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Posts by b. traven

From Occupy to Ferguson


In early 2011, in response to austerity measures, protesters occupied the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. It was a localized struggle, but it gained traction on the popular imagination out of all proportion to its size. This clearly indicated that something big was coming, and some of us even brainstormed about how to prepare for it—but all the same, the nationwide wave of Occupy a few months later caught us flat-footed.

In August 2014, after white police officer Darren Wilson killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a week and a half of pitched protests shook the town. Once again, these were localized, but they loomed big in the popular imagination. Police kill something like three people a day in the United States; over the past few years, we’ve seen a pattern of increasing outrage against these murders, but until that August it hadn’t gained much leverage on the public consciousness. What was new about the Ferguson protests was not just that people refused to cede the streets to the police for days on end, nor that they openly defied the “community leadership” that usually pacifies such revolts. It was also that all around the country, people were finally paying attention and expressing approval.

Like the occupation of the capitol building in Madison, this may portend things to come. Ferguson is a microcosm of the United States. Could we see an uprising like this spread nationwide? It seems almost possible, right now, as the governor of Missouri has declared a preemptive state of emergency and people all over the US are preparing demonstrations for the day that the grand jury refuses to indict Darren Wilson.

What limits did the Occupy movement reach? Why did it subside without achieving its object of transforming society? First, it offered almost no analysis of racialized power, despite the central role of race in dividing labor struggles and poor people’s resistance in the US. Second, perhaps not coincidentally, its discourse was largely legalistic and reformist—it was premised on the assumption that the laws and institutions of the state are fundamentally beneficial, or at least legitimate. Finally, it began as a political rather than social movement—hence the decision to occupy Wall Street instead of acting on a terrain closer to most people’s everyday lives, as if capitalism were not a ubiquitous relation but something emanating from the stock market. As a result of these three factors, the majority of the participants in Occupy were activists, newly precarious exiles from the middle class, and members of the underclass, in roughly that order; the working poor were notably absent. The simplistic sloganeering of Occupy obscured the lines of conflict that run through our society from top to bottom: “police are part of the 99%” is technically true, economically speaking, but so are most rapists and white supremacists. All of this meant that when the police came to evict the encampments and kill the movement, Occupy had neither the numbers, nor the fierceness, nor the analysis it would have needed to defend itself.

When a movement reaches its limits and subsides, it illustrates the obstacles future movements will have to surpass. It’s possible to understand the social momentum originating in Ferguson as an answer to the failures of Occupy. Where Occupy whitewashed the issue of race, the protests in Ferguson placed it front and center. Where Occupy confined itself to the unfavorable terrain of “political” physical sites and reformist demands, the people who rose up in Ferguson were fighting on their own streets for their own very lives. Whereas, with the temporary exception of Occupy Oakland, Occupy lacked the will to stand down the police, people in Ferguson braved tear gas and even bullets to do just that. Where Occupy sought to conceal all the different forms of hierarchy and strife that cut through this society beneath the unifying banner of “the 99%,” the conflicts in Ferguson compelled everyone to confront them. Even if it doesn’t arise in response to the grand jury verdict on Darren Wilson, the next powerful social movement in the US will likely have more in common with what we’ve seen in Ferguson than with Occupy (or its ersatz sequels, like the self-policing, pre-pacified People’s Climate March).

The momentum proceeding from the demonstrations in Ferguson has its own internal tensions, which will become more apparent the further it goes. Is the problem police brutality, or policing itself? Is the rightful protagonist of this struggle the local poor person of color, the respectable leader of color, the white ally, or everyone who opposes police killings? If it is the latter, how should we deal with the power imbalances within this “everyone”? How should demonstrators from outside the most targeted communities relate to conflicts playing out within them, such as disputes over tactics or risk? And do we really have to repeat the debate about violence and nonviolence yet again?

Right now, authorities of all stripes around the US are scrambling to capitalize on those fault lines to neutralize a potential second wave of unrest in response to the murder of Michael Brown. They intend to manage our rage and heartbreak, to channel it into contained protests that will function as a mere pressure valve—like the people who held signs at Occupy for a few months before returning to their lives as atomized individuals. If they succeed, it will embolden police departments nationwide to go on killing people, especially young black men, and it will take the question of transforming society off the table once more. The stakes are high.

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New Project: To Change Everything


For many months now, we’ve been hard at work on a new anarchist outreach project that picks up where Fighting for Our Lives left off—drawing on everything we’ve learned since then and updating the contents and format. Now that work is completed—we just need your help to get it into the world.

To Change Everything is a full-color 48-page booklet. In fresh, accessible language, it explores the virtues of self-determination, illuminates why authoritarian power structures cannot resolve the crises they produce, and discusses how to weave our personal revolts together into a collective struggle for liberation.

We want to print 100,000 copies and circulate it for free, so as to reach the generations radicalized by the global movements and catastrophes of the past few years. We’ve worked with to produce an accompanying video; we’re coordinating with comrades around the world so the text will appear simultaneously on at least three continents in at least a dozen languages. The video and text will be available in all those languages on a fully responsive website. With your help, we can accomplish all this by the end of 2014.

We’re using Kickstarter to raise the funds to cover printing. If you aren’t familiar with Kickstarter, you can learn about how to use it here. If you’re curious why we’re using a fundraising platform for this project, read our explanation Why a Kickstarter? Why Now?. If you think we do good work, please help us—every little bit counts, and you’ll be ensuring that this project is available to everyone for free. To sweeten the pot, we’ve come up with some fancy rewards for donors, including our first-ever t-shirts.

Kickstarter To Change Everything

New anarchist outreach material is long overdue. Even entrenched representatives of the status quo are now admitting that it is necessary to change everything, but the best they can come up with is to appeal to the same authorities that are responsible for our problems in the first place. Meanwhile, the rise of the far right in Europe and the ongoing debacle in Ukraine show how high the stakes are and how bleak the future will be if fascists succeed in presenting themselves as the partisans of change. When the next round of uprisings arrives, it may be too late to reach out to people.

We don’t ask for much, but if ever there were a time for you to help us, this is it. Even if you can’t contribute financially, please send word of this project out on twitter or Facebook, yell it out from street corners. Thanks so much, dear friends.


Why a Kickstarter? Why Now?

For practically our entire existence, we have avoided using traditional fundraising drives and platforms. In the beginning, taking our cue from the bank robbers who financed the anarchist press a hundred years ago, we utilized nonstandard methods to produce and distribute our materials for free.

Once the scale of our operations grew too large to depend on inconsistent sources, we shifted tactics. We didn’t want our agenda to be dictated by funders, as in the case of so many non-profit organizations; we believe that this inevitably causes groups to water down their politics in order to pander to the wealthy. [For more on this, consult the excellent The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex by INCITE! Women of Color against Violence.] Nor did we wish to tire the patience of our grassroots supporters with constant NPR-style pleas. For a decade and a half, we have mass-produced materials to keep the cost per item down, sold them at close to production costs, and used any returns to fund free projects like Fighting for Our Lives—indeed, we sunk tens of thousands of dollars of our own money into that project. None of this would have been possible if we weren’t willing to work for free, living, in most cases, significantly below the poverty line.

This approach will remain the basis of our efforts. However, much has changed in the economy in the years since we set out on this path. As the majority of people get poorer, it is becoming more difficult to fund projects through sales alone, even as interest increases in our projects. It seems we are entering a sort of new feudalism, in which a small part of the population has disproportionate resources and leverage even when it comes to determining what materials are mass-produced: the question of patronage is almost inescapable. Today, some of our supporters can barely afford the materials they depend on us for, while others would gladly pay significantly more than we charge. Utilizing a crowd-funding model only acknowledges this already present reality. We don’t share the optimism of those who believe that crowd-funding is somehow liberating or “democratic”—it’s just the best sales system for an era of dramatic income disparities.

At the same time, we remain staunchly committed to setting our agenda with complete integrity and autonomy, regardless of financial incentives. We will not water down our politics to attract wealthier funders; we will not change the ways we speak and organize. The upshot of this is that if you appreciate what we are doing, we depend on you to help us to keep at it, even if your means are paltry compared to those big NGO foundations that are currently rendering toothless all the political campaigns they talk about in their press releases. Really changing everything will take a lot more than tax write-offs and paid publicity work. If you want what we want, help us however you can.

The Making of “Outside Agitators”


On August 19, ten days after police murdered Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a slew of corporate media stories appeared charging that “criminals” and “outside agitators” were responsible for clashes during the protests. CNN alleged that “all sides agree there are a select number of people—distinct from the majority of protesters—who are fomenting violence,” quoting a State Highway Patrol Captain, a State Senator, and a former FBI assistant director to confirm this.

But what exactly are “outside agitators”? Where does this concept come from, and how is it deployed? In this feature, we analyze this rhetoric, what functions it serves, and what it conceals.

Read The Making of “Outside Agitators.”

Meanwhile, in response to popular demand, we have made a hasty zine version of our previous article about the events in Ferguson, What They Mean when They Say Peace. Download a printable PDF here [7.1MB].

Finally, the above illustration is available in poster form from artist Corina Dross, to raise funds for arrestees in Ferguson.

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What They Mean when They Say Peace


“I’m committed to making sure the forces of peace and justice prevail,” Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said in Ferguson on Saturday, August 16, after a week of conflicts sparked by the police murder of teenager Michael Brown. “If we’re going to achieve justice, we first must have and maintain peace.”

Is that how it works—first you impose peace, then you achieve justice? And what does that mean, the forces of peace and justice? What kind of peace and justice are we talking about here?

Read the editorial.

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Staying Safe in the Streets


In view of the ongoing police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, comrades have requested that we post some new material about how participants in protests can protect themselves in the streets. If you are participating in dangerous protests, especially if you are part of a group targeted by police violence, please take steps to minimize the likelihood that police and other repressive entities will be able to capture or identify you. You deserve to be safe and free!

Here is a handout that was circulated during the protests in Durham, North Carolina against the killing of Jesus “Chuy” Huerta in November 2013. You can read a collection of texts about those protests here.

In addition, here is a short guide to being prepared for public order situations such as those unfolding in Ferguson right now. Thank you for your courage, and good luck.



Mask Up

How & why to protect yourself at demonstrations

People conceal their identities from police and media during demonstrations for many different reasons: school, employment, immigration status, Child Protective Services, right-wing vigilantes. This is important regardless of whether you intend to break the law. The more common we make this practice, the safer everyone can be. Together, we have tremendous power.

Dress Appropriately

Bring multiple layers: one outfit to get into the area, another for the action, and something that will help you blend in when it’s time to make your exit. Take out piercings; conceal tattoos. Some protesters wear identical clothing—black hooded sweatshirts, pants, and masks—in order to be indistinguishable. If you do this, make sure your clothes have no identifying features. Your shoes or backpack could also identify you.

If you wear a mask, put it on out of view of cameras or police and keep it on the whole time you’re in action. Cover your hair completely. To a mask out of a T-shirt, stretch the neck hole across your eyes and tie the sleeves tight behind your head, with the rest of the shirt covering your head and shoulders. Police may target isolated masked individuals, so stay together until you reach a safe place to change clothes and disperse.

Goggles can protect your eyes from chemical weapons; sunglasses can make you less recognizable. Both are available in prescription form; beware contact lenses trapping chemical weapons against your eyes. A bandana soaked in apple cider vinegar may help you breathe if you are tear-gassed or pepper-sprayed. Wear cloth gloves; fingerprints stick to latex, and leather gloves leave their own fingerprint.

Come Prepared

You could bring water, first-aid supplies, banners, flags, drums, whistles, a megaphone, a sound system, a sign that doubles as a shield, stickers, spray paint, flares, torches, Christmas tree ornaments filled with paint, firecrackers, a hammer, or a police scanner. Wipe down anything you might lose in the streets with alcohol ahead of time to get the prints off. Consider using a temporary phone instead of your usual one. Remember that your call history and text messages can be traced to you on any phone connected to your name; the police will certainly check these if they capture you. Make sure you know a phone number to call if you are arrested or get separated from your friends and need help.

Stick with friends you trust using the buddy system. Talk ahead of time about what you want to do and how you will communicate. Case the area in advance for targets, materials, danger zones, and escape routes. Plan in advance how and where you can disperse.

In the Streets

Stick together. Don’t let the crowd get stretched out too far; carry messages between the front and back. Friends on bicycles can keep you updated on what’s happening nearby.

Make it clear to the police as soon as they show up that they’re not in charge. Your assertiveness and willingness to protect each other are your permit. Like other bullies, the slightest compromise will embolden them, but if they see that there is no way for them to take control, they may back off. Police will bluff and lie, but you may be able to predict their behavior by what they appear materially prepared to do.

Don’t let officers enter the crowd. Hold banners up along the sides; link arms if you have to. If the police want to grab someone, get in the way. Keep moving so they don’t get a chance to pen you in. If you see them blocking off a street ahead, move fast before they can surround and trap you. Keep them guessing. Quit while you’re ahead.

Behind Enemy Lines

If the police address you, ignore them unless they specify that you are being detained or arrested. If they seize you, don’t resist unless you’re sure you can escape; resisting can get you higher charges. If you are arrested, invoke your right to remain silent. Answer no questions beyond your name and address, no matter what they say. Never tell the police anything about other people, even if it seems insignificant.

Don’t post anything on Facebook, Twitter, or any other site that you wouldn’t show directly to the police. Don’t brag about anything potentially incriminating, or describe others’ actions. Only talk about what happened in a secure environment with people you trust.

The corporate media will repeat the lies of the police. Politicians will try to discredit you or get you to waste time in endless petitioning. Don’t let them intimidate you or stunt your imagination; don’t get sucked into a private grudge match with the authorities. Our power comes from our courage, our dreams, and the connections we build with other people.

Further Reading

Blocs, Black and Otherwise

Dressing for Safety

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Why Riot against the World Cup?


With just a few days left before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we conducted an interview with our comrades in São Paulo about the demonstrations that are unfolding. In a wave of unrest emerging on the heels of last year’s riots against proposed transportation fare hikes, thousands are once again flooding the streets and clashing with police in hopes of disrupting the games. We anticipate more unrest in the coming weeks.

Read the interview.

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New Zine about Capitalism and Anxiety


This week, our friends will be touring the Northwest to speak about the political dimensions of care and how it can perpetuate or subvert systems of oppression. Among other publications, they will be distributing a zine version of “We Are All Very Anxious: Six Theses on Anxiety and Why It is Effectively Preventing Militancy, and One Possible Strategy for Overcoming It,” a timely new text from the Institute for Precarious Consciousness in the UK discussing the affective dimensions of capitalism. We offer the zine here in printable pdf form, including a brief afterword of our own, in order that you might circulate and discuss it in your own community as well.

Download the zine.

Cause and Affect

Reflections on “We Are All Very Anxious: Six Theses on Anxiety and Why It is Effectively Preventing Militancy, and One Possible Strategy for Overcoming It,” from one study group within the CrimethInc. Workers’ Collective

When we understand capitalism as affective—as producing and being sustained by certain feelings, attitudes, and ways of relating—many things come into focus. These affects are not simply the effects of economic relations; they are essential to the relations themselves. The ostensibly material needs that drive the economy are socially produced, just as the obedience and dissociation it demands are culturally conditioned. The individualism of modern workers and consumers, our estrangement from other living things, our sense that finance is real while ecology is abstract, above all the ways we are accustomed to private property and authority—without these, the market that seems so timeless and unassailable would collapse. Attempting to understand the economy by following the stock market rather than starting from our lived experiences is symptomatic of the same disconnect that drives capitalism in the first place. Private sentiments and personal relations are no less fundamental than material conditions. We need language with which to discuss the affective conditions.

Considering capitalist relations through this lens clarifies, among other things, how protest activity that doesn’t succeed in redressing the grievances it opposes can still leave its participants feeling fulfilled—sometimes more so than if the object of their immediate demands had simply been granted outright. We treasure the nights in the square together telling stories, the times we held our ground, more than the meager concessions we sometimes win. Until now, this phenomenon has usually been explained somewhat glibly in terms of the “dignity” of standing up for ourselves. But when we conceptualize our conditions under capitalism as affective, we can see why forms of resistance that transform the affective conditions could be fulfilling in and of themselves, not just as a means to fuller bellies and higher thermostats. As Occupy and other movements have shown, many would gladly eat sandy beans and sleep on bare bricks if only they could break with misery, with boredom, with anxiety! Likewise, framing the problems we face as affective can help us to avoid pursuing or accepting apparent solutions that do not change how we feel and relate.

This text from the Institute for Precarious Consciousness goes a long way towards posing the question of affective anti-capitalist strategy. Perhaps it is a little pat to impose discrete periods on history[1], but we must understand such generalizations chiefly as a way to formulate hypotheses about which tactics will succeed here and now.

What could actually counter anxiety? Do we have to beat security guards, insurance policies, religious communities, and antidepressants at their own game, somehow making people feel safe in a hostile and hazardous world? Trying to allay anxiety as a separate project from abolishing the conditions that create it is surely doomed. Should we accept the worst-case scenario as a foregone conclusion and hurry forth to meet it, transforming our anxiety into a weapon? If anxiety is the omnipresent guardian of the prevailing order, it presents the perfect point of departure for resistance—but this does not answer how those already immobilized by it could perform such alchemy. Perhaps, in the course of taking on the ruling order, we could create something together that inspires confidence, grounding ourselves in a shared sense of reality that no market or military could take from us.



[1] If only the Yippies had lived to see their pranks described as “a machine for fighting boredom”! If we must use industrial metaphors, it would be more historically accurate to speak of machines in reference to what the authors describe as the era of misery, and assembly lines for the era of boredom. Accusing the poor Yippies of creating “an assembly line for fighting boredom” makes the irony of this line of thinking clear enough. Matching metaphors to our current era, we would call for “a global network for fighting anxiety,” and indeed we are still so deeply entrenched in this era that such a monstrosity sounds perfectly sensible. Yet if we are to take the authors at their word, machinery produces misery, assembly lines produce boredom, and global networks produce anxiety—so the Marxist industrial metaphors have got to go. One does not fight misery with machines—as history shows, one fights machines with sabots, assembly lines with wildcats, and global networks with what certain Francophiles call “human strike.”

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Ukraine: How Nationalists Took the Lead


While Putin tries to change the subject from insurrection to war (perhaps in fear that the contagion of unrest will spread inside Russian borders), we believe it is especially important for anarchists and others with a stake in social movements to learn from the revolution in Ukraine. Specifically, we want to study how nationalist and fascist elements were able to take the initiative, and how to minimize the likelihood of this occurring elsewhere in the future.

To that purpose, we present an interview here with a member of the Autonomous Workers’ Union in Kiev, who discusses why groups like Svoboda and Pravy Sector were positioned to take advantage of the social movement, and evaluates the effectiveness of the various strategies anarchists and anti-fascists adopted in this unfavorable context.

Shortly, we will present our preliminary hypotheses about what anarchists elsewhere around the world can learn the Ukrainian example, along with a reading list of primary source materials available in English.

How were nationalists able to establish themselves so visibly within the movement? Was it because they were there first? Was it because they had more resources? Or was it something about the issues and demands of the movement itself?

There were several reasons. First of all, nationalism is not rejected by the vast majority of protesters. Even people with liberal views haven’t said much against the party “Svoboda” (Freedom) and other nationalistic organizations. Most of them prefer to turn a blind eye to the aggressive actions of nationalists, imagining that nationalists will not follow their ideology. Surely, this is a delusion.

Secondly, nationalists from the Svoboda party started to infiltrate almost any social protest long ago. They have numerous activists while other parties don’t. These activists did a lot of organizing work during protests. During the clashes with police, boneheads’ support became even more valuable. This concerns also the “Pravy Sector” (Right Sector) group. On the other hand, Svoboda lost some support on account of aggressively infiltrating others’ activist space and brutal fights with other protesters.

Thirdly, other opposition parties need Svoboda votes in the parliament. Even though quite a large number of people still weren’t very happy about Svoboda (as well as some European politicians, who would prefer not to cooperate with nationalists openly), Svoboda was appreciated as a legitimate part of the protests because of their resources.

Hanging white supremacist flags in the occupied Parliament in Ukraine

Why were anarchists and antifascists not able to establish a similar presence? Would it have been possible if they had acted differently?

There are not so many anarchists and antifascists in Ukraine compared to nationalists. Also, a lot of anarchists were skeptical about the protest when it was all about Euro-integration, they partly joined in when “Maidan” changed mainly into a protest against police brutality. Nevertheless, it was quite dangerous to agitate about any social issue, as the far right could attack at any time.

Another reason for this was that anarchists and antifascists in Ukraine are divided because of several principal issues. Quite many “anarchists” and antifascists are rather manarchists, reject feminism and pro-choice movements as “bourgeois,” and cooperate with national-anarchists from “Avtonomy Opir” (Autonomous Resistance).

Can you imagine anything anarchists and antifascists could have done in the previous years that would have prepared them better for this situation?

In fact, the whole situation was quite unexpected for everyone—even for the Opposition leaders. It was the government who provoked the protest to grow larger with brutal violence of riot police squads.

Also, there are not so many anarchists in Ukraine. For example, the 1st of May demonstration in Kiev gathered about 300-350 anarchists and antifascists in 2012, and their number decreased to about 200-250 the following year. Other cities have much smaller anarchist and antifascist scenes. A lot of people changed their views from anarchism to social democracy or national-anarchism. I think that the main reason was that we had very few workshops, discussions, book publishing, etc. Now the main issue is to increase the number of activists again and concentrate on workshops about theory.

What strategies have different anarchist groups pursued for engaging with this situation? What conclusions can you draw from the results?

When the “Euromaidan” had just started, different leftist and feminist groups, including the syndicalist student union “Priama Diya” (Direct Action), tried to infiltrate the protest in different ways with social and feminist slogans, criticizing the idea of Euro-integration at the same time. They were pushed out of the protest by the boneheads; activists of the communist party “Borotba” were even beaten very harshly. Some activists continued to infiltrate the protest in different ways, but not so openly—for example, organizing different workshops among protesters—but there ware almost no results.

Antifascist football fans of “Arsenal-Kiev” decided to join the protest against police brutality. They declared the “truce” with Nazis and joined the fights against the police.  Also “Arsenal-Kiev” fans made a call for all anarchists and antifascists to join their struggle, while they were cooperating with national-anarchists from “Avtonomny Opir.” After anarchists spoke some criticism about such alliance, football fans threatened everyone criticizing them with violence. Of course, this proclamation made a reverse effect, as even more people turned their backs to football fans.

After extreme police brutality in January, different leftists, and anarchists in particular, initiated “Hospital Guard”—a group of people that was trying to prevent police brutality against injured people in hospitals. “Hospital Guard” was quite effective, and a quite lot of protesters with moderate views joined it. Now, after fights against the police are over, “Hospital Guard” activists are thinking about changing it into an initiative that would fight against neoliberal medical reform. Only time will tell how effective it was.

Which aspects of anarchist rhetoric and approach have nationalists appropriated? What can we do to prevent this?

Nazis from “Pravy Sector” and the Svoboda party have no need to appropriate anarchist ideas—they still stand for the strong state and have support with this idea. During the Maidan protests, they changed their rhetoric to be more democratic than before in order to get more sympathizers, but it still is very authoritarian and has no sign of anarchist influence.

The only fascist group that appropriated anarchist ideas was “Avtonomny Opir,” the former National Labor Party of Ukraine. Their ideology is a mix of anarchism, nationalism, and the Third Way. Some of leftists were quite happy to see that former fascists had started to change their views, but in fact this evolution stopped on that ideological mix. The evolution of “Avtonomny Opir” also had another effect—some antifascists and anarchists started to cooperate with them and appropriated their ideas. So now groups like “Narody Nabat” (People’s Bell) and “Socialny Opir” as well as Arsenal-Kiev football fans have basically the same views, including pro-life and rejection of feminism.

Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok doing their party salute upon re-election to head of the party.

Members of Right Sector on the front lines.

Narody Nabat (“People’s Bell”), a group that describes itself as “social anarchists,” is reportedly cooperating with autonomous nationalists.

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Anarchists in the Bosnian Uprising

1aThe past two weeks have seen a fierce new protest movement in Bosnia, commencing with the destruction of government buildings and continuing with the establishment of popular assemblies. Unlike the recent conflicts in Ukraine, this movement has eschewed nationalistic strife to focus on class issues. In a region infamous for ethnic bloodshed, this offers a […]

Continue reading at CrimethInc. Far East Blog …

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Anarchist Book Fair in Lima, Peru: Report


Last weekend, a CrimethInc. operative participated in the first Anarchist Book and Propaganda Fair in Lima, Peru. Here follows his detailed report, including photographs and a few comments on the situation of anarchists in Peru.

Disclaimer: I claim—no, I exclaim!—that this account is incomplete and erroneous. It is brought to you through the lens of a North American traveler with a less than skillful mastery of the Spanish language. Nonetheless, this is how I experienced the First Anarchist Book and Propaganda Fair in Lima, Peru.

It’s been almost ten years since I came to Peru. The country was about to inaugurate a new president, only the second president to take office since the Fujimori dictatorship of the 1990s. Although “democracy” had arrived and the Shining Path had largely disintegrated, the country wasn’t in good shape. An incomplete 20-year-old monorail system loomed over the city, casting shadows of past leaders’ empty promises. The center of counterculture was a graffitied, three-block street called Jiron Quilca. It housed an anarcho-punk infoshop, Asko Social, a couple of anti-capitalist cultural centers, as well as bookstores and little shops with bootleg metal and rock paraphernalia. On Jiron Quilca, I was lucky enough to attend a celebration of the 70-year anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

Today, Jiron Quilca still has much of the same commerce, but its status as a countercultural hub has evaporated. Many of the bookstores, music bootleggers, and graffiti are still there, but Asko Social and the other anti-capitalist spots are gone, and with them much of the street life. A nearby church that owns much of the property has run these establishments out, hoping to cash in on the gentrifying downtown. While Jiron Quilca seems like a ghost town, the long delayed metro-rail project has been completed, and a speedy metro-bus system has been introduced. The neighborhood where Abimael Guzman, the leader of the Shining Path guerrillas, was finally arrested—a reputation that you might think would drive down property value—is now one of the fastest gentrifying parts of the city, with new luxury apartment buildings and a gigantic mall. This was not the city I had seen almost a decade ago.

But the anarchist movement has changed too. There is new blood—young blood—and there are new ideas as well.

One of these new ideas was to host Lima`s first-ever Anarchist Book and Propaganda Fair. The fair took place the weekend of February 1-2, 2014. It was hosted in the union hall of the Federation of Bakers, Star of Peru (Federacion Obreros Panaderos Estrella del Peru), a union with anarcho-syndicalist roots founded in 1887.

The day before the book fair, in exchange for use of the space, local anarchists and visitors helped repair furniture, fix the bathroom, sweep, and dust the space, and one gringo even gave the tall, decaying face of the building a new (albeit mediocre) paint job via an incredibly dangerous ladder! The day of the book fair, the space was transformed with beautiful, large posters expressing solidarity, impromptu art exhibitions, and red and black flags.

Over twenty different publishers and projects tabled. These included radical media projects, a DIY feminist craft collective, regularly published anarchist periodicals, authors with their own books on anarchist history, an anarchist hip hop journal, and plenty of anarcho-punk distributors. Our CrimethInc. cell was a proud participant, albeit with a meager selection of translations. However, many other distributors had translated CrimethInc. texts on their tables as well. If you want to help translate more material, please get in touch!

One of the most popular items on our table was a Spanish version of the Gender Subversion poster. An older, conspicuously non-punk woman insisted on paying one of the neighboring tablers for the poster even though the ex-worker staffing the table was not present. When this ex-worker returned, the neighbor recounted this woman’s enthusiasm and background. She grew up in a shantytown of Lima known for an especially high level of self-organization. The women of this area self-organized public kitchens, education committees, and sewage and electricity projects. In what became one of the highest-profile murders of the era, a socialist woman who led these efforts was eventually assassinated by Maoist Shining Path rebels who were suspicious of anyone organizing outside their authority. This book fair attendee had a granddaughter who raps and skateboards, who is criticized for not acting girly enough. The grandmother was excited to give her granddaughter the poster and to continue the tradition of strong, self-determined women that she grew up around during the Shining Path conflict.

Three kinds of presentations took place during the weekend: Talleres, which were more or less skillshares; Foros, forums for discussions of ideas and action; and presentations on current projects or newly published anarchist material. Many of the workshops and foros were also accompanied by newly published zines on their respective topics.

The workshops included capoeira, wood and linoleum printmaking, and anarchist poetry. There were forums on intra-movement work and cooperation, anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-primitivism, free love, revolutionary violence vs. terrorism, the anti-mining conflicts in Cajamarca, and anarchist internationalism in regards to the legacy of the war of the Pacific that pitted Chile against Peru and Bolivia.

Authors presented on a book about the history of Chilean anarchism between 1890 and 1990 and herbal healing and medical self-determination. There was also a brief but well-received presentation about the Ex-Worker podcast.

The space was drug and alcohol free, something anarchists in Lima seem to be experimenting with recently. This is a change from the Spanish Civil War anniversary during my last visit, at which many audience members had beer in their hands. To illustrate this trend, one local show space has been successfully hosting drug and alcohol free punk shows. One of the reasons for this is to avoid provoking repression, but many of the punks who live there have young children as well. This might also explain why the book fair had an enthusiastically attended childcare space with mats to play on, art projects, books, and fantastic volunteers.

In the middle of the first day, time was set aside in the tabling area for tablers to present their projects, explain why they were there, and express what they hoped to get out of the book fair. This turned out to be intimate and beautiful; perhaps book fairs in the US could try it. One presenter made a humble and touching speech: “I believe every anarchist is a propagandist, whether we are talking to people on the street, our family, or our friends. Just because I am behind a table with books and you are in front of it doesn’t mean you know anything less about anarchism than I do. We all have something to learn from each other.”

In an interview carried out by the ex-worker, one of the book fair organizers explained the idea behind holding this book fair: “We consider it very important to resist the whole set of distortions, defamations, and falsifications that are perpetrated by the means of power. This includes the press and even the realm of academia, which many times has attempted to silence, or make us forget, the history of anarchism, which has had a very important presence in Peru´s history. And also, to show that anarchists are involved in lots of different kinds of things. We’re hosting this book fair to promote the idea that people can assemble their own texts, edit their own texts, and disseminate them in spaces like this. Anarchists aren’t just involved in confrontations at demonstrations—I mean, they are doing that, but we’re doing other things too. So, we’re resisting this narrow view of anarchism and hopefully making people realize that anarchism is an alternative, one that can be fulfilled. Hopefully even more people can participate in the next book fair, and I believe were getting there, little by little.”

Another participant explained her enthusiasm for the event: “Many times when we have been in different conversations we have said ‘Well, we see the same faces’ and what we would really like is for other people, like young people like we see that are here, for them to be here, for them to be with us, sharing a different environment, a different type of thing that they don’t get to see in school, that they don’t get to see in the streets, that they don’t get to see in the TV or on the radio, nowhere. That’s the most important thing, for people that are not in these places to actually get to connect with these types events, these types of conversations, these types of talks, these types of relationships. Because the type of relationships we have is very much different from the type of relationship you see outside, which is mainly a type of mercantile relationship, an exchange, you talk to that person because you`re going to buy something or you talk to that person because you work with them.  It’s all because of a capitalist relationship. What we’re harvesting here, in these places, is another type of relationship, a relationship of a different type of society that is not on a basis of money or exploitation or anything like that. And the thing is finding out how…”

At the end of the last day, a very old man from the Bakers’ Federation, the union who shared their union hall for the book fair, shared some words. He spoke for five minutes, and concluded, “This is a space that serves every comrade. It doesn’t belong only to our union, it belongs to anarchism… It animates me to see so many young people here. In you, the young, I put my faith that you will use this meeting as a step to reignite a revolutionary struggle. This is not the first anarchist meeting to take place here, and we hope it will not be the last. I can see that the libertarian vein runs through your bodies.”

After a loud round of applause and cheering, the book fair spontaneously transformed into an unstructured assembly for people to share their experiences, news about recent repression, and ideas for the future. Then someone took out a cajòn, guitar, and kazoo, and people sang, danced, and rapped until it was time to leave.

While cleaning up, my Peruvian hosts and I discussed the book fair. Overall, people left energized and inspired. They said that their only real complaint was that there were not more people from Lima who attended. As an outsider but also as a comrade who has attended my share of anarchist book fairs, I hope that I impressed upon them what a success their event was, and that they worked together spectacularly. From South America to North America, a la mierda la autoritad!

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