Posts by b. traven

From Ferguson to Oakland

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The movement that began in Ferguson in response to the murder of Michael Brown has spread around the United States, setting off nightly clashes in the Bay Area. Scrambling to keep up with events, our contacts in Oakland have composed this overview of the past 17 days of anti-police revolt. They describe the trajectory of die-ins, marches, riots, blockades, barricading, and looting, and explore the implications for the future of protest movements around the country.

Read the feature.

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Why Break Windows?

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From the initial revolt in Ferguson last August to the demonstrations in Oakland and Berkeley last week, property destruction has been central to a new wave of struggle against police violence. But what does vandalizing businesses have to do with protesting police brutality? Why break windows?

First, as countless others have argued, because property destruction is an effective tactic. From the Boston Tea Party to the demonstrations against the 1999 World Trade Organization summit in Seattle, property destruction has been an essential part of many struggles. It can pressure or punish opponents by inflicting an economic cost. It can mobilize potential comrades by demonstrating that the ruling forces are not invincible. It can force issues that otherwise would be suppressed—we would certainly not be having a nationwide conversation about race, class, and policing were it not for the courageous actions of a few vandals in Ferguson. Finally, it conveys an uncompromising rejection of the prevailing order, opening space in which people may begin to imagine another.

Property destruction charges don’t look good on a résumé or in a campaign for city council, but perhaps this is a good thing. It means that political vandalism is usually a selfless act—and even when it isn’t, it has to be its own reward. There is more reason to suspect paid nonprofit activists and aspiring politicians of ulterior motives than to question the motivations of vandals. This may explain why activists and politicians cast such aspersions on them.

Shop windows represent segregation. They are invisible barriers. Like so much in this society, they simultaneously offer a view of “the good life” and block access to it. In a polarizing economy, shop windows taunt the poor with commodities they cannot afford, status and security they will never attain. For millions upon millions, the healthy food, medicines, and other goods they need are the breadth of an entire social class away from them, a gulf they will not cross in a lifetime of hard work—a gulf represented by half an inch of plate glass.

To smash a shop window is to contest all the boundaries that cut through this society: black and white, rich and poor, included and excluded. Most of us have become inured to all this segregation, taking such inequalities for granted as a fact of life. Breaking windows is a way to break this silence, to challenge the absurd notion that the social construct of property rights is more important than the needs of the people around us.

One reactionary argument goes that vandals are wrecking “their own neighborhoods,” but this is a disingenuous way to speak about those whose names do not appear on any deeds. Indeed, when developers speak of “improving” these neighborhoods, they mean the de facto expulsion of the current population. The problem in Ferguson and everywhere like it is not that the economy has been interrupted; the problem is the routine functioning of the economy itself. In a profit-driven society, the more that poor people work and pay rent, the poorer they will end up relative to those who are profiting on their labor—that’s where profit comes from. It is dishonest to blame the victim here, as if more submissiveness could produce a different result. In a pyramid scheme, somebody has to form the bottom tier, and ever since the colonization of the so-called Americas that has always meant black and brown people.

As others have pointed out, colonization, gentrification, mass incarceration, and police killings are all forms of displacement, of erasure. We have become accustomed to ceaseless, dramatic disruptions of the environments we live in—so long as it is capitalists and police driving them, not poor people. This normalizes an alienated relation to the urban landscape, so whole neighborhoods can be leveled and replaced without anyone batting an eyelid. It normalizes a social system that itself has only been imposed on the earth over the past couple centuries, making the most unsustainable way of life ever practiced seem timeless and eternal. Vandalism demonstrates that both the current disposition of urban space and the social system that determines it are contingent and temporary—that it is possible, even with limited resources, to transform space according to a different logic. Gentrification and vandalism are both forms of intervention in the urban landscape—the difference is that gentrification is top-down, while vandalism is bottom-up.

It is not a coincidence that shop windows have been targeted in protests against police violence. Businesses, be they multinational or local, are the tax base that pays for police, and without police they would not be able to accumulate so much wealth at everyone else’s expense. In this situation, addressing protests directly to the police is oblique, for the police answer to business owners and politicians, not to public opinion. It is much more direct to target their bosses, the capitalists themselves. Cost them enough money in smashed windows, and maybe they’ll think twice about what kind of policing they call for.

“But some poor worker is going to have to clean that up,” sanctimonious liberals charge whenever they see a protester making free with the avenues of the wealthy. Anyone who has worked a blue-collar job knows that this is pure bunk. Replacing windows or scrubbing graffiti off a façade is no worse than any other kind of work one can get in that pay bracket—it’s not as though the workers in question would be doing something pleasant and fulfilling otherwise. If anything, vandalism creates jobs, offering additional work opportunities to service industry employees and construction workers whose labor would not otherwise be required. This means you can’t smash capitalism one storefront at a time—but trying to might at least redistribute a little wealth downward. It is typically liberal for critics to present the poor as the victims of confrontational tactics, when in fact it is their own status and comfort they fear for.

In the more paranoid version of this perspective, liberals who assume that everyone else must be as satisfied with the prevailing order as they are declare that only the police themselves, in disguise of course, would have smashed the windows they are tasked with protecting. Like other conspiracy theories, this attributes all agency to a single nefarious power, denying the existence and strategic sense of those who take action against it.

All this is not to argue that window-smashing is itself enough to change the world. In the final analysis, sabotage and arson are the strategy of a retreating army—of those who know they will not hold a given terrain for long. A movement strong enough to retain the territory it seizes from the police wouldn’t need to break or burn anything, only to transform it. On the other hand, as long as such inequalities persist, people are bound to lash out against them via property destruction as well as other tactics. Anyone who truly desires to see an end to property destruction should hasten to bring about the end of property itself. Then, at last, the only reason to break windows would be thrill seeking.

Further Reading

A Beginner’s Guide to Targeted Property Destruction

In Defense of Rioting

In Defense of Looting

In Defense of the Ferguson Riots

The Illegitimacy of Violence, the Violence of Legitimacy

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From Occupy to Ferguson

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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

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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 Submedia.tv 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”

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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

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“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

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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?

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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

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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

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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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