who else might be worth reaching out to? • What aspects of the hierarchy are most hated and ripest to engage others in constructively subverting?
So if nothing else, creating spaces for less-radicalized colleagues to experience what they can do together without traditional leaders and top-down structures, can lead to new people wanting to get involved in non-institutional activism for the first time.
• What projects or areas of work might be able to provide some shelter for more transformational organizing?
Liam Barrington-Bush 2. Create seemingly-innocuous lunch time meeting groups
into the appropriate meetings in most organizations. You might gradually encourage one another to slip elements of these processes into your own corners of the organization and see what happens when a bit of direct democracy finds its way into Campaigns, Research, or Membership...
From loose networks of likeminded colleagues, you can begin to formalize your constructive subversion. The archetype for this stage of the process is the office environment group. It meets at lunch time (when staff are most obviously ‘free’ from hierarchy), involves staff of different ranks, teams and departments (cutting through the isolation that these divisions create), and doesn’t rely on approval from senior managers to get on and do things that need doing. Another popular form might be an ‘innovation working group’, because, like the environment group, it won’t raise an eyebrow amongst those you don’t want it to! Whatever you call it, start at lunch or after work with a core of radicals (!), talk things over and take action together, wherever you can make the space to do so. In some ways, the content of the decisions is less relevant than the fact that decisions are being made at all, without top-down approval. If people want a new sofa for the staff lounge, can a crew get together and find one on Freecycle or at a local charity shop and bring it into the office? If there is no adequate space for groups to work together outside of their teams, can people repurpose a disused area in the building and use it to have more informal conversations? If the selection of food that’s easily available at or around the office is crap, could people take turns preparing better food for one another?
As more people inside the organization — and ideally beyond it — become involved in more of the relevant discussions and decisions, the assumed power of the top of the hierarchy begins to lose influence. Pockets of horizontalism are good reminders to people who are used to giving up their autonomy in their work, that there is an alternative and that the power of those above us can be taken away by gradually withdrawing our ‘consent to be governed’... or at least ignoring the orders that don’t make sense and getting on with things that do.
3. Turn innocuous meeting groups into radical working groups From lunch time meeting groups working on directly democratic principles, are you able to form project groups? Groups of people who are passionate about shifting the wider work the organization does, to help enable the kinds of change the world actually needs. Could a campaign or service run on behalf of a group or community of people, actually involve those people in its development and implementation? Could it follow their leads, shifting the messages and demands to what they want to do, and beginning to include a wider power analysis, that undermines the top-down charity model? If your lunchtime discussions raised the need for a stronger response to a recent government cut affecting a particular community, could you work with that community to create an alternative ‘service’ together in the lobby of the local MP’s office or another venue linked to political decision making? Or if your meetings highlighted the racism of a local police force that the organization was working with, could the group start to organize legal observers, along with the community, to help ‘police the police’? These approaches are both pre-figurative of an alternative way of working and living, and highlight current institutional failures for all to see. As a result, they are likely to have a strong mandate from the communities that the organizations involved are meant to support, making it far harder for senior managers to clamp down on action that is seen to be in the interests of their so-called ‘beneficiaries.’ These ‘hacks’ will not immediately create radical changes to the organization, but might spark critical conversations amongst staff and beyond, shifting the dynamics that the organization is practically a part of and which usually perpetuate the status quo.
Even seemingly apolitical actions can have a significant effect on those involved, if they reconnect the relationship between decision making and action taking (the separation of which often allows hierarchy to perpetuate itself). In other words, just through the experience of self-organizing, people begin to question the need for traditional leaders, even if they aren’t initially doing particularly radical things with their newfound freedom. While the specifics of these groups will vary, the key idea is that the process reflects or prefigures the form of change you want to see more widely. Whatever the group decides to start with, make sure it reflects the organizing values that you’d like to see more of in the organization and beyond, maybe using variations on consensus decision making processes, ensuring there are no fixed leaders/roles, exploring the internal and external power and privilege dynamics that are at play, and inviting people from outside the organization into the meetings as equals. Inevitably this starts to clash with the fictional ‘internal/ external’ organizational wall, as participatory and democratic ‘internal’ processes should never be left exclusively in the hands of paid staff, let alone senior managers. The involvement of people who aren’t paid to be there can have a transformative effect on what decisions are made and what action is taken, as such perspectives rarely make it 44
Constructive Subversion: a Guide to Organizational Change Is it worth a shot? None of the above are sure-fire methods. I can say through experience, I’ve seen the first two steps work countless times, but haven’t been able to track them through to the third stage to say that it is definitely possible in a structure that is built to oppose autonomous action. That’s not to say that it hasn’t happened though! Organizational change, like social change, can be hard to create a linear narrative out of! But at the very least, I think there’s hope here, in learning new ways to work together, and seeing some of the potential these approaches can reveal. While anarchists can be among the most optimistic people I’ve organized with, there is still a deep sense of cynicism that can easily come to dominate our working lives. I don’t want to suggest this is without good reason, but do want to offer something of an alternative. Why not see if we are able to constructively subvert our NGOs, trade unions, non-profit and voluntary organizations to do a bit of good in the world, given the amazing people who often end up working in them, but who still feel totally powerless, however significant the resources we have at our disposals? Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains of command!
Imani Jacqueline Brown (Quezergue)
There was a time when the artist was a sage, that is, a cultivated man who was also a thaumaturge, a magus, a therapeutist, and even a gymnasiarch — that combination which in carnival language is called a “one-man band” or “Protean man.”
The artist united in his person all the faculties and all the sciences. Then came the age of specialization, which was also the age of decadence.
One cannot deny it: a society which turns science into an infinite number of sciences is a society which is degenerating.
Antonin Artaud What I Came to Mexico to Do 1936
Imani Jacqueline Brown (Quezergue) Something sacred is sacrificed with the erection of stone — it is the theft of that which formerly belonged to no one and to all. This perception has rendered architecture suspect since antiquity, when human blood was shed on the foundation stone in consecration to the spirits of the earth from whom, it was said, the builder had stolen. Before architecture there was no concept of public; what is now designated as “public space” is all that remains of a once vast freedom: the commons. Public space is a memorial to a war that we, the people, lost long ago. In today’s world, where the crowded city street is shrouded in solitude and stained with fear, where café culture has been sold out to Starbucks, the public plaza provides a simple opportunity for humble commiseration. Its nonlinear layout encourages open movement, stillness and convergence. A church for the unrepentant, it sanctifies indulgence in unprofitable ways of being. Here the citizen-artist may channel the energy of the square to rally the crowds toward collective expression. Considering this threat to order, public space is a grudgingly maintained truce, an armistice line between citizens and the state.
an idol to behold, a utopic vision beyond mortal conception. Confined to the diversionary sphere of petty competition, celebrity worship and financial speculation, our “civilized” culture has become an elitist display of dreary exhibitionism peddled on the luxury market. Yet this usurpation and hoarding of symbolic force by the ruling class is no unhappy accident. It is a concerted attempt to atrophy the political imagination and preempt the invention of creative alternatives to systems of control; it is a proto-capitalist tactic refined during the first wave of colonial expansion and perfected today. Through the perpetuation of a “society of the spectacle” (Guy Debord), beneath the flag of a Minimalist Democracy guaranteeing vague, unexplored freedoms, the Capitalist state endeavors to inhibit the revolutionary passions that a more stimulating experience of existence might arouse. The revolutionary preoccupation with the reappropriation of state violence is symptomatic of a feeble imagination that craves exercise, just as the play of lion cubs serves as rehearsal for the hunt. As we scale the citadels of power, the museum, too, must be seized.
The polis — the centralized urban stage, the political theater — emerges from war.1 Over time, land, sea and air became territorialized, striated and controlled just as populations were conquered, dispossessed and “civilized”. The undulant rise and fall of architecture across history is an offensive tactic (qua tactical objective) employed by state agents and revolutionary movements alike to conquer and liberate space: from Babylonian memorial conquests, to the construction of settlements in Palestine, to the bombing of MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia; from the storming of the Bastille, to ANC attacks on police and power stations, to the shattering of windows by the black bloc. The “victory” against Saddam Hussein was consummated through the symbolic execution of his bronze colossus. On the urban biopolitical battlefield, buildings and monuments assume a defensive formation at the front line, standing guard against enemies foreign and domestic, holding ground and signifying order. Architecture is the corporeal manifestation — a crystalized image as object — of the law’s force against the social body. It is a monument to power. And like the sovereign, architecture never dies.2
Our tyrannical notion of civilization must be overthrown through the reintegration of the artist within society. Two centuries ago, the enslaved peoples of the African diaspora conceived new cultural traditions (vodou, santeria, candomblé) in the throes of revolution. Rejecting a slave mentality of self-debasement through ressentiment, they refused the system of values imposed by their oppressors, wearing Christian icons as masks to create “temporary autonomous zones” (Hakim Bey) where they could perform their freedom. The fortification of community through participatory action is paramount in these public ceremonies, which allow the individual to forgo the ego and transcend alterity through drumming, dance and social practice. Significantly, this performance of collective empowerment and solidarity sowed fertile ground for political upheaval: the 1803 Haitian Revolution was born in vodou communities who invoked the lwa Ogou, the spirit of political revolution, to imbue the living society with the energy to overthrow slavery. Recognizing this threat to consolidated power, the repression of creative spirituality was integral to the strategy of colonialism, whose agents banned ritual traditions under penalty of flogging and mutilation to fragment the people, break the spirit and clear the field for the expansion of the new economic religion of Capitalism. Thus, the so-called civilizing mission was really the violent dissociation of the individual from the collective and the fabrication of the indebted laborer, docile through alienation, deprived of all pleasure save “the stimulating breath of healthy individualistic competition.”3
Thus the war between the people and the state is waged heavily at the level of iconography, yet our society is persistently fed a “modernist” myth of the isolationist artist sequestered away from the socio-political realm. Entombed in the “public” museum alongside the spoils of war, creativity is quarantined and neutralized on the altar to capital as 1.
Paul Virilo, Desert Screen: War at the Speed of Light, 2002.
Performing Bare Life Today, from New York to Istanbul, the last vestiges of public space are under attack by a “partnership” between corporate and governmental privateers. Zucotti Park is one of more than five hundred so-called “privately-owned public spaces” in New York City and, for a few months in 2011, it was liberated by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Occupation was a phenomenon of cultural refusal and participatory emancipation that willfully declined to follow the prescriptions of reformist politics. We were a “society against the state” (Pierre Clastres) that bloomed in the belly of the beast — good bacteria, so to speak. We strove to reinvent the language of our cultural heritage and rediscover an activated creativity that could remake the world in the image of our choosing. The true Occupation, we often said, was that of the mind — the passionate rejection of a stagnant colonialist mentality that permits biopolitical control through the annihilation of the collective spirit.
dified declaration of war. Through this precarious performance of freedom, the underlying bare life of the citizen was exposed. We existed in a liminal space outside city walls, even as we stood center-stage under urban spotlights. Giorgio Agamben documents the fate of homo sacer — she of negated political value who is stripped of rights and whose life becomes forfeited — as exile from the polis and isolation in camps or slums. FBI files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act4 revealed that the occupation was branded a terrorist threat and monitored, infiltrated and subjected to sabotage by an alliance between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector.5 By merely stepping into the encampment, one became an Occupier, became a Terrorist, became homo sacer. “For someone who has forgotten the communicative power and magical mimicry of gesture,” Artaud implored, “the theater can reinstruct, because a gesture carries its energy with it.” In becoming-homeless, the Occupier performed the potential homelessness of all citizens; by exposing her body to violence, the Occupier unmasked the brutal character of the state; by thriving at the liminality between civilizations, the Occupier exhibited possibilities for another way of life.
The Occupation was the contemporary manifestation of Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty — the living theater that would return art to life with a force that would shatter Western civilization’s complacent façade. Occupy (re)turned Zucotti’s hostile architecture to open terrain. We existed on top, around and in between the structures designed to keep us apart. We were fluid and we spilled over — bodies and voices — onto Broadway and flooded down Wall Street. We did yoga barefoot and performed ballet on police barricades. We dropped mattresses and bedded-out for peace. The Smithsonian Institution scooped up our cardboard signs; The Museum of Modern Art purchased our posters and newspapers; they deactivated their energy and stored them away in their vaults. But these arbiters of the corporate-sponsored cultural canon could neither collect nor interpret the true artistry of the movement: as we lay together in the center of Manhattan on our patch of prime real estate, gazing up at the electric glow of corporate logos, we caught wind of the sublime: freedom. We marveled at our creation: an autonomous micro-society guided by a collectively-determined system of values, built on a resource-based economy of mutual aid, sustained by a swarming mass of bodies united in a single, thunderous voice that radiated outward from spontaneously rotating loci within a churning nebulosity. The power of this experience was numinous; its beauty transcended the realm of the aesthetic delineated by Western theoreticians.
Before architecture there was the cave. 30,000 years ago in the Chauvet Cave in France, ancient peoples painted humans with the heads of beasts and trees who could speak, suggesting they believed in the interconnectivity and transmutability of life. 10,000 miles away in present-day Australia, Aborigines “possessed” by the spirit of their ancestors collaborate on millennia-old murals. Seemingly, this quest for collective empowerment is the original art and the singular spirituality that we are slowly coming to rediscover. We contemporary actors of this ancient tugof-war bear the weight of history and therefore recognize — perhaps intuitively — the power imbued in these cyclical narratives and recurrent iconography. Today, protests in the name of Occupy are effectively banned and subjected to the arbitrary force of laws written at the moment of their execution. It is as though this simple word carries a metaphysical power that fills the state with primal dread. Perhaps the vehemence of its repression is a sign that we are on to something.
Despite Occupy’s devotion to non-violence, the state duly recognized the constellation of bodies as a state of siege with a semiotic depth extending far into antiquity, a co3. Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, 2006, p. 160. 4. By the Partnership For Civil Justice Fund,
2. “The kind, as king, never dies”, from Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two
Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology, 1957.
5. The Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC).
I was transformed by the revolution And My Revolution Began With a heartbeat It was simple, warm And cost nothing. And then one day I arrived here. In the cold air. And my family was presented with a hospital bill. I learned to talk and asked for ice cream, And in exchange Someone wanted coins For their cash register They turned on the TV. And All of a sudden, The children began to talk about cars… And shoes. Expensive ones To move fast And we began to run. My body strained to a productive rhythm. Time broke up into fragments Guilty pleasures replaced happiness… Friends became competitors… And In this game You kept your eyes pointed upward Reality was shameful Gravitational Like Coins in a cup Poverty was unspoken. But it was looming, just over the cliff
And then something snapped, It fell from a great height And crashed There was a change I started to feel strange And I looked in the mirror And my face had become a coin And this meant That everything was Free I began to dance Around the fragments of the city Together with my good friend Jim We staggered to the altar of Wall Street To laugh at the gods there Throwing Coins on the stones We were no longer alone And please don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming we started a revolution The drums began to play And our heartbeats joined in. The streets filled up with friends We had the city back again. The movement was minted… In Revolutionary circulation. We were transformed…
Its Winter… And the landscape appears barren But hidden beneath the surface Vital forces are Yearning to take shape.
But the priests have a peculiar quality… They are incredibly hungry.
Slowly, the great wheels start to turn And soon, it’s a humming factory of life…
And no amount of labor, or luxury, Will provide satisfaction
Each thing wants to expand… To multiply… To manifest its potential…
The call is issued: more growth! But in their hunger, they have broken natural laws Disregarding the seasons…. In exchange for bottomless bounty in private gardens…. It’s Endless winter and Endless War.
All of the world’s production is required To feed their enormous appetite.
The engine is the golden sun… But the magical force is known as growth.
There’s a magical force known as growth But pulling back the curtain…
All over the globe, There are shining cities Rising skyward Stretching toward the Sun In a prayer to keep expanding
We witness an avalanche of digestion. It’s not the growth of life, It’s a death drive
And they are faithful servants of the natural order And have consecrated temples to growth In these temples there are priests And every little thing depends upon Their prayer Uttered in unshakeable faith
In 2011, the Occupy Movement quickly gained currency across the globe, Then it mysteriously vanished. What was Occupy? What was it worth? Does it have any lasting value?
Occupy hacked the status quo We grabbed the media’s microphone And surfed into the mainstream But refused to play by the rules And there are still many rules that we need to unlearn
Occupy was free Angry Naive Full of crazy wisdom
Occupy had no leaders and many… It was powered by open networks With its own symbols, and signs It was Chaotic Arrogant Effective Despite constant provocation It was peaceful and joyful
We Occupied to reclaim our dignity To rehabilitate our citizenship To learn to trust each other again. We occupied because inequality is the story of our times Nobody has easy answers to heal it Our only chance is to sound the alarm: Through the networks… In the streets… And build a new system from the ground up Surrounded by the media, police, big banks We made a camp of compassion.
Occupy was a giant collective experiment Remembering our public bodies in the Internet Age We flipped the coin of corporate globalization And found on the reverse A network of justice-lovers, stretching beyond nations. When the season of revolution ended It left us a little confused, exhausted, And sad to see it go But Occupy was also a vow, and it was taken by millions. As long as democracy is undermined By the accumulation of wealth and power of a paranoid 1% As long as justice is placed under a black hood And as racism is institutionalized by the police and legal systems As long as the very earth is viciously ripped apart for the hungry profits of the richest of the rich.
We Occupied with our hands With our voices With our minds Taking up space with our collective body Defending the Squares with our hearts. It’s true, we got our asses kicked And our hearts are still open Inspired by Tahrir And Puerta del Sol
And as long as people like you and me keep our eyes open and know that we’re not alone. This experiment Whatever we choose to call it Will continue…
We Occupied Wall Street Frankfurt Oakland Taksim We traded tactics all around And learned not to ask for permission.
Artur Żmijewski, Noah Fischer and Paweł Althamer
Artur Żmijewski, Noah Fischer and Paweł Althamer
Preparations for Winter Holiday Camp
Artur Żmijewski, Noah Fischer and Paweł Althamer
Preparations for Winter Holiday Camp
A conversation with Susanne Gerber, a Berlin-based conceptual artist with a background in science. Her research focus is on genomics, biology, and the political and scientific dimensions of art.
Krytyka Polityczna: Why did you decide to respond to Fukushima as an “artivist”? Susanne Gerber: For a simple reason: Fukushima Daiichi was not ‘just’ a nuclear accident among others. It was a worst-case scenario, the so-called “China Syndrome,” which occurs when the core of a reactor melts down after an uncontrolled chain reaction, leading to the escape of melted fuel into the human and natural environments. This scenario has played out at Fukushima three times since March 11, 2011. But this situation was not simply the result of a technical failure; a large-scale political disaster has unfolded concurrently, revealing the strong bonds between the worldwide atomic industries, scientific institutions and international organizations. This collusion includes institutions such as MIT, the British and Japanese governments, an EU initiative to build more nuclear plants, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the CIA and parts of the international media. This is why I began my own blog to report on this unfolding crisis.1
KP: How severe are the nuclear damages caused by Fukushima in comparison to those in Chernobyl? Susanne: Fukushima is the largest nuclear disaster ever. Nevertheless, it was only classified as a Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), which was introduced in 1990 in order to enable prompt communication of safety-significant information in the event of nuclear accidents. I say only Level 7, even though 7 is the maximum stage on the scale; in June 2011, the IAEA discussed whether they should revise the scale and introduce a new level — INES-8 — because the contaminations from Fukushima were incomparably higher than those from Chernobyl. But this discussion was soon dropped.
KP: What exactly is the danger of a nuclear accident like the one in Fukushima? Susanne: The radiation. When a meltdown in a nuclear plant occurs, radioactive substances known as radionuclides — invisible, odorless, tasteless, inaudible, intangible particles — contaminate the environment.
More radionuclides have entered the global biosphere from Fukushima than from all other nuclear ‘accidents’ and atmospheric atomic detonations combined. All radioactive decay is harmful over a longer period of time and can lead to death; higher doses can immediately damage the skin, the blood and the heart. Radiation poisoning is especially dangerous for pregnant women, fetuses and young children. Internal exposure occurs when radioactive nuclides are ingested through food or breathed in from the air. But it is also possible to be radiated through external exposure. Of greatest concern is the high proclivity for cancer, which may form as a result of a breakdown in DNA. Since the March 2011 tsunami, the number of documented deaths due to cardiovascular disease has doubled. The region has also seen an increase in infectious diseases, cancer and leukemia, as well as pneumonia. That nuclear weapons are described in terms of megatons instead of megacuries is part of a massive and ongoing deception by the nuclear lobby since the days of former US President Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission’s “peaceful atom” propaganda campaign. All honest scientists, including Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, knew from day one that ionizing radiation is the ultimate biological weapon. This is exactly how these substances are affecting the global population today. A single spent fuel rod contains more than enough plutonium to kill every human being on earth. In the Fukushima reactor, tens or hundreds of thousands of fuel rods burned up within a few days. In terms of radiation levels, the Fukushima catastrophe could more accurately be compared to a medium-sized nuclear war.
KP: Which are the most dangerous elements that are emitted into the environment after a nuclear explosion? Susanne: There is Iodine-131 (half-life: eight days), a common product of nuclear fission. A report issued by Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS) discovered that the thyroid glands of children living close to the plant were exposed to lifetime doses of radiation in the aftermath of the incident. In response, in May 2011 the Japanese government raised the upper limit of “safe” radiation
Susanne Gerber exposure for children from 1 to 20 millisieverts (mSv) per year and claimed that an adult would need to receive a cumulative annual dose of 500 mSv to see an increased risk of cancer. This was clearly a pragmatic provision to keep the figures low, because researchers learned after Chernobyl that young children already run the risk of developing fatal cancer through a dose of 10 to 20 mSv.
animals, food and so on. They filmed faces, empty houses and people in refugee camps, sometimes accompanied by mysterious movie soundtracks. But all this visual material cannot show what has really happened. Radioactivity is invisible. Documenting reality with the medium of film and photography does not work under these conditions. Facing Fukushima, art has to be something else. It has to become more about words, understanding and thinking — logos. So I preferred to take advantage of being a remote witness. I used my attention, my mind and my concern to follow the situation and make it public. This research and its distribution is my artistic intervention.
KP: In what way is it artistic?
Then, there is Strontium-90 (half-life: 28.8 years), which is especially deadly since it has a relatively long half-life. It is strongly radioactive and easily absorbed by the body where it accumulates in the skeletal system and affects the production of new blood cells, eventually leading to death. Finally, there is Plutonium-239 (half-life: 24,000 years). It is absorbed by the body in many ways and contributes to the development of cancer. Plutonium is highly destructive because it contaminates everything for almost an eternity due to its insanely long half-life, and there is nothing that can be done to mitigate its effects.
KP: Have you been to Fukushima? Susanne: No, I haven’t. The information I collected is predominately unavailable within the Fukushima area. In fact, many of the local residents do not know the truth about what is happening in their region. The relationship between human life and the world of machines reaches a new level when you have to live with radiation. The lesson you take away is that you can no longer trust your senses — can possibly never trust them again. Everything is about access to information; about believing in experts or recognizing that you can no longer trust them. At that point, everything becomes a matter of fear and, perhaps, resistance. Lots of international artists came to Japan after March 2011 and tried to capture what happened. They made photos of abandoned places, nature, people, Geiger counters,
Susanne: What is the relationship between the artistic and the political? In one way, artists can be political by fighting for their own rights: salaries, contracts, ownership, copyright and so on. In these struggles, artists are political subjects themselves. In another way, artists can join political movements or parties. Even if their popularity plays a support role, in this game they are political citizens like all the others. The third way is for artists to use their artistic skills, their educated senses, their artistic methods of research, in order to raise questions from a different angle, and to think about solutions in an experimental way. The first step is simply to bear witness and to dedicate oneself to a subjective truth. Then the art will incorporate the political, will be political in and of itself. This tactic generates various changes and consequences. Radiation is not the first technical phenomenon elusive of human sensory perception, but it may be the most powerful. I have the feeling that this experience will change the idea and the history of the image in a very radical way.
KP: Is there a culture of resistance against nuclear power in Japan like the anti-nuke movements in the 1950s? Susanne: The response by the people of Japan has been tremendous and inspiring. Tens of thousands regularly picket government and corporate offices to prevent the restart of reactors. 7.5 million people have signed a petition against the resumption of activity at any of the fifty-four idle reactors, which have remained shuttered due to this massive and unprecedented outpouring of organized activism and anger. A new anti-nuclear movement is being born from the bottom-up. In May 2013, the people of Japan celebrated the shutdown of the last of the fifty-four 62
“Facing Fukushima, art has to be something else” Japanese reactors. But there is also a very strong nuclear lobby that influences not only the political scene, but also the international media. Almost sixty years ago — only nine years after the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — the Japanese government persuaded the public to support its ambition to become a nuclear nation. In 1954, Japan saw widespread anti-American and anti-nuclear demonstrations after Japanese fishermen were exposed to radiation from the US government’s hydrogen bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll. Backed by the CIA, media mogul Matsutaro Shoriki used his influence to publish articles in his newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, which extolled the virtues of nuclear power. Keen on remilitarizing Japan, Shoriki endorsed nuclear power in the hopes that its development would one day arm the country with the ability to make its own nuclear weapons. Eventually, public opinion shifted in favor of nuclear rearmament. Shoriki had the power and the influence to forge an alliance between the US and Japanese business communities and politicians, but he wasn’t alone in his efforts. The same interests are at work today, lobbying to turn capitalist greed into public policy.
with unquestioning support and the type of lax oversight that contributed to the Fukushima crisis. In 2009, TEPCO owned 192 electricity plants that produced up to one-third of Japan’s electricity, grossing a net income of 1.7 billion US dollars through its corporate affiliates. As the nuclear power business became less profitable over the years, the industry managers began to further emphasize cutting costs and increasing public dependence on nuclear power. In other words, the decisions were dictated by the primary directive of capitalism: make profit at all costs; grow by any means. It has been known for over twenty years that it only takes one nuclear reactor to contaminate over half of the planet. None of the world’s 436 nuclear reactors are immune to human error, natural disasters, or any of the many other serious incidents that could cause subsequent disasters. Millions of people who live near nuclear reactors are at risk. Therefore, Fukushima is not simply Japan’s national disaster; it is a worldwide problem caused by an international failure with global consequences. Unless we act now to put the nuclear industry in check, the same confluence of greed, corruption and malpractice will likely lead to more such crises in the future. For it is not a question of technology and how we can control it better, but a political battle. We have to take action.
KP: What is the future of the site? Susanne: There are still 1300 fuel rods that have to be removed from the dangerous fuel pool of damaged Reactor 4 in Fukushima Daiichi. If one of them breaks, the workers will have to abandon the site. The removal is a highly complicated process that will take at least one year. And it is only the beginning. The melted or partially melted radioactive material in Reactors 1, 2 and 3 has to be removed in an even more complicated procedure. If in any of these efforts a major failure or some accident were to occur, the whole world could be exposed to a level of radiation incomparable to anything seen in the past. There are enough reasons to be less than optimistic about the situation. The responsible institutions including the UN, the IAEA and the WHO are almost completely in line with the interests of the nuclear industry. The number of independent experts within those institutions is very small. The reports by the UN (UNSCARE) have — as expected — downscaled the dangers and perpetuated the false impression that everything is under control.
Further Info: fukushima-diary.com fairewinds.org ippnw.org
KP: What is the role of the political in the “making” of Fukushima’s nuclear meltdown? What are our options to prevent another atomic catastrophe in the future? Susanne: Thanks to a virtual worldwide monopoly and an opaque electricity pricing system, the nuclear industry has become one of the biggest sources of loosely regulated cash for politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen who have remunerated TEPCO — and nuclear companies elsewhere — 63
From Occupy to WikiLeaks, the anarchist spirit of leaderless resistance, decentralized decision-making and autonomous self-governance is rising.
In the fall of 2011, as the autumn leaves were turning color, globally synchronized action in almost 1,000 cities in 82 countries was about to grab the world’s attention. On October, 2011, under the slogan “United for #GlobalChange”, millions of protesters worldwide took to the streets, occupied public plazas and organized General Assemblies. The centers of capitalist wealth and power were now under siege. As the word ‘Occupy’ indicated, those gatherings were not designed as one day protests. They were there for the long haul. In a time of rampant apathy and weakening civic power, the Occupy movement came as a surprise to the status quo. In the wake of the Arab Spring, some may have seen a rising tide on the horizon. From the Indignados movement, an iconic picture of Anonymous holding the sign “Nobody Expects the #Spanish Revolution“ went viral around the globe. The spirit of the uprising on Wall Street was similarly unexpected. Once the wave moved beyond Zucotti Park, Occupy spread across the world. Yet, after the winter’s slowdown and the brutal police crackdown of the encampment, the movement lost momentum and the waves of change seemed to be evaporating. Is it true that the Occupy movement is weakening? Are people not yet ready to truly challenge the corporate greed that is exploiting the majority of population for the benefit of 1%? The truth is, the tidal wave of world revolution is far from over. Just because it is less visible doesn’t mean Occupy is dead.
model practiced in the GA. He has pointed in particular to the movement’s effort to stay autonomous and independent from the extant institutions of representative democracy. This autonomous spirit manifests itself through direct action, which Graeber characterizes as “the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.” In his “Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology”, Graeber offered a historical context by showing how anarchism inspired the early waves of global resistance against the WTO and IMF and also, prior to this, how it inspired the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and their revolt in Chiapas. The Zapatistas’ rejection of the idea of seizing power and their creation of an autonomous self-government inspired movements throughout Mexico and the rest of the world.
Anarchy is the Mother of Order Historically, the word anarchism has often been portrayed in a negative light for political aims. The term anarchy has long been associated with chaos and violence, depicted as mob rule with no coherent demands except for a chaotic dismantling of the existing social order. With the general state of ignorance surrounding the idea of anarchism, the very word itself has become susceptible to extensive government and media manipulation. In the rise of Occupy, peaceful protesters, once again, were regularly portrayed in this negative light by the majority of the global press. Mainstream media, by sensationalizing the few store windows that happen to be smashed during demonstrations, deliberately generated an ungrounded fear of the movement within the general public, despite the fact that its nature and aims were precisely to peacefully resist the systemic violence and market chaos of global capitalism. After all, as Proudhon always emphasized, the “O” in the anarchist symbol stands for “Order”.
Occupy’s Anarchistic Impulse Despite police efforts to dismantle it, Occupy has already changed the direction of societies. It brought a new impulse that many felt was urgently needed. Mic check and consensus decision-making arose as a new style of communication that offered alternatives to traditional hierarchical modes of communication. David Graeber — an anarchist, anthropologist and author of “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” — was one of the activists involved in the creation of the General Assembly (GA) at Zuccotti Park, which was the gestation of the Occupy movement’s model of horizontal decision-making. Graeber has described anarchism as a form of social organization that embraces direct democracy and a form of self-governance without hierarchy. In Graeber’s vision, “anarchism is a commitment to the idea that it would be possible to build a society based on principles of self-organization, voluntary association and mutual aid.”
In the US, the FBI has also been attempting to brand occupiers with this demonizing image of violent anarchists, a term now treated by the government as virtually synonymous with the term terrorist. In Chicago, during the NATO summit in May 2012, police entrapped activists by having FBI informants provide bomb-making materials to them.1
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Graeber has shown how anarchist principles are at the very heart of the Occupy Movement, particularly its commitment to the leaderless, consensus-based decision-making
comrades at the Associated Whistleblower Press. 1.
Nozomi Hayase In Seattle and Portland, agents raided homes, seeking ‘anarchist’ literature and black clothes.2
our everyday lives. As we move deeper into the new millennium, many sense that historical social change is imminent and are excitedly imagining a different world. The truth may be that inwardly, a revolution has already taken place and people’s perception of the world and each other has fundamentally changed. It is a revolution of consciousness brought about in great part by the internet, an inherently decentralized communication platform that has led to a networked revolt.
The concocted image of a ‘black bloc’ using the word “anarchist” to describe violent street gangs that vandalize store windows is repeatedly drummed into the public mind, as they are told they need to be afraid. Anarchist Susan Brown demystified some of these misconceptions: While the popular understanding of anarchism is of a violent, anti-state movement, anarchism is a much more subtle and nuanced tradition than a simple opposition to government power. Anarchists oppose the idea that power and domination are necessary for society, and instead advocate more co-operative, anti-hierarchical forms of social, political and economic organization.3
The very existence of the internet signifies a triumph of connectivity over isolation, free flow over the control of information, and sharing over ownership. Before the Occupy movement emerged in the streets, squares and parks of the world, millions already occupied the global square of the internet. The miniature culture based on egalitarian ways of collaboration that blossomed in the early stages of Occupy, had already been thriving on the web for many years. This is the generation of the internet, connected to a world that is now just a click away; a generation that saw its reality captured in the metaphors and images of the Wachowski brothers’ film, The Matrix.
Sean Sheehan traces the word anarchism back to its Greek roots: The etymology of the word — anarchism meaning the “absence of leaders”, the absence of a government — signals what is distinctive about anarchism: a rejection of the need for the centralized authority of the unitary state, the only form of government most of us have ever experienced.4 Thus, anarchy does not refer to chaos or the absence of rules. It calls for the direct participation and the ongoing engagement of citizens with creating an inclusive form of decision-making and an egalitarian form of social organization.
As Morpheus explained to Neo: “You are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison…for your mind. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Many might have seen in Neo their own struggles. The Matrix that he was born into is much like the modern corporate state we all live in, where the biopower of commercial interests has taken over so much of our lives and torn the delicate interconnectedness out of the fabric of life itself. Intellectual property rights are used to protect and promote the hegemony of Western market values.5 Corporations like Monsanto genetically modify and attempt to control life itself. Trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) are all part of an artificially-made world order in which a tiny minority quite literally feeds parasitically off the vast majority of humanity.
Internet Revolution The Occupy movement opened up a space for public discourse that, in the last 20-30 years, has gradually been taken over by corporate actors. In these liberated spaces, a delicate tension arose between the familiar frame of reference for social change such as electoral systems and the more egalitarian and largely unknown or misunderstood idea of anarchism. This new movement has struggled to keep the horizontal space open and growing in the midst of a mental and physical battle that is orchestrated by those in power, desperate to keep things as they are. People often ask how a society could be organized without centralized control and hierarchy. But once the initial, highly stylized and negative image of anarchism is debunked and the non-violent and decentralized nature of the model is understood, some might still feel that the world imagined by these free thinkers is simply impossible or unrealistic. And yet the core principles that anarchists try to bring about in society already exist all around us in
Just like Neo, we have already taken the red pill and chose not to go back to ‘reality’. By plugging into a universal online network, each and every culture has collectively gone through a kind of virtual rite of passage without realizing what they were getting into — or just how
4. Sheehan, S. M. (2003). Anarchism, London: Reaktion Books, p.25.
3. Brown, S. L. (1993). The politics of individualism: liberalism,
liberal feminism and anarchism, New York: Black Rose, p.106.
Insurgent Anarchism: an Idea Whose Time Has Come
Nozomi Hayase deep the rabbit hole might go. From screen to screen across the vast internet, the centralized structures of outer society are rapidly melting away. Here is a world free from traditional boundaries and rules. In the digital space, this new field of pure potential is paved with online connections and shared visions among human beings from all corners of the globe.
the value of individual privacy and freedom. The methods developed to secure these values were inherently nonviolent. By expanding the laws of mathematics, these cyber-activists developed encrypted codes that no level of state violence could break. In the process, these frontier hacktivists inspired and empowered an entire generation. Jacob Applebaum talked about how the Cypherpunks radicalized and empowered people with the idea of open software:9 “That’s what started a whole generation of people really becoming more radical, because people realized that they weren’t atomized anymore, and that they could literally take some time to write software that could empower millions of people.” This trend continues. In August 2012, the idea of CryptoParties was born from a Twitter discussion. A Wiki page was set up recently that defines CryptoParties as “Interested parties with computers and the desire to learn to use the most basic crypto programs. CryptoParties are free to attend and are commercially non-aligned.” Two weeks after the term was coined, CryptoParties found their way all around the world. From one movement to another, this anarchist spirit revealed its diversity, crossing generations and boundaries.
Revolutionary Cypherpunks At first, this digital space appeared as a lawless Wild Wild West without borders. Nobody owned the Internet. It was a field of potential that could evolve in countless unknown directions. Over time, digital pioneers created their own rules of coding and programming that stretched traditional boundaries and limitations. In this early stage, computer programmers were like the first settlers of an online borderless land. Richard Stallman, the programmer and cyberguru, worked with other computer-savvy fellows to develop a set of principles through which new forms of coding could be designed to ensure that the digital commons stayed open. Stallman later instigated the Free Software Movement6 to maintain a stream of source code outside of the realm of proprietary licenses.
Anarchy in Action
Insurgent Anarchism: an Idea Whose Time Has Come citizen-led news media. This is quickly becoming a participatory process of understanding the world as it unfolds. People tweet and re-tweet, post and share, modifying the original message, correcting errors before they are reported as facts. The advent of social media, with videos and photos is empowering people to bring out their creativity and collaborate for what they care about.
The creation of this new digital currency is at its very core an anarchistic initiative, as it circumvents the centralized authority of central banks and the monopolized debtbased banking system. Morgen E. Peck summed up the way Bitcoin works as follows:15 Bitcoin balances can flow between accounts without a bank, credit card company, or any other central authority knowing who is paying whom. Instead, Bitcoin relies on a peer-to-peer network, and it doesn’t care who you are or what you’re buying.
As a result, communication flows beyond borders and people have access to multiple perspectives on unfolding events. Mathew Ingram, a senior writer with GigaOM opined how this development “has already become a real-time newswire for many, a source of breaking news and commentary on live events”.11 The exploding popularity of online networks in this anarchic spirit is quickly replacing traditional print media and becoming the new global “Fourth Estate“.
Recently, Bitcoin gained public attention through its usage in combating the ongoing financial blockade of WikiLeaks. Forbes reported that following the massive release of US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union stopped processing transactions to them. In spite of this banking blockade, WikiLeaks has gained substantial Bitcoin donations. This is a good example of the effective use of open source digital currency in counteracting private centralized monetary control and economic censorship. Although it still requires some improvements, such as securing real anonymity, Bitcoin is a successful and inherently anarchistic concept aimed at reshaping economic interactions and providing decentralized avenues of exchange and money-creation.
Peer-to-peer networks bypass centralized control of information and transform social relationships that in the past have typically been formed through hierarchy of class and professions. These connections are unprecedented in that they circumvent built-in filters in the flow of information. The peer-to-peer communication model is developing as a primary mode of working with the Internet, where each person’s free choice to become a bridge helps to build communication avenues that are so decentralized that they are virtually impossible to censor. They are meshed together,12 computer to computer, creating new pathways through which freedom and autonomy can flow. Peer-topeer trends are implemented in many aspects of daily life. Circumventing the traditional centralized banking system, people at the grassroots level are increasingly engaging in peer-to-peer lending.13 Michael Bauwens, creator of the Foundation for P2P Alternatives has revealed how a new form of innovation is emerging out of distributed peer-topeer networks.14 Unlike the corporate model of internally funded research and development (R&D), the P2P process fully engages individuals and often has better results as it gives them more access to the production process and more influence on the purpose and outcome. P2P production extends to direct action and participation, bringing the notion of democracy beyond a vague promise in the political realm to every aspect of our daily lives. With peer lending and production, why not create a peer-to-peer currency? Bitcoin, digital money, is one answer to this call.
Stallman described free software as that which users develop and operate without restrictions and which opposes “proprietary software”.7 It was created to respect the rights of developers and users to maintain control, both individually and collectively, over the invention and improvement of software that cannot be locked-down by vested interests. The goal is to fight against surveillance, Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) and backdoors activities that serve private interests by making changes to a program or installing intentionally malicious software. What drove Stallman’s endeavor was part of the so-called ‘Hacker Ethics’8 — the commitment to unlimited access to computers and internet, free flow of information and a general sense of mistrust of authority. These hacker ethics are fundamentally anarchistic in their commitment to decentralization and in their deeply anti-authoritarian views. Stallman’s work influenced individuals like Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, especially through his association with a group known as the Cypherpunks, which originated in an electronic mailing list set up to tackle the challenges of internet security and the development of cryptography. The Cypherpunks were pioneers of the open internet model that works to preserve online freedom. One thing that guided the Cypherpunks is an ethos of independent control of networks and a general distrust of governments, as well as
Just as the Occupy movement was initiated by anarchists, the social habitat of networking in cyberspace appears to have been inspired by this same spirit. Creative manifestations of anarchy-in-action are found everywhere online. Without even knowing it, millions of people are already participating in this flow. The Open Source Movement,10 an offshoot of the Free Software Movement, emerged to promote the collaborative production and free dissemination of information. Examples of important manifestations of open source software that have benefited millions of people are projects like Linux, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and web browser Mozilla. Wikipedia is unprecedented as a space where everyone can participate in developing the foundation of historical knowledge. Through voluntary collective processes, a horizontal surge of creativity directed toward a common goal with no personal profit motive. Wikipedia’s collaborative action pattern evolved and inspired many different movements such as crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding used to fund other non-profit projects. Similarly, social media links people together with the spirit of voluntary association and mutual aid. Instant information sharing and live-streams weave people in a network of
13. www.shareable.net/blog/an-introduction-to-peer-to- peer-lending
Resurgence Below the surface of the internet, a rapid transformation is underway. Peer-to-peer connections in cyberspace found their way onto the streets. With Mic Checks and General Assemblies, the people are coming together to create a circle. By looking each other in the eyes, they find one another anew as peers, equal partners and fellow citizens. It is not politicians and self-proclaimed experts, but peers — ordinary fellow citizens — that we have come to trust. Now, at last, we find ourselves at the beginning of a resurgence of the anarchist spirit.
11. www.gigaom.com/2012/06/12/why-traditional-media-should-beafraid-of-twitter 12. www.projectmeshnet.org
A conversation with Lucas Oliveira from the “Movimento Passe Livre” (MPL), which gained prominence for its important role in the Brazilian protests in summer 2013.
Krytyka Polityczna: We would like to begin with a naïve question: In Tunis, the revolution was inspired by the desire to topple the corrupt Ben Ali regime; in Athens, people went on the barricades because the economic crisis and austerity policies were cutting a swath of destruction throughout the whole of society; and in São Paulo, as elsewhere in Brazil, the largest social eruptions to sweep the country in decades were triggered by a price increase for public transportation by 20 Centavos (6 euro cents). Why was the cost of transport such a critical issue? Lucas Oliveira: I think that the issue of transportation is central to understanding the social eruptions in Brazil. Brazilian cities are heavily segregated along racial and economic lines. People rely on public transportation for access to basic services, including health care, education, culture and work. The fares are high; the conditions crowded, hot and derelict; and a worker in São Paulo will often face a 3-4 hour commute to work. The uproar over these conditions is nothing new. In 2003 and 2004, several mass mobilizations against fare hikes emerged all over the country. In particular the revolts in Salvador and Florianópolis, known as “War Fare”, gave rise to the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL), which organized the protests in summer 2013. Despite this history, however, nobody anticipated the massive popular eruptions that spread across São Paulo, an important political and economic center. The sustained outburst of energy in São Paulo soon empowered populations across the country to join the uprising.
KP: At what point did the demand to revoke the fare hike develop into a fundamental critique of the Brazilian political and economic system? Lucas: The increase in price is just a symptom — albeit a crucial one — of the many ailments plaguing Brazilian society today. At the most fundamental level, our protest was a backlash against the inequitable socio-economic design of Brazilian cities: a neoliberal urban development blueprint
where infrastructure is erected through the forced removal of poor citizens and where capitalist speculation is prioritized over investment in people. As Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, the politics of urban redevelopment reinforces these anti-social policies. We took the streets to offer a proposal for a new model for the city: a city in which people can move freely; a city in which people participate in political decisionmaking; a city that dares to look its poor in the eye. The many people who rose up did so because they are dedicated to achieving this new model.
KP: How where the protests organized? Lucas: When the price increase was announced, we decided on a series of short, radical and decentralized actions. We initially called for seven demonstrations within fourteen days; this grew into an intense, all-out revolt of more than two million people in over 100 cities. The riots were so strong that not even brutal interventions by the riot police, deploying tear gas and firing rubber bullets, could scare off the masses. We organized the demonstrations along non-hierarchical and decentralized lines. We refrained from using platforms and amplified sound to speak, for example, because these structures reinforced the figure of a leader in control of the masses. Musical performances and political songs played a big role in bringing people together in solidarity. We wanted to put into practice the idea that a free system of public transportation is possible, so we opened the back doors of our protest buses, symbolically burnt the turnstiles, and invited passengers to use the buses free of charge.
KP: How did you manage to deal with the discrepancy between the radical character of the protests and the ‘institutional’ nature of the main demand – the withdrawal of the price increase?
Lucas Oliveira Lucas: The protesters were very aware that the injustices they suffered due to the flawed public transportation system are linked to the fundamental problems of the political and economic system. The price increase made these problems immediately tangible and visible. The MPL was able to respond to this situation due to its hybrid makeup of classical anarchists, autonomous groups and dissident party youth. Moreover, these autonomous groups have been involved in the struggle for free passes for a long time. This particular configuration was very helpful because it allowed the movement to appear very radical by way of stirring a popular revolt, while at the same time taking advantage of opportunities for institutional dialogue and legal reform. But, of course, we also faced difficulties with our course of action. It was an experiment, and, ultimately, I wouldn’t dispose of any opportunities for experimentation in horizontality.
Of course political parties and traditional institutions would prefer to attribute the problems to a crisis of representation because this would mean that the solution can be folded into the current system: a slightly reformed model of democracy in which the centralized representative organs are preserved, but with a somewhat greater openness to hearing the demands and concerns of the population. But I think this line of argumentation misses the point.
KP: Did the strong demand for participation the MPL was promoting at some point come full circle upon itself, questioning its prominent role in the uprising? Lucas: Yes, it did. In fact, we were studying protests in the recent past, where the original organizers of a demonstration lost control over the direction of the movement. And we concluded that this is what was also necessary for São Paulo. We pushed for an intense struggle that we wouldn’t be able to control, because in fact we shouldn’t be able to control it. On June 6th, 2013, for example, there were a huge number of events, beginning with a spontaneous demonstration which was called for by people we didn’t even know. Then other groups started calling for demonstrations as well: the MTST (“The Homeless Workers Movement”) called for three simultaneous demonstrations that day alone. June 6th marked a turning point because it was the day when the government realized that not only the organizers, but also the government itself could not regulate the unfolding events. This is an important concept: Within a horizontal organization, the possibility of a revolt getting out of control is not a frightful prospect. You are, of course, trying to push the process toward a particular direction, but without having full control.
KP: How is the MPL organized? Lucas: The MPL originally took the form of local committees that began to organize activities in neighborhoods and schools, initiating discussions about such things as student free passes and the right to the city. So, from the outset, our model of organization followed a grassroots-democratic and non-hierarchical approach. That we were a non-partisan, horizontal and leaderless movement was endlessly repeated by the media and even by the government, but these descriptors only touch the surface. Beneath the surface of these terms is a long history of practical experience, as well as disagreements between the different groups and traditions. We argue a lot within the movement, but most decisions on organizational principles and tactics are consensual and based on building balanced relationships and horizontal networks. We place so much emphasis on this approach because we believe that a social movement must organize itself according to the values and structure of the society that it promotes. It would be absurd to use a hierarchical structure to build an egalitarian society. Similarly, our model for public transportation is organized to allow workers and users to participate equally in the decision making process.
KP: Another dimension to this loss of control is the question of violence. Lucas: I consider the “violence” of a popular revolt to be expressive. For example, when a bus is hit or smashed, it makes no sense to call this a violent act. After all, it is just a bus, and the act of hitting is an expression of indignation over the injustices of the public transportation system that the bus symbolizes. I always say this: What is the violence of breaking a window compared to the violence of breaking a leg? So it‘s important to be clear about the context, which is a response to the daily oppression and violence of the state perpetrated against its citizens. Let’s consider as well the actions that blocked the Avenida 23 de Maio in São Paulo, where people were setting fire to tires, which is a difference to just breaking windows; or the blockade of the entire Marginal Pinheiros: These were not necessarily violent acts, but they were radical, and they eventually played an important role in achieving the fare reduction.
KP: A common, i.e. bourgeois, explanation for this organizational form, which is found in contemporary revolutionary movements across the globe, is the inability of political parties to effectively address the demands of the people. Do you see evidence of this so-called “crisis of representation” in Brazil? Lucas: I do not really subscribe to this explanation because the problems arise not exactly due to a “crisis of representation”. It is much more a demand for genuine political participation by the people. These are two different things. 72
“Only direct action can create real transformation“ KP: What role did digital technologies play in the protests, not merely in terms of mobilization tools, but as tools for autonomous content production?
KP: Are there new preparations for mass rallies? Lucas: In 2014, the World Cup will be held in Brazil. History has shown time and again that during the lead-up to such international spectacles, the neoliberal state will use urban development to benefit the wealthy class at the expense of the wellbeing of the larger population. Millions of dollars have been expended on football arenas, but people aren’t having their basic needs met. So it is quite possible that we will see further mass rallies in the coming year. On the other hand, popular support for MPL has increased and we have launched new initiatives in neighborhoods throughout the city, so even if there are not mass actions in the immediate future we will have a lot of work to do.
Lucas: News of the uprisings in both Salvador in 2003 and Florianópolis in 2004 was widely disseminated by the Center for Independent Media (CMI). The CMI was fundamental, even critical, for disseminating and nationalizing these struggles, because it allowed us to understand was happening in other cities. Of course, it is of no use to create a presence on Facebook if you are not already a reference. It was not Facebook that made the Movimento Passe Livre a reference, because it is not magic. Social networking is a tool that is able to mirror your actual work. But if you do not have the groundwork, a real organization, the social network will not be able to leverage anything. And is it an important tool? Yes it’s very important. Even more so if we take into account that, from 2011 onwards, a phenomenon happened in Brazil: Facebook became popular. It became massively used by the working class. Everyone has Facebook now, especially service workers. This latent potential is interesting because it creates an opportunity to produce counter-information. Consider the case of CMI. The CMI functioned as a discourse of counter-information, information that was not reported by the bourgeois media. It served as an independent content platform, with the people writing about our own actions, about our own mobilization. There is no way that traditional media today can ignore this circulation of information, and this forces a repositioning.
KP: What were the most important lessons for you personally when it comes to political mobilization through social movements? What knowledge can you share, for example with regard to how one can mobilize for not only reform, but for radical change? Lucas: Only direct action can create real transformation. In the last years in Brazil the social movements chose to negotiate rather than put real pressure on the government — with no results. Worse, it caused them to lose their radicalism. The lesson here is that it is important to demand radical change. When people organize themselves and form a movement, they position themselves to take practical, hands on, control of politics and economics, even if only for short time. The revolts in the summer of 2013 showed many people that radical mobilization can be successful.
KP: The operating mode of social media — mobilizing and creating awareness through decentralized networks — is originally a method derived from a leftist militant toolkit. Lucas: Exactly. They were tools of the Left. This is the autonomist theory of capitalist development with which I agree: It is the people who create tools, but capitalism appropriates them and turns them into something else. Undoubtedly, Facebook is not, allegedly or potentially, nor is it intended to be a tool for social transformation. Facebook is a capitalist venture that re-appropriated a network-based technology created by the left.
KP: What was the ultimate outcome of the protest? Lucas: The first victory was the reduction of public transportation fares in more than 100 cities. After that, the government tried to coopt this social initiative and bring it under the fold of the established order. They announced some public policy reforms in the fields of transportation and health, but in general these were minor reforms. At the same time, the state apparatus increasingly criminalizes and persecutes the “vandals”, attempting to create divisions within the movement. 73
Napuli Paul Langa
A conversation with Napuli Paul Langa, a human rights activist who is involved in the Refugee Movement in Berlin.
Napuli Paul Langa Krytyka Polityczna: 15 months ago, refugees in Germany decided that they would no longer accept their miserable living conditions. They left the Lagers1 where they are forced to live, marched in protest through many cities and, upon their arrival in Berlin, occupied two spaces from which they have continued to organize.2 Why did you join the movement?
to Europe. As soon as I arrived, I ended up in this prison called Lager.
KP: How did you get in contact with the movement? Napuli: The Refugee Bus Tour, which visited dozens of Lagers throughout Germany in order to inform other refugees about the movement, came to my city. So I joined them. In October 2012, after our arrival in Berlin and the occupation of Oranienplatz,3 we organized a big demonstration that was supported by thousands of people. As there was no reaction whatsoever from the politicians, we decided to stay at Oranienplatz and set up a protest camp until our demands were met: the abolition of the Lagers, abolition of Residenzpflicht,4 which forbids us to leave the city where we are accommodated, and the cessation of deportations. We also started to build networks on a transnational scale. In July 2013, I travelled to six European countries in order to establish contact with refugee activists.
Napuli Paul Langa: I came to seek asylum in the city of Braunschweig in July 2012, and was placed in a Lager where I was deprived of my self-determination. I was isolated from the outside world, and stripped of my privacy. The Lager authorities didn’t know or care about why I was here or who I was. I had brought all the documents and resources of my organization with me to Germany in order to re-establish it here, but I couldn’t do anything because I was held like a captive. Then, I found out that everyone else in the Lager was experiencing the same life. So I refused to accept this condition. I knew I had to do something.
KP: What organization had you been working for before you came here?
KP: How dangerous is it for you to travel?
Napuli: In 2004, I joined the Sudanese Organization for Nonviolence and Development (SONAD) because I saw what people in Sudan were going through. But in 2011, I was expelled by the dictatorial government because we were too critical of their policies. There are not many options in a case like this: either you are killed, put in prison or you flee.
Napuli: It is quite dangerous because if they stop you, they can imprison or deport you. My lawyer advised me against it, but I believe that justice will not come easily. In 2014, we will concentrate our actions on Brussels where the people and institutions responsible for deportations and killings through Frontex are based. This movement is about the broader picture: the German and the European asylum policy. If somebody dies at Oranienplatz, that death is the responsibility of the authorities. Mohammad Rahsepar — the refugee who killed himself in his Lager in Würzburg, thus prompting the protest march to Berlin — was not committing suicide. The German government killed him. He could no longer bear the inhumanity of this existence: the isolation, the controls, and the indignity. We all have had enough.
KP: What did they do to you? Napuli: They tortured me for four days. Then they released me under a condition: As I was responsible for the finances of SONAD, I was seen as the key to its elimination. They had also begun to target other organizations, including Save the Children, so they needed me to figure out how the money was flowing and which organizations were involved.
KP: Which was the driving force behind your involvement in the protest: the urgency of change or the hope that some change would come about?
KP: They wanted you as an informant. Napuli: Exactly. This is when I ran away. I went to Uganda and founded my own organization because I don’t see myself as a victim. Wherever I go, I will fight for the right to live freely. So I established the Sudanese Activists for Non-Violence and Human Rights organization. Before it was registered, the government launched a crackdown on many oppositional organizations. So I had to leave Uganda and this time I went to Europe. It was never my plan to go
Napuli: There are things that are important, but not urgent. Then, there are unimportant things that are urgent. Our struggle is both important and urgent. People are dying every day; we do not have the luxury to simply wait and 3. A public plaza located in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Berlin’s most alternative district.
“We do not have the luxury to hope for a better future. We need change now!” hope that the situation will change in the future. We need change now. We are, once again, being threatened with eviction from our protest camp by the German government. Let them come. We will see what will happen. We will do whatever possible. They don’t know what we are planning. So it’s better for them to give us our basic human rights before things get worse.
Napuli: Then they must tell us another place. We don’t want Oranienplatz either. Who wants to be in that freezing place? But there is nowhere for us to go, other than to prison. We need this space in order to remain visible to the public. Their demand is out of the question regardless; it is we who choose the form of our resistance, not some politicians who are responsible for our condition in the first place. As soon as our demands are met, we will leave.
KP: How did the movement change over the course of the last 15 months?
Apart from that, if they are supporting the movement, but not our protest camp, they are just playing politics. Real solidarity means that when you agree on the same goals, you don’t withdraw your support simply because your “allies” choose a different path to reach that goal. In 2012, in the first days of the occupation, a group of refugees decided to go on hunger strike at the Brandenburg Gate — the symbolic center of the capital. Some of us thought that such a move was premature, and that we should consider it only as a last resort. But the group chose to do it, and of course we stood in solidarity and supported them. This is how one can learn to differentiate between real and opportunist supporters.
Napuli: One has to understand that here our lives are not normal; we cannot function like normal human beings. In the Lagers, the authorities wield total control; our rooms are subjected to daily searches, every morning at 6am; the authorities have keys to our rooms and can enter whenever they please. We are not allowed to work or to send our children to school; we are supposed to only eat and sleep, like animals. The Lagers are fraught with fighting, mainly because of overwhelming frustration. At the protest camp, we have built an autonomous space where we have been able to gain some self-determination. Here, we are at least addressing our problems; we are here for one another. In a very general sense, my participation in the movement is about my sense of self. No one here wants to be a refugee. But it can happen, and when it does, we have to support one another. What is most important is that Oranienplatz still exists and our fight continues.
KP: In addition, some of these self-proclaimed supporters recently discovered their humanitarian side: They publically raised their voices to save the refugees from the bitter cold that reigns over Oranienplatz in winter. Napuli: It’s politics. They don’t care if we are freezing or not. They thought that we would abandon the camp by ourselves after a while, but we stayed. Once they realized that we were determined, they had to shift their tactics. Now, they either demand eviction “for our own protection” or they claim that we violate the law and therefore must be evicted.
KP: Have you seen some positive developments since the commencement of the movement, like the growth of popular support? Napuli: It’s true: we have managed to enlarge our solidarity network. We receive a lot of support from German citizens in terms of food, clothes, financial resources, education and so on. For example, there are students giving free German classes to refugees at the occupied school5 in Kreuzberg. We also receive political support: Many groups and organizations are now fighting for our demands and spreading our message. Our networks have expanded over the course of time. Now we are able to mobilize 500 people within minutes and 3,000 people within one week. This is our current mobilization potential, and it is growing.
KP: A few months ago, the district government responded to the demand of refugees to provide decent accommodation. The district rented a house in order to temporarily accommodate the refugees from Oranienplatz in exchange for the eviction of the protest camp. Napuli: This deal was a sham. Besides the fact that those who found a place there have to leave again in a few months, the house accommodates only eighty people. What about the others?
KP: Some politicians claim that they support the refugee protest but disagree with its form; they see Oranienplatz as a public place that belongs to the city and therefore an inappropriate location for the movement.
KP: At the time the deal was sealed, it was said that there were eighty people living at Oranienplatz.
4. “Residenzpflicht” (German for “mandatory residence”)
Napuli: They lied. I was there. Monika Herrmann…
is a German law that obliges asylum seekers to live within certain geographical boundaries in Germany defined by their Lager authorities. It is a unique
5. The Gerhart-Hauptmann-Schule, a former school, was occupied by
for a specific type of house where asylum seekers are obliged to live.
law in Europe, and was considered a violation of human rights in a report by
refugee activists in 2012. It serves both as a political and living space and
the United Nations.
accommodates several hundred people.
“Lager” (literally “camp” like in internment camp) is the German word
KP: …the mayor of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, the district where Oranienplatz and the occupied school are located… 77
Napuli Paul Langa Napuli: …made secret meetings with a contingent of the refugees. She negotiated only with the Lampedusa refugees who have no chance of receiving asylum due to the Dublin II Regulation6 and who have no accommodations here. She knew that it would be easier to negotiate an eviction of Oranienplatz with the Lampedusa people because many of them, out of sheer necessity, primarily demand a place to live. This is why some of them eventually made the deal. We support the people who now have a house, but many of them didn’t realize what the deal would mean for them because they were not made aware of their realistic options. They were dragged into this decision by the government. I told Herrmann that she is on the wrong track and that she is suppressing people. She refused to hear me. So she tried to create a division between us in order to more easily evict our camp.
the situation. They can deport as many as they want, but people will still come. They don’t examine the root of the problem; they don’t even ask the question of why these people are coming.
KP: But the eviction was ultimately prevented.
KP: A current strategy by politicians and the corporate media is to claim that left-wing activists are instrumentalizing the refugees to suit their own political agendas.
KP: What has been the impact of the global revolutionary uprisings since 2010/2011 on the Refugee Movement? Napuli: Before, there was no connection between movements. In Greece, where the refugee situation is really horrible, the migrants’ movement organized demonstrations. There were also actions in France, Poland and Italy, but they were not synchronized. Now, we are organizing on an international level. We build networks and share experiences. The global uprisings raised the awareness that we have to act in solidarity.
Napuli: Yes, but this was only because we strongly defended the space. We mobilized hundreds of people and blocked the riot police from entering. Now we have the Oranienplatz and a house. Therefore, in retrospect, we also played a game.
Napuli: Those who say that are the ones who instrumentalize us. They use our struggle as propaganda against their political enemies. You don’t have to be very clever in order to grasp that it is mainly the politicians who are trying to use us, by making secret deals, by dividing us, by deporting us. The Refugee Movement is a self-organized movement: we initiated and built it, and we are organizing the actions. No one who has lent us support in terms of resources and political mobilization has ever tried to tell us what to do.
KP: Do the authorities place additional pressure on refugees who are politically active? Napuli: Yes, they do. For example, they increasingly penalize people for breaking the Residenzpflicht. Moreover, your participation in political demonstrations or groups has a negative impact on your asylum process. Right now, they are trying to split us into “radical” and “non-radical” refugees; into bad and good refugees. The ones who are labeled radical are either excluded from negotiations or are facing consequences with regard to their permission to stay here.
KP: It is as tough they wish to superficially redeem themselves for the substantial mistakes of the past.
madness. If you read Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,7 you will see that the Residenzpflicht is a violation of our fundamental human rights. In this context, which side is realistic and which is not? Everything is possible.
Napuli: Exactly. Equally, the global spread of NGOs promoting development work in “third world countries,” or sending students there for “cultural exchange”, is almost schizophrenic. You have to change your own behavior before you can facilitate someone else’s. If I am a violent person, I cannot teach non-violence to someone else. True social transformation works according to “do as I do,” but the powers that be are saying: “Do as I say!” In other words, why are they aiding the poor without addressing poverty? Why don‘t they change the system that produces poverty? It’s absurd.
KP: Do you think these demands can be achieved within the current system — that of nation states, geopolitical wars, capitalist exploitation and institutional racism — or do we need more fundamental change? Napuli: One the one hand, the achievement of demands doesn’t require a big change. For example, we are told that there is no place for us to live apart from the Lagers. Recently, the German government decided to accept 5,000 Syrian refugees. Suddenly there are houses, which means that the achievement of our goals is matter of political pressure on the existing institutions. On the other hand — and here I agree with you — we require a more fundamental shift in the mindsets of many people. The government finds itself in a paradoxical situation: Why do you invite more refugees to your country when you are suppressing the ones that are already there?
KP: How can the protest be supported? Napuli: You can do a lot: spread our message in your channels, raise the awareness of your friends, hold seminars about the refugee problem, share information on social media, organize solidarity actions, put pressure on politicians and the media and so on. I know that many people ask themselves this question, but I think that they already know the answer when they think about it and know our situation. They just need to do it. There are many ways, and every one of us has different skills that can be useful.
KP: They claim that these activists are creating false expectations and unrealistic hopes. Napuli: I don’t have hope that someone else will do it for me. I do it myself. Right now, for example, I am breaking the Residenzpflicht, which is an inhumane law that deprives refugees of their freedom of movement. So I am already practicing what I want to achieve; I am not dependent on a vague hope that this law will be abolished in some distant future. The important thing is to take action.
KP: Are more people getting deported? Napuli: Many people have been deported already. Some of us are in prison, either in deportation prisons or regular ones. People disappear suddenly, from one day to the next. It’s horrible. On the other hand, some of those who have been deported are coming back, even if they have to risk dangerous transit on the Mediterranean Sea again. The politicians don’t realize that they cannot solve the refugee problem through deportation; they simply aggravate 6.
“We do not have the luxury to hope for a better future. We need change now!”
KP: What about the other two demands: the abolition of the Lagers and the cessation of all deportations? Are they realistic? Napuli: By any means. The Lagers are concentration camps. So they have to be abolished. It’s as simple as that. I mean, for us it is not even realistic to exist. Everything around us is completely unrealistic. For example, it is not realistic that we don’t have houses, don’t even have a place where we can live in freedom and self-determination. And what is the reason for the Residenzpflicht? I am already in Germany, why can I not move or visit other people? This is
The Dublin II Regulation determines that refugees can seek asylum in the
state through which they first entered the EU. Germany is entirely surrounded by states that ratified Dublin II, which practically means that the German authorities can easily deport refugees who came through the neighboring countries without checking the asylum status.
Darlinton and Mimi (Refugee Strike) meet Shaiba and Serafima (Pussy Riot), Berlin
The article states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement
and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
Christos Giovanopoulos and Antonis Vradis
Christos Giovanopoulos was active in the communication group of the People’s Assembly at Syntagma Square and co-edited the book “Democracy Under Construction: From the Streets to the Squares”. Antonis Vradis is a research fellow at crisis-scape.net, member of the Occupied London collective and co-editor of “Revolt and Crisis in Greece”. KP: When talking about the global resistance of the last years, the timeline usually goes like this: the Arab Spring started at the end of 2010, the Indignados of Spain followed in May 2011, and the following autumn the resistance spread all over the globe through Occupy. But the mass protests in Greece had already been going on for some time before the Arab Spring, and they’ve continued unabated since. How did the movement in Greece change during this period?
lence. This marked the end, the final de-legitimation of the technocrat government around Papademos. And it was the same people who intervened electorally in the summer of 2012, by voting for Syriza. It all resulted from the earlier actions. Antonis Vradis: December 2008 already marked the end of the classical period because the social base did not consist solely of anarchists, leftists, migrants and students. But in May 2010, you suddenly had a much more general and popular uprising. Even though it took place outside of the parliament building, Syntagma 2011 was new because the protesters were not demanding anything from politicians. At that time, they had already decided that they had nothing to expect from them and had started to organize themselves. There was no direct contact with the people inside the parliament.
Christos Giovanopoulos: When Alexis was killed and the massive riots broke out in December 2008, the movement was still in its infancy. That winter was a liminal moment that marked the end of the previous period and the commencement of an unknown future. It initiated a phase of intense popular resistance characterized by fierce and visible social struggles that came very close to being a popular revolt. Since then, there have been many developments. The events around May 2010, for example, were driven by classic trade union strikes. However, there were already other elements involved, and the people in the streets were staging the first attempt to storm the parliament. So alongside the union politics there was a mass movement against the Troika and the austerity measures. You could say that the strike had been hijacked, and as the struggle progressed new movements continued to join the fray. Between autumn 2010 and summer 2011, there were the “Don’t Pay” campaign and the migrants’ hunger strike.
Christos: What’s interesting is that whenever you have these big movements and transformative moments, they are followed by a retreat. It’s not that the people stop being active, but they need to digest what has happened before; and then the movement returns with the same force, but in a different form. In the Syntagma occupation, everybody was now asking. Where have all the Squares gone? It was a big debate. At that time, those parts of the movement that you could call the most radical had a very avant-gardist and traditional view, and said: We have to call everybody back to the Squares. But the people did it in a different way. They set up a campaign in the neighborhoods to collectively refuse to pay the new property tax. Then they stormed the military parade. This was the same practice used by the resistance before, but never on this massive scale among the general populace. So the big moments to come are unforeseeable. It’s a matter of swarming tactics; you cannot organize them. You have to work on preparing a general mood among the people, but you can never foresee when it will break out. And what one knows from previous experience is always recombining with many new elements.
Then, in May 2011, the Squares came onto the scene, bringing the first signs of a new political culture, and going beyond all known forms of resistance. As there was a general strike going on at this time, the workers — from anarchists to Marxists — were mixing with trade unionists, more militant blocs and people from the Squares. It was an unprecedented moment. This contact with the Squares had an effect on the other groups. For example, when a new round of strikes came, they had different characteristics than previous strikes. And the public sector workers who spontaneously occupied some ministries in the fall of 2011 had appropriated the Square’s model of organization.
KP: So the elusive Square movement was even more radical than the well-organized radical groups — groups of the 90s, as well as those involved in 2008 — because they were not addressing the political scene?
In February 2012, likewise, there was a huge outburst of anger leading to a massive, very militant movement. But it wasn’t just violence by some minority group taking advantage of the situation, it was spontaneous popular vio81
Christos Giovanopoulos and Antonis Vradis Christos: The Squares changed the political imagination and the coordinates of social contestation. They changed how things are discussed. It was the end of the political representation of post-dictatorial democracy. It had lost its social consensus completely. In the Squares, the main slogan was: “We will not leave the Squares until we get rid of them”. This “us” and “them” was an effective political strategy, but it wasn’t planned, it grew out of the crowd: “Them” was the political and economic elite, the Troika, even the political parties; the “us” were the people, regardless of background. The message was: “We are united in this moment and have symbolically taken this Square. And you are inside this building, and trapped”. This changed the whole discussion. Out of the radicalism of the Squares many things could be born.
and so on today, beyond the formalist approach of radicalism. It broke with this assumption — I simplify of course — that you are more radical the more violent you are or the more demands you have. It produced a paradigm on an immense scale, with massive participation, and it spread all over the country. The many solidarity movements and self-organized structures that exist in Greece now and cover different fields such as health, education, food and so on would not exist without Syntagma. It transformed the idea of resistance and made it accessible to ordinary people. For me this is a radical achievement. The number of people who are now active in these groups is the largest it’s been in the last 30 years.
KP: Change takes time, also within anarchist communities. Is there a process of opening up?
KP: Does this unity still continue? Antonis: Absolutely. I think More and more people are beginning to realize this. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the eviction of the Villa Amalias, the most important and symbolic squat that the anarchist scene ever had. Its significance is perhaps akin to the Köpi in Berlin or the Rote Flora in Hamburg. On the way here, I ran into some people from the Villa. They told me that they set up a banner that simply said “We are still here”, but it was taken down within minutes. They realize that you cannot maintain these structures without the participation of others. Many of them have already set up new places that are organized differently: much more open and much more like community centers. Three years ago, this would have been impossible. We missed a big opportunity, but I’m optimistic because people are beginning to understand more and more.
Antonis: First, to clarify, anarchists didn‘t have a strong presence in the Squares. I was there, but I was in the minority among my comrades.
KP: Why? Antonis: This was very disappointing to see. The anarchists don‘t have any immediate demands towards the authorities. However, they didn‘t go to Syntagma because they considered it to be partly apolitical and partly even nationalist or at least a hotbed for nationalist sentiments. But the only reason why such elements existed in the Squares was because there wasn’t a presence there to stop them from growing. So it was a mistake not to intervene and to actively try to change this from the inside. If you don’t go and get involved you can’t raise any kind of accusations against the people who do. At least they are trying to fight. Coming back to the question of radicalism: It is very difficult to say if this unity continues, but this is why I consider Syntagma so important and exciting, even though most of my comrades would think otherwise. Most of the people who went to the Squares didn’t have the burden of ideology. This was a very important factor. Background didn’t play a role. If we needed food or other things, we organized it collectively. It was a completely new way of coming together. Now, was this radicalism? Yes, it was. Did we address the political system? No. Did it stand the test of time? For many people it did; for many others it didn’t because they are not in the Squares anymore. So in order to be able to say if it‘s radical, we have to judge not only what the people did, but what is left of it what they did: its legacy. I still believe in Syntagma a lot.
KP: How did the Greek Left, apart from the anarchists, react to the Squares? Christos: Similarly. The majority was very critical against the Squares. For example, the communist party condemned the Squares. It took them 10 days to accept that the Squares had changed the political agenda. And when they tried to intervene, they did it in a very avant-gardist way: in the sense of ‘we know exactly what to do and how to organize it’. But because of the masses of people and this unmediated process of democratic decision-making, they couldn’t. It was amazing! They were forced to realize the power of this specific form of organization. The larger the assembly was — and I am speaking of several thousands of people taking part in the assemblies each night — the bigger the result was. It reflected the general will in a better way. And the larger it was, the more difficult it was for the different groups to hijack the assembly. Recently, three or so months ago, when the state cracked down on the Golden Dawn, the former social democrats,
Christos: Syntagma carried the questions that December 2008 raised: How do you define the concepts of radicalism, ideology, democracy, self-organization, direct democracy 82
“Out of the radicalism of Syntagma Square many things could be born” PASOK, claimed that Golden Dawn was a result of the Syntagma Square occupation. Interestingly, this was an accusation that was first phrased by anarchists and leftists during the days of the Square occupation.
Christos (laughs): Exactly. And it‘s absurd, compared to Taksim in terms of politicization and organization, Syntagma was — and I am not idealizing — much more radical.
KP:This is very similar to the situation in Germany. Almost every political eruption that has taken place in Greece in the last years was being supported and followed with huge interest. However, when the Occupy movement in Germany evolved, even though it was tiny compared to others, many radical groups here showed nothing but contempt or disinterest.
KP: Because they believed the Squares were nationalist? Christos: Yes, because the Greek flag has a fixed meaning and you are automatically a nationalist if you carry one.
KP: No doubt. Christos: So they couldn’t understand how people were re-negotiating symbols. Moreover, they weren’t willing to deal with the complexity and hybridity of the people. But this is how people are. This is why I consider these radical groups traditional now. They cannot keep up with the new elements evolving. On the other hand, and on a practical level, there is much more cooperation. I remember the big demonstration in front of Villa Amalias, where the majority of the more than 10,000 people that were there was not anarchist. They thought if the state goes against Villa Amalias, they would go against all the squats and also against the social centers as well as the structures of solidarity.
Christos: And I believe the same goes for the Pirate Party in Germany. Another example is the autonomous scene in Italy and how they understand the Grillo phenomenon: They concentrate on the discourse of these movements, their symbols and so on, but don’t go deeper to recognize the transformative power of participating and giving life to new movements that open up questions, rather than building up movements around ready-made answers to questions that haven’t even been uttered yet.
KP: The new architecture of the revolution that has been developed since 2011 is often characterized as a bundle of spontaneous outbursts, mass protests and elusive, decentralized networks — an architecture with neither a plan nor a design, but with immense transformative power. One could even call it an “artitecture”. But this doesn’t replace the vital importance of building social infrastructures that ensure the viability of the movement after the Squares are empty. For in the end every, every Square will be empty, either because of repression or because people will simply go home. What structures did Syntagma produce?
KP: Antonis, how do you, as an anarchist, deal with the criticism against the anarchist scene of being dogmatic at this point? Antonis: It’s correct. Sadly, some anarchists and many leftists still say that. This is what they have in common with the government. At this point, I am not very defensive of my own political scene. Let them defend their own actions. But it’s not about where you come from, it’s about how you understand the situation. And the fact that there were people with Greek flags doesn’t make them fascist. I personally feel very uncomfortable demonstrating next to a person with a Greek flag, and there were also people that were clearly shouting some far-right slogans. But they were in the minority. The thing is that in order to understand the situation, I consider it very important to be at the place. If you only read about it in the newspaper, you are bound to make a very similar interpretation to that of the government, and that’s a terrible thing! It is amazing how far away the descriptions of Syntagma are from the actual events.
Christos: First of all, we have to consider the magnitude of this phenomenon in Greece. According to newspaper polls at that time, 28 percent of the Greek population participated in this movement in one way or another, which adds up to about three million people. It was spontaneous, even sometimes chaotic and dis-organized, but exactly the loose networks of the Squares were what created the 300 or so structures of solidarity in Greece that we now have. These didn’t exist before.
KP: Can you give an example? Christos: These structures work in many different fields: social health centers, social pharmacies without middlemen markets, free exchange initiatives, social auxiliary classes, soup kitchens, cultural groups and so on. There are also occupations of companies like the Vio.Me factory that was resuscitated and is now run by the workers themselves. The Squares are not something geographical or spatial. The Square is a political concept, a social practice. This is why
Christos: Antonis went to Taksim Square last year. Some Greek anarchists who were adamant against the Square Movement in Greece suddenly produced posters and flyers in solidarity...
KP: ...with Occupy Gezi? 83
Christos Giovanopoulos and Antonis Vradis they couldn’t empty the Squares, even though the Square was empty. The Squares spread out and gave life to all these other initiatives. What they didn’t manage to do was to replace the political force of the parties as many people expected. But the Squares were not in the position to do this at the time because organizing the political struggle, especially on the level of the confrontation with the state, and changing the power structures is a completely different matter.
other things. This is something you have to prevent from happening. My optimism comes from the development of these solidarity movements and structures to counter that development.
KP: Which is another paradox: The explanation they give to the question of why people are not protesting is that the material conditions are too good. Christos: I was never into this linear understanding between cause and result. As a Marxist, I am very dialectic. Everything is a unity of contradictions…
Antonis: In many ways the Squares haven’t spoken yet. I really think this is a way to tackle the questions of what has been achieved and what we want. Even if the Squares didn’t speak, the apparatus against them has spoken, with its repression. On the side of the authorities, this is clearly a signal of their fear of what might come. The eviction of Villa Amalias was such a signal, as well as the repression against the migrants, the workers and so on.
KP: …the “Aporia”…
“Out of the radicalism of Syntagma Square many things could be born” If you want to build a movement and create a revolutionary subject you have to have the agents. Furthermore, capitalism and money work globally, and that creates the field of contestation for the social struggle. But we don’t need to replicate the forms, circulation and fluidity of capital. Let’s liberate our imagination from the idea that we organize ourselves in the way capital is organized. It is the capitalist relation that tries to homogenize us. We don’t have the luxury to operate only on the global level or only on the local level.
international dimension — because immediately after, other countries replicated it. I was in Sweden last year where they were starting the same thing: checks of migrants in the metro, specifically in public spaces, and they stated explicitly that it came from the experiences in Greece.
KP: Not to forget, the racist police controls in Hamburg against Lampedusa refugees. Antonis: Another example: After the Squares there was a criminalization of the right to protest that made you a criminal simply for being in a public space. You had it in Egypt, now you have it in Spain too…
KP: But the form that our resistance takes is not automatically determined by capital only because it goes global. It is up to ourselves how we organize globally.
KP: …and in the US and in Russia… Christos: …yes, and historically revolutions were not led by the poor, but by educated people, educated workers like in the Russian Revolution. So it is not the poorer you get, the more active you are. You might be angrier, and lose any connection to the system, but you can be very selfish, acting just to survive, at the expense of any ideal.
KP: You made the system nervous. Antonis: I really think so.
KP: How important are international networks? KP: There is a paradox involved. On the one hand, increased repression can lead to a complete dismantlement of the resistance; on the other hand it can further alienate the population and trigger more protests. Based on your experience, under which circumstances does repression work or not work?
Antonis: One of the most fascinating elements of the current movement is the fact that it is a global movement. And this also has to do with your previous question regarding what the results have been: You protest in one country and you see people being inspired and taking to the streets in their own city. It’s phenomenal. I think we live in an important historical moment. So far, it’s a wave of global uprising, and there is no way in hell you would have achieved that without networks. So it‘s not just important, but perhaps the key task of a movement.
Antonis: Usually it works only when it uses carrots and a stick.
KP: A wall poster in Athens says: “As carrots run out, sticks become plenty.”
Christos: The problem I have with the concept of a global uprising, is that it implies a formalist political imagination. It expresses a wish, rather than a reality. I believe that the majority of the global population is still local. I don’t mean that we are not facing a phase of globalization of experiences and struggles. On the contrary. But I believe that global uprisings mainly reflect the local conditions in which the people live. We should not forget the local dimension of where you work and fight together with your people.
Antonis: Exactly. The carrots are running out completely, but I also don’t think that the sticks are going to be enough. Christos: In my opinion, these kinds of tactics are only effective when the movement is small. But when you speak of tens of thousands, not to say hundreds of thousands of people that are active, it is really difficult to stop it. But the danger does not come so much from the oppression. The oppression shows the nervousness of the system and the limitation of the system to find any means to establish a social consensus. The bigger problem is that as long as you don’t have change in the center of the political field, not even a small one to soften the situation, the material conditions will further deteriorate. And this produces a very violent environment, which can make the resistance break down. State suppression cannot work on its own. So they try to play out the violence of one against the other, of poor people among themselves, whether it is about food or
KP: But globalism does not grow out of itself. Movements have have to make an effort in order to be connected to each other. Power is globally organized, which cannot simply be ignored by a revolutionary movement. Christos: The keyword here is connection. Yes, on many levels we have to work simultaneously and be connected. But the biggest issue is to connect with the ordinary people, the people who suffer from this economic regime. 84
Christos: I am emphasizing this point because the enthusiasm of big movements can also be a distraction. When some people retreat from the scene, others become pessimistic because they believe that things are happening somewhere else now. Like you said earlier about how Germans think about Greece. This way, you postpone the task of creating the conditions of a movement, and you postpone it to the ab-stract level of the global.
Antonis: …so there are many lessons to be learned, which can strengthen your local struggle. Christos: Of course, we have to organize ourselves internationally, but this is different than organizing a neighborhood, for example. We sometimes forget this and get trapped in what we know, which keeps us from being inventive.
KP: A quite successful tactic of corporations in Germany to impose wage cuts on their employees is to threaten them to outsource parts of their production to, for instance, the Czech Republic if they don’t accept a lower salary. Abstract or not: The only way to counter this is a transnational coordination between German and Czech trade unions that prevents that they are played off against each other.
KP: What is the current situation of the movement? Largescale preparations for new mass protest; or are we waiting for the next spontaneous outburst? Christos: The Greek government is in a very difficult situation because the Troika puts pressure on it to take measures, even if the government knows that with these measures they sign their own death sentence. So, they are in a very precarious position. On the other hand, you don’t have a political initiative now to rise against the state. This is why I think it might happen by accident, like when people took to the streets after Pavlos Fyssas was murdered. So at some point, it will break out spontaneously, and in a massive way. On the social level, austerity has been in place for four years now and many people really cannot take it anymore. At the same time, you have many different things happening all at once, but they’re waiting for the pivotal moment and the connections between them to develop. Right now they are unfreezing the right of the banks to confiscate houses. The government is drafting up a law on the fast track that is to be voted soon, and this law will give the banks back the right to confiscate houses. There is a big mobilization against this, in a decentralized way and in different neighborhoods. Internationally, when we started to prepare for this, one of the first things we did, was to visit the movements in Spain and Italy that have these big anti-eviction infrastructures that we can learn from. What’s going to happen next is unforeseeable. We hope for the best.
Christos: I don’t think this is the only possibility. The same situation you describe exists in Greece where workers of different cities are played out against each other. The emphasis of this struggle wouldn’t be global. I am one hundred percent with you that we need a transnational organization of resistance and that we now are much better prepared to do that. We have better tools and are more experienced. How do we connect globally? What kind of movements can we build and so on? Now this is very tangible and not unimaginable. But let’s accept it as it is: as one level, but not the only one. Antonis: I don’t see a real argument here. I don’t think anybody would say that connecting digitally and internationally is an achievement in itself, because if you don’t win on the ground you have nothing that you can connect. And of course, we should invent new ways and imaginations beyond what is happening. But still, there are global developments of what we have to counter globally. Take the racist repression against migrants in Greece, for example. The cleansing of migrants by quarantining them in detention centers was a perfect experiment that has an 85
Solidary greetings from Berlin #antireport #KillahP
Daniel Mützel and Joulia Strauss
The anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas (“Killah P.”) is dead: hunted down in the streets by a group of Neonazis, and stabbed by Giorgos Roupakias, an associate of the “Golden Dawn”. Policemen accompanied the Nazis to the crime scene, policemen watched when Pavlos was stabbed. A punctured heart, a twisted knife.
Pavlos Fyssas - Rest in Peace
But it’s no use: There is no other word. Pavlos knew this. So we will speak of fascism, just as he did, when we see it. We will speak of fascists, when we see them. This is where we will begin, and no one will be allowed to shirk this obligation. What can we do from here on out? Not rest. Observe thoroughly. Analyze the field. Show our solidarity: with all those determined to take up the fight for everyone else — and also for us. It has to be taken up, and, above all, it has to be taken up collectively. Nothing makes a resistance seem more hopeless than the feeling of standing there alone.
Fascists are on the rise in Greece, as in Europe, once again. The Greek media, now completely under private ownership, downplayed the event as resulting from an “argument occurring on the occasion of a football match”. German media reduced the problem to an incident in the semi-periphery. No investigation into the Neonazi scene. Nothing about the correlation between the capitalist crisis, German economic interests, and the increasing right-wing extremism everywhere on the continent. In lieu of investigations, or even a promise of increased vigilance, we are encouraged to have blind trust that Samaras’ government and the representatives of the PASOK will resolve the issue. Blind trust, that is, in the very figures who recently indulged in the kind of public tirades against “lazy immigrants” that have provided such promising breeding grounds for the ”Golden Dawn”. And the 7 percent, which the Nazis have gained in parliamentary elections, is only, as often in such cases, the tip of the iceberg. Europe — so proud of having learned from its history. “No more war! No more fascism! Never again!” Old words, old battles. But nothing is old. Not in the face of danger. They have killed one of us out on the open street. The danger is long since present, the “center” of society has nourished it and averted its eyes. A simple truth, with so few who bear witness. I wish there was another word for fascism, but there is not. So enough with the scaredy cats, afraid to utter this ugly word. They would love to see the word simply erased from the face of the earth. Because it buries the myth of learning from history beneath its own dead weight; because it reminds them of their own complicity with the ugliness.
Again and again, Pavlos pointed to the fascist danger. Again and again, he pointed to the dangerous convergence of the “Golden Dawn” and the police, of fascism and the state apparatus. To write these lines seems like a bad joke to me. A self-evident truth that isn’t, and may never be. 86
This is a dark time, and trusting each other is what stops it from growing still darker. Today‘s funeral tore at the heart of every thinking person present. The air was electric. At the cemetery, every one of us was on the verge of imploding, stifling the anger that desperately wanted to explode. And everyone was very understanding towards one another, so that the funeral could take its course without any excessive eruptions. Some cars, of course, were damaged; but what, after all, is that.
four years. Many came without covering themselves up. They didn’t wear gas masks, which had a disturbing effect on the police. The flags with the long wooden staffs aided in the smashing of shop windows, behind which gold was offered for sale; and, much more importantly, they protected the demonstration from being disbanded by the police. Incredible: the readiness to fight intimidated the uniformed men, their weapons were useless. It was as if they were rendered inoperable by the push of a secret button.
This day marks a new phase for all of us. Communists have come together with anarchists for the first time in
Today I drew a dead person for the first time. Can’t go on. At the grave the community cried: Athánatos (immortal). 87
Daniel Mützel and Joulia Strauss
“TO THOSE WHO BETRAYED ME BY BACK STABBING ME, I WANT THEM TO KNOW THAT I WILL NOT BOTHER TO CRY. AND TO THOSE WHO THREATENED ME WITH BURNING CHAINS, I WANT THEM TO KNOW THAT I WILL NOT BOTHER WITH FEAR. AND TO ALL MY OLD LOVES: I WANT THEM TO KNOW THAT I WILL NOT BOTHER TO CRY. LET THEM COME AND FIND ME AT THE MOUNTAIN TOP. I’M WAITING FOR THEM AND I WILL NOT BOTHER WITH FEAR.”
Pavlos Fyssas - Rest in Peace
A conversation with Saharnaz Samaienejad, who has been active in the Anjoman-e Eslami-ye Daneshjouyan (“Islamic Association of Students”) and the Iranian student movement during the reform era. She has worked with the solidarity structure Where Is My Vote? – New York and is currently involved in the Canadian organization Fightback.
Krytyka Polityczna: In the beginning of 2011, the revolutionary movements in North Africa and the Middle East swept away authoritarian regimes as well as Western security ideologies and racist clichés about “backward” Middle Eastern societies. The political eruptions in Europe and the US that followed soon after were strongly influenced by these events. Where was Iran in this timeline?
Mubarak, the slogan of “Mubarak, Ben Ali, now! It’s your turn Seyed Ali!”1 went viral on social media. The chain of events sent a tidal wave of expectations throughout the Middle East that the dictators were going to fall one after another. There were calls for the demonstration on Bahman 25th (February 14, 2011) in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian people. The authorities, scared of the potential magnitude of the protest, intensified their repression measures prior to the date of the demonstration, and placed two former presidential candidates under arbitrary house arrest, which still continues to this day. Despite the arrest of the leaders, thousands of protesters in Tehran and other major cities took to the streets together, after almost a year of silence.
Saharnaz Samaienejad: From the very beginning of the Arab revolutions, Iranians have continuously had their eyes on these movements and have monitored them anxiously. It is a sensitive situation for Iranians because the chain of these events is going to change the geopolitics of the Middle East. It will eventually affect everyone’s life in the region, either in a positive or negative way. Another impact on Iran was the pedagogical effects of these movements: By asking the simple question “What path shall we take?” over and over again, we see how conscious people are about the possibilities of change. Today, Iranians are simultaneously inspired and frightened by the various stages of these developments. For example, the current situation in Syria has turned into a nightmare for Iranians.
KP: In 2009, the Green Movement was nurturing hopes inside and outside Iran that it could substantially change the political status quo in the country. The regime responded with extreme violence to suppress the protests. What is left of the movement today: in terms of “spirit” and infrastructure? Saharnaz: To be honest, I think nothing is left of the spirit of the movement. At its outset and during the first months of demonstrations, people enjoyed the purely romantic experience of reunification. Aside from major political disagreements, people were truly acting like brothers and sisters, as one body: the people’s body. But as time went by, conflicts emerged, and people got separated from each other and started articulating particularistic demands.
KP: But what was the impact of these developments on Iranian street politics? Saharnaz: 2011 was the year in which the Green Movement was underway and in the midst of being suppressed, so naturally people drew comparisons. Soon after the fall of
The supreme leader of Iran.
Saharnaz Samaienejad We shouldn’t forget that the Green Movement was a broad national coalition between the middle classes, workers, dissidents from the ruling elites, and some progressive as well as conservative intellectuals. Today, as we speak, the number of active “Green” organizations outside Iran, from Turkey to the US, is immense. Almost every day they organize an event: a solidarity protest, a candle vigil, an academic conference and so on. But currently, it is unlikely to gather the different demands and groups under one umbrella like in 2009. There are not only major conflicts over strategies and tactics, but even controversies over basic demands such as the release of political prisoners. A few weeks ago, for instance, when Habibollah Golparipour, a Kurdish political prisoner who had been arrested on charge of membership in the PJAK (“Party of Free Life of Kurdistan”), was executed, there were heated discussions in online networks about how just or unjust his execution was.
Green Movement as well. In particular, I would like to talk about the misuse of slogans involving tactics of nonviolence during the Green Movement, since many commentators started categorizing it as a non-violent movement. Eventually, the dominant factions of the movement adopted the category, and objectified and fetishized it in such a way that they not only repudiated violent tactics, but they also tagged any radical tactics as violent or a potential danger to the movement. They even compared the Green Movement to the American Civil Rights Movement, or the South African struggle against the Apartheid regime.
KP: Which is a problem because…? Saharnaz: Well, a discussion about the similarities and inspirations of past struggles can be very productive for a movement — no doubt about that. The problem starts when a real historical struggle turns into some familyfriendly melodrama, for instance when Malcom X is erased from the history of the Civil Rights Movement; when Mandela’s period of armed struggle is forgotten; or when the current situation in South Africa is entirely blocked out. Like this, the illusion of a non-violent struggle serves to tame both the historical and the current struggle. The degree of whitewashing the memories of these events was incredibly high at the time.
KP: How did the repression affect the movement? Saharnaz: From what we are witnessing today, we can conclude that the repression was very effective. It almost completely crushed the resistance and isolated most of the radical elements of the movement. In 2010, no one would have believed that the Islamic Republic could suppress the movement and regain its legitimacy. But in the presidential elections of summer 2013, the regime achieved both these goals at once. However, no one can deny that the regime is walking a tightrope between absolute stability and complete chaos. The crisis is so deep that in any given moment the government might approach its final crisis. But the fragility of the Iranian government is not only due to a resistance movement from the inside. We have to take into account the changing geopolitics of the region, the global economic crisis, and imperialist interventions.
Another aspect concerns the threat of imperialism and war in regard to abstract slogans like “non-violence”. In the Middle East, any genuine uprising first and foremost needs to take an uncompromising attitude on imperialism. But, in reality, the situation is way more complex. Advocates of a non-violent struggle in Iran often criticize anti-imperialist gestures as old-fashioned, too radical or violent. With the rise of the Green Movement, a series of “peace-loving”, “non-violent”, “human rights-ish” organizations mobilized outside Iran. These organizations were either directly in favour of imposing sanctions or indirectly in favour of war. Within few months of the movement beginning, a group of Iranians — lawyers, activists and academics, including one of the major theoreticians of the non-violent resistance in Iran, Ramin Jahanbegloo, who sees himself as some kind of Iranian Gandhi — signed a petition calling for a number of draconic sanctions to make the Islamic Republic accountable.2 While such documents are an insult to all sorts of genuine non-violent resistance, it is important that we pay close attention to the phraseologies that tend to look natural and peaceful. So yes, I think that the Green Movement used similar tactics and forms, but both in positive and negative way.
KP: The tactics and strategies used by the revolutionary movements since 2011 are very similar: horizontal structures, decentralized networks, non-violence, inclusionism, direct action and so on. Did the Green movement use similar tactics and forms at the time? Saharnaz: As a communist, I naturally have a problem with horizontal structures, decentralized networks or nonviolent movements. Usually, when my leftist friends start talking about these allegedly new forms of organizations, I merely rely on this wonderful passage by Fredric Jameson: “It is not only political history which those who ignore are condemned to repeat. A host of recent ‘post-Marxisms’ document the truth of the assertion that attempts to ‘go beyond’ Marxism typically end by reinventing older preMarxist positions.” The strategies you mentioned, in my humble opinion, were a kind of bourgeois, liberal articulation of these movements; but they were present in the
An example for how the most violent tactics can be wrapped up in a
gesture of “non-violence”: www.irwincotler.liberal.ca/files/2010/05/18Point-Road-Map-for-Action.pdf
“The illusion of non-violence tames past and current struggles” KP: From the outside perspective, or from a theoretical point of view, revolutionaries are purists: strict agendas, clear principles and clear enemies. In reality, one has to make more compromises than are desirable. The Egyptian Tamarod who allied with the military is the most recent example. After the trauma of 1979, in which the Left was side-lined by its former revolutionary Islamist ally, what options does a revolutionary in Iran have today?
calculable wealth, and is continuing its exploitation, it is legitimate to ask what type of resistance constitutes a genuine anti-capitalist struggle. To me, any movement that “alights the sparks of hope in the past”, as Benjamin noted, has potentially anti-capitalist elements. During the Green Movement, several moments of that kind happened, such as chanting “Allah o Akbar” in the rooftops of Tehran, which connected our generation to 1979 after 30 years of silence and denial. Mirhossein Mousavi, the leader of the Green Movement, turned out himself to be a controversial figure, but he inspired millions of people; people who are living in a state of emergency, a state in which every crisis appeares as the final crisis, and who were constantly invoking the memories of the past, which had created the anti-capitalist elements of the Green Movement.
Saharnaz: As revolutionaries we sometimes tend to be more Marxist than Marx himself. The purist attitude you mention is partly due to the fact that we simply dismiss the “existing circumstances”. In his Eighteenth Brumaire Marx writes: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under selfselected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” From another angle, even looking at Bolshevik texts like Trotsky’s work, one could see how being responsive to the initiative of the masses is crucial for him as a means towards building a revolutionary party. In opposite direction, most of the leftist organizations in Iran, with a relatively small base of sympathizers, had withdrawn from the Green Movement. They maintained critical distance from the movement because in their mechanical, yet idealist, calculation, all forms of opposition to the government which were not leftist from the beginning were lumped in together with the government itself. So the Left in Iran did not even get close to having a complex experience like what Tamarod faced as it romantically left the movement.
KP: How important were international networks for the Green Movement at the time? Saharnaz: When the movement emerged, I was in New York. At the time, we organically gathered together, tried to form an organization in solidarity. But, in general, that was one of the biggest failures of the Green Movement: the activities of the exiled romantic intellectuals. Major groups outside Iran, mainly liberals, were swallowed by imperialist forces. The giant media corporations appropriated the movement into their bloodless language. The Green Movement emerged only a year and a half before the Arab uprisings, Indignados, Occupy movement and so on; but it failed to create a genuine moment of solidarity.
KP: From today’s perspective: What would you have done differently at the time?
In 1979, not all the leftist factions formed alliance with the Islamists. But you’re right: No matter what alliance tactics the leftist groups adopted, and despite the mixed nature of the 1979 revolution, by the 1980s, all major political voices outside of the Khomeini faction were silenced. So the Left was completely dried up and kept out of sight. Even today, after 30 years of struggle, the Left is terribly weak and has no considerable influence on the course of events. But let me disagree with you on this point: In my opinion, the memory of 1979 is not a trauma. I rather look at it as an energizing force, a force that can make a kind of dialectical return possible. There are a number of emancipatory factors embedded in it that turn the whole history of revolution into an on-going process. After all, the event of 1979 cannot be reduced to Khomeini factions.
Saharnaz: There is no way we can ask such questions retrospectively. In the midst of a revolutionary context, things happened phenomenologically, in a spontaneous manner. There is nothing we could have done differently, but there are lessons to be learned that can prevent us from the same mistakes in the future. The list probably goes on too long, so just to name a few: the absence of broad revolutionary and radical organizations; the failure of the movement to incorporate economic demands; the sectarian approach of both leftists and reformists; finally the misinterpretation of the protests by the hegemonic discourse as decentralized, horizontal and non-violent.
KP: How strong were anti-capitalist elements within the Green Movement? Saharnaz: Broadly speaking, the Green Movement has a thick liberal and reformist texture. So it is hard to find anti-capitalist elements within the movement. However, while the bourgeoisie is continuing to accumulate an in93
A conversation with Jekaterina “Katya” Samutsevich, a member of the Moscow-based feminist group Pussy Riot. In August 2012, Katya and two other members were convicted of “hooliganism” for their performance “Punk Prayer — Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. They were sentenced to two years imprisonment. Two months later, Katya was released on a suspended sentence.
we know him, is a product of the French police, and therefore not able to speak in public. Are you a product of the Russian police?
Krytyka Polityczna: What did prison, not as a correctional facility, but as personal experience, teach you? Katya Samutsevich: I have learned a lot in prison, especially about self-control. The situation with people with whom you happen to be in a small closed room for a very long time can get complicated. You have to learn to communicate with them in any condition. The atmosphere is very edgy, and you have to maintain self-control in order not to explode. There were some confrontations among my fellow inmates, and this can get very unpleasant. People argue, that’s the way it is. The reason why doesn’t even matter. It happens and you have to deal with it. But the outbursts cause real moral damage to everybody. Therefore, the first rule in jail is: no open conflicts.
Katya: I wouldn’t say so. The police itself is a product of the system, of the whole society. All elements within the society — the police, the court, the judicial system, Pussy Riot — interact with each other. So the question of who is the product of whom, cannot be answered onesidedly. The production is not linear.
KP: But what was the impact of the de-anonymisation of Pussy Riot as a group? Katya: The identities of three of our members were revealed. On the one hand, this had a negative effect because it contradicted and violated the concept of our group — anonymity. On the other hand, many people began to understand that we are not a bunch of weird teenagers merely shouting incomprehensible things in public places. It also countered the idea that we were led by someone in the background. At the trial, each one of us acted on her own, and it became visible that no one was leading us. People were impressed when they heard our concluding statements at the trial, and I was told that the public opinion was much more positive after the court hearing. Paradoxically, in court we could explain our positions more clearly, without the noise that surrounded our action in the cathedral. I think that many people still don’t understand why we went there. So we explained our views that we are not “rowdies”, but artists who performed a special gesture that didn’t violate the rights of other people; that, on the contrary, was done to support their rights. This for me remains the main task: to explain our position to those who don’t understand it or look at these events differently.
KP: In Russia, one often witnesses a kind of disinterest towards uprisings that happen elsewhere in the world. One has the impression that people lack a certain anti-national and a-geographical solidarity. Katya: This indifference does exist, even when it comes to the Snowden case, which is, globally speaking, a huge issue. Russians think that this does not affect them. Their ignorance is embedded in a general nationalistic attitude. No one pays attention to global problems. They do not think of themselves as global subjects, thus they do not see that the problems that occur in Russian civil society also exist in the USA and in Europe. As a consequence, people who are involved in protest movements feel alone. And if something with a global dimension does happen, it is merely a transient and superficial imitation. Occupy Sud (“Occupy Court”), for example, which organized solidarity actions that encircled the courthouse after our trial, was a really good thing; but it didn‘t pay much attention to what happened in other Occupy camps around the world. They were quick to adopt the name, but not the idea.
KP: Do you consider the mass rallies in 2011/12, which were sparked by wide-spread criticism of allegedly flawed elections and followed by the biggest protests in Russia since the 1990ies, the birth of a new movement?
KP: We received a letter from the philosophical collective Tiqqun. One of the members, Julien Coupat, was arrested for the alleged sabotage of a train line in 2008. They were announcing their upcoming book, and told us that Julien, as 94
Katya Samutsevich Katya: A mass protest of this scale does not last only for one year and then suddenly disappears. Equally, it does not start out of the blue, which means that there was an increasing level of organized oppositional activities that preceded the outbursts. In Russia, as soon as we have presidential or parliamentary elections, this kind of activity grows tremendously. We never know in which form it will appear next. The form it took in 2011/2012 surprised everyone: No one expected the people to go out on the street in such large numbers. The decrease that followed is logical, because the elections were over and the general level of political activity became lower; and then there was the aggressive reaction of the regime. Activists have to recover, and to defend themselves and their friends who ended up behind bars.
Katya: We have such a motley opposition. On one side, there are the anarchists and different leftists, who promote decentralized structures, horizontal organization and self-organization, like the Indignados or the Occupy movement. Then there is the opposition that structures itself similarly to the people in power, as strange this may sound. They prefer a vertical organization. For example, Alexei Navalny, who is a prominent activist affiliated with the Russian nationalist scene, calls himself a democrat. But in fact, he prefers a vertical structure because he thinks that you can fight corruption only through harsh methods and harsh laws. Among the people in the opposition, anarchists are not taken seriously — not in former times, and not now. In this respect, the Occupy movement has not left a significant trace within the Russian opposition. The anarchists’ claim for self-organization is seen as complete nonsense. The verticalists are convinced that there is the need for a strong hand to make things right.
KP: What do you think about the recent action by Pyotr Pavlensky who in November 2013 nailed his testicles to the paved stones of the Red Square in Moscow and stated: “It’s not the authorities who hold people by their balls. It’s people themselves. The country will turn into a police state if people do nothing”? Does it reflect the actual situation?
KP: Unlike any other Occupy camp in the world, the Occupy Abai camp didn’t have a single tent, so as not to cross the bounds of legality. Do activists have to commit crimes in order to change the paradigms of society?
Katya: I think it reflects Pyotr’s personal point of view. Obviously, he sees some apathy within the society. I do not totally agree with him. Or, more precisely, I don’t agree with him, because I don’t see apathy. In the worst case, I see a regression to the condition before December 2011: a normal, average level of activity undertaken by the oppositional circles, some operators in the digital sphere, and regular protest meetings. In a more optimistic moment, I would say the apathy is decreasing. More and more people are questioning the status quo and getting organized. Also more political topics are discussed now, like the Olympic Games, the amnesty policies etc.
“Illegal laws must be violated” Katya: The question is not even about the legality or illegality of some action, but about the laws themselves. The Pussy Riot case raised questions not only about the application of the law, but also about the very legitimacy of the law. It is a matter of conception whether or not you commit a crime by violating boundaries and rules that are only in the interest of the people in power. Illegal laws must be violated. So the question is not if we should break the law or not, but rather which laws and rules we are talking about.
Katya: I am afraid not. WikiLeaks is so severely monitored by different secret services, as we are by the Russian secret service, that it will be difficult to come together.
KP: Does the open support of organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is close to US government agencies whose main interest is to weaken the Putin regime, have a negative effect on your popularity? Katya: It depends. Generally speaking, yes, it can harm us to be associated with people who are against Putin but might have views that completely differ from ours. There are many examples of this. For instance, there are the extreme nationalists and fascists who are also against Putin. When they use us and mislead others, it is of course harmful to us. Also, there were people who are against our feminist views who used us in the election campaign for Navalny. The image of Nadya…
KP: Since 2011, revolutionary movements worldwide have begun a struggle for a new world beyond capitalism. The critique of the financial and economic system is one of the main concerns of these movements. What role does it play in the political agenda of Pussy Riot? Katya: As I see it, the revolutionary movements and the fight against capitalism didn’t start in 2011, but much earlier. Another factor is that these movements change as capitalism changes. The criticism of the financial-economic system is an intrinsic part of Pussy Riot: We are clearly against capitalism and the commercialization of art. For us, this is one of the main issues, because freedom of speech, as well as freedom of artistic expression, is very closely connected to the financial-economic system.
KP: …Tolokonnikova, one of the two Pussy Riot members who had been sentenced to two years imprisonment and who were released in December 2013… Katya: …was used by Navalny’s people right in front of the federal prison authority building during Nadya’s hunger strike. The images of Nadya were exhibited in public, but everyone was reminded of Navalny’s nationalist campaign. Maybe this provided some support to Nadya, but in the ideological sense it was very harmful to us because a link was made to the growing nationalist scene.
KP: Do you see common goals between the Occupy movement and Pussy Riot? Katya: Occupy is a movement against global capitalism that has specific tactics, but also local differences. But that being said, I see many similarities. You could even call it an artistic movement because it is not designed to reach a specific result. We have common aims and ideas, and we are both part of the global revolutionary trend since 2011.
KP: Did the protests enlarge the political realm for activist interventions or did they provoke further state repression?
KP: Solidarity is one of the cornerstones of the new global movements, but as a concept and practice it is under-theorized and still insufficiently understood. What does it mean to you, after almost two years of political persecution?
KP: In November 2013, Pussy Riot members traveled to London in order to visit Julian Assange. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden still resides in Moscow. Do you see a conceptual overlap between your struggle and WikiLeaks’?
Katya: Repression and apathy are not directly connected to one another. On the contrary, repression can stimulate people to take the streets. At the moment, we have to review our options. Maybe there was an unnecessary openness. Maybe strategic mistakes were made during the demonstrations. We are now in a state of analysis, not apathy. Repression became stronger, but they are nevertheless talking about an amnesty. By the way I don’t believe in the amnesty. It’s a political game.
Katya: Solidarity is when people see your activity, immediately start to support you openly, and are not afraid of the consequences. On the level of praxis, the search for effective methods of building solidarity networks is far from being completed, I agree. In the G8 countries, which are mostly police states, it is not easy to invent these methods. The Occupy movement is maybe one of the most unexpected forms. Its power lies not in clashes with the police, but in its natural independence, which is very difficult to manipulate because there is no center. We have to continue our struggle using a net-like structure and create synchronic actions in many different places. The global unexpected, the non-authoritarian, the non-nationalist, the unapproved and the unpredictable make it impossible to take countermeasures. Persistence is the main ingredient of success.
Katya: There are many similarities. WikiLeaks is a project against a certain military empire, which publishes compromising material against the US and their military operations. WikiLeaks is a very important and innovative element of the global resistance. What unites us is the fight against a military empire, in our case, Russia. But our methods differ. For example, WikiLeaks also operates aggressively to maintain its position by intervening in the international political field. Still, we are in total solidarity.
KP: What is the situation of the non-parliamentary opposition in Russia? Are they inspired by the protest cycle that began with the Arab Spring?
KP: Is a collaboration between WikiLeaks and Pussy Riot feasible in the near future?
Children of bohemian bourgeoisie and a cello teacher from Southern Germany. Two teams of noblesse oblige expensive to feed and heat, call The Errorists. Workers in Political Economy, we are collectively, titans of that industry. Call The Errorists. Preposterous you should ask “why us?”, as the engine of Western error rusts. The world will decide, but between what and what? Ethics and critique are weak, the two teams of noblesse oblige are Hedges and Hegemonies: protections against calamity and stories of humanity‘s dreams creeping out into the ink.
Picking up the pieces of what could have been, a path to push the excess up and out, double preparation for an act of ideation: the conditions of surrender to narration of material endeavor. Back door Keynes holding the reins. The stink of the New York Stock Exchange, fracking abstract gold into abstract crap, is sweet compared to the big slipperiness haunting Europe‘s wasted generation constitutional mis-engineering situation.
Hilary Koob-Sassen Organific Momentum: Humanity populating abstract geographies with formations. 2013
The swamp and the freight train, check the exit on our homepage, continually refreshed because its success is its downfall, it so violently rearranged the conditions it once so successfully named.
Sky-high, Fi-Fi, Financial Fiction. Continually refreshed, because its success is its downfall. It so violently rearranged the conditions it once so successfully named.
In Memory of Aaron Swartz Today, November 8, 2013, Aaron Swartz would have turned 27. That makes him three months younger than my little brother: still and forever a kid. On January 11, 2013, Aaron Swartz hanged himself in his apartment in Brooklyn. At the time of his death, Swartz (who had battled with depression for some years) was facing prosecution with a possible prison sentence of 35 years and a maximum penalty of one million dollars in fines. The felonies he was charged with accused him of downloading a large number of journal articles from the academic subscription database JSTOR from within MIT’s “open campus” network. Swartz never uploaded the documents to any kind of file-sharing site. Swartz was a programmer, developing standards for sharing data on the Web; he co-authored the RSS 1.0 specification at the age of 14; he wrote and tirelessly publicly advocated open source and open access. He was a co-founder of the online news site Reddit, collaborated with WikiLeaks, and co-founded Demand Progress, a political advocacy group that, in 2012, contributed to the defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). And he built SecureDrop, an encrypted dead drop system allowing whistleblowers to leak information to journalists anonymously, currently run by the Freedom of the Press Association.
Information is power. And like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world‘s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.
But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It‘s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. Sharing isn‘t immoral — it‘s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy. There is no justice in following unjust laws. It‘s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.
That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It‘s outrageous and unacceptable. “I agree,” many say, “but there‘s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that‘s already being done: we can fight back.
With enough of us, around the world, we‘ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we‘ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
Guerilla Open Access Manifesto Aaron Swartz 2008
In the two years before his death, Swartz filed several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, seeking to make certain government records public, among them the audio files of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning describing his treatment during his confinement in Quantico Brig (a request that was denied). It has become very clear throughout the past two or three years that all of these areas of activity and activism are very much connected and that Swartz rightly defined questions of open source and open access as human rights issues. Far from being a marginal area of digital bureaucracy, these questions constitute one of the central and decisive battlefields that will form and determine our future. The specifics of the prosecution and the charges that Swartz faced are crucial to understand the nature of this battle. JSTOR is a digital library that offers institutions such as universities subscriptions to its database of articles and journals for a substantial fee. At the time of Swartz’s arrest in 2011, access for individuals was nearly impossible, restricting the knowledge contained in the database to researchers with affiliations to subscribing institutions. The revenue from the subscriptions does not however flow back to the authors or research facilities that effectively created the content, although this knowledge is, for the most part, only made possible by public research and
education funding. MIT, through whose network Swartz accessed JSTOR, has a subscription, making the articles available for free for students and associated researchers. At the time of the arrest, Swartz was a research fellow at Harvard University which provided him with a JSTOR account. According to federal authorities, Swartz downloaded the documents through a laptop connected to a network switch in an unlocked wiring closet. He was arrested in January 2011 on state charges of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony, but JSTOR soon released a statement saying it would not pursue civil litigation against him, and at the time, lawyers familiar with the case expected it to be dismissed. In March 2012, all state charges were dropped — in order to permit federal prosecution to proceed. The Secrete Service had been involved in the case from a very early moment. In fact, on the same day that Swartz’s FOIA request regarding the Manning tapes was submitted to the Army Criminal Investigative Service (on February 9, 2011), one month after his initial arrest at Harvard, Secret Service obtained a warrant to search Swartz’s hardware, apartment, and office. It can be assumed that his actions in previous years, in regard to his campaigns for open access — his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto —, his FOIA requests and interest in the Manning case had drawn the attention of the Secret Service and the FBI, and that the aggressive prosecution of the JSTOR incident, which brought the case under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act entailing the possibility of this disproportionately high prison sentence, aimed to send a strong and distinct message. Two days before his suicide, MIT declined Swartz’s lawyer’s second offer of a plea bargain. The extent of MIT’s cooperation or aiding of the federal prosecution remains a controversial question. The legacy of Swartz’s work continues to have an immense impact and continues to provoke action and agency, but his inexhaustible acuity and commitment are forever lost. A world in which a person like him has the freedom to reflect and shape ideas and future realities is a much better place than one without him. At a very young age, he understood the power inherent to information. He knew that change can be achieved by combining the massimpact of the Internet with technological and legislative know-how as well as with a great deal of chutzpah. He also knew that there is urgency to act now because we are living in the decisive, formative years of the World Wide Web that will create the rules for the future. Like Swartz, we need to become savvy and courageous in order to be the agents of these rules and to fight for our digital freedom.
MTL (Nitasha Dhillon and Amin Husain)
MTL (Nitasha Dhillon and Amin Husain)
This is the first in a series of dis-
Meanwhile, illegal Israeli settlements abound, steadily swallowing the land. Precious olive groves and private property are destroyed. People are deprived not only of the use of their land, which would provide suitable living, but also their freedom to move through it. The Wall looms. IDs are confiscated. People are subject to military raids, arrest and imprisonment, which often leads to indefinite detention and solitary confinement. Many are killed, in their own neighborhoods, in scuffles at “checkpoints,” or later, in prison.
patches from the occupied territories of Palestine, 20 years after the Oslo Accords. We have been on the ground for over two months, traveling from the occupied Golan Heights on the
The Palestinian people’s own leaders are complicit in all of this, hoarding limited resources for themselves as they collaborate with Israel to protect and advance its interests. The PLO’s former chief negotiator sells cement to Israel so that it can build more settlements and portions of the Wall, even as he leads “peace” negotiations. According to cables revealed by WikiLeaks, Mahmoud Abbas received advance notice that Israel was going to undertake Operation Cast Lead, in December 2008, against his own people in the Gaza Strip. He remained silent. In 2009, when Richard Goldstone‘s report came out finding that Israel committed war crimes, the Palestinian Authority abandoned a resolution requesting the Human Rights Council to forward the report to the UN Security Council for further action. The people have no true representatives, despite the world’s assertion that they do.
borders of Syria down to the Negev desert and the territory in between. International reports full of damning statistics about civilian casualties, imprisonment and poverty have piled up unread in the inboxes of the powerful. But for us, the situation in Palestine is not about statistics; life can never be reducible to numbers. We seek to broadcast the Palestinian voices that remain unheard, and to demonstrate the brutality inflicted on the human beings attempting to live here. On July 30, 2013, Palestinian and Israeli representatives restarted peace talks, presided over by United States Secretary of State John Kerry. The negotiations resumed with a spectacular photo-op for the international media: an Iftar celebration at the White House, with Israelis and Palestinians breaking bread together in spite of seemingly intractable differences. Officials involved in the peace talks spoke words of cautious optimism, shared determination, tough compromises and good faith negotiations.
The simple fact that people cannot survive in Palestine is the whole point. The carefully conceived misery of their existence is part of Israel’s longer-term project to drive Palestinians off their land. A woman in Bil’in gazing at the Wall from her window said to us: “Israel already has the land; it just wants the deed.” The only bewildering thing to the Israeli government is that the people are taking so long to depart. Israel no doubt hopes that another round of fruitless, humiliating negotiations will encourage some relocations. Palestinians see the renewal of peace talks as a sham media campaign targeting the outside world, designed to demonstrate that the Israeli government is reasonable and wants peace. Palestinians have come to understand that most of the outside world does not care enough to investigate the true conditions in Palestine, and that Israel will take full advantage of this ignorance with false gestures. One can see this insincerity in Israel’s seemingly significant promise to release 104 Palestinian prisoners. Most of these prisoners were supposed to be freed 20 years ago following the Oslo Accords, and there is still no guarantee of their release. Israel has agreed to let these prisoners go in four installments, but even this is subject to its unilateral determination that the Palestinians are continuing to negotiate in good faith. When Abbas hinted that Palestinians may not attend the first round of talks in response to Israel’s approval of 900 new housing units in
The people living through hell in Palestine know how hollow this charade will be. Their daily lives reflect an unrelenting attack on human life and dignity. They face serious water and food shortages. They lack basic resources and utilities. They cannot find good employment. Education is poor and unaffordable. The quality of their health care is beyond dismal. Here is one family’s experience: The mother hemorrhages at an Israeli roadblock on the way to Jerusalem for better care, and her young daughter diagnosed with kidney failure learns that dialysis treatment is only available at a governmental hospital that services 300,000 people because the Oslo Accords do not permit private Palestinian hospitals to have the requisite machines. The father has already died of pancreatic cancer after being misdiagnosed with pancreatitis. Such is life in the Palestinian territories. These conditions make sustained survival impossible; in the short run, people turn to international aid to hang on and enter into debt as they piece together provisional livelihoods. 104
The Slow, Sure Death of Palestine East Jerusalem and its plans for more than 3,000 new settlement homes across occupied Palestinian territory, Israel threatened to halt the release of the first 26 prisoners. Though Israel has now freed these prisoners, the act remains disingenuous: five of the 26 prisoners had only a few months left to serve. In any event, it is unlikely that Israel will refrain from arresting more Palestinians during negotiations; in the past, when Israel has released prisoners, it has simultaneously arrested an equal number to placate Israeli public opinion. Even now, arrests occur daily for little or no reason.
Palestinians today will not achieve any net gain from the negotiations. That is not the point of the process. Any concessions granted will cost more in return. The logic of Israeli land grabbing trumps all other concerns, including human rights and international law. If one analyzes events from this perspective, nothing should be confusing. Anyone who remains behind to defy this process will be locked up, killed or relocated, by Israel or the Palestinian Authority, or both. This is the same logic of settler colonialism that has led to numerous wars and genocides, including the massacre of the native North American population. When two populations are so unevenly matched in arms and resources, the result is inevitable. Why fool ourselves by pretending otherwise?
The Israeli army recently detained a 5-year-old boy, an act its legal adviser deemed “legitimate”. The matter of imprisonment resonates deeply for Palestinians, where almost every Palestinian home has some connection to past and present prisoners. Since it occupied Palestinian territories in 1967, Israel has arrested more than 750,000 Palestinians, including tens of thousands of children. Forty percent of the male Palestinian population has endured time in prison. Freedom for loved ones is a cherished dream.
Given the above, some will question the point of the Palestinians’ continued struggle, or whether they can change anything. These are two distinct questions. The point of a struggle is the business of those engaged in it; it is not up to outsiders to judge the worthiness of a struggle born of necessity. We see the Palestinians take action every day: they continue to resist with stories, rocks, demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts and hunger strikes. They are fighting. Still, there is a widespread sense that their enormous efforts do not mean that outcomes will be very different. Whether people can change things depends upon what exactly they try to change. People are trying to make their lives marginally better by engaging in grassroots efforts to improve basic conditions and to resist the occupation, almost in spite of the ineffectual Palestinian Authority and PLO.
It was once conceivable that peace talks could have produced a humane result. That is what Oslo represented. But once Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and Benjamin Netanyahu repudiated the Oslo Accords, a different path was chosen. Under today’s approach, Palestinians will be methodically squeezed out until all the land claimed by Israel is within its borders. When the second Palestinian Uprising broke out in 2000, Israeli tanks made their way through neighborhoods and refugee camps, leaving homes in rubble. Israeli snipers positioned themselves on rooftops and picked off Palestinians. Following the election of Hamas, the Israeli government imposed a devastating land, air and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip. Then, in its 2008/2009 war on Gaza, Israel defied international law and opinion by using F-16 jets to bomb one of the most densely populated areas in the world. These actions, among others, have produced unbearable living conditions that persist until this day. Secretary of State John Kerry said in May 2013, almost comically: “We are reaching the time where leaders need to make hard decisions.”
In any event, many Palestinians are slowly realizing that the present methods, centered on trying to stop Israel’s methodical consumption of the land, aren’t going to work. What do you do instead, if you don’t want to die on the land? The answer is not yet clear. As a former political prisoner put it to us, “I see the future to be headed for the worse: the settlements expand, the barbed wire takes root… A year ago was better than today, and tomorrow will be worse than today.” So, today, we do not write with hopeful signs of progress. Those are the fantasies peddled by leaders and the negotiators. We write to record what the people in Palestine endure as they are tortured and intimidated, despite the assurances of international law and the demands of human dignity — to bear witness, once more, to what has happened to these people and their culture.
In fact, we are decades past that time, and those decisions have long ago been made. Israel will use any means necessary to claim land they see as theirs by right of heaven, regardless of the brutality required. A key adviser to Netanyahu openly says, “Evacuating settlements is a fantasy.” Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has demonstrated that it will sell out its people and line its pockets. The peace talks will further both of their objectives, whether or not they are declared a success.
Published on Sep 10, 2014