We’ve just reprinted our classic manual for direct action, Recipes for Disaster. You can order a copy here. To celebrate, here’s one of the first chapters, a guide to installing unsanctioned mosaics in asphalt streets and parking lots.
In the course of the years of research that went into the book, our contributors experimented with a wide array of tactics—some drawn from protest movements, others from outsider art. Some of the most inspired participants in Recipes for Disaster reverse-engineered the process by which a mysterious street artist in their region had installed cryptic tiles in the streets. At the time, almost no one had heard of these “Toynbee tiles.” In the years since, they have become legendary, inspiring an entire mythology.
After we publicized the method in 2004, other tiles began to appear around the country. Others eventually made their own pop-culture guides to the art form; in 2011, a film appeared about the original artist. Yet we have yet to see asphalt mosaics themselves become widespread.
So just in time for summer—which softens up the asphalt, the better to receive your mosaics—we offer the following how-to guide. We’ve also added an account that postdates the book. Carry out these instructions and send us photographs of your work!
This is a method for making colorful, permanent mosaic installations in asphalt roads and lots. Like glass, asphalt is amorphous, somewhere between a liquid and a solid; this means that a design affixed to it with more asphalt will eventually settle in and become a part of it. We owe our awareness of this technique to a nameless mystic we have never encountered in person.
We saw the first one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We were walking along a downtown street when we spotted a colorful patch of text embedded in the asphalt of a crosswalk. It was clearly made of vinyl floor tile—but how was it attached? We found the pictured on the left at the corner of Smithfield Street and Oliver Avenue. As we walked we saw more versions of the same design. While befuddled by the message, we were amazed by the technique, and avidly discussed how it might be reproduced. But a few blocks later, miraculously, we came upon the Rosetta Stone, a similar piece of the same material and text… except that this one featured an additional block of smaller text: instructions! The words were old and badly damaged, but we could just make out the crucial sentence: “…I USE ASPHALT CRACK FILLER…” We got right to work.
The next time we came through Pittsburgh we were on tour. Part of our program was a skill share on asphalt décor, and we had already left a respectable trail of color across the country. After our workshop, we ventured downtown to visit the original pieces. When we got there, we found most of them—but the crucial piece, the one with the instructions, were gone. It had been buried under a fresh slab of asphalt. We had discovered it in the nick of time.
In a subsequent internet search, we found that the same text has been spotted all over the world, though mostly in North and South America. There even seems to be a fan club. According to one posting, a piece in New York starts with the same Toynbee text, then adds, “Murder every journalist, I beg you.” Well, we would never be so impolite, but between that and the kindly instructions provided in Pittsburgh, it’s clear where the artist stands on do-it-yourself media.
So, in the spirit of the inventor who was thoughtful enough to declassify his or her technique, we present the findings of our attempts to reverse-engineer it. Now, go make and glue tiles!! You!!! As media!!!
The so-called “Toynbee Tiles” are made out of two kinds of floor covering material: Vinyl Composition Tile and true Linoleum.
VCT is cheap, even brand new. It sells for less than sixty cents a square foot at hardware marts. The problem is that color selection is generally limited to a few bland options when you’re only buying single tiles. They do come in exciting colors, though, and if you want to order a case you can get almost any color you want; however, a case is expensive, and it’s unlikely that you will ever need forty-five square feet of any one color, so we have some other recommendations.
A lot of cites these days have salvage building-supply warehouses. They are often non-profit and community-run. These are a good place to start, as they usually have partial cases in a variety of colors. We have also had luck calling and stopping by floor covering stores and/or installation contractors. We ask if they have any partial cases in their storage area that we could have for an art project. Sometimes they are generous, sometimes they ask for a little money. Another method that has worked well with other materials is a classified “want ad” in the local paper. If someone has redone their own kitchen floor, they may have a partial box that they couldn’t bring themselves to toss but don’t really need. People love to donate these kinds of materials to starving artists.
You have two options for creating your design. You can make mosaics, or you can make what we’ll call Toynbee-style pieces, in which your text or image is set into a solid background.
The advantage of the mosaic approach is that they can be made with VCT alone. You may find VCT to be easier to obtain than linoleum. Because of its brittleness, VCT is hard to cut into precise shapes such as small letters, and large pieces of it can crack apart as the road shifts with temperature and pressure. Mosaics circumvent these problems, by piecing together small, randomly cut pieces of tiles to form a design.
First, you have to make whole tiles into pieces. We’ve developed a method for producing durable pieces of irregular shapes. Using a utility knife and straightedge, score a line 1/2 to 3/4 inch from the edge of a tile (figure 1.1). Now Gently work from one end of the line to another, bending the strip away from the score line. The crack will become deeper and deeper, until it finally breaks. Once you have removed the strip, score it cross-ways to make smaller bits (figure 1.2). It is best to make a wide variety of shapes: squares, rectangles, rhombi, triangles. The more variety you have, the easier it will be to put your image together.
Next, you need a flat surface. It is best to work on a flat piece of plywood or thick cardboard, so you can move your piece as necessary. Cut out a piece of tarpaper that is larger than your design, and tape or staple it to your work surface. The tarpaper needs to be flat and smooth; tears or wrinkles will mess things up.
Smear the surface of the tarpaper with an even coat of waterproof wood glue. The glue-cover area should extend one or two inches beyond the edge of your design on all sides. Let the glue dry thoroughly.
Prepare the surface for layout. With a cloth, spread a thin layer of glue on the dry glue. This will cause the letters to stick to the glue surface.
Lay out your design on the glue-coated tarpaper (figure 1.3). If the glue dries before you get all the tile down, add a thin layer of fresh glue. Laying out the tile pieces will appeal to your compulsive side. Put them down like a puzzle, custom-shaping pieces if need be. Aim to maintain consistent 1/8-inch gaps between tiles; as the tile itself is 1/8-inch thick, you can use a piece of tile as a guide (figure 1.4). If the tiles are too close to one another, the tar will have trouble flowing between pieces; if they are too far apart, the tar will span the gap, but it will be a weak spot. A consistent layout will also make your design more readable.
Keep your design at least one inch away from the edge of your plastic, staples, or tape.
If you are using text, lay it out backwards. This is easy to forget! What you see when you are laying out your image will actually be the underside when it is installed.
Allow the second layer of glue to dry thoroughly. Before you move on to adding tar make sure no tile bits are loose. If one is loose, glue it back down.
Shake the jug of asphalt crack filler thoroughly and pour it over your design (figure 1.5). The ideal consistency of the crack filler is like honey. If the brand you are using is too thick, place the jug in the sun so it will flow better; you can also try adding a little water. The important part of this step is to get the tar between the tiles. The surfaces of the tiles need not be tar-free, but you should be able to see the shapes and some of the colors of the tiles. When the entire design is covered, add a 1/2-inch border of tar beyond the edge of the tiles.
Cut a piece of tarpaper in the shape of your design and, while the tar is still wet, press the tarpaper into the tar. If the paper starts to curl at the edges do something to hold it down. Once the tarpaper is stuck flat, spread another layer of tar on the back of the tarpaper, so it is completely coated with tar. This second layer of tar should be no more than 1/16-inch thick.
Refer to “Finishing and Installing” below to complete your project.
The Toynbee method is laborious, but it looks fantastic, and produces installations that are, by some indications, more durable than mosaics. For our example, we will assume you are using text, although you can use an image instead.
First, cut your text out of either VCT or linoleum (figure 1.6). It is worth your while to use a very sharp utility blade for this. Both linoleum and VCT become soft and easier to cut if left in the sun; if you are doing anything intricate, a heat gun makes the stuff cut like butter. If need be, you can make difficult letters on more than one piece.
Next, trace the text (figure 1.7). Lay out a piece of linoleum (not VCT) and arrange your text on it. Using a fine-point permanent marker or dark pencil, make a close tracing of each letter, or place the entire text on the linoleum at once and use a light dusting of spray paint to transfer the letters precisely onto the background. If you use the spray paint method, lay out the text backwards, so the paint will be on the back side of your tiles.
Now, cut out the negative space. Use a sharp blade, and make sure your linoleum is warm. Cut out the traced letters as precisely as possible (figure 1.8). Save the spaces in the letters, such as “O” and “B” to put back in. Save the letters you cut out; you can use them with a background of a different color for your next design. Toynbee-style pieces do not require an 1/8-inch gap between pieces—in fact, the tighter the fit, the better.
Staple or tape a piece of tarpaper on a flat portable surface—cardboard and plywood both work well. Cover the tarpaper with a thin, even layer of waterproof wood glue. Spread the glue so it covers an area larger than your design by at least two inches on all sides. Next, place the design. Lay the linoleum background onto the wet glue so that the readable side is stuck to the tarpaper. Fit each letter into place (figure 1.9). Thoroughly remove any glue that has made its way into the side of the tiles not facing the tarpaper. When everything is in place, weigh the piece down with a board, and allow twelve or more hours for the glue to dry completely; it takes much longer than usual because there is hardly any airflow.
After the glue is dry, apply the tar. Squeeze some tar onto the center of the design, and use a piece of card to spread it to a 1/16-inch thickness. Add a 1/2-inch perimeter of tar around the edge of the entire design.
Cut a piece of tarpaper in the shape of your design, and press the tarpaper into the wet tar, just as you would in preparing a mosaic design. Once the tarpaper is stuck flat, spread another layer of tar on the back of the tarpaper so it is completely coated with tar. The second layer of tar should be no more than 1/16-inch thick.
Let your piece dry. In warm sunlight, most crack fillers will dry sufficiently in eight hours; in the shade of indoors, it could take up to twenty-four hours. When you think it is safe to handle your piece, detach it from the board. The side that has been facing the board is the top of your mosaic. Trim the tarpaper on the top side so that it is a half-inch bigger than the tar-coated tarpaper on the bottom side. The layer of tarpaper on top of your piece will remain until it is washed or worn away.
Prepare the bottom surface of your piece. Different tar products dry to different consistencies. If your tar has dried like a tire rubber—flexible, yet dry to touch—use a paper towel to spread a very thin layer of fresh tar to the bottom side. The goal here is to create a sticky surface, not to make a layer of wet tar! If your tar has dried to be flexible and sticky, it is not necessary to add fresh tar.
Find a spot. Asphalt crack filler sticks only to asphalt such as is used to make roads, sidewalks, and paths. It does not work on concrete, brick, or cobblestone. Find a high visibility location. We recommend crosswalks, as your piece is probably scaled for pedestrian viewing: pedestrians will be able to enjoy your work as they cross the road, and the passing cars, will help mash the piece into the asphalt. Also, in their capacity as dumb and dangerous moving objects, cars will faithfully deter someone from kneeling down to pick at your piece. Yes, just this once, cars are working for you!
Don’t let your masterpiece be covered up in the prime of its life just because the road needed repair. Your tile can last for ten year, possibly longer than its asphalt host. Apply your piece on the freshest asphalt you can find that is also a good location. Also, new asphalt is softer and stickier, and thus more receptive to your decorations.
Install your artwork. You should install your design during warm weather, when the asphalt is warm, soft, and dry. If the forecast calls for significant rains in the next few days, wait until they have passed. Bring a small brush to remove sand or debris from the road. Place your piece by simply setting it down, tar side to the road. Now walk, skip, jump, and run all over it to make sure it is firmly planted. The top layer of the tarpaper will serve to camouflage and stabilize your piece for the first few weeks, when it is most vulnerable, while it begins to join with the road. Eventually, the top layer will wear through or wash away, unveiling your masterpiece.
You can give your tile more time to set into the asphalt by adding extra layers of tarpaper on top of the design. Before you go out, cut two pieces of tarpaper a few inches bigger than your tile all around. Smear the pieces of tarpaper with a generous amount of glue, and stick them together glue side to glue side. This will keep them from drying out or sticking to things on the way to the installation site. Once you have laid the tile down and walked on it a bit, peel the two pieces of tarpaper apart and paste them—one on top of another—over the tile.
Brightly colored tiles look the best on asphalt; colors like dark green tend to be invisible unless they are used effectively with other colors. Make sure there is plenty of color or tone contrast between your figure and its background, especially if your design includes text.
Experiment with other materials! You have probably seen pennies, fasteners, and bits of brake light embedded in asphalt at intersections; thin bits of metal, mirror, or plastic will work too.
To make cutting easier, heat your VCT or linoleum with a heat gun or in an over set on warm; make sure the area in which you do this is well ventilated.
As with stickers and stencils, pizza boxes are great for transporting pieces to their designated sites (figure 1.10).
This technique has a lot to recommend it over standard graffiti and wheat pasting: it can be more permanent, it makes use of a medium not yet often utilized creatively, it is still virtually unknown to the authorities and so can be remarkably easy to get away with.
Here’s a dare: make asphalt mosaics as popular—and unpopular—tomorrow as spray paint murals are today!
The following is excerpted from the report on the 2007 CrimethInc. convergence.
In August 2003, after participating in the CrimethInc. convergence described in “Under the Helicopters,” my barnstorming group made one more tour stop—in Athens, Ohio. By that time, following an unplanned parade-turned-riot and subsequent media feeding frenzy, there was an APB out and police officers were waiting for us everywhere we went.
Our final evening of performances and workshops went smoothly enough until the conclusion. We’d been ending each event by teaching people how to make the asphalt tile mosaics described in Recipes for Disaster, then affixing one in a street as a token of our passing. We debated briefly as to whether we should attempt this act of unorthodox vandalism under the watchful eyes of the police, and finally concluded—as we always do—that we had to go for it and let the consequences sort themselves out. A slapstick scene ensued such as one might see in a European comedy: imagine us running around the campus pursued by police and audience members, attempting to elude the former and put down our tile mosaic in front of the latter. In the end, we succeeded in deploying the mosaic, but were followed by police to the house we’d intended to stay at and had to escape through the back alley to sleep somewhere else.
Months later, unbeknownst to us and against all odds, the mosaic remained in the parking lot—somehow the police never bothered to have it removed. Long before we ever met, the person who is now my lover and partner walked past a colorful heart set into the asphalt on her way to class every day, wondering how it came to be there.
Fast-forward nearly four years, to the end of July 2007. The tile mosaics our barnstorming tour put down have been paved over and the passionate friendships that bound our group together have cooled. All of us are now involved in new projects and friendships—for example, I’m back in Athens, in an unpermitted parade at the conclusion of the sixth CrimethInc. convergence, surrounded by hundreds of costumed maniacs. Some of them are spinning fire; others are beating improvised percussion instruments, including one enormous drum pushed on a shopping cart; still others have just dislodged an enormous road blockade reading “ROAD CLOSED” from a construction site and are carrying it to the front. Among the whirling dancers and masked faces, through the haze of enthusiasm and good cheer, I can make out a couple people who were with me here four years earlier. We’ve covered a lot of ground in that time.
My partner calls me over to a spot in the road. There, set in the asphalt, as fresh and bright as the day we put it there, is a colorful tile heart.
When experiments like these work, they connect us to spaces and to each other in a magical way, giving our lives back the narrative meaning that capitalism drains from everything. They may not immediately overthrow the government or abolish private ownership of capital, but they give us the networks, experience, and sense of our own power necessary for tilting at such monstrous windmills. Separated from our ongoing struggle for liberation they are senseless, but they aren’t only useful as incremental steps towards liberation—they also are that liberation, as we recapture our lives, moment by moment, from routine and obedience.
On April 19, 2023, three anarchists were killed in battle near Bakhmut: an American named Cooper Andrews, an Irishman named Finbar Cafferkey, and a Russian named Dmitry Petrov, known to us until then as Ilya Leshy. People in our networks have shared undertakings with all three of these comrades over the years.
You can read about Cooper’s motivations in his own words here and consult a eulogy from his comrades here. You can learn about Finbar’s lifelong activism here, read an interview with him here, and listen to a song of his here. In the following eulogy, we explore the life of Dmitry Petrov, who also went by the noms de guerre Ilya Leshy and Fil Kuznetsov. For background, you should start by reading the statements from his comrades in the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization, the Resistance Committee, and Solidarity Collectives, as well as Dmitry’s statement from beyond the grave, all of which are available here.
A few weeks before the war began, Dmitry participated in an interview that we included in our coverage of the unfolding situation. On the first day of the Russian invasion, under what must have been challenging conditions, Dmitry took time to speak with us about how anarchists were responding. Throughout our exchanges over the following year, we were impressed by his humility, the earnestness with which he approached his efforts, and his sincere desire for critique.1
When Dmitry was killed, his comrades revealed that he had been involved in some of the most significant anarchist initiatives in 21st-century Russia, including co-founding the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization. Here, we will provide an overview of his efforts as a snapshot of the past two decades of struggle in the post-Soviet world, concluding with translations of two of his texts, “To Be a Revolutionary” and “The Mission of Anarchism in the Modern World,” and another text about him from the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization.
No one in our collective believes that state militarism can bring about the world we desire to live in. We are internally divided over the issue of anarchists participating in military resistance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some of us believe that serving in a state military formation can never advance the anarchist cause. Others believe that the decision to do so can only be understood in view of the brutal autocracy that prevails in Russia, in which committed anarchists like Dmitry had tried virtually every other approach. If we reject state militarism, it is an open question how else to respond to imperialist invasions—and we will be better equipped to approach that question if we understand the life trajectory of Russian anarchists like Dmitry. For a discussion of the complexities of formulating an anarchist anti-war strategy that does not effectively cede the field to state militarism, you could begin here.
One of our contacts in the Russian anarchist movement recalls that Dmitry was an active participant in anarchist activities in Moscow starting when he was a teenager, as early as 2004. According to a eulogy in Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry
became interested in anarchism at school. Together with comrades, they published the anarchist newspaper “Heretic.”
As a child, he was strongly influenced by his father’s stories about the Makhnovist movement during the civil war in Russia. For the first time, his father brought him to the Falanster store (the oldest independent bookstore in Moscow), where Dmitry discovered the [Russian anarchist] magazine Avtonom. “My first acquaintance with the movement was participation in the Bespartshkol, a rather interesting circle of lectures and discussions that took place many years ago in the Moscow Jerry Rubin Club. From the age of fifteen, he began to actively interact with the organization of “revolutionary anarcho-syndicalists” and to “write articles for their samizdat.”
Dmitry became known to other comrades as Ekolog (“ecologist”) on account of his environmentalism, organizing against the construction of incinerators and for the defense of Bitsevski Park in Moscow. He also participated in Food Not Bombs, the anarchist MPST union (“Interprofessional Workers’ Union”), and a variety of other initiatives.
Like many Russian anarchists, he participated in the anti-fascist movement, fighting Nazis on the streets of Moscow and defending concerts and lectures against Nazi attacks. According to the Novaya Gazeta eulogy, Dmitry was a member of the affinity group of Ivan “Kostolom” Khutorsky, a well-known anti-fascist who was later murdered in his stairwell by a member of a neo-Nazi gang.
Indeed, while Dmitri was becoming more active in the anarchist movement, fascists and police were escalating their violence against it. They had begun maiming and killing activists and journalists and even their lawyers; Fedor Filatov, Ilya Borodayenko, Timur Kacharava, and Anna Politkovskaya were only a few of the many casualties. In January 2009, the lawyer Stanislav Markelov and the journalist and anarchist eco-activist Anastasia Baburova were murdered in downtown Moscow. The previous summer, Dmitry had fought alongside Anastasia Baburova to defend Georgian refugees from Abkhazia who were staying in Yasnyi proezd in Moscow.
The following month, Dmitry took part in a clandestine action claimed under the name People’s Retribution. According to one account, this was a landmark event in Russia:
The first anti-cop arson of a new generation of anarchist rebels took place on the night of February 19-20, 2009. The next day, a video was published on the internet on behalf of the group People’s Retribution, showing anonymous people throwing Molotov cocktails at police cars. “People’s Retribution” announced the destruction of two cars and called on “every self-respecting person… to stand up against the arbitrariness and despotism of the police, secret services, and bureaucracy.”
Afterwards, Dmitry participated in establishing an anonymous platform for reporting such clandestine actions, the Black Blog, which began publishing in May 2010. When the anonymous editors announced the end of the Black Blog in March 2019, they alluded to the burning of the police cars on February 19, 2009: “More than ten years have passed since we threw our first Molotov cocktail at the police.”
One of the flashpoints of conflict around Moscow at that time was the Khimki forest, which anarchists and ecological activists were defending against corrupt officials and loggers and the fascists in their employ. On July 28, 2010, the fight over Khimki came to a head when hundreds of anarchists and anti-fascists marched on the local municipal offices in response to a fascist attack. We don’t know what Dmitry’s precise involvement in these events was. The anonymous report we received from Russian anarchists seems to bear the work of a familiar hand; but in an interview, an anonymous representative of Black Blog denied that they had participated in the demonstration at the municipal offices.
According to the Novaya Gazeta eulogy, Dmitry distinguished himself as a particularly considerate comrade in the course of his participation in ecological sabotage around this time.
“Once, we wandered through the autumn forest at night, disabling construction equipment,” recalled Svyatoslav Rechkalov, a political refugee in the case of the anarchist organization Narodnaya Self-Defense. “And one girl lost her sneaker. She just stepped on the ground and it swallowed her leg. She pulled her leg out, but the shoe remained somewhere underground. Well, Dima took off his shoes, gave her his sneakers, put bags on his feet, and went on like that.
“People asked him, are you not cold? Do you want to change eventually? He said: if it becomes unbearable, then we will change. But he ended up walking around in the bags all night. That’s who he was.”
Over the months following the march on the municipal offices of Khimki, the authorities detained and tortured over 500 anarchists and anti-fascists. Several were forced to flee the country. Nonetheless, this was not enough to suppress what was at that time a powerful movement. According to the aforementioned account of the movement of that time,
“2009-2012 was the peak of anarchist resistance in the history of the post-Soviet region of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Something happened almost every day, especially in the Moscow region, day and night.”
By summer 2012, over a hundred arson attacks had taken place targeting police stations and vehicles, military enlistment offices, cars belonging to state officials, and construction equipment intended to destroy forests. The Black Blog reported many of these actions, including some claimed by additional groups that Dmitry reportedly participated in, such as Anti-Nashist Action (countering the pro-Putin youth group, Nashi) and ZaNurgaliyeva (likely an ironic reference to then-Minister of Interior Rashid Nurgaliyev, a former KGB functionary).
On June 7, 2011, for example, an improvised device exploded beside a traffic police post at kilometer 22 of the Moscow Ring Road. The Anarchist Guerilla group claimed responsibility with a video of the explosion on the Black Blog. According to the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization, Dmitry participated in this action.
In a subsequent interview, pseudonymous participants in the burning of the police post described the action in detail. Here is an excerpt:
DENIS: We are descending from the crossing over the Moscow Ring Road. It’s almost light now. Some pensioner is already here walking his dog. I must say, according to our experience of night outings, this category of citizens is one of the very first to appear on the city streets in the morning. They say that in old age people sleep very little. Although our faces are covered, I still feel anxiety—after all, a witness can remember something. Of course, this is complete madness—to return to a failed bomb, and even in the light, in full view of the whole neighborhood. But so much effort has been expended—it is impossible to leave with nothing.
Let’s return to the post. Everything is the same as we left: a basin with coal and a cylinder stands between the fence and the booth. Alexei goes to the edge of the concrete ditch, lights a phosphorus match, and throws it into the basin. Nothing happens. Has the gasoline burned away? Discouraged, we slowly walk back to the bridge. “Listen, did you definitely see the match fall into the basin?” I ask Alexei. “Yeah, it looked like it.” “But you can’t say for sure?” “No, I’m not sure.”
Last try. We return, I climb over the ditch, approach the fence, light a match, throw it right into the basin and… a bluish flame spreads over the coal. It happened! Now we are running, our hearts are beating—what if the explosion catches us in a conspicuous place? But the joy of success drowns out the anxiety.
BORIS: It was starting to get light. I noticed an incomprehensible movement behind the booth. I looked closely, I realized that it was the reflection of fire on the trees. It was burning!
But suddenly a car quickly drove into the parking lot, illuminating the booth with its headlights. A traffic cop ran out of the car, took out a fire extinguisher, and began to put out the flames. Unsuccessfully. On the contrary, it seemed that the fire flared up more and more. The traffic cop ran into the post and came out with another fire extinguisher, a larger one. Again, failure—the flame only blazed more and more. Apparently, having decided not to risk it, the traffic cop returned to his post. The flame, meanwhile, rose above the booth—but there was still no explosion. The camera I was using stopped recording for the second time; I pressed “record” again. Police cars began to arrive at the post.
And then there was an explosion.
Everything was lit up by a flash, a bright orange flame shot up about fifteen meters. We continued filming. Cars began to drive away from the traffic police post, and just then our comrades returned. Alexei nervously shouted: “What are you doing, they are coming after us!”
According to a post by the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization, the one who returned to try again with one more match—the one called Denis in the above account, if it is to be credited—was Dmitry.
The account concluded with an admonition characteristic of Dmitry’s later writing:
You cannot seize power and impose anarchy on people from above. You cannot make a revolution for them and force them to live in a new society. Anarchist ideals will win only when people realize their strength, taking responsibility for their own lives and each other’s. Therefore, the main thing is to restore people’s faith in their own strength.
The same social tensions expressed in these clandestine actions eventually came to a boil in mass participatory events. Across Russia, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the opposition movement of 2011-2012. On May 6, 2012, the “March of Millions” ended in clashes with the police in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square. Once again, according to the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization, Dmitry Petrov participated in the events in Bolotnaya Square, alongside the anarchist Alexei Polikhovich and others who were subsequently imprisoned for attempting to defend demonstrators from armored riot police.
That was arguably the high-water mark of political possibility in Russia. Over the years that followed, Putin’s government managed to establish a stranglehold on the country, systematically destroying or assimilating all forms of opposition. When we interviewed the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization last August, they traced the beginning of the process that eventually led to the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the defeat of that movement:
Perhaps, in theory, the political crisis of 2011-2012 could have ended Putin’s rule, if all the opposition forces had acted more cohesively and radically. The anarchists tried to radicalize the protest, but our forces were not enough, and the authorities decided to launch the first serious waves of repression.
After the clashes on Bolotnaya Square, Dmitry continued to participate in both clandestine action and public organizing. As the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization related to us in the aforementioned interview,
“We are aware of examples in which some comrades have managed to balance between public activity and the underground for quite a long time, and to be quite active in both.”
In 2013, a protest movement broke out against the pro-Putin government of Ukraine, culminating in the Ukrainian Revolution of February 2014. Although nationalists elbowed out anarchists and other anti-authoritarians to take a prominent place in these events, that outcome was not foreordained; things might have turned out differently if anarchists had been more numerous and better prepared. The Yellow Vest movement of 2018-2019 in France offers an example of a social movement in which nationalists initially had an advantage, but anarchists and anti-fascists managed to outflank them.
While the outcome of the Ukrainian uprising was still up in the air, Dmitry Petrov traveled to Kyiv to participate in the struggle on the Maidan, the central square of Ukraine’s capital city. According to Vladimir Platonenko,
In February 2014, Ekolog [Dmitry] spent about ten days on the Maidan, having come to Ukraine specifically for this. He took part in the arrangement of Ukrdom [the “Ukrainian house,” a staging point for anarchists and anti-fascists during the uprising, which was burned on February 18], delivering food to positions, and even in the battle on February 18. But at the same time, he constantly tried to develop an anarchist component in the general popular, complex, and heterogeneous Maidan protest movement. He participated in an attempt to create the “Left Hundred,” created an “anarchist regiment” (with anarchist literature) in the library of the Ukrdom, told the Maidan participants about the protests in favor of the uprising that had taken place in Moscow and about the reasons for the defeat of the protesters. He did not go with the flow; rather, he participated in determining the flow of events to the best of his ability.
In his reports from the Maidan protests, Dmitry describes his dismay about the militarization of the movement and the introduction of reactionary structures:
I can’t help but appreciate that everything is organized so seriously. However, this situation also has a drawback, perhaps more significant than its advantages. The presence of professional (or quasi-professional) military men inevitably means the collapse of any kind of democracy in the movement, since, by decision of their commanders, these people can impose this or that order on everyone else in an organized way by force. In addition, according to my subjective feelings, these people are unlike those who came here at the call of the idea, and even if I am wrong, their values and goals most likely have little in common with mine. A thick atmosphere of the right of force, the power of a man with a gun (or club) hung there. This is a problem that requires reflection and solution. The contradiction, the conflict between the “military” and “civilian” Maidan, is very clear.
In his last report, Dmitry described in detail his part in the battle of February 18, when many people were killed or severely injured:
Let’s try without great poetics, but in essence. This may be useful when you happen to be in a similar situation, dear reader. It is important to use your fear: so that it helps you to avoid getting into certain troubles, but does not flow into panic and flight. Personally, I had an incessant fear that a bullet or a grenade would hit me. I have long known that I am far from being a daredevil, and I say that without a hint of coquetry. Now, for the first time, I became interested in the essence of such a feeling as courage. What is it, anyway? Fear forced me to stay closer to people, not to stick out too much, not to run out in front of the crowd. There was a petty feeling: there are a great number of us here, the chance that they will shoot at me is small. There was a childish feeling: “Wow, I saw it on TV during the riots…” But that was the least of it. Next to fear, there was a feeling similar to emptiness—a silent obligation to stay and act. It is almost never formulated verbally. It just is. Maybe courage is just about that? Further, it is important to begin to act meaningfully, and not just to stand or stupidly rush back and forth. Here, the first stones are flying, the first bullets of the cops and flash-bang grenades…
The situation in Ukraine was never simple. In the final entry on the Black Blog, dated February 2015, the editors describe the debates among themselves regarding whether the arsons in Ukraine that were reported to their platform represented genuine anti-state activity or pro-Putin authoritarian activity. Rather than present a facile or sanitized narrative, the authors summarized both views so that readers could draw their own conclusions—but that was the last update to the Black Blog. This debate foreshadowed the later controversies about how anarchists should position themselves in the war between the Russian and Ukrainian governments.
In the years following his participation in the Ukrainian uprising, Dmitry maintained an online journal chronicling his travels to sites of natural beauty and historical interest, including parks, forests, and museums around Russia. In 2016, he obtained a PhD in history; his dissertation was titled “Sacred geography of the eastern parts of the Arkhangelsk region.” He engaged in anthropological studies as a researcher at the Center for Civilizational and Regional Studies of the African Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Inspired initially by an article written by David Graeber, Dmitry went to Rojava while the war against the Islamic State was at its fiercest. He spent six months there. Afterwards, in 2017, he discussed his experiences in this interview and participated in the research project Hevale: Revolution in Kurdistan, which published multiple books.
Later, he contributed articles to the Ukrainian leftist site Commons about the impact of COVID-19 in Rojava and the conflict between confederal and imperial models in Kurdistan.
According to Ukrainian anti-fascists, “He studied the revolutionary experience of the Kurds deeply, and while he was critical, he respected it and sincerely tried to convey its most valuable lessons.” By his own account, Dmitry aimed “not only to tell the Russian left about the social revolution in Kurdistan, but also to share the anti-authoritarian worldview with the Kurds themselves.”
In 2018, Dmitry left Russia. By that time, Putin’s regime had tamed the violent fascist movement of the preceding decade and moved on to crushing all other social movements. It was becoming standard practice for the Russian Federal Security Service to round up suspected anarchists and anti-fascists and torture them via electrical shock and other horrific methods in order to force them to sign false confessions admitting to participating in invented “terror networks.”
As Dmitry later told the news site Doxa,
I avoided leaving the country as long as I could, but I left when I learned that the security forces were interested in my modest person.
He chose Ukraine as his point of destination, considering its government to be the least successfully authoritarian of the post-Soviet countries. In the Doxa interview, he described his activities upon arriving there:
In Ukraine, we had initiatives among anarchist emigrants from Russia and Belarus, a kind of diaspora. And so it was a lot of different things: from the cinema club and discussions to street actions. But the main thing was to establish ties and an attempt to form systematically operating structures.
As we have noted elsewhere, it is becoming more and more important to find ways to center the agency of refugees as wars, state repression, ecological catastrophes, and economic crises force millions into exile. Yet at the same time that he was getting situated in Ukraine, Dmitry continued organizing with anarchists in Russia from afar. The Telegram channel Anarchist Combatant appeared that same year, in 2018.
According to the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization,
Dima [Dmitry] was a participant in all the processes of creating the BOAC [Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization]—its theoretical work, practical training, and the organization of training and combat actions. But his chief merit—and we think this will not surprise anyone who knew him—was his ability to establish ties with other people, with comrades both at home and abroad… He was always open to new people. He always believed in the best in them—he was mistaken more than once, but he continued to believe and seek.
In 2019, the editors of Black Blog announced the conclusion of the project. It had been four years since the last post had appeared. They emphasized that they remained convinced of the value of the strategy they had embraced in 2009:
We have sown our seeds and we are already seeing sprouts. Our enemies—the oppressors and their henchmen within the “power structures”—could not stop us, no matter how hard they tried.
We do not do these things to feed our egos. Everything we do, we do not for personal ambition, but to advance the struggle for freedom and justice. We are convinced that we have succeeded. And now, ten years later, we declare to you, as we did before, that we believe that our anti-authoritarian ideas are correct and the radical path we have chosen is correct. The fight continues.
On June 10, 2020, at the high point of the George Floyd uprising in the United States and in response to police violence in Ukraine, anarchists set fire to the Investigative Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kyiv, sending a communiqué that appeared on the Anarchist Combatant website. This should address any lingering doubts about whether Dmitry sought to make peace with the Ukrainian authorities.
That summer, when an uprising broke out in Belarus, Dmitry illegally crossed the border to participate. According to Belarusian anarchists,
During his stay in Minsk, he took part in dozens of marches, helped organize an anarchist bloc at demonstrations, and even managed to pelt cops with their own stun grenades. At night, when many Belarusians were resting, Leshy [Dmitry] and other comrades took to the streets of Minsk and destroyed the surveillance cameras that played an important role in the infrastructure of repression… In the fall of 2020, he prepared several materials for our website. If you’ve ever marched through Minsk beside an anarchist column, chances are that you’ve walked shoulder to shoulder with this incredible man.
The uprising in Belarus was ultimately crushed; many of the anarchists who participated remain in prison today, underscoring the considerable risks of insurrectionary activity in the post-Soviet sphere. In September 2020, a blog post appeared from the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization: a communiqué from a clandestine partisan action in Belarus.
Surveying this trajectory, it is possible to interpret Dmitry’s path from the Black Blog through the uprisings of 2012, 2014, and 2020 to the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization as the continuous development of a single strategy. Blending public activity and clandestine organizing, he sought to create a model suited to the volatile and dangerous conditions of the post-Soviet countries, a model that could serve both to take advantage of moments of possibility and to survive periods of intense repression. As state violence and surveillance intensify, activists in other parts of the world may find that they need something similar.
Starting before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Dmitry joined Ukrainian and Belarusian anarchists in attempting to put together an explicitly anarchist and anti-authoritarian military unit. One function of such a unit was to ensure that the participants would not have to fight side by side with fascists, who are indeed present in the Ukrainian military. In addition, Dmitry saw participating in the defense of Ukraine as an opportunity to gain credibility for anarchist ideas in the eyes of the general public in Ukraine, and to continue his own longstanding fight against Putin’s regime.
During the first phase of the Russian invasion, Dmitry and his comrades participated in the territorial defense of the region around Kyiv, becoming integrated as an independent unit in the Territorial Defense Forces. After this, their “anti-authoritarian platoon” became mired in military bureaucracy, putting the status of the non-Ukrainian members in limbo and keeping the entire unit away from the fighting.
In July 2022, Dmitry wrote an analysis of the first four months of the “anti-authoritarian platoon,” discussing its internal structure and evaluating its successes and failures. This is an important historical document for those who are curious about the extent to which the military model developed in Rojava can be reproduced in other circumstances. It will be instructive for anyone who wants to discuss anarchist involvement in military affairs, whether they seek to improve on it or to critique it.
Dmitry and others in the platoon were eager to get to the front. Eventually, the platoon disbanded, and they succeeded in going to the front in a different formation. When last we heard from him, he told us that he was about to leave that unit, in hopes of trying once more to establish some kind of explicitly anti-authoritarian unit.
We will leave it to others to debate whether Dmitry’s persistent attempts to establish an anarchist military unit represent the honorable continuation of his lifelong anarchist project, a misguided departure from it, an error arising from some preexisting flaw within it, or a courageous attempt to grapple with an almost impossible situation. Those who wish to hear his own thoughts on the matter may choose from an array of interviews. It must not be forgotten that in addition to fighting in Ukraine, he continued to support sabotage and other forms of subversive activity in Russia through the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization, and he continued to emphasize the importance of autonomy, horizontality, and direct action to the anarchist struggle.
The sincerity of his effort, in any case, is beyond question.
My dear friends, comrades and relatives, I apologize to all those I hurt with my leaving. I appreciate your warmth very much. However, I firmly believe that the struggle for justice, against oppression and injustice is one of the most worthy meanings that humans can fill their life with. And this struggle requires sacrifices, up to the complete self-sacrifice.
The best memory for me is if you continue actively struggle, overcoming personal ambitions and unnecessary harmful strife. If you continue to fight actively to achieve a free society based on equality and solidarity. For you and for me and for all our comrades. Risk, deprivation and sacrifice on this path are our constant companions. But be sure – they are not in vain.
-Dmitri Petrov’s final statement
In an interview published in December 2017, Dmitry said “In general, almost everything that is created by human hands is the fruit of the labor of countless people.” In that spirit, we do not seek to hold Dmitry up as an exemplary figure. Rather, his life affords us a glimpse into the lives of many Russian anarchists, illuminating their courage and the challenges they have faced.
Above all, Dmitry’s life is a testament to how much is possible even in the most difficult conditions. Under a brutal dictatorship, faced with mounting adversity, he repeatedly found ways to continue organizing and fighting for the future he desired.
None of this is intended to glorify death in battle. As the 21st century progresses, life is becoming increasingly cheap—witness how the Wagner Group has intentionally used prisoners as cannon fodder. Anarchists should be in no special hurry to risk our lives—soon enough, there will be chances aplenty to die in the service of a variety of causes, or for no cause whatsoever. Rather than seeking to prove our commitment by our deaths, let’s express our passion for freedom in the way we live every moment of our lives.
Yet as authoritarianism rises around the world and war spreads from Syria to Ukraine, from Ukraine to Sudan, we too may have to answer the questions that Dmitry confronted when Russia invaded the country to which he had fled. If we are to be prepared for that situation—especially if we want to propose other answers to those questions—we need to study what has taken place in Russia. It may be that there is still time for things to turn out differently in other parts of the world, if we act boldly enough—but time is growing tight.
When an anarchist dies, it is up to those of us who survive to put that comrade’s experiences at the disposal of future generations. We can’t know for sure which perspectives those who come after us will need most. Seeking to do our part, we have translated the following two articles by Dmitry, and another article about him.
This article appeared on the Anarchist Combatant website on May 29, 2018.
Being an anarchist is not at all as easy as it might seem. It is significant that among those who consider themselves anarchists, not everyone will call himself or herself a revolutionary, and even fewer anarchists seriously consider what it means to be a revolutionary. But it’s impossible to be an anarchist and not to be a revolutionary. We are talking about deep convictions, and not superficial sympathies and passion.
A revolutionary is a person whose desire for fundamental social change is embodied in the corresponding life path—revolutionary struggle. A serious approach to this struggle requires the development of a number of personal qualities. What are the characteristics of a revolutionary?
Perhaps this is where it all starts. In order to engage in any activity successfully, it is necessary to believe that it can result in success. Otherwise, a person simply has no reason to make a proper effort. Lack of faith in one’s ultimate success is tantamount to alienation from one’s activity.
I want to remind all pessimists that there are no “objective” reasons for considering the social revolution and the triumph of anti-authoritarian ideas to be reserved for an indefinitely distant future. The speed and unpredictability of social change in the modern world teaches us one important lesson: everything is possible. Including freedom and justice.
It is normal to have doubts. All thinking people doubt. And yet, lest doubts prevail in the end, resurrect in your soul the strength that your convictions were originally filled with. Feel the tremendous scale and significance of your goal, feel the dignity and fullness of the meaning of your chosen path—the path of the revolutionary. We are sure that faith will show the way to escape from the darkness of any doubt. And let’s go further. We talked more about faith in victory in the text “Make a Revolution!”
Revolutionary struggle is such a gigantic task that all who consider themselves to be a part of the revolutionary movement should perceive the fight as the chief occupation of their lives, their foremost task and vocation, whatever hardships and lures might pull them away from it.
By discipline, we mean the readiness to take on tasks related to the pursuit of the struggle, and more importantly, the capacity to meticulously fulfill the tasks one commits to. Discipline begins with small things: do not be late for meetings, and fulfill the decisions made at those meetings according to the proposed timeframe. In fact, it begins even a bit earlier—it begins inside oneself, with the internal desire to work systematically and without sloppiness in order to develop the movement and the struggle.
Discipline is a very broad concept, intersecting with many different aspects of our lives. For example, it intersects with psychological restraint. The ability to remain calm in crucial moments while confronting the risk of repression, arrest, or physical confrontation with a political enemy or while participating in direct action is a manifestation of discipline.
It is also associated with ethics. Discipline is the understanding that “everything personal is political,” that each of us is the face of the movement we participate in. This, in addition to pure ethics, is an additional reason not to violate anarchist principles in your daily life. This is a discipline of life conduct.
Finally, discipline is manifested in devoting due time and energy to self-development, both individual and collective: acquiring knowledge and cultivating practical skills, physical training, thinking, and analysis.
We know that the word discipline is not always welcome in the anarchist community. And yet, we hope there are only few who will brand the understanding of discipline that we describe here as “authoritarian.”
Participating in the fight against the oppressors draws the ire of the state machine, the capitalists, and their servants. Revolutionary activity involves problems and hardships. This is nothing new: it always happened thus for all who have fought against evil. We discussed self-sacrifice in the article “Giving One’s Life: What Did Zhlobitsky Remind Us?” —I don’t want to repeat myself. We can summarize that anarchists will most likely have to pay a price for their worldview and life choices—some less, some more.
And we should be ready to.
One of the most important qualities that is often forgotten by current participants in the movement is loyalty, which could also be called devotion. Devotion to your comrades, to your affinity group, to your obligations, to your chosen path of struggle.
Today, in the anarchist milieu, one can often see how people easily change priorities and positions (and the reference to the “ideological search,” as a rule, is only a mask for changing superficial hobbies). Such activists don’t want to solve the problems that arise with colleagues, and prefer to make scandals in order to waive their obligations.
This behavior is often presented as part of an anarchist understanding of freedom, as if affection and loyalty are attributes of possessiveness. However, this is not the case. Inconstancy is a manifestation of the liberal ideology and liberal lifestyle of the era of consumer capitalism (in which people and ideas are beginning to be treated as disposable goods). Impermanence and lack of devotion correlate with egoism and the inability to feel or to deeply love the comrades and the cause one once identified with.
The anarchist understanding of freedom is different: anarchist freedom does not exist without brotherhood and sisterhood. Therefore, anarchist freedom cannot be the freedom to renounce your own comrades. Anarchist freedom involves the responsibility to make an active contribution to the common cause, to maintain equality, including within the collective, neither to submit nor to subjugate, and also not to abandon.
Finally, in a revolutionary struggle (and all my life experience confirms this), it is very important to be able to rely on a comrade, on the immutability of his or her basic values and life priorities and the readiness to make common cause. Without constancy and devotion, one cannot rely on anyone, just as one cannot fully trust anyone. As a result, without trust, it is impossible to fight. Consequently, freedom understood in a liberal way as the right to constant inconsistency makes resistance to the monster of the state and to capitalism impossible.
Even when discord and conflict arise with comrades, and you think that they are seriously mistaken or do not want to overcome their weaknesses, it is your duty as a comrade to make all possible efforts to help them by your criticism and, ultimately, to come to an agreement or at least to a compromise.
Here, it is appropriate to recall the lines of Alexander Nepomnyashchy:
And we’ll remain goats,
Broken on the doorstep
Of our faithful home
Of May’s peaceful silence,
If we don’t understand and don’t endure
The endless roads
From monstrous freedom
To saving love.
And also, Oleg Medvedev:
If you’ve chosen the ground, stand on it.
Don’t change colors if there’s no luck.
Let those who follow you change their place…
It is sad to see people who have devoted dozens of years to stewing in a political subculture by performing ritual actions that imitate a political struggle (for example, internal scandals or “dialogue with the masses” via leaflets and publications written in a language that the latter obviously cannot understand).
A true revolutionary, as a person who sincerely wants to achieve victory over the system of injustice, always evaluates the results of his or her own actions, subjecting his or her tactics and strategy to sharp critique, constantly rethinking and correcting them without falling into inertia.
After carrying out a direct action, study how people react and how widely the information spreads. This will help you to evaluate the effectiveness of your action and what could have been done better. If you stay in a narrow circle for years, look for new ways to recruit people, make new connections with other groups and initiatives. These are specific examples of how to assess the results on your path towards making the revolution a reality.
The principle of monitoring results also applies to learning useful skills. Too often, we stop halfway, without having mastered a skill thoroughly. For example, sometimes we are ready to be satisfied with a hundred readers for our site, when a simple set of promotional activities could bring us a thousand. This attitude is deeply mistaken and too unambitious for a revolutionary. You need to master the technique of promotion and strive for greater success. This principle applies to every other area of anarchist activity.
A convinced revolutionary is bound to elicit a response in the hearts of those around him or her. This is because the convictions that have been hardened in the torments of doubt and searching fill the revolutionary personality and pour over the edge, outward.
Perhaps no one will agree with you at first. I’m sure many will argue with you. But the ideas that you have expressed, the ideas you sincerely believe in, as well as your life example, will make people think what they have not thought before and feel what they’ve never felt before. To be the spark that ignites a flame—this is truly a magical ability. If you have not experienced such a feeling yet, it undoubtedly awaits you ahead. This property is the revolutionary’s reward for enduring hardships that cannot be avoided.
We have described only some of the features that seem fundamental to the personality of our revolutionary comrade-in-arms. Of course, it is impossible to create step-by-step instructions regarding “how to become a perfect anarchist.” That requires a creative approach. Still, in this text, we have touched on problems that we all face.
Comrade, you can no longer live like cattle. A revolution cannot be an imitation, it cannot be a game of make-believe. The qualities of a revolutionary are not given to anyone at birth. They are fostered by like-minded people in themselves and in each other.
Our day has already come. Our duty is to achieve our declared goals in full. The road appears under the feet of those who walk.
Phil Kuznetsov [Dmitry Petrov]
Published on June 17, 2020 via the Anarchist Combatant Telegram channel.
It is not a new idea that today the great projects of rebuilding the world are in decline. In the twentieth century, mighty movements mobilized millions of people to storm the heavens, politically speaking, and carry out “great constructions” [in the sense of Soviet-era projects aimed at reinventing society]. But over the course of the last century, one after another, they went bankrupt both ethically and practically and soon lost relevance. Here, first of all, fascism and communism of the Leninist variety come to mind. Even the seemingly triumphant liberal project, in fact, simply dissolved into the global capitalist system and geopolitical game, in which the mechanics are hardly liberal.
Of the ambitious ideocrats who dare to rebuild the world in accordance with their convictions, perhaps the voice of the jihadists is the only one that rings out loudly today. Yet Islamic fundamentalism is obviously not the sort of project that a person with an anarchist worldview can get behind.
Ill-fated global plans at the end of the twentieth century gave rise to deep pessimism and paralysis in regards to the idea of transformation. However, the first decades of the new century have clearly shown that the “end of history” is cancelled. Growing instability, rebelliousness, and ungovernability have manifested themselves. The number of anti-government demonstrations under a variety of slogans and flags has increased by several orders of magnitude compared to the previous era.
At the same time, there is an acute need for fundamental change on the widest possible territorial scale. We still need a new world, just as we did before. Almost everything that exists in society is unacceptable and cannot serve as a framework for the present or the future.
But what will the transformed reality be like? There are unpromising prophecies of a “brave new world” ruled entirely by elites of post-humanity, or, conversely, of a new feudalism and a great schism accompanied by a surge of brutal cruelty. These pictures are accompanied by the prospect of a global ecological catastrophe. But in parallel with these varieties of gloom, a different trend is becoming more and more apparent: the desire for direct democracy, for egalitarian collectivity, for the eradication of inequality and oppression, for a harmonious coexistence with nature. This trend is still “sprinkled” across many different social currents, which have not yet formed into a united stream. Nevertheless, it brings the relevance of anarchism back to life.
At a time when all other missionaries have shown themselves to be deceivers or maniacs, the time has come for anarchists to remember their mission and reassert their global project. What might its common features be?
Modern mass society is crowded into gigantic urban agglomerations. The lion’s share of human life is controlled and directed by the laws of states, as well as by capitalist relations in the sphere of production, exchange, and consumption. As a result, modern man finds himself in the position of an object manipulated by gigantic machine-like forces. At the same time, we are immersed in constant turmoil. The modern world is characterized by the sleep of reason and the suppression of deep feelings, replaced by momentary, externally controlled desires. This state is repugnant to human nature; it causes dissatisfaction, followed by a longing for something different.
But the monstrous scale of the state fills us with fear and doubt: could we ever get out from under its iron heel? The endless buying and selling that fills our daily lives along a million different vectors aggravates our dependence and, even worse, corrupts and twists us as if from within.
Yet the very course of life pushes a person to rebel—and a wealth of historical evidence shows that even the most seemingly omnipotent social systems eventually collapse like a house of cards, sometimes quite unexpectedly. These are the starting points of our struggle against the prevailing order. To crush and dismantle the megamachine is the ambitious task before the anarchist movement.
Today we see a progressive atomization and weakening of collective ties. Neighbors know less and less about each other, and sometimes they completely avoid each other. Noisy family gatherings are becoming rarer and more forced.
The causes of this are complex and it is not easy to single out the main ones. There is the growing sphere of individual entertainment, the general trend towards individual comfort, which is always threatened by “excessive” intimacy, and the notorious egoism, organic to capitalist market society, which transforms any relationship into a temporary interaction between two consumers for mutual benefit. The word “partner” is becoming more and more conventional; in Russian, it suggests alienation, functioning as a kind of antonym to terms like beloved, friend, comrade…
We consider the crisis of collectivity, of the joint existence of people, to be one of the most catastrophic consequences of capitalism and state power. In addition to moralizing of a purely ethical nature, the anarchist revolution also has concrete institutional instruments for creating what we might call a “new communality.” These include popular assemblies, gatherings, collective self-governing bodies, and economic entities. When the parasite of the system, which has penetrated deep into the social fabric and separated us from each other, is ripped away from the body of society, we will be faced with the necessity to restore warm horizontal bonds and connect together in bonds of solidarity.
The collective creation of social life will stand in stark contrast to contemporary social practices. Just look at the current initiative of the Russian authorities to organize voting by mail—now even the imitation of choice will not draw together a crowd of strangers at the ballot box.
Yes, we plan to get together to make decisions, to prepare food in crowded and noisy kitchens instead of receiving it in sterile delivery bags, to introduce our children to their peers on the street instead of just sitting them down to watch a cartoon alone… The degradation of humanity that is unfolding before our eyes can stop. It must be stopped.
Managing people for the purpose of personal gain, perceiving everything in the world—both living and inanimate—as raw material with which to make a profit, the pathological luxury of a tiny minority at the expense of the deprivation of the vast majority: these are just a few of the most striking illustrations that characterize the modern economic model. Its essence is diametrically opposed to what we consider just and right. All the reasons to reject capitalism can be boiled down to two main theses: 1) This economic system is unethical, unjust, and degrading; 2) It fails to provide a decent standard of living for all.
Cash and commodity relations, wage labor, investments, bank loans, and interest rates are so deeply rooted in our everyday life that sometimes it seems as if it would be impossible to get rid of them—as if without them, there would be immediate famine and decline.
But we do have something to oppose to them: it is the human labor force (many thousands of people today waste their labor on useless work, doing what are called “shit jobs”); it is the labor experience of workers, which will enable them to maintain a boss-free economy; it is technology, which will enable society to regulate its production and distribution system according to its needs and values… This should be enough to transfer the economy from the hands of the elite to the control of society as a whole, to ensure the equitable management of production by laboring people and realize the principle “From each according to ability, to each according to need.”
The mission of the anarchist movement is to root in society, by word, deed and example, an understanding of the principles of economic justice and, having overthrown the state and the capitalists, to “clear a space”—to create the social and political conditions for its realization.
Modern society is filled with discrimination on a variety of grounds. People experience discrimination on the basis of a wide range of attributes and characteristics. The reasons for this include prejudice, whether centuries-old or new; the principle of collective responsibility; and the way that people are alienated from each other in a world permeated by capitalist relations.
Prejudice and collective responsibility are skillfully manipulated by unscrupulous politicians.
Gender oppression is one of the oldest and most harmful forms of discrimination. Although in Eastern Europe, as well as the “Western World,” the situation has changed significantly compared to the openly patriarchal past, women remain oppressed. This is confirmed by data regarding domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence and by the difference in average incomes. Practices and patterns of behavior that denigrate woman retain their force. Take, for example, the attitude that “Politics is not a woman’s business.” There are many such invisible cultural obstacles in our social reality that obstruct women from exploring their full potential.
And there is another detail that often goes unnoticed, although it is one of the most important. Relationships between all people in general are poisoned by gender stereotypes and the mutual consumer attitude and selfishness rooted in them. Because of this, even the most seemingly intimate connections cause people pain and unhappiness. The capitalist and authoritarian worldview prevents true intimacy from emerging.
The mission of anarchism is to achieve genuine sisterhood/fraternity between people over and above any group identity. We have a variety of tools at our disposal to pursue this:
1) the collaborative practice of building and managing society, which requires equal cooperation and mutual warmth among all participants in the process;
2) a revolutionary political culture, which requires the conscious active involvement of representatives of all oppressed groups in social effort together;
3) finally, a program of education and developing literacy, which helps people to leave prejudice behind.
Thus, the ambition of the anarchist project is, in eliminating discrimination, to improve interpersonal relations and, however naïve this may sound, to bring the love of the neighbor back into our lives. Capitalism and authoritarianism stand in the way of this, but they are not insurmountable obstacles.
Since time immemorial, human society has been shaken and terrorized by violent confrontations motivated by ethnic or national cultural differences. Additional criteria have been invented and added alongside those, including religious and racial differences. Inter-national and inter-ethnic conflicts reached a new intensity in the era of nation-states, which remain the chief form of political organization to this day. With their emergence, the question of which nation has legitimate right to rule a particular state began to be raised with extreme urgency. Which land “rightfully belongs” to which national group? The result has been the immeasurable suffering of millions of innocent people: forced assimilation, mass deportations and, finally, brutal acts of mass murder. Yet after all this, national conflicts still flare up all over the world.
Hardly any other imaginary contradictions in the history of mankind have had as horrific consequences as ethnic conflict. National conflicts are often based on the interests of national political and economic elites and state bureaucracies, as well as the most ignorant prejudices and distorted ideas about their own neighbors—the Other, representatives of other national groups.
At the root of the idea of national conflict lies the question, “Us or them?” Anarchism offers an alternative: “Both we and they, together and as equals.” By rejecting the nation-state, which is nothing more than an instrument of oppression and injustice, anarchists open the way to confederation: the equal cooperation of peoples in all territories. The same land can be both Serbian and Albanian, Armenian and Azerbaijani… the list is endless. Equality and self-government, the social pillars of anarchism, are the indispensable conditions for fruitful and mutually beneficial dialogue between cultures. The need for this dialogue has not diminished—on the contrary, it has intensified in the twenty-first century.
It has long been a commonplace that capitalism in particular and the ever-expanding economy and consumption in general have an extremely destructive effect on nature. Likewise the understanding that this vector of development threatens to destroy humanity and the planet we call home.
We would like to take a deeper look at the problem. The anthropocentric worldview that dominates today and the way of life conditioned by it is a particular case of a hierarchical attitude to the world and toward being as a whole. Nature is “the workshop of Man”… This view is not natural, ethical, or acceptable. The true emancipation of humanity cannot take place unless we overcome our alienation from nature and finding harmony with it.
What ecological measures can anarchism offer? Modern technology should be reoriented from maximizing profit to conserving and restoring nature, as well as providing decent material living conditions for all. Ideally, we should put an end to the extensive expansion of human destructive influence on nature. The knowledge and capabilities humanity has accumulated should make it possible to fulfill this task, or at least to advance toward its fulfillment.
It is of utmost importance to reorganize living space, getting rid of the monstrous megalopolis as a form of human dwelling. The settlement must be proportionate to the person, no matter how subjective this may sound. The lifeless anthropogenic landscape, which cuts people off from natural processes, must give way to the harmonious inclusion of the settlement in the natural landscape, the intertwining of the natural and the human.
The intolerable state of our present situation… and the outlines of a renewed world, like prophetic dreams, stir our minds and hearts. These are the points of mobilization that keep us from giving up and accepting. That is why we are ready to make efforts, to take risks, to make sacrifices in order to create a new society. An organized revolutionary struggle is the path by which we will reach the goal outlined in this text. Victory is possible—and therefore, we must win.
Phil Kuznetsov [Dmitry Petrov]
On May 8, 2023, after we published the above memorial, the following statement appeared on the Telegram channel of the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization. We have translated it in full because it offers additional valuable context, especially on Dmitry’s youth.
It was his public activities which brought Dima to his first steps on the partisan path, when he was fighting against gentrification. In the process, he repeatedly ran into a situation in which the tenants were all trying to take the easy route of legalism (and there was no shortage of people calling on others to take this approach)—writing complaints to the administration that went directly to the trash cans. Tenants didn’t respond very enthusiastically to calls to block construction equipment and roads—and as a result, the police arrested the activists again and again while the construction continued.
Hence the natural impulse to stop the construction physically. Destroy the construction equipment. Destroy the building materials. Damage the lighting wiring and fencing of the construction site. And, most importantly, to do it in such a way as to stay free and continue to help people.
That’s where the partisan journey began.
His first action, if we’re not mistaken, was an attack on the gentrifying housing construction on the site of the radioactive waste dump in southern Moscow (which we then returned to several times to carry out additional actions).
Compared to the other actions that followed, this was a pretty easy action, with some anti-construction propaganda graffiti on the fence, a flare pistol fired at a sign describing the site, and a film of the fence enclosing the construction site set on fire.
But that morning, we were pleased to see some pictures of the fire extinguisher foam that was used to put out the fence. It was lying around like snow that had suddenly fallen in the warm time of the year.
That was just the beginning.
At first, we were inexperienced. Some recipes were suggested by other comrades; some we found on the Internet ourselves and tested on various construction sites that were contributing to gentrification.
And Dima always kept trying to expand our struggle—to bring in new people, to develop our methods and tactics.
The killing of our comrades Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova in the center of Moscow by neo-Nazis was a turning point. We felt strongly that it was not just neo-Nazi aggression, but a direct attack by the state, which was fostering and supporting our enemies.
Starting then, we decided to move on to more serious targets.
The first of these attacks was the attack on the police parking lot near the police security force building in the south of Moscow.
More precisely, we planned to attack the building—I remember going with Dima on a reconnaissance mission, and it seemed that it was very close. But when in the end we climbed the garages (from which the Molotovs was thrown), it turned out that it wasn’t so easy to throw all the way and hit the building. We took responsibility for this action as a group called “People’s Retribution.”
Dima came up with the idea of claiming different types of actions on behalf of different groups. For example, against the police—on behalf of the People’s Vengeance (and the group “ZaNurgalieva!”—referring to [Rashid] Nurgaliev’s statement, which became a meme, in which he said that people have the right to fight back if police officers break the law, so that the phrase “Nurgaliev allowed it!” became popular). Against pro-government movements—as “Anti-Nashist Action,” and so on. [Nashi was a state-backed pro-Putin youth organization somewhat reminiscent of the Hitler Youth.] The idea was that other groups should carry out actions under the same names to confuse the enemy.
And a lot of actions took place. Now, looking back, one can’t comprehend how we had time for everything. Literally, sometimes one or two weeks passed between actions—we did an attack, went on a reconnaissance trip, told our comrades about it, went to the next one.
On the dates when the military draft started, we attacked military registration and enlistment offices. In response to the persecution of [Soviet dissident Alexander] Podrabinek [who was targeted by Nashi in 2009], we visited the Nashists. For the elections, we attacked the offices and administration buildings of United Russia [the ruling party of Russia]. And we lost count of how many times we burned the police—on March 8 (the attack on the reception room of the Interior Ministry in the center of Moscow), after the arrests of comrades in other cities, and so on. In response to the abuse by the traffic cops, we burned their facilities.
And all of this under a new group name every time, covered through new sites and blogs.
Yet gradually, we concluded that it takes too much effort to disseminate the information on behalf of a new group every time. And other groups preferred to conduct actions under their own name instead using ours. Therefore, as the next step, the concept of the Black Blog was born. Not an organization, but an aggregator of actions carried out by all the anarchist partisan groups—including ours. Although with time, the Black Blog began to be seen precisely as the name of a group (and sometimes the subtitle of the site, “Anarchist Guerrilla news,” was used as such, and we began to be called the Anarchist Guerrilla group after it).
By the way, the site address (as well as the name in English) was deliberately chosen as blackblocg.info—both a reference to Black Bloc and a reference to the fact that we have a blog chronicling the guerrilla struggle (for the same reason we chose the .info domain).
Only some isolated, especially vivid episodes flash in memory. The arson of the reception room of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow region—in response to [police officer Denis] Yevsyukov’s shooting of people in a supermarket.
How the flames run beautifully through the car when the police cars caught fire near Ostankino and at that moment, from the loudspeaker in the parking lot, we heard a voice yelling “Fire! Fire!” (Later, we made a beautiful music video of the Electric Partisans’ song “R.A.F.” for this attack.)
How after the arson of the police cars near the Chechulin street police station (the attack in which we’d first used an IED made from acetone peroxide with ammonal—Dima played the leading role, pouring the mixture and then throwing the grenade while sitting on the fence—and the explosion threw him right to the ground), a man who introduced himself as a police officer from that very station posted a comment to our site complaining that the chief of that station, lieutenant colonel Telelyuev, was very good—and now he was in trouble because of us. Dima immediately wrote a song in response:
“It’s cold and dark in the burnt office…
Lieutenant Colonel Telelyuev is writing us a letter.”
How in honor of all partisan anarchists Vadim Kurylev (Electric Partisans) released the song “I am a Fighter of the Black Blog.” [See below.]
And, of course, the blowing up of a traffic police post on the Moscow Ring Road—organized as a protest against the numerous abuses of the law by the officers of that very agency.
We told about that action in detail in the past. We will only add that the comrade who returned to the failed IED, risking his life and freedom to complete the action despite the problems, was Dima.
Actions continued after that explosion, such as setting fire to the police department’s parking lot in Troitsk, attacks on [the political party] United Russia, and environmental actions like setting fire to the logging equipment in Khimki forest and to luxury cottage villages under construction near Yakhroma.
We know hardly anybody doubts it—but there was practically not a single action in which Dima did not actively participate.
However, a situation gradually developed in which, on the one hand, we no longer had any objects to attack (at least, that we could target with a high level of security with only a small group)—and at the same time, we realized that the hope to bring a revolution via disconnected affinity group actions did not seem to be justified.
And it was time to rethink things on the basis of experience—both our own experience and those of other successful revolutionary groups, not only anarchist ones. Dima gave us the idea of organizing a discussion club in which we studied the works of [anarchist Peter] Kropotkin and [authoritarian communist Vladimir] Lenin, works on the psychology of the masses, the works of [French revolutionary syndicalist Georges] Sorel on myth and its role in revolution, and conducted an analysis of the revolutions of the Arab Spring and [“nonviolent” democrat] Gene Sharp.
And this work led us eventually to what Dima rightfully calls our brainchild, the creation of the Combat Organization of Anarcho-Communists.
This, of course, was a long undertaking—and the story is just beginning. But we can’t help noting that Dima was a participant in all the processes of creating the BOAC [Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization]—its theoretical work, practical training, and the organization of training and combat actions. But his chief merit—and we think this will not surprise anyone who knew him—was his ability to establish ties with other people, with comrades both at home and abroad. Finding new people for the organization—and organizing field camps in the Moscow region for foreign comrades. He was always open to new people. He always believed in the best in them—he was mistaken more than once, but he continued to believe and seek.
Among other things, this work took him to Kurdistan, where he participated in learning both the principles of a liberated society and in combat training.
And there’s another important detail about his character. Dima stayed in Northeast Syria for several long months, communicating with his family and us very irregularly and only by email.
But when it was time to return—practically when he was already on his way home, a few days before his flight—we learned that the FSB was seriously interested in him.
And in this situation—missing his family and home, having a science career in Russia that was waiting for him—he decided (albeit not without the agony of choice) not to return home, but to go to Ukraine. He did this partly because he understood that if he returned and was arrested, not only he but other people as well would be at risk, along with his life’s work. So he chose the path of a professional revolutionary—denying his personal desires for the sake of the common cause, for the sake of the ideas he believed in.
Ever since, Dima has been moving our common cause forward, developing our organization from abroad. And no distance has diminished his contribution and his assistance in this.
Russian musician Vadim Kurylev wrote this song, “Black Blog Fighter,” for his band Electric Partisans in 2012. The lyrics are as follows.
Tonight, when the city is quiet,
There’ll be an explosion and flames will burst out
My devices are flying through the broken window and the special forces are on alert
They’re making a big fuss, the minister’s on the phone
But I’m already gone in the city at night
I put up videos and links and fill new bottles with cocktails
I’ll let the cops’ lair burn, and let their souls be gnawed by anxiety,
Not to find a needle in the middle of a haystack,
Nor in the city a Black Blog fighter
I have a lot of work to do here, let the honest citizenry not judge me harshly
I have my own way to the truth, I’m a Black Blog fighter.
It’s convenient for you to make me out to be a bully,
But you’re pissed off, you’re living a life of deceit
I want you to learn this truth: you humiliate the people, you get a vendetta in return.
Better go dig in the dusty archives,
And you’ll understand how often you’ve been defeated.
Let historians argue about the ways of society’s development,
But my anarchism is stronger than your logic.
I’ll let the cops’ lair burn, and let their souls be gnawed by anxiety,
Not to find a needle in the middle of a haystack,
Nor in the city a Black Blog fighter
I have a lot of work to do here, let the honest citizenry not judge me harshly
I have my own way to the truth, I’m a Black Blog fighter.
One of Dmitry’s virtues, at least in our communication with him, was that he retained a humble, open-minded approach to strategy while nonetheless acting decisively. This stands in stark contrast to the strident voices on every side of the debate about the Russia-Ukraine war who lecture each other from a position of absolute certitude without ever having set foot in either country. In the interview we published at the beginning of 2022, asked how he might answer those who charged that participating in the military defense of Ukraine would make anarchists into accomplices of the Ukrainian government, Dmitry responded, “First of all, I would answer them—thanks, this is a valuable critique. We really need to evaluate how to intervene so as not to just become a tool in some state’s hands.” In the last message we received from him, in March 2023, he concluded, “If you have any questions, if you have any advice, any thoughts, any analysis to share, I would be super happy to hear it, and super interested.” This is a remarkable thing for a person who is risking his life daily to say to people far away in conditions of relative safety. ↩
Here is a transcription of the fragment of Dmitry’s speech that appears in this footage: “Just a few days ago, we all learned that a police major, the head of the Tsaritsyno police department, was drunk and shot several people dead and wounded several more. All the television channels talked about it, but no one said anything about the fact that this was no accident. That the authority, which is given to law enforcement officers, which is given to many other people, corrupts them, that it makes them real maniacs. And that’s why the cops, being completely crazy, can allow themselves to get shitfaced and shoot someone with a gun. This is not the only case. Serious crimes involving police officers…” ↩
In 2007, in the course of preparations for actions against the 2008 Republican National Convention, an insurrectionary network of queer anarchists formed under the umbrella Bash Back! Over the following three years, this network participated in a vibrant array of confrontations, organizing efforts, and publications, expanding and intensifying the struggle against sex and gender normativity. Today, as fascists and other bigots renew their assault on queer and trans people and anarchists fight back, there is an urgent need for renewed coordination and innovation. In this context, participants in the original Bash Back! network have called for a new Bash Back! convergence in September 2023.
As they put it,
The intervening years have been marked by intensification—of crisis, alienation, loss, and struggle. The right wing no longer hides behind euphemisms: they want to exterminate trans and queer people. The left offers only false solutions: vote, donate, assimilate. A decade of representation, symbolic legal victories, social media activism, and mass-market saturation has left us worse off by all metrics. Our fair-weather friends won’t save us from the consequences of their strategy of empty visibility. The inescapable conclusion is that we must come together to protect ourselves.
History confirms the queer legacy of building connection in a world that hates us, the legacy of riotous joy—the legacy of bashing back. The attacks will continue on our nightclubs, forests, story hours, and siblings. To hold on, we need spaces—underground if necessary—to re-encounter each other, spaces to remember, build, share, and conspire.
To explore the legacy of Bash Back! and what it has to offer today, we conducted the following interview with previous participants in Bash Back! who are helping to organize the upcoming convergence.
Tell us about the gathering in September. What can people do to participate or contribute?
The 2023 Bash Back! Convergence will be taking place in Chicago from September 8-11. We’re inviting all of our queer comrades for a weekend of building connection, learning from each other, and developing new strategies and tactics to fight against the social order. We are organizing this because there have been so many inspiring examples of queer people bashing back against bigots—for example, the reactionaries who try to shut down drag shows. However, there is still a need for increased cohesion and strategizing, especially in light of the escalating attacks against queer and trans people across the country and across the world. Of course, these attacks come in the context of a deeply-rooted and escalating crisis of capital more generally and a climate crisis that deepens with every passing day.
More specifically, there is an obvious need to build anti-capitalist, anti-statist, and anti-assimilationist militant queer tendency. The liberals and leftists have pushed assimilation so that queer and trans people can be used as political pawns, to be sacrificed when electorally convenient. Any gains in the culture war have led only to the subsumption of queerness to the logic of capital and the false freedom of consumer politics.
In terms of what folks can do to participate or contribute, the main thing right now is that we are looking for folks to propose programming for the convergence. We’re accepting proposals until June 20. Beyond programming, the biggest thing that people can do is to start building relationships and affinities with people in their communities. That’s always been the essence of Bash Back!; it’s never been a centralized organization but rather a network to share ideas and camaraderie.
Bash Back! originated in the run-up to the 2008 Republican National Convention. Did the fact that it began largely in the Midwest rather than on the coasts influence its character and the way that it developed?
Bash Back!’s origins are rooted in a context that, a decade and a half later, seems worlds away. Two things, I think, were central to the political climate that gave rise to Bash Back!: the summit-hopping method of protest and a surge in the popularity of insurrectionary anarchism within the anarchist/radical milieu at the time. By summit-hopping, I mean the large demonstrations against the gatherings of capitalists, such as the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle in 1999 and the meetings of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, G8, and G20 throughout the 2000s. In hindsight, these protests were dramatic and high-profile, but largely symbolic. Then you had insurrectionary anarchism becoming more popular—especially, I think, with people who had been politicized or radicalized by the anti-war movement but also saw that movement for the utter failure that it was. In terms of tactics, the focus was on affinity groups and black blocs.
In that context, the original idea for Bash Back! came out of the organizing that was going on to disrupt the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota) in 2008. A strategy session in Milwaukee in 2007 gave rise to the idea of a queer/trans blockade of the RNC, and Bash Back! grew from that initial idea.
One of the most significant things about the original iteration of Bash Back! is that it was largely a product of anarchists from the Midwest. At the time, a lot of the more visible “radical” or progressive queer activism was coming from the coasts, with established activist scenes that often stifled new ideas or were under the stranglehold of the ideology of non-violence. There was also a degree of cultural elitism, in which the assumption was that being a “radical queer” had to happen in the big, liberal, coastal cities. So Bash Back!, coming out of the Midwest and not beholden to any established “radical queer” scenes, opened up new possibilities for militance, especially in direct resistance to the extremely anti-queer churches, politicians, and other assorted gay-bashers of that time.
Recount some of the major events, struggles, and court cases in the first phase of Bash Back!
This is a tough question to answer, because there was so much that happened across the country because of Bash Back! But a few things that I think are important to highlight:
In addition, Bash Back! organized three convergences:
However, these highlights do not even scratch the surface of what Bash Back! did. Chapters across the country were involved in countless acts of vandalism, numerous street confrontations with police, protests against assimilationists and exterminationists, physically bashing bigots, and innumerable acts of propaganda. These things are the legacy of Bash Back!
Tell us how Bash Back! worked from existing identity politics frameworks in the late 2000s, but also pushed against them.
When Bash Back! was starting, the ideology of non-violence had a stranglehold on the activist milieu. In terms of identity politics, there was an assumption among many of these liberal/“radical” activists that any confrontation was inevitably pushed by macho, middle/upper class straight white men and thus was racist/sexist/homophobic because queer/trans people, women, and people of color would take the brunt of police repression and violence. Bash Back! pushed directly against that narrative; that was a big part of the drama around the Chicago 2009 convergence. Some people really could not believe that queer/trans people, poor people, women, and people of color had agency to fight cops or be more confrontational. Part of Bash Back!’s appeal was that marginalized people were unapologetically fighting back in a concrete way. In a very practical sense, Bash Back! was pro-violence, and people were not used to hearing this perspective from marginalized groups.
Further, Bash Back! always took a stance against assimilation and liberal identity politics that saw social/political/economic representation as an end goal. So back when issues like gay marriage and military service were the big issues for mainstream LGBT organizations, Bash Back! was firmly opposed to this, and even targeted groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the Stonewall Democrats for being assimilationists or for selling out trans people for political gain.
On a more abstract level, I think that competing approaches to identity were actually a central part of why the original iteration of Bash Back! dissolved. There was a spectrum of views about identity in Bash Back! On one hand, you had a tendency influenced heavily by queer nihilism and insurrectionary anarchism; for this camp, queer identity was an identity of opposition to the capitalist social order and its heteronormativity. Then, on the other hand, there was a more positive approach to queer identity; positive in the sense that it was not based on political opposition to the social order but instead more tied to an individual’s experience of gender/sexuality. Because Bash Back! was an identity-based organization, these competing understandings of queerness led to competing visions for Bash Back!, which ultimately dissolved the network.
What has changed since the heyday of the original network? What does the Bash Back! model have to offer today?
The original Bash Back! started just before the economic crisis in 2008. It feels like we have been moving from crisis to crisis since then—and on top of that, the crises are intensifying. I think that’s probably the biggest change since Bash Back! first started; the permanence of crisis and the sort of hopelessness about the future hadn’t really set in at that time. It used to be controversial to say that things were going to keep getting worse and that we effectively had no future; now, that’s the common understanding of the plight of millennials/Generation Z. Between the seemingly permanent crisis of capitalism and the ongoing climate disaster, things seem bleaker now than they did before.
But on the other hand, I think that many of the ideas that were being popularized not only in Bash Back! but also in the anarchist milieu more broadly in that era have gained traction in a way that opens up a lot of potential. For example, the concept of prison abolition and the idea of mutual aid have spread into the broader discourse. Labor organizing has also grown in sectors that seemed unreachable previously, and it seems like that has led to a rise in class consciousness as well. More along the focus of Bash Back!, the idea of people being non-binary or genderqueer has also moved into the mainstream in a way that I at least would not have anticipated, given the social climate that Bash Back! originally existed in.
Without diving too much into dry economic analysis, I think it’s indisputable that the contradictions of capitalism have become more glaringly obvious in recent years. And history pretty clearly shows us that crises in capitalism translate to an increase in reactionary politics and repression. Historically, we can look to the example of Magnus Hirschfeld, who was an early advocate for queer and trans people in Berlin in the 1930s. People know that Nazis burned books; what’s often lost is that they burned the library of Hirschfeld’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, which was perhaps the first organization specifically advocating for and supporting queer and trans people. So there is a clear history of queer and trans people being the first targets during reactionary moments in history.
Ultimately, that’s what makes the current moment so important and where I think that we can draw on the lessons from the initial era of Bash Back! I think that the fundamental strength of the Bash Back! network was that it was focused on building power not only outside of but in staunch opposition to the state and capitalism. This is really important, because the selling point of the Democratic Party in recent years has been that things will be even worse if Republicans are in control. And that covers up the fact that the Democratic Party is ultimately a party of capitalism; they have no capacity or will to make things better for people. All they will offer is a sort of managed descent into fascism, and the price is assimilation. The alternative, of course, is the outright exterminationist approach of the Republicans.
Bash Back! rejected the assimilationist, statist, and capitalist politics of the mainstream LGBT organizations at that time and focused on queer people building community among comrades, practicing mutual aid and solidarity, and attacking the state, capitalists, and reactionaries. It’s the unapologetic and uncompromising militance that was, I think, the most important contribution of Bash Back! and should be the focus going forward.
How can people get involved? What are some tactics and strategies people can employ in their own communities on an ongoing basis, so this will not just be a convergence but the emergence of a new wave of momentum throughout the continent?
It’s hard to say exactly how to get involved with Bash Back!. Obviously, we want people to come to the convergence and share ideas, make connections, and build bonds of solidarity. But in terms of how to get involved, there is no really easy answer. Part of what made Bash Back! so important was that it was a fairly loose network with autonomous chapters doing what made sense for the people involved in those chapters to do locally.
But generally speaking, Bash Back! has focused on confronting bigots, mutual aid, self-defense, and propaganda. Fundamentally, there has to be an understanding that the state is not going to protect us, that politicians will not protect us, that we have to build solidarity within our communities as a matter of survival. For that reason, building trust and camaraderie is essential. Confronting those who would destroy us is essential. And in a world that seeks to keep us miserable, expressions and celebrations of queer joy are essential.
As for guidance, the old Bash Back! Points of Unity are a good starting point:
Fight for liberation. Nothing more, nothing less. State recognition in the form of oppressive institutions such as marriage and militarism are not steps toward liberation but rather towards heteronormative assimilation.
A rejection of capitalism, imperialism, and all forms of state power.
Actively oppose oppression both in and out of the “movement.” Racism, Patriarchy, Heterosexism, Sexism, Transphobia, and all oppressive behavior is not to be tolerated.
Respect a diversity of tactics in the struggle for liberation. Do not solely condemn an action on the grounds that the state deems it to be illegal.
You too can be Bash Back! Organize a chapter and take action in your community!
In Atlanta, police seeking to secure the construction of a massive training facility known as Cop City have escalated dramatically since December, murdering one activist and charging 42 more with domestic terrorism. In the three months since the killing of Tortuguita, the authorities have delayed the release of evidence that contradicts their narrative, hoping to destroy the forest before a public reckoning can take place—so that by the time the truth comes out, Cop City and the future it is intended to impose will be a fait accompli.
Here, we use the autopsy of the Dekalb County Medical Examiner to debunk the police narrative about the events of January 18 and explore what the police stand to gain from lying to us.
On April 19, fully three months after the police murdered Manuel Paez Teran—known in Weelaunee forest as Tortuguita—the Dekalb County Medical Examiner finally released the results of the autopsy conducted at 8 am on the morning of January 19. At last, it is plain for all to see how little evidence there is that Tortuguita shot at the officers, despite the allegations of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
According to the Dekalb County autopsy,
The fingernails are closely trimmed and intact. Gunpowder residue is not seen on the hands. A GSR kit [gunshot residue kit] is performed.
Gunshot residue tests are held to be reliable indicators of whether a person has fired a gun, scientifically and legally speaking. Gunshot residue can wear off over a period of four to six hours, but as mentioned in the autopsy, Tortuguita’s hands were bagged shortly after the murder, in order that if there was any gunshot residue on their hands, it would be preserved. According to the “Investigator Narrative” included in the autopsy, the official who prepared that narrative reported to the scene of the murder within two and a half hours and “covered the hands with white handbags to preserve any trace evidence.”
We can be sure that Atlanta authorities missed no opportunity to secure and publicize any evidence that could corroborate their narrative that Tortuguita shot first. Instead, because the autopsy showed that Tortuguita did not fire a gun at all, the results of the Dekalb County autopsy were suppressed for months.
Is it possible that Tortuguita somehow fired a gun while wearing gloves, or fired a gun and then cleaned their hands? According to the Dekalb County autopsy, Tortuguita experienced at least 57 gunshot wounds; this video shows that all of the gunfire occurred in less than eleven seconds.1 That means that Tortuguita died within a few seconds of the first shot, whoever fired it. In the instants between the first couple shots and their death, there was no time for Tortuguita to remove and conceal gloves, nor to clean gunshot residue off their hands.
To all that evidence, we must add the findings of the second autopsy, the one that Tortuguita’s family commissioned, which found that Tortuguita was “likely sitting cross-legged with their hands up” when they were killed. This is consistent with the gunshot wounds described in the autopsy conducted by the Dekalb County Medical Examiner:
• Right Forearm and Hand—fractures of the index finger and thumb metacarpal. […]
• Left Forearm and Hand—fracture of the middle finger proximal phalange.
As can be seen in the diagram included in the Dekalb County autopsy, bullets struck Tortuguita in both their left hand and their right hand. If they had been holding a gun in either of those hands, the gun would have been struck by a bullet, leaving evidence that Tortuguita had been holding the gun when police opened fire. Atlanta authorities would have eagerly released that evidence in order to corroborate their narrative.
They have done no such thing. They did release a photograph of the gun that they allege was in Tortuguita’s possession—but in the photograph, the gun does not show any sign of having been struck by a bullet.
It follows that Tortuguita did not fire a gun on the morning of January 18, 2023.2
In that case, how did it occur that an officer was shot that day, and with a bullet allegedly matching a handgun registered to Tortuguita that was reportedly found on the scene?
According to an early Georgia Bureau of Investigation press release,
The handgun is described as a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm. Forensic ballistic analysis has confirmed that the projectile recovered from the trooper’s wound matches Teran’s handgun.
In fact, Georgia State Patrol—the officers who murdered Tortuguita—are all standard-issued firearms that use 9mm ammunition. According to the “Investigator Narrative” included in the Dekalb County autopsy, during the killing of Tortuguita,
“The uniformed officers reportedly discharged their service weapons, to include a .223 caliber rifle and 9mm handguns.”
So the fact that the gun apparently registered to Tortuguita used 9mm ammunition proves nothing, considering that Georgia State Patrol officers were shooting 9mm ammunition that day.
If exculpatory “forensic ballistic analysis” existed confirming that the bullet that struck the officer was fired from the specific handgun registered to Tortuguita, the authorities would surely have released that by now. The fact that they have not done so suggests that the GBI statement that “the projectile recovered from the trooper’s wound matches Teran’s handgun” means simply that it was 9mm ammunition, like all the bullets that the Georgia State Patrol officers were firing.
Tortuguita experienced at least 57 gunshot woulds within a period of eleven seconds. That offers a hint of how many bullets were in the air during the murder. We don’t know how many rounds Georgia State Patrol officers fired off, but it may have been considerably more than that. As body cam footage eventually revealed, officers expressed considerable anxiety about being caught in a crossfire as they deployed around the area immediately after the shooting. Shortly after the shooting, one officer said “You fucked your own officer up,” clearly asserting that the injured officer had been struck by friendly fire.
One more detail remains to be accounted for. According to the “Investigator Narrative” included in the Dekalb County autopsy, “Two empty 9mm shell casings were located under the decedent’s body” by the investigator who arrived on the scene after the shooting. Did Tortuguita fire those shells?
Video footage distinctly shows that the first three shots were fired in a steady, practiced rhythm, followed an instant later by a fourth shot, after which all the other shots began. It seems most likely that an edgy officer—not Tortuguita—fired those four shots, after which all the other officers began firing. If Tortuguita had fired those first shots, there would presumably have been three or four shell casings around Tortuguita’s body—and more to the point, there would have been gunshot residue on Tortuguita’s hands.
We have yet to see any evidence that the gun alleged to have been in Tortuguita’s possession was fired at all. Should evidence emerge that it was fired, then—considering that there is no evidence that Tortuguita fired it—the most logical explanation would be that after murdering Tortuguita, officers found Tortuguita’s firearm and discharged it in order to fabricate evidence implying that Tortuguita had shot first. Even if we are to take the author of the “Investigator Narrative” for an honest man, police could have discharged the firearm registered to Tortuguita at any point in the two hours between the murder and that author’s arrival.
Regardless of whether that occurred, a large number of police and GBI agents are clearly participating in some sort of operation to cover up the murder of Tortuguita. We will likely never know what happened on that day in January because the authorities carrying out the investigation of Tortuguita’s death are the same ones that sent the Georgia State Patrol to murder them in the first place.
But why would police murder an activist and then lie about it?
In this case, the police have a clear incentive: they are in what they consider to be an existential struggle over how many resources are to be allotted to them. Cop City represents a possible future in which ever more resources will be invested in training and militarizing massive bodies of police that will control the population by brute force if necessary. For those employed in the violence industry, this represents a tremendous opportunity.
In short, the police are killing activists in order to secure the right to hoard all your tax dollars for themselves and their allies. If they get away with murder in this case, that will only embolden them to employ similar strategies in the future.
The traditional conservative argument about state-funded agencies is that they are a waste of taxpayer funds. The story goes that the administrators of such agencies hurry to spend all the resources at their disposal however they can in order to demand an even bigger budget the following year. One of the perks of such a job is the opportunity to pass on lucrative government contracts to their cronies.
According to this narrative, channeling public resources into state institutions creates an entire sector of entitled parasites who enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary workers.
Conservatives deploy this narrative selectively, using it to discredit programs that provide aid to those in need while turning a blind eye to those it describes best—police departments.
Yes, the United States is wracked by gun violence and anti-social activity. But there is precious little evidence that more policing does anything to diminish either of those in the long run. On the contrary, maintaining intense social and economic inequalities by brute force can only create more despair and disparities, which will inevitably lead to more violence and antisocial activity. If militarized policing alone could put an end to those, the United States would be more peaceful than nations with less militarized police, such as Norway and Belgium.
Only systemic economic and political change can address the root causes of strife and put an end to violence. Instead, police departments are capitalizing on these tragedies to demand even more resources for themselves. While manipulating the gullible with sensationalist narratives, they encourage their corporate funders to imagine that, protected by an ever thickening blue line, the capitalist class could go on impoverishing everyone else indefinitely.
Especially since the George Floyd Uprising, police departments have been using taxpayer funds to pay for PR campaigns to reshape public opinion, often by misrepresenting their actions. They are building a protection racket in which they hoard public resources for themselves in order to pay for propaganda campaigns to mislead the credulous and weapons with which to brutalize everyone else.
This is the context in which we should understand the murder of Tortuguita and the campaign to build Cop City.
In the three months since the murder of Tortuguita, Atlanta prosecutors have indiscriminately pressed terrorism charges against 42 people in hopes of crushing the movement that might otherwise have responded proportionally to Tortuguita’s murder. They have charged young people with terrorism for allegedly sitting in trees, posting on social media, or attending a music festival. This use of terrorism charges is unprecedented, but it gives us a glimpse of the world we will live in if police succeed in securing themselves an even more central role in shaping our society.
To justify this campaign of violence and intimidation, Atlanta police have dusted off a strategy over a century old, deploying a discourse about “outside agitators.” According to Natasha Lennard,
Out of 44 people originally detained in Sunday’s forest raid [on March 5], the 11 people released without charge all had Atlanta addresses. Twenty-one of the 23 activists charged with domestic terrorism are from out of state.
The police utilized this devious tactic in order to be able to publish a press release implying that the movement against Cop City is comprised of outside agitators. This is selective policing as a means of constructing a PR campaign.
As we wrote in 2014, during the first wave of protest in response to the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri,
Today’s militarized police understand that they are operating on two different battlefields at once: not only the battlefield of the streets, but also the battlefield of discourse.
As usual, the police themselves are the real outside agitators. According to one memo, nearly half of the officers who are to be trained at Cop City are expected to come from outside Georgia. Even if that were not the case, the model represented by Cop City will proliferate elsewhere if it succeeds in Georgia. What happens in Atlanta will be duplicated around the country. Considering this, only a fool would confine himself to protesting the politicians and police that operate in “his own” voting district.
When people are suffering the same forms of oppression everywhere, it makes sense for us to come to each other’s assistance, to make common cause.
This is not outside agitation. It is solidarity.
So long as we understand the problems we face individualistically, we will be powerless against them. Solidarity has always been the most important tool of the oppressed. This is why the authorities go to such lengths to demonize anyone who has the courage to take risks to support others. Throughout the civil rights struggles of the 20th century, participants who are celebrated as heroes today were tarred as “outside agitators.” The term has a long history on the tongues of racists and reactionaries.
In a time when war, poverty, and natural disasters intensified by climate change are uprooting populations around the world, it would be a grave mistake to accept the logic of police departments that are determined to criminalize solidarity. The upheavals of the future will leave precious few people at ease in the hometowns they grew up in. We would do well to legitimize the voices of the displaced, the travelers, those far from home.
Tortuguita, for example, was a courageous “outside agitator” who traveled to Atlanta to risk their life for a future without police violence. Their example should inspire us all.
Because their own behavior is motivated only by the most shortsighted avarice and fear, police and their supporters imagine that those who oppose them must be driven by similar values. This is why they always allege that someone must be paying the protesters they brutalize and murder. They cannot imagine why people would freely risk their lives for others’ sake—indeed, they dare not understand why, for if such a thing is possible, then it is truly shameful to be a mercenary doling out violence just to make a buck.
In a society structured by greed and materialism, police will inevitably play a more and more central role—for without them keeping everyone in line, the whole thing will come crashing down. The plan to build Cop City rather than addressing the root causes of desperation and unrest shows how much power police have already accumulated and how dependent upon them politicians of all stripes have become. It is the Democratic Party backing Cop City in Atlanta, just as it is the Democratic Party that has raised a former prosecutor to the Vice Presidency and made a former police officer mayor of New York City. We can look at Russia—a dictatorship ruled by a former KGB officer—to see what lies a little further down this road.
It’s up to us to show that solidarity and the desire for freedom are more powerful than cupidity and the readiness to obey.
“In the end, the praetorian guard got to determine who ruled the Roman Empire.
“Likewise, in a social order maintained by violent force, the police want to call the shots in courts and government. This is the meaning of the Atlanta police demanding the right to kill with impunity.”
-The @crimethinc account on Twitter (since banned by Elon Musk), in response to Johnny Akzam
“Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
-Juvenal, Satire VI
The authorities sent Georgia State Patrol officers without body cameras to do their dirty work. They delayed the release of the footage of those officers who were equipped with body cameras for weeks—a clear indication that they did not believe it supported their narrative. ↩
This is not to say that it would have been wrong for Tortuguita to practice self-defense when attacked by State Patrol officers eager to use lethal force—only to emphasize that the evidence suggests that they did not. ↩
Welcome to Steal Something from Work Day 2023! Every year, we observe this day as an opportunity to reflect on the individualized forms of anti-capitalist resistance that millions upon millions of employees engage in on a daily basis, and to imagine forms of collective action that could take that resistance as their point of departure.
Today, we’ll zoom in on a particular variant of workplace theft: the leak.
There are many things you can steal from work. You could steal money, time, goods, raw materials, access to specialized equipment. Another thing you could steal is information. For this year’s Steal Something from Work Day, let’s talk about the last of these.
In the information age, knowledge is power. The circulation of classified information is integral to the lattice of repressive institutions that maintain the prevailing order. Information is the blood in the bloodstream of the beast.
Controlling which information circulates and which does not has always been central to statecraft. But in the heyday of social media, this is arguably the most determinant aspect of rule itself, even more so than military force.
“In a digitally interconnected world, whoever has the most robust networks, the right relationship between visible and opaque channels, and the most persuasive narrative will triumph. Communication and coordination trump brute force when any clash can draw in a potentially infinite number of participants on either side.”
-Canary in the Coal Mine: Twitter and the End of Social Media
In a globalized economy in which work has penetrated into every corner of our lives, practically every worker is accustomed to inhabiting multiple identities and being subject to conflicting loyalties. The battle lines of social conflict now cut directly through the heart of every ordinary civilian. One weapon in these battles is the information leak.
Information leaks can serve a variety of agendas. On the one hand, they can destabilize established power. For example, embassy cables published by Wikileaks played a role in catalyzing the revolution that brought down president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, sparking a global wave of uprisings that lasted from 2011 through 2014. On the other hand, defenders of the prevailing order can use leaks to circulate cherry-picked information, as well. Intentionally or not, the advance leak of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade arguably served to defuse resistance, giving the general public a chance to get used to the bad news before it was confirmed and ensuring that those who might otherwise have been shocked into action joined predictable liberal demonstrations.
Still, as a persistent strategy aimed at the reigning power structure, leaking information has considerable advantages. The less that the various institutions of repression can trust each other and their own employees, the more difficult it becomes for them to respond rapidly and coordinate with each other. We saw this in the administration of Donald Trump in 2017, when a series of leaks eroded trust within the regime. If information is the blood in the bloodstream of the security state, persistent leaks coagulate that blood.
Today, it is widely understood that our society is headed directly for economic and ecological disaster, but the authorities have yet to take meaningful steps to change course. When millions are complicit in structures that they know to be destructive and doomed, this creates the conditions in which formerly complacent employees may choose to carry out individual acts of subversion from within the halls of power.
This is not the first time that such conditions have developed in the American workplace. At the end of the 1960s, the Vietnam War contributed to an erosion of faith in the United States government and associated corporations and industries. In late 1969, with the assistance of his former RAND Corporation colleague Anthony Russo, Daniel Ellsberg secretly made photocopies of a number of classified documents that became known as the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg set out to reestablish contact with anarchist poet Gary Snyder, with whom he had previously debated US foreign policy, and put the Pentagon Papers into circulation.
Inspired by by Daniel Ellsberg’s action, former National Security Agency employee Perry Fellwock revealed the existence of the NSA and its worldwide covert surveillance network. Peter Buxtun, an employee of the United States Public Health Service, revealed the existence of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment in 1972. Many more revelations followed, impacting the nuclear power and petroleum industries as well as various government agencies.
Three decades later, the Iraq War created a similar erosion of faith. When US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning discovered that she was, in her words, “actively involved in something that [she] was completely against,” she began bringing rewritable CDs to her job:
I would come in with music on a CD-RW, labelled with something like “Lady Gaga”… erase the music… then write a compressed split file. No one suspected a thing. […]
You had people working 14 hours a day… every single day… no weekends… no recreation… people stopped caring after three weeks.
Exemplifying the spirit of Steal Something from Work Day, Manning “listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ while exfiltratrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history.” Chiefly owing to faulty security culture, Manning was eventually caught and imprisoned. (To quote the aforementioned song, “I shoulda left my phone at home, ‘cause this is a disaster.”) Nonetheless, she set a precedent that was echoed by Edward Snowden, Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Drake, and others, all of whom ultimately concluded, as Manning had, that “Information should be free—it belongs in the public domain.”
These events still lingered in recent memory at the opening of the Trump administration, when government employee Reality Winner saw a document that she believed should be public information. She printed it off the classified server, hid it in her pantyhose, and sent it to The Intercept. Unfortunately, the printed document was digitally watermarked, The Intercept refused to take her safety seriously, and Winner caved in under the pressure of interrogation. All of those setbacks underscore the importance of proper operational security when it comes to carrying out workplace theft in the public interest.
Of course, leaks alone can only do so much. Unless it is accompanied by concrete opportunities to act, information can desensitize people, accustoming them to injustice and inactivity. One risk of celebrating whistleblowing in a vacuum is that it tends to position the same institutions it critiques as the solution to the problems it identifies; another is that it tends to frame those who hold privileged positions within the system as the agents of change, sidelining those who do not work for the NSA or the military.
It follows that we need a more inclusive and engaged model for what could constitute employee information theft in the public interest. Our colleagues at Unicorn Riot have demonstrated some examples of what this might look like by publishing a series of smaller-scale leaks compromising fascist groups as well as government agencies. These hint at an approach to information leaks that could draw on the information that many ordinary workers have access to every day, eventually giving rise to an open-source intelligence ecosystem that could serve a broad range of movements for liberation.
So here is our challenge to you, begrudging employee. It’s one thing to steal cash or toilet paper—it’s another thing to take steps to topple those who keep all the other resources we need to themselves. If we’re talking about Stealing Something from Work, the best thing you could do would be to take something that could equip us all to get free together. The same capitalist economy that keeps you chained to your work station runs on the information that passes before your eyes every day. The brutal mercenaries whose violence keeps you from creating a better life for yourself depend on that same information.
At some point, something may cross your field of vision that could be useful to someone who is engaged in the struggle for a better world. It could be the location of a meeting, the address of a wealthy tycoon, the involvement of a corporation in a construction project, or the day job of a participant in fascist street violence. Make a note of it and figure out how to get it to those who can use it. Focus above all on actionable intelligence.
Keep your eyes open. If you see something, say something.
In Atlanta, Georgia, the city government is attempting to destroy the last remaining stretch of forest in order to build a vast training center for police. For two years now, a vibrant self-organized movement has mobilized to defend the forest, despite the police doling out terrorism charges indiscriminately and utilizing lethal violence to protect their cash cow. The latest phase of this movement hinges on an effort to persuade insurance providers who are providing coverage to the project that such conduct is unworthy of them. Foremost among these insurance providers is the Scottsdale Insurance Company.
But who is located in Scottsdale, Arizona?
There’s Greenpeace, of course, which defeated a frivolous RICO case similar to the one that Atlanta prosecutors are threatening to bring against those mobilizing to protect the forest. There are Indigenous activists, individual police abolitionists, and probably some punks, too. But many other groups should be concerned about Cop City, which will be used to train militarized police around the country. Towards that end, we present a series of appeals addressed to various community organizations in the vicinity of the Scottsdale Insurance Company in Arizona.
We have admired your organization from afar for some time now. The Baphomet statue is iconic, of course, but your efforts to organize street-level protection for Muslims in Minneapolis earned you our esteem. Thank you for pushing back against Christian hegemony and authoritarianism in general.
There is something all-too-godly brewing in Atlanta—an almighty highness threatening a wild, free forest. Cop City is coming, killing opponents and destroying wilderness. The liability insurance provider for the project is Scottsdale Insurance Company, based in Scottsdale, Arizona. If Scottsdale Insurance Company chose to boycott Cop City for its human and ecological brutality, construction would come to a standstill, at least until another insurer was found for this unusually risky, unpopular project. Anarchists, such as ourselves, desire to Stop Cop City and He Who Props Cop City.
We laud your four main components: (1) Satanism as a religious movement. (2) Civic actions through activism. (3) Charitable works. (4) Community building for Satanists and allies. Many of our networks have also championed complementary quadrupointed unity. Take the points of unity of Anti-Racist Action, for example:
People’s Global Action, likewise, summarized their interpretation of Zapatismo in five hallmarks.
We are not religious ourselves, but we respect a variety of religious movements. We don’t believe in the power of gods, but movements of defiant people bound for glory inspire us:
We applaud your religious movement for promoting the values of empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason, rejection of tyrannical authority, and noble pursuits guided by individual will.
That is why we invite you to hold a public demonization of the Scottsdale Insurance Company. Ideally, you would announce a time and date so that other opponents of Cop City and satanic allies around the southwest can join.
What we are proposing may sound like a demonstration, but the action should go far beyond a simple utilization of the First Amendment. We intend no harm to any individual workers of the Scottsdale Insurance Company, of course, but we believe that the consequences of their employer’s decision to protect a destructive, tyrannical project like Cop City should not be borne solely by the forest and its defenders. We know of no other organization near Scottsdale, Arizona capable of demonizing the Scottsdale Insurance Company with curses, hauntings, or other spiritual afflictions powerful enough to persuade the company to drop its Cop City contract.
The struggle against Cop City has included considerable interfaith opposition, but as far as we are aware, a public demonization of the Scottsdale Insurance Company would mark the grand debut of organized Satanism in the movement. Individual Satanists have been involved for some time already, in accordance with their belief in individualist pursuits of noble will, but a formal public intervention would accomplish more.
Permit us to present our case. These are the benefits we can see to your taking this step:
(1) Satanism as a religious movement
By organizing a public demonization of the Scottsdale Insurance Company, Satanism will communicate its values as a religious movement, and show its ability to actualize one’s will to combat Church and State oppression.
(2) A civic action through activism
A public, organized demonization against Cop City will benefit the people of Atlanta, but it will also protect civilians all around the world, since Cop City plans to cut a profit by serving a state-of-the-art police product to governments everywhere. According to one document, over 40% of the cops who stand to benefit from Cop City will hail from outside the Atlanta area. Talk about outside agitators!
(3) Include a charitable work
In your demonization, you could charitably plant a tree for Tortuguita, the forest defender shot dead by Georgia State Patrol in December. Their mother and brother have invited supporters to honor Tort’s memory by planting a tree.
(4) Build community for Satanists and allies
A public demonization of the Scottsdale Insurance Company is an excellent way to build alliances with those in your community who also reject tyrannical authority. According to one statement of solidarity, there are already many opponents of Cop City in your region, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Feminist Bird Club, and the National Lawyers Guild.
We know how much courage it takes to simply maintain an outspoken, anti-authoritarian organization. We too receive death threats, are caricatured on account of our beliefs, and face the censoring of our means of communication. We also know how exhilarating it is to fight back against centuries of dogma that emphasize the virtue of human subservience to power—and we know that you know it too.
No gods, no masters, no Cop City.
Lupercalia not law enforcement.
The ‘los and ‘lettes have much to offer the struggalo against Cop City. There is no need to enumerate the decades of anti-police anthems that have poured forth from the dark carnival as if out of an over-carbonated 3-liter of Faygo. We know y’all are as real as your distaste for the police.
We know. Because we hit the streets with you at the Juggalo March on Washington. The RICO charges that prosecutors are threatening to bring against the Stop Cop City movement are akin to the gang enhancements Juggalos face just for flying a hatchetman flag. In fact, the RICO threat against the Stop Cop City movement arose in the shadow of the ongoing YSL RICO case in Atlanta.
We have been dismayed to observe the dissolution of Juggalo culture in the desert over the last decade, no doubt hastened by the FBI’s persecution of Juggalos since 2011. The Arizona Juggalos Podcast has faded away, as has the southwestern wicked clown clearinghouse DesertJuggalos.com.
However, we know that even if the public face of the dark carnival has disappeared, Juggalo culture is alive in the southwest. We know. Because we were there at the wicked clown weekender last February in Arizona, moved by the flight of Faygo bottles amid chants of “FA-MI-LY.” We witnessed the dignity that the ‘los and ‘lettes displayed leaving the theater, confronted by a force of threatening police.
State repression has real consequences, and it might be easier for an organization like the Satanic Temple to organize a demonstration than for a family like yours to come out and fly that hatchetman high against the richie piggies who insure Cop City. However, that should not stop every ‘lo and ‘lette in the desert from calling Scottsdale Insurance Company at 480-365-4000 and spitting bars hotter than Scottsdale asphalt on a sunny day in July.
Hit ’em with original shit, your favorite ICP line, or school the Scottsdale Insurance Company on Cop City’s role in the nefarious axis between neoliberal impoverishment, the criminalization of street organizations, and the prison-industrial complex.
For a dark carnival in the shade of the Weelaunee Forest,
Your anarchist comrades.
We are sincere when addressing the Satanic Temple and Desert Juggalos, and we will extend you the same sincerity: we’ve been disappointed by your organizing. That’s why we didn’t go to your march last year.
The surge of spontaneous, autonomous student walkouts in the wake of the Parkland shooting inspired us. It represented the most powerful force that the capitalist gun industry has faced in decades. Advertisers stopped funding NRA TV; industry lobbyists had to answer for their profiteering; suddenly, everyone was talking about the shootings. We continued to march by your side even as the movement was coopted by Democratic Party politicking. Democrat politicians prioritized an electoral strategy that excluded the disenfranchised youth who are most immediately endangered by school gun violence, turning participants away from the kind of direct pressure on manufacturers that could address the problem at its root.
Now, Democratic Party politicians are at the front of the push to destroy the Weelaunee Forest in Atlanta in order to build Cop City. While they claim that concentrating guns in the hands of militarized police will protect us, we can see from what happened in Uvalde that police represent a false solution to gun violence.
From Parkland and Uvalde to Atlanta, police have worked out a scheme to profit on the violence in our society. Rather than doing anything to prevent mass shootings, they let them occur, one after another, and use each one as an excuse to demand more resources for themselves and the profiteers who support them. Putting cops in schools doesn’t make them safer. It just increases the tensions and violence in our society, not to mention the number of weapons. By the same token, channeling millions of dollars to cops will not make our society any safer.
The Cop City project illustrates this clearly enough. The forest that is slated to be turned into Cop City already contains a police firing range, and the largest target at the police firing range is a school bus. Cops practice their marksmanship shooting at a school bus. Police seeking to evict activists who were occupying the forest have already shot and killed one young forest defender, Tortuguita. Recent autopsy results show that Tortuguita’s hands were raised in the air when the police opened fire. Police are a fundamental part of gun violence, not a solution to it.
We know that the official March For Our Lives organization will never stand up to the police or the politicians who want to channel more funds and guns to them rather than dealing with the root causes of gun violence. But we call on individual participants in March For Our Lives, Phoenix to join in the struggle against armed, state-sanctioned violence. One thing you can do right now is to call the Scottsdale Insurance Company at 480-365-4000 and let them know that you do not approve of their decision to insure Cop City.
In France, a powerful movement has erupted in response to an attempt to raise the retirement age. While millions have gone on strike and poured into the streets, President Emmanuel Macron and his henchmen have attempted to crush this movement by escalating police violence to lethal extremes. In the following report, we offer a chronology of the events of the past week, including a translation of an account by one participant in the movement and a statement from the parents of another who remains in a coma. You can read an overview the first phase of the movement and an analysis of the issues at stake here.
When French president Emmanuel Macron ran for office last year, part of his platform was an unpopular pension reform that would force workers to work several years more before retirement. Forced to choose between outright fascists and neoliberals, French voters grudgingly elected Macron, but a showdown has been brewing ever since.
The movement against the pension reform got underway with a strike on January 16, 2023. Polite protests gave way to generalized unrest on March 16 when prime minister Élisabeth Borne used article 49.3 of the Constitution to bypass a vote in the National Assembly, implementing the new law by force. As the revolt gathered steam, it expanded beyond opposing the pension reform to rejecting neoliberalism as a whole. The protests, strikes, and blockades became gestures of resistance against the arbitrary power of the executive office as well as against Macron and his cronies (“Macron et son monde”), reminiscent of the Yellow Vests movement in 2018.
Today, the movement has reached another stage. In response to the intensification of the struggle and the diversification of tactics and battlefronts, police have dramatically escalated the violence with which they are targeting demonstrators. Even corporate business media like the The Financial Times are criticizing Macron’s repressive and authoritarian handling of the movement.
On March 22, the day before a general strike called by the unions, Macron stoked the fires of resentment. He showed up to address corporate media wearing a watch worth 80,000 euros, which he attempted to subtly remove during the interview. In that media appearance, Macron presented an authoritarian and disdainful figure, lying about the movement and the repression that the police had meted out. Effectively, he told the unions and the people that he cared neither about what they had to say nor about their lives in general.
On Thursday, March 23, about 3.5 million people took the streets, including more than 800,000 in Paris alone. The blockades and strikes were successful all over the country, impacting high schools, universities, city transit, garbage collection garages, refineries, harbors, airports, trains, highways, and other institutions. The day ended with numerous “manifs sauvages” (wildcat marches) in the streets of Paris and fires all around the country—some at symbols of the executive and the government, including county offices, town halls, and police stations.
While it felt like a victory and a sort of coming together, Thursday also revealed that Macron and his police aimed to crush the budding uprising at any cost. Police targeted everyone without exception—for example, they usually abstain from hitting the security line that protects the unions, but in this case, they did not hesitate to. Images circulated widely showing police charging protestors indiscriminately, shooting military-grade GM2L grenades upwards and into the crowd, knocking people unconscious. While French police have never shied from using military weapons to subdue rebellious crowds—for example, during the Yellow Vest movement and the eviction of the ZAD in Notre-Dame-des-Landes in 2018—it is unusual for them to target elected officials, unions, students, and children as well as the black bloc. In many cases, the entire crowd responded with collective anger, which is also unusual.
Compared to the tremendous number of people in the streets, there were very few arrests. This was for two reasons. First, people were well organized, outnumbered the cops, and protected each other as much as they could. Second, the cops were not trying to grab people, but to inflict physical and emotional damage, in hopes of dissuading the many people who were taking to the streets for the first time from returning. Whether they succeeded or not remains to be seen.
Friday, March 24 opened with a strong presence on the picket lines, in particular at the refinery Total Normandy (close to Le Havre). People came from Paris and neighboring regions to support the blockade throughout the night and early in the morning. Comrades who appreciate French pop culture will be happy to know that rapper Medine and actress Adèle Haenel were on the picket line.
A part of supporting the strike is resisting “réquisitions.” Despite the right to strike being written into the French Constitution, there is a legal provision that allows the local government (la Préfecture) to force strikers back to work if the strike puts the economy at risk. In Le Havre, the blockade remained strong, but the state has been carrying out réquisitions across the country, especially in the field of energy. This confirms that the strike is working, as there is usually a delay between refineries shutting down and fuel shortages beginning, but it also indicates that the government is prepared to send the cops to people’s houses in order to force them back to work.
On Saturday March 25, 30,000 people assembled in Sainte-Soline, a small town near Poitiers, to protest the privatization of water and the excavation of the biggest of the industrial “mega-basins” in France. Announced by the Confédération Paysanne (the largest and most historic union of farmworkers in France), the collective Bassines Non Merci! (BNM), Les Soulèvements de la Terre (literally, “Earth Uprisings”), and more than a hundred other associations and unions, the demonstration had the same objective as the previous protest at that same location: to set foot in the empty crater where the basin is supposed to be built.
The previous mobilization in Sainte-Soline had been a success. On Saturday, October 30, 2022, some 7000 people marched on the basin and managed to breach the massive police lines (1700 police backed by helicopters). Three groups walked in teams, with separate trajectories and strategies, targeting three different access points with scaled levels of risk tolerance; it was all framed as a big game in the style of capture-the-flag. Police did their best to retaliate, but they were overwhelmed.
On March 25, at first, the atmosphere was merry and determined, continuing the tone of October. Many signs were encouraging. The number of participants had more than tripled since the previous demonstration, likely benefitting from the fact that a powerful movement was in full swing throughout the country. Farmers from the Confédération Paysanne driving tractors had evaded police lines to reach the camp, which was established quite close to the site of the intended mega-basin.
However, things got nasty very fast. The police, determined to get revenge for the setbacks they had experienced in the streets elsewhere in France, set out to make an example of the protesters in this big open area that afforded very little shelter or protection.
“The objective of the protesters at Sainte-Soline was to skirt the police and reach the crater, and to plant their flags as a way of thumbing their nose at power and at these absurd reservoirs. The goal of the police was to deploy the full range of their force and brutality against unprotected (or poorly protected) protesters in order to traumatize, maim, and demoralize them.”
Once again, three groups formed, but when they reached the edges of the basin, police quickly forced them to converge into one procession, mixing them all together. The police attacked first with tear gas and shrapnel grenades, to which the front line replied with fireworks and stones. Under police fire, with over 5000 grenades falling from the sky—some of them tear gas grenades, some of them the extremely dangerous GM2L grenades—any distinction between the black bloc, the union leaders, politicians, and the rest of the people in the march evaporated. More than two hundred people were injured, many of them severely.
The police intentionally fired at the part of the field where the wounded were being treated. They blocked the ambulances and did their best to make it impossible to take the injured to the hospital in time to treat their injuries. As a consequence of this intentionally murderous strategy, as of now, two people remain in critical condition, in grave danger of death. Many more have been permanently mutilated, some losing eyes.
Despite spectacular images of a huge protest bloc walking in the field among deer and tear gas and of police wagons burning, despite the brief incursion into the perimeter of the basin, it’s impossible to consider the day a success. Now is the time to heal and take stock of the situation. It is clearer than ever that the state is ready to kill to maintain control and protect the interests of the capitalists who rule the agro-industry at the expense of a sustainable future. Likewise, the authorities used the protest in Sainte-Soline as an opportunity to do as much harm as possible to many of those who had been outmaneuvering them in the streets.
This is a translation of an anonymous report-back describing the protest that took place in Sainte-Soline against the construction of the mega-basins and the privatization of water on March 25.
Shit, what the hell are we doing here? Yes, yes, we fight for water, we fight against the privatization of life, we fight against the state that protects the interests of the few instead of defending the lives of the many.
Medic, medic! Here, here! And while we yell and point to the wounded, we need to keep an eye on what’s falling from the sky. Other hands point to a projectile right above our heads. What is it? Tear gas, sting-ball grenade? Identify it, evaluate the trajectory, the risk, run a little, feel our eardrums burst from the nearby explosion. Ears ringing for a couple of minutes.
Shit, what the hell are we doing here again? Yes, yes, crossing the blue barrier to get to the basin. Ha, no, not a blue barrier but two, it’s not only blue but khaki green, and it has wire fencing, and barbed wire, and there’s the embankment to climb. What’s hidden behind all of this? A lake, water that belongs to everyone pumped and stored for the few. Medic, medic! Fuck, where are the medics, things are pretty urgent right now. Shit is falling left, right, in front of us, behind us. Hey, comrade, need some saline? Hey, did you notice, your head is bleeding? Careful, grenade!! Fall back, a little, keep calm, forward again.
Shit, what the hell are we doing here again? Yes, yes, we have numbers, we’re the mass. it’s all we have against the military-grade weapons that are raining down on us, that cut our legs off, that tear our limbs apart.
Medic, medic! How long have we been here for? Twenty minutes, perhaps. A group of medics hovers around a body. One of them is already short on supplies. The others don’t have much left, either. What are they going to do? What’s going to happen to me if I fall?
Careful there! Watch out for the grenade a couple of meters away, can’t remember to move, explosion, head banging. Fuck, I’m beat, I forgot to run out of the way. I’m fine, need to keep moving forward. Grab your partner, a quick check to see if they’re fine, too. All good. Let’s go.
There’s fire in front of us, black smoke coming from the flaming vehicles, white smoke from the tear gas, the flash of a flame, the spark of a grenade dying down, we can’t see shit.
How long were we there for? Two, three hours? Less than an hour, in fact. An eternity, or maybe it wasn’t long enough?
Why did we fall back all of a sudden? A guy on the brink of death up front, a line of four-wheelers that tried to surround us, the realization that we didn’t stand a chance, fatigue on the frontline?
Shit, what the hell we were doing there? It’s over.
Evacuating the wounded, reuniting with the crew. Perceiving the shock by the look in the others’ eyes, assessing injuries, attempting a few words. A comrade breaks down in tears, we huddle close. Absurd, uneven, dangerous.
What happens after something like that? Someone must know.
We go home, an endless procession black with anger and rancor, an unwilling army, exhausted. We’re alive, we’re lucky.
This is a translation of a statement from the parents of an activist who remains in a coma five days after the police violence at Sainte-Soline.
Following the injury caused by a GM2L grenade, during the demonstration of March 25, 2023 organized in Sainte-Soline against the irrigation basin projects, our son Serge is currently in a hospital fighting for his life.
We filed a complaint for attempted murder and voluntary obstruction of the arrival of the emergency services; and for violation of professional secrecy within the framework of a police investigation, and misappropriation of information contained in a file for that purpose.
Following the various articles published in the press, many of which are inaccurate or misleading, we would like to make it known that:
We believe that these are not criminal acts that would sully our son, but on the contrary that these acts are to his credit.
March 29, 2023
Back in the city, many people attended a nationwide mobilization against the “Loi Asile et Immigration” (also called the Loi Darmanin, after the Minister of the Interior—the head cop of France, if you will). This law, the next one on Macron’s oppressive agenda, will severely reduce the rights of migrants, facilitating the imprisonment and deportation of exiled and undocumented people on French land. While the number of people who attended that protest was nothing close to the number of people who are protesting against the pension reform, we are slowly building ties connecting anti-racist resistance and solidarity with wider resistance against the government.
From Saturday on, police violence became the chief topic of conversation and media coverage. Gérald Darmanin and Laurent Nuñez (the head cops of France and of Paris, respectively) did their best to spread lies about the events in Sainte-Soline and to try to legitimize the police retaliation in Paris. In the city, the BRAV-M police units—the “mobile” units that chase people around on motorcycles—took center stage in this discussion. There is already a remarkable number of videos of the BRAV-M assaulting isolated individuals, running over people, and verbally and sexually abusing people; this should not be surprising, as their ancestors, the “voltigeurs,” were famous for similar behavior, including the murder of Malek Oussekine in 1986, which inspired the movie La Haine.
Some unions—including the CGT and Solidaires—also spoke out against police brutality, expressing solidarity with those who suffered in Sainte-Soline. The slogan “Ni oubli, ni pardon” (“don’t forget, don’t forgive”) is slowly proliferating among striking workers. Even international media covering the movement and condemning Macron’s autocratic and repressive strategy has begun focusing on police violence rather than the pension reform.
At several work sites, as a consequence of requisitions and fatigue, workers had taken a break from the strike over the weekend. Many resumed striking again on Monday and Tuesday, but there is undoubtedly a certain weariness amongst strikers and supporters doubled with sadness and fear in the face of large-scale military repression. Darmanin and Macron are hoping to sway public opinion by brandishing the specter of violence in front of people’s eyes in the same way that the government did to suppress the Gilets Jaunes movement in December 2018. Whether this strategy will be successful remains to be seen. It will depend, in part, on how successful we are at presenting other narratives.
The general strike of Tuesday, March 28 was relatively successful, depending on who you ask. The number of people in the streets is diminishing, but it was still among the highest recorded over the past two months—about two million. Cities in the west of France (“le Grand-Ouest”), famous for their insurrectionary tendencies, coordinated successful road blockades. A significant number of refineries, fuel storage units, and other logistical centers were blocked or on strike; more than 400 gas stations in France were out of fuel on Wednesday, March 29. Schools and universities remained on strike as well—as did the Eiffel Tower, among other well-known French institutions.
As for the demonstrations themselves, the results were mixed. Fierce gatherings took place in Rennes and Nantes, where the black bloc is always offensive, and in cities like Lyon, St-Etienne, and Toulouse. In Paris, the atmosphere was tense. While some confrontations with police broke out late in the day, they felt more symbolic than strategic. Significantly, the spontaneous night marches have died down. If spontaneous marches and other forms direct action return to the streets despite the government’s show of force over the weekend, that could give the movement a second wind; if they do not, that could determine its fate.
While the government’s perverse rhetoric should not shape our actions, it is important to puncture the narratives that they are trying to propagate. Essentially, Macron is using the same strategy he used to suppress the Yellow Vests. He is blaming the protesters for the injuries that police inflict on them, in order to infantilize and discredit those who defend themselves against the police and to justify the escalation of police repression.
This circular rhetoric is already at play in Darmanin’s lies about the events in Sainte-Soline, as explored in the analysis “The Trap of Sainte-Soline.” Darmanin has initiated a legal process targeting the collective “Les Soulèvements de la Terre” for “dissolution,” equating ecological sabotage with terrorism by claiming that many of the protesters at Sainte-Soline are long-time “A-listed dangerous individuals” (“fichés S” in the French counter-information databases).
The state is attempting to turn the popular outcry about police violence on its head. The goal is not so much to legitimize the use of military force on unarmed protesters—Macron won’t admit to that—but to present it as the unavoidable side-effect of his righteous efforts to protect the French Republic from dangerous and irresponsible individuals who must be stopped for their own sake.
But there is another way to read this whole situation.
If Macron is determined to force his agenda through without a vote regardless of how unpopular it is, and to suppress all protest by means of militarized police violence, then the only way to prevent the arrival of outright autocracy is to establish a rapport de force with the police. In that case, those who take the initiative to experiment with ways to defend themselves from police are neither infantile nor irresponsible. On the contrary, they are the only thing standing between us and tyranny.
In this spirit, many people have called for gatherings across France on Thursday, March 30 to oppose police brutality and stand up for the people who have been wounded, some of whom are still fighting for their lives in the hospital.
Facing down the police is not a matter of bringing symmetrical force to bear against them, but of outflanking them. It requires outsmarting them as they attempt to isolate and corner us, whether physically or discursively. It means escalating all together, uncontrollably, as a network too extensive to surround—moving, merging, branching off, changing course, and innovating more rapidly than they can keep up with, and doing so on every kind of terrain, from the streets themselves to the narrative about what is taking place in them.
For now, the issue of police brutality threatens to supplant all other subjects of public discussion, including the pension reform, work itself, and the power of the state. This may also conceal a trap for the movement. Focusing on the police alone will not necessarily produce a strategy that enables us to overcome them.
The intersyndicale (the coordination of the eight biggest national unions in France) has called for the next nationwide strike to occur on Thursday, April 6. In many people’s eyes, that is too late, as the events that will determine whether the movement lives or dies will have occurred by then. This long gap will give unions time to negotiate with the state: already, some union leaders have been speaking with the government. While a few hardliners inside the CGT and other unions are resisting their leaders’ pressure to concede, the history of union politics is a veritable litany of cautionary tales.
Of course, when the unions announced the general strike for March 23 after the spontaneous protests of Thursday, March 16, many people also believed that the movement would die over the following week. As always, what takes place in the streets will determine everything. Despite fatigue, pain, and grief, French people have yet to give up the fight. Long live the revolution!
We present a second statement written by Serge’s comrades and close-ones, released on Wednesday, March 29.
While our comrade Serge continues fighting for the life that the state has attempted to take away from him, we are witnessing a new outpouring of violence against him. The media are attempting to depict him as a man who ought to be shot. Today, he is still in a coma, in critical condition. We send our solidarity to Mickaël and to all who felt the brute force of police violence brought down on them.
The bourgeois media continue endlessly parroting words carefully chosen by the state in order to construct, out of thin air, the enemy that it wants to fight. Their false front will crumble in the face of the many narratives that have corrected and and rewritten the course of events. The police used grenades with the specific purpose of inflicting physical and mental harm upon the protesters; they are responsible for preventing emergency responders from evacuating the injured, even if that meant leaving our comrades to die.
Intelligence services have been liberally handing out the information they had collected on Serge to newsrooms across the country. Their objective is to force us to define ourselves in the words used by the police. Here, we will not engage with the deliberately abridged versions of Serge’s identity that the police has been circulating. We don’t believe that any truth about him can be found within the arcana of state and media propaganda. As a revolutionary, Serge has been participating with all his might and for many years in many class struggles against our exploitation, always with a view to the broadening and strengthening of life and victory for the proletariat.
And indeed, we cannot let ourselves be crushed.
We call on all those who know him to tell others around them who he is. Remember: Serge, in struggle, refuses the state’s strategy to separate good and bad protesters. With him and for him, we uphold this line.
On Tuesday, March 28, people everywhere took it upon themselves to show their solidarity with the movement against the pension reform in France. We have also received many messages from international comrades. We warmly thank them, and encourage them to continue and support the movement. More actions are already planned, and we encourage people to join and multiply them without restraint, in France and in the rest of the world.
We want this communiqué to be shared as widely as possible.
PS: There are many rumors about Serge’s medical condition. Don’t share them. We will keep you updated.
To contact us: email@example.com
Comrades of S.
On Sunday, March 26, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister in an attempt to consolidate power over the country, precipitating spontaneous mass demonstrations. On March 27, facing the prospect of a general strike, he agreed to delay his effort to push through a judicial reform that will centralize control in his hands. In return for that concession, he gave his extreme-right minister of internal security—the convicted terrorist Itamar Ben-Gvir—permission to establish a militia under his own authority. In other words, having gained control of the government but not yet of the streets, the reigning far-right coalition is buying time to figure out how to suppress popular unrest while intensifying the persecution of Palestinians.
These are just the latest developments in a struggle that has been escalating for months, pitting various sectors of Israeli society against each other. The outcome will impact everyone, but the Palestinians will suffer most of all, no matter which side comes out on top: if the liberal protest movement wins, the prevailing apartheid regime will be perceived as more legitimate, whereas if Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir win, the situation will become even more deadly and dehumanizing for Palestinians. In the following analysis, our correspondent shows how this crisis has emerged out of a conflict between competing elites and their respective colonial models.
For months now, weekly mass demonstrations have taken place in Tel Aviv and other cities, drawing tens of thousands every Saturday. This is one of the biggest social movements in the history of Israel. The protests began after the inauguration of the most far-right government ever to rule this country; they quickly shifted focus to opposing a judicial reform that would consolidate power in the hands of the government at the expense of the court.
Many protesters see this measure as a coup attempt. One of the most worrying sections of the bill of the proposed reform, called the override clause, will undermine the sacred liberal concept of the separation of powers. Among other things, it would limit the Supreme Court’s ability to oppose and repeal laws that the government passes, allow the government to re-enact laws invalidated by the court, and give the government more say in appointing judges. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has already introduced a law limiting the ways a sitting prime minister can be declared unfit for office. But to understand the social dynamics at play here in full, we need to examine the contradictions within contemporary Zionism and identify the competing approaches to managing a settler colonial society. For more context, we’ll conclude by reviewing the most recent developments in the Palestinian resistance.
Semantics: Throughout this text, when referring to the geographical region between the Jordanian river and the Mediterranean Sea, we use the word “Palestine.” When referring to the state and aspects of Jewish-Israeli society, we use the word “Israel.”
The current situation in so-called Israel is a story about an increasingly authoritarian government consolidating power, yes—but there is more to it. The process of centralization that began long ago is coming to fruition, alongside a polarization towards fascism. There are local and global reactionary alliances involved, along with a conflict between competing elites, a prime minister desperate to escape corruption allegations, and a settler colonial society that is preparing to move to the next step of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Without this bigger picture, we cannot understand the proposed reform itself, nor the “threat to Jewish democracy” that it represents, nor why so many people from the mainstream of Israeli society have been taking the streets against it while brandishing Israeli flags.
The bill would expose already marginalized communities to the increasing power of the regime. Subordinating the court system to the government will subject many Palestinians, women, members of the LGBTQ community, migrants and asylum seekers, and others to greater risk. At the same time, the Israeli court system has always been an integral part of the apartheid regime. It has legalized one ethnic cleansing campaign after another. Uprooting Bedouin communities in the Naqab (Negev), evicting families and demolishing houses in East Jerusalem, ongoing attempts to evict and ethnically cleanse the Masafer Yatta area in the West Bank—the court has approved all of these, functioning as a rubber stamp for the regime of Jewish supremacy.
Under Israeli democracy, many communities never had any rights in the first place. Now, many in the middle class are afraid that they will lose their privileges as well. As in many colonial societies throughout history, repression does not remain limited to the initial outgroups, but expands to target more and more people.
In response, we are witnessing one of the biggest social movements in Israel in a decade, since at least the tent protests of 2011. This can be understood as a sort of resurrection of liberal Zionism, which appeared to be on its deathbed just a few weeks ago. Israel has a very strong, street-organized, and class-conscious middle class, which has consolidated itself over the past decade through the “social justice” tent movement of 2011, the various protest movements involving independent workers and small business owners during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the anti-Netanyahu Balfour demonstrations of 2020, and the current mass movement against the judicial reform. They have power in the streets, but not in parliament, as they consistently lose elections.
From the outside, it might look as if Netanyahu is not very popular. Indeed, he is a controversial and polarizing figure in Israel. But the images of mass protests show only half the picture.
There are many growing undemocratic and anti-liberal populations in Israel, and we’re not talking about anarchists here. For example, the ultra-Orthodox Haredi community, with its high birth rate, is predicted to comprise two thirds of the country’s population in a few decades. The typical electorate supporting Netanyahu is comprised of Mizrahi/Sephardic working-class people from conservative-leaning peripheral towns—not to mention the fundamentalist fanatics and fascists, pogromists, Kahanists [a far-right organization officially outlawed in Israel as a terrorist group], extreme settlers, and hilltop youth that make up the far-right. The latter are highly organized and capable of perpetrating violence through both institutional and extra-legal means. They hold prominent positions of power, they have the army on their side, they are in charge of the police force, and they are now the third largest party in government. They are making alliances with foreign reactionaries, too.
The chief demand of the protest movement is democracy. For Israelis, since the beginning of Zionism, democracy has always meant for Jews only—in other words, ethnocracy. The majority of middle-class Zionists were comfortable with liberal democracy for themselves and apartheid for everyone else. But now that their own privileges are on the line, this is one step too far.
Such a development is not unprecedented. In every step of their development, liberal democracies have always excluded entire populations under their control, selectively determining who gets to be included in the “nation.” The French declaration of human rights denied the humanity of women; the constitution of the United States was written by slave owners. In the name of spreading freedom and democracy, the United States government had absolutely no problem supporting brutal dictatorships in South America and other parts of the world.
Democracies sometimes expand to include previously excluded demographics, often after an insurrection, and always as part of a project of assimilation and erasure. As the Invisible Committee put it in “To Our Friends,”
Democracy is the truth of all the forms of government. The identity of the governing and the governed is the limit where the flock becomes a collective shepherd and the shepherd dissolves into his flock, where freedom coincides with obedience, the population with the sovereign. The collapsing of governing and governed into each other is government in its pure state, with no more form or limit.
In this view, it is not surprising that various old-fashioned dictatorships in Spain, Greece, and South America had to “transition to democracy” in order to continue ruling with public legitimacy. In Israel, by contrast, years of neoliberalism and ethnocracy have created a situation in which democracy can only contract.
Some communists, anarchists, and radical leftists are participating in the protests against Netanyahu’s attempt to consolidate power, forming anti-apartheid blocs within these massive demonstrations. The idea is to expand the scope of democracy to include everyone, not just Jews, and to bring the issue of the occupation of Palestine to the heart of the struggle. These are good intentions, though they are easily marginalized as a tiny bloc of Palestinian flags inside a massive sea of Israeli flags. The organizers of the mass demonstrations and the vast majority of the participants seem to view these blocs as an annoyance or distraction. Most protestors don’t seem to grasp the connection to the wider themes of the movement, accusing the solidarity activists of hijacking the protests for unrelated and “provocative” issues. Both sides claim to be fighting for democracy—but they are basing their arguments on radically different ideas of what democracy means.
When we contemplate the massive shift towards the far right that has taken place in many parts of the West, we must bear in mind that this has occurred as a consequence of the neoliberal assault on the working class and the failure of the left to provide solutions, both of which have made it possible for fascists to gain momentum. Likewise, in societies that experienced a “socialist past” in which a repressive leftist government attacked working people, this has also driven many people to the right. And when, on top of those things, we add settler-colonialism to the equation—a situation in which the entire population, proletariat and bourgeois alike, benefits from a regime that imposes ethnic supremacy—well, you can imagine that this complicates things even further.
This is the context in which the government is presenting its judicial reform as a populist project in the Israeli class war between the Ashkenazi elite and the Mizrahim. Class is heavily tied to ethnicity and geography in Israel. The original pioneer Zionists, the European settlers that came to Middle East, had a specific vision in mind: a white, liberal, secular colony, a “villa in the jungle.” Seventy-five years later, they are watching their utopia disintegrate, becoming like many other states in the region.
As mentioned, many in Israeli society don’t hold the idea of liberal democracy dear—some for fascist and reactionary reasons, others simply because liberal democracy never had anything to offer them in the first place. Many in peripheral towns still remember that the kidnapping of Jewish Yemenite children, the repression of the sailor’s strike in Haifa, and the crushing of the revolts of Wadi Salib and the Black Panthers all took place under the regime of the democratic socialist party Mapai (Mifleget Poalei Eretz Yisrael, the Workers Party of the Land of Israel). Ethiopian Jews remember police killings and decades of racism and discrimination. And Palestinians… well, it’s obvious, but we’ll get to that below.
But what’s happening here is not simply a grassroots revolt against democracy. One of the chief organizations behind this coup attempt is Kohelet Policy Forum, a far-right research institute and think tank with considerable influence on government policy and financial backing from foreign tycoons. An investigation conducted by Israeli media channel 12 concluded that the forum had a major role in proposing the current reform as well as the Nation-state bill of 2018, and in promoting MK Betzalel Smotrich—the far-right politician who is the leader of the Religious Zionist political list—to the Civil Administration. Describing their ambitions to “secure Israel’s future as the nation-state of the Jewish people, to strengthen representative democracy, and to broaden individual liberty and free-market principles in Israel,” Kohelet Policy Forum has promoted various nationalist and neoliberal causes, including the privatization of health and education, the abolition of welfare institutions, opposition to raising the minimum wage, the annexation of the West Bank, the appointment of conservative judges, and the deportation of asylum seekers. During COVID-19, they opposed providing aid to small businesses and increasing the number of hospital beds.
Moshe Kopel, the chairman of this forum, lives in Efrat, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Kohelet forum receives tens of millions of shekels annually, mainly from two sources: Jeff Yass, a conservative and right-“libertarian” American billionaire who also donates to the Republican party, and his partner, billionaire Arthur Dantchik. It is nothing new for far-right “research institutes” backed by foreign, neoliberal, and reactionary donors to seek to initiate a coup in order to shape a country’s politics according to their own interests.
This is the context in which we should understand right-wing populist discourse to the effect that the leftist hegemony’s last remaining stronghold is the judiciary system, which must be superseded by “the people.”
Rhetoric about a leftist deep state controlling the court and the media against the sovereignty of the people will sound familiar to comrades from other parts of the world, who may be surprised that Zionists would import what are usually anti-Semitic talking points. This is less unusual when we consider how white nationalists and other far-right groups have embraced Israel.
Israeli flags are regularly displayed at English Defense League protests in the UK and by supporters of Trump and Bolsonaro in the Americas. They were displayed during the Capitol riot in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021 and the Brazilian Congress riots on January 8, 2023. Zionists maintain ties with Evangelical Christians in the US, just as Netanyahu maintains relations with far-right reactionary parties such as the regimes of Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Giorgia Meloni in Italy. Likewise, Israel signed the Abraham Accords with authoritarian dictatorships throughout the region, including Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan. In the words of Noam Chomsky, we are facing a reactionary international in which Israel plays a huge role.
Within Israel, the alliance between reactionary working-class populations and self-seeking billionaires is driving Netanyahu’s power grab, while middle-class protesters seek to defend their privileges without taking the oppressed and excluded into consideration.
It wasn’t always this way. Previous proletarian movements in Israel made the connection between their own situation and Zionist colonialism and expressed solidarity with Palestinians. In 1959, the Wadi Salib revolt in Haifa demanded an end to military rule over Palestinians, among other things. In the 1970s, the Black Panthers in Jerusalem made connections with Palestinians, understanding the Mizrahi and Palestinian struggles as interrelated. They went as far as meeting with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
For many in Israel, the election of 1977 was a turning point, drawing the working class into the clutches of the right wing. That year, the right-wing Likud party won for the first time, breaking the hegemony of the Mapai party.
It might be a good idea to try to resurrect the spirit of the mid-20th century movements, although hardly anything remains of that legacy. Nationalist emotions have proven to be stronger drive; a liberal “identity politics” of shallow representation has replaced an emancipatory, potentially post-colonial vision for the region. Alfredo Bonanno claimed that an intifada starting from the Israeli people might be the ideal solution. Probably so—but currently, we are headed rapidly in the opposite direction.
Zionism is at a crossroads, however. What will come of the recent political awakening remains to be seen.
An effective settler-colonial project of ethnic cleansing is never easy to implement, and Zionists have always disagreed among themselves regarding how best to pursue it. The strategies and tactics of the ongoing Nakba [“the disaster,” i.e., the displacement, dispossession, and killing of Palestinians starting from 1948] have changed over time; the regime adapts, but the drive toward ethnic cleansing persists. There have been many attempts at ethnic cleansing since 1948, chiefly via military rule and assimilation.
When you can’t drive people off their land and deport them, sometimes the closest thing to that is to do the opposite: imprison them on their land, turn their villages and towns into ghettos, monitor and restrict their movement, surround them with checkpoints and walls, and prevent mixing between the settlers and the natives at any cost. For the remainder, a project of assimilation is necessary. Thus, many Palestinians became “Israeli Arabs,” stripped of their identity and roots.
The messianic settler movement complicated this approach, because they insisted on settling in the territories occupied in 1967, among the indigenous Palestinians, against the wishes of the government at that time. The ruling parties of Israel opposed the idea of Jewish settlers in the West Bank: if you want to build a prison, it makes no sense for the prison guards to live with the prisoners. This is why Ariel Sharon evicted Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 in order to turn it into a closed prison and bomb the population from time to time.
And this is where the other faction of Zionism enters the picture. To put it in simple terms, the liberal Zionist current takes an approach to the indigenous population that is strictly based in control and assimilation: the cultural erasure of collective identity, especially of material ties to place and to traditional lifestyles, and an open-air prison model for ethnic cleansing. Right-wing Zionism, on the other hand, takes the annihilation approach, seeking to replace the indigenous population. Just like mainstream liberal Zionism, they have developed an arsenal of tactics and strategies via which to pursue that goal, and various factions have emerged grouped around each of these. One of these factions, the messianic Kahanist settlers, is coming to power now because Netanyahu desperately needs them in his coalition in order to form a government. They have different ideas for population control and ethnic cleansing than David Ben-Gurion and the pioneer Zionists had in mind, and they are much less committed to the framework of liberal democracy.
Very little has been written in academic research about far-right Zionism, as it was considered a fringe phenomenon until quite recently. But things are changing rapidly. In the dialectic between Judaism and democracy, Netanyahu was happy to keep the line blurred, just as Israeli society in general has done so far. But the settlers in Netanyahu’s coalition government have precipitated a conflict, strongly prioritizing their notion of Judaism over democracy. The Religious Zionist list, a far-right political group consisting of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party and a few other fundamentalist religious and far-right parties, is now the third biggest party in the new government, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, a veteran Kahanist activist, has become the new minister of internal security, which gives him authority over the police.
This has already affected the policing of the current protest movement. Ben-Gvir instructed the police to use force to suppress any attempt to block roads or “create anarchy.” During one of the “resistance days” in Tel Aviv, police threw stun grenades at protesters and injured some of them—quite a rare occurrence in Tel Aviv. Many alleged that the order to do so came directly from Ben-Gvir. Also, reportedly, the Tel Aviv district police commander was fired after Ben-Gvir got angry with the police for being too soft on demonstrators and not following his order to prevent them from blocking the roads. Ben-Gvir later denied that this was the reason for the firing, but the timing was suspicious.
The basic idea of religious Zionism is that the establishment of the state of Israel represents the beginning of the redemption process—a messianic process happening before our eyes, God’s consent to return from exile. The state isn’t perfect, as it is liberal and secular, but religious Zionists are willing to use it a tool in pursuit of their goal: a theocratic monarchy under Halakha law. The fate of Palestinians in this future government is clear: temporary residence without rights or else forced transfer.1
Far-right religious Zionist currents have taken root in many Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Their militias work in full coordination with the Israel Defense Forces to carry out acts of terror and pogroms against the Palestinian population, such as the latest pogrom in Huwara (described below). Betzalel Smotrich, the leader of their electoral list, has already declared that “Huwara should be erased.” Many people in “mixed” cities are anxiously awaiting the next round of pogroms and the return of lynch mobs, this time with the Kahanists as the new bosses of the police.
The realization of their vision would unleash the worst hell on earth that this piece of land has seen in centuries. Zionism has created a monster that it is not sure it can handle. Whether the ambitions of this faction are realistic or not is not the main issue. What we’re dealing with here is a dedicated counterrevolutionary movement that has attained power by exploiting the contradictions of Israeli society and the political crisis of the past couple years—including the fact that Israel has had five elections in less than four years and that, facing corruption allegations, Netanyahu was desperate to establish a coalition government.
The links between Kohelet Policy Forum and the Religious Zionist politicians within the current government are clear. They see MK Smotrich as their gateway to the government.
So, to sum up: far-right religious fundamentalist currents funded by US conservatives and legitimized by neoliberal ideology are promoting a coup to weaken the judiciary system of a settler colonial entity established by ethnic cleansing. This would give the government a stronger grip on power, enabling it to advance to the next stage of authoritarianism.
It’s hard to predict what’s ahead, but we haven’t seen the worst of it yet. We’re headed toward hard times, especially when we consider how climate change will impact this region over the next couple of decades, exacerbating ethnic conflicts and wars over resources. We should prepare for the possibility that future intifadas will be driven by basic needs such as access to drinkable water and food.
Let this be a lesson to everyone. We are paying dearly for the failures of liberal democracy and the left, as well as for the decision to establish a colonial nation-state to try to solve the problems of oppressed people. Already, in 1938, Emma Goldman declared,
“I have for many years opposed Zionism as the dream of capitalist Jewry the world over for a Jewish State with all its trimmings, such as Government, laws, police, militarism and the rest. In other words, a Jewish State machinery to protect the privileges of the few against the many.”
We should have listened back then, when there was still time. Now, we need to brace ourselves. The coming crisis cannot be averted. It is the context in which we will fight the struggles to come.
So many things had happened in Palestine since last we wrote from this part of the world. As of now, at least 80 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of 2023. It’s hard to keep up with all the raids, massacres, and pogroms. I will focus on the massacre in Nablus as one of many Israeli counter-insurgency techniques against the Lion’s Den, which represents a new phase of resistance among the youth of the West Bank, and on the pogrom in Huwara, which was a turning point for many people.
On February 22, IDF soldiers raided the town of Nablus, killing eleven people in the course of an operation intended to target militants from the Lion’s Den. This was part of “Wave Breaker,” a counter-insurgency military operation begun in 2022 to crush the new wave of Palestinian militancy. The Lion’s Den is the name of a Palestinian guerilla group based in Nablus that represents a new phenomenon in Palestinian militancy. Unaffiliated with the longstanding traditional factions, and therefore beyond the control of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, Popular Front, or other groups, their decentralized, non-hierarchical, and unpredictable structure has proved to be a challenge for the IDF. Along with similar groups like Balata Battalion and Jenin Brigade, they represent locally-based cells of resistance that utilize guerilla warfare against nearby military checkpoints and settlements and protect their towns and villages against invasions.
This stems from a wider phenomenon of Palestinian youths who, starting from the knife intifada of 2015, have been gradually taking matters into their own hands, acting independently of the old factions, parties, and organizations. This complicates things for Israel, which has been forced to innovate in its repressive mechanisms as well. In 2022, a “security official” remarked:
“The shooters leave Nablus spontaneously, without a clear organizational structure or hierarchy… There are no orders from top to bottom as we know terrorist infrastructures. They don’t have an organized infrastructure, this challenges us. If we had the option, we would act against them individually, but it is almost impossible.”
This justifies raids, sieges, and collective terror targeting entire populations. In the age of formal organization, it was enough to target specific individuals, but now, anyone is a suspect, which allows for more indiscriminate violence.
On the evening of February 26, dozens of settlers with Molotov cocktails marched toward the villages Huwara and Zaa’tara in the Nablus area of the West Bank. They began setting fire to homes, vehicles, and shops. This took place under the watchful eyes of IDF soldiers, who did nothing to stop the rioters.
It’s a common practice for IDF soldiers to allow settler pogromists to terrorize the local population, only taking action against Palestinians who try to defend themselves. For local Palestinians, there’s hardly a distinction between “military” and “civilian,” as they work together with full coordination and represent the same force.
Over 70 homes were set on fire, with families still inside at least nine of them. They were evacuated as their homes burned to the ground, along with hundreds of cars, shops, ambulances, and livestock. By the end of the pogrom, hundreds had been injured. One Palestinian died: Sameh Al-Aqtash from the village of Zaatra.
It’s unclear how things will play out from here, but we can expect repression to intensify. At the same time, people will continue developing innovative new ways of resisting, adapting to circumstances and moving forward. The effect of the authoritarian power grab on this already dire situation has yet to be seen.
For a summary of the various contemporary fundamentalist and ultra-nationalist currents within religious Zionism, readers can consult the following resources. “The Decision Plan,” a manifesto published in 2017 by Betzalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist political list at the Knesset and the current Minister of Finance, details how the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” should be solved: complete annexation the West Bank and Gaza Strip and more Jewish settlements. For the Palestinians, he offers two alternatives: they could live as residents without citizenship (for now) or immigrate to other countries (forced transfer). In a speech in Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem in 2019, he declared that the “law of Torah should return to Israel.” Other influential advocates of religious Zionism include the authors of Torat Hamelekh, which details the fate of “gentiles” under Jewish law, and Yitzchak Ginsburgh, an influential rabbi, called by many the leader of the hilltop youth movement, who views Smotrich and the Religious Zionists party as too moderate and advocates the reinstitution of Jewish monarchy in the Land of Israel. (Some of his followers want him to be the king.) He also advocates the forceful transfer of Palestinians and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in place of Al-Aqsa Mosque—an act that would drag the region into a religious war. For him, the coup is good, as it weakens the judiciary system, but it’s not enough: the plan is to abolish it completely, engage in open war with the existing state, and prepare for a theocratic revolution like the one that took place in Iran. ↩
In France, a new surge of protest activity has erupted against the government of Emmanuel Macron in response to an unpopular pension reform. This promises to be the most powerful unrest in France since the Yellow Vest movement. In the following introduction and translation, we explore the roots, forms, and prospects of this movement.
The bastards know it well: what they feared in the quasi-insurrection of 2018 is not so much a social subject—whatever the worst leftist sociology says—nor even a set of practices. It was an ungovernability, determined and diffuse. A wave of hatred of the neoliberal universe.
After two months of traditional protests and occasional strikes stage-managed by the intersyndicale (the coordination of the eight biggest national unions in France), the movement against Macron’s government pension reform came to a head when Elizabeth Borne (Macron’s prime minister and the head of the government) announced that she was going to use article 49.3 of the Constitution to implement the pension reform without a vote in the National Assembly.
During those first two months, large numbers of people took to the streets, but despite public support, the protests and strikes were not combative. However, the deputies in the National Assembly were divided; it was possible that a majority would oppose the pension reform, so Borne sidestepped them. The law still has to be approved by the Senate, but for now, that is beside the point. French deputies opposed to Macron and Borne filed for a vote of confidence, which would have pushed Borne’s government out of office.
On the night of Thursday, March 16, people spontaneously assembled in symbolic locations in Paris and other cities to protest the use of article 49.3. As the night wore on, they refused to leave, despite police becoming more and more violent. In the end, police arrested a large number of people across France—almost 300 in Paris alone—almost all of whom were released without charges the next day.
Over the weekend, spontaneous street protests (les “manifs sauvages”) broke out, taking advantage of a garbage collection strike to fill the streets of Paris with flaming garbage bins. As police violence intensifies, the “spontaneous” aspect of these protests plays an important technical role. Most mass protests in France, such as the ones that took place before Thursday, are “déclarées”—groups register them with the police beforehand. Spontaneous protests are legal, but the framework for repression is less clear than it is for the authorized demonstrations. This is a big issue: courts still have to rule on whether you can be arrested simply for being in the vicinity of a spontaneous protest, what the consequences should be for leading a spontaneous protest, whether the French constitutional right to demonstrate includes spontaneous protests, and what the police can legally do to target people at these protests.
Moreover, all the authorized protests have a set location or route, whereas the current spontaneous protests are unpredictable. They do not converge on a strategic location, nor do they have a particular goal aside from harassing the cops. Groups ranging from 100 to 1000 move in different directions all around a given area, barricading the streets, painting, and setting things on fire. Just as occurred during the 2020 George Floyd uprising in the United States, the police can’t contain and control several groups at once.
“We can handle one 10,000-person protest, but ten 1000-person protests throughout the city will overwhelm us.”
-Los Angeles police officer, summer 2020
The more fatigued they get, the more violent the cops become. People are being very brave, but they are also sustaining serious injuries and trauma.
These spontaneous street protests are occurring at night, while early in the morning and during the day, the strike has been intensifying, with people organizing more and more blockades. The strike began before the application of article 49.3 last Thursday; the chief sectors that are participating include garbage processing (collection and incineration), fuel distribution (refineries and transportation), and public transportation (city transit, trains, and airports).
The unions have called for a nationwide strike this Thursday, March 23. When the leadership announced this last week, it came across as an effort at pacification, to get people out of the streets; but because people did not cease to take to the streets, instead, it now represents an opportunity to escalate. We expect the country to be blocked, and for the unions to be outflanked by spontaneous direct actions all over the country, involving both autonomous groups and local union branches. This has already begun to occur—in Fos-sur-Mer or in Rennes, for example.
In Paris, the people leading the strike are the garbage collectors, working from three different locations. They have been on strike since March 7, and have maintained picket lines since then. Only one picket line has been breached by police, and it has reformed since then. They need money to keep the strike going. They have become the stars of the movement, in some way, because the garbage accumulating in the streets of Paris has provided the ideal material for the nighttime crowds to set on fire—an endlessly replenishing resource for as long as the garbage trucks remain inoperable.
Generally speaking, the people on the picket lines are workers and leftists of various stripes, while those running the streets at night are younger and rowdier. These groups are not antagonistic to one another, which has not always been the case in the French political landscape. People seem to enjoy meeting each other when and where they can; there are no general assemblies bringing all the generations together, but neither the unions nor the older leftists are condemning the nighttime riots.
Over the preceding months, a conversation had developed about how COVID-19 caused a break in the transmission of techniques, stories, and cultures of struggle in French activist circles, and how that led to the propagation of centralized (and frankly, boring) politics in many universities. In this movement, we are seeing new political formations emerge along with decentralized and autonomous experiments in direct action and resistance, revealing the limitations of the traditional means of control and repression. The events of the past week show that we can put to rest any fears about the passivity of the younger generation.
Last Monday, the National Assembly voted not reject the government, further outraging people. The fact that the government of Macron and Borne remains in power will keep the precarious balance between nationalist and leftist agendas stable, for now. But for how long?
As in the Yellow Vest movement of 2018, nationalism is a driving force in these protests. No one has really pulled out the French flags yet, but they could make their appearance soon. For good or for ill, since the Yellow Vests, the mainstream French political imagination has been almost entirely focused on the French Revolution. People are calling for Macron to be beheaded, to protect the sacred honor of French democracy, and so on. All this comes with a broad and—thus far—diffuse nationalism. Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party is waiting in the wings to capitalize on the situation.
To continue growing, the movement will have to surpass its current limits. So far, the riots and the blockades have been majority white; most working-class people of color won’t benefit from the current pension system anyway. Unless it becomes clear what they might have to gain from this movement, they probably will not take to the streets, and that will limit the possibility of an insurrection. Likewise, while dramatic images have indeed circulated from Paris and other cities, unlike the Yellow Vests, this movement started in the big cities, and it remains unclear how far it will spread to the more rural areas of the country.
Likewise, it remains to be seen how a new round of unrest in France would influence movements elsewhere around the world. The rhythm of unrest in France is generally out of sync with political events elsewhere. The Occupy movement and its equivalents took place in Spain, Greece, the United States, and even Germany in 2011, but the French equivalent, Nuit Debout, occurred a full five years later; the Yellow Vest movement began a year ahead of most of the global revolts of 2019. But with movements picking up steam again in Greece and elsewhere, events in France could contribute to shaping the popular imagination around the world. None of the tensions that catalyzed the global revolts of 2019 and the George Floyd uprising of 2020 have been resolved. From the United States and France to Russia and Iran, governments have simply attempted to suppress dissent with brute force, as people slowly, steadily become more desperate and angry.
In the short term, comrades in France are hoping to build power to resist the upcoming repressive laws targeting migrants, undocumented people, houseless people, and squatters that are in the works from the government of Macron and Borne. In Paris and the neighboring areas specifically, the struggle against the city’s preparation for the Olympic Games in summer 2024 is also on many people’s minds. Reclaiming the streets is urgent when evictions, destruction of parks and public spaces, and the construction of massive and unnecessary infrastructure in the northern suburbs of Paris is being weaponized as a means to control and cleanse traditionally working-class neighborhoods.
This is a translation of “La macronie, bientôt finie?”
The announcement on Thursday, March 16 that the government would use article 49.3 of the Constitution to impose its pension reform without a National Assembly vote propelled the protest movement into a new dimension. Despite fierce repression, a strange mixture of anger and joy is spreading throughout the country: spontaneous demonstrations, surprise blockades of main roads, invasions of shopping centers or railway tracks, dumping garbage in the offices of deputies, nighttime garbage fires, targeted power outages, and more. The situation has become uncontrollable and the president has no plan other than to promise that he will hold out at all costs and sink into a headlong rush of violence. The days to come will therefore be decisive: either the movement will wear out its energy—though everything indicates the opposite—or Macron’s rule will collapse. In this text, we’ll try to present a progress report, analyzing the forces involved as well as their strategies and objectives in the short and medium terms.
If we consider the two forces officially present, the situation is unique in that neither can permit themselves to lose. On the one hand, we have the “social movement,” which we often think has disappeared but which always returns for lack of anything better. The most optimistic see in this the necessary prelude to building a rapport de force that could pave the way for an uprising or even revolution. The most pessimistic believe that, on the contrary, it is compromised from the outset—that the channeling and ritualization of popular discontent contributes to the good management of the prevailing order and therefore to maintaining and reinforcing it.
Be that as it may—on paper, this “social movement” has everything to win: the unions are united, the demonstrations are numerous, public opinion is largely favorable to it, and although the government was elected democratically, it is very much in the minority. The stars are therefore aligned, all the lights are green; in such objectively favorable conditions, if the “social movement” loses, that means that it will never again be able to imagine or claim to win anything.
On the other side, there is Emmanuel Macron, his government, and some fanatics who believe in him. They know they are in the minority, but that is where they draw their strength from. Macron is not a president who was elected to be liked or even appreciated. He embodies the terminus of politics: his pure and perfect adherence to the economy, to efficiency, to performance. He does not see the people, life, human beings, only atoms from which to extract value. Macron is a kind of evil droid who wants the best for those he governs against their will. His idea of politics is an Excel spreadsheet: as long as the calculations are correct and the numbers come out right, he will continue to move forward at a steady pace. On the other hand, he knows that if he hesitates, trembles, or gives up, he will not be able to claim to govern anything or anyone.
A face-off is not a symmetry, however. What threatens the “social movement” is fatigue and resignation. The only thing that could make the president give up is the concrete risk of an uprising. Since the use of article 49.3 on Thursday, March 16, we see that the situation is changing. Now that negotiation with the authorities has become obsolete, the “social movement” is boiling over and surpassing itself. Its contours are becoming pre-insurrectional.
There remains a third, unofficial force, inertia: those who, for the moment, refuse to join the battle out of laziness, happenstance, or fear. At present, they are effectively playing for the government, but the more unstable the situation, the more they will have to take sides, whether for the movement or for the government. The great achievement of the Yellow Vests was to bring frustration and dissatisfaction out from behind the screens, getting people offline and into the streets.
But what is really behind this confrontation and its staging? What is it that grips the heart, inspiring courage or rage? What is at stake is the rejection of work.
Obviously, no one dares to formulate the issue this way, because as soon as we talk about work, an old trap closes on us. Its mechanism is, however, rudimentary and well known: behind the very concept of work, one has voluntarily confused two quite distinct realities. On the one hand, work as singular participation in collective life, in its richness and creativity. On the other hand, work as a particular form of individual labor in the capitalist organization of life—that is, work as pain and exploitation. If one ventures to criticize work, or even to wish for its abolition, that will usually be understood as a petit-bourgeois whim or gutter punk nihilism. If we want to eat bread, we need bakers; if we want bakers, we need bakeries; if we want bakeries, we need masons; and for the dough we put in the oven, we need farmers who sow, harvest, and so on. No one, of course, is in a position to dispute such evidence.
The problem, our problem, is that if we reject work to such an extent, if we are millions in the streets pounding the pavement to avoid being subjected to two more years of work, it is not because we are lazy or dream of joining a bridge club, but because the form that the common and collective effort has taken in this society is unbearable, humiliating, often meaningless and mutilating. If you think about it, we have never fought for retirement—always against work.
For people to recognize collectively on a grand scale that for the great majority of us, work is pain: the authorities cannot permit that idea to take hold, for it would imply the destruction of the whole social edifice, without which they would be nothing. If our common condition is that we have no power over our lives and know it, then paradoxically, everything becomes possible again. Let us note that revolutions do not necessarily need great theories and complex analyses; it is sometimes enough simply to make a tiny demand that one holds onto until the end. It would be enough, for example, to refuse to be humiliated: by a schedule, by a salary, by a manager or a task. It would be enough to have a collective movement that suspends the anguish of the calendar, the to-do-list, the agenda. It would suffice to claim the most minimal dignity for oneself, one’s family and others, and the whole system would collapse. Capitalism has never been anything other than the objective and economic organization of humiliation and pain.
Having said that, we must recognize that in the immediate future, the social organization that we are contesting is not only held together by the blackmail for survival that it imposes on everyone. It is also held together by the violence of the police. We won’t get into the social role of the police and the reasons they behave so detestably; those have already been synthesized well enough in the text “Why All Cops Are Bastards.” What seems urgent to us is to think strategically about their violence, what it represses and stifles via terror and intimidation.
In the last few days, researchers and commentators have denounced the lack of professionalism of the police—their excesses, their arbitrariness, sometimes even their violence. Even on BFMTV [the most-watched conservative news channel in France], they were surprised that out of the 292 people arrested on Thursday, March 16 at Place de la Concorde, 283 were released from police custody without prosecution and the remaining 9 were given a simple reprimand. The problem with this kind of indignation is that, in focusing on a perceived dysfunction of the system, they prevent themselves from seeing what can only be an intentional strategy. If hundreds of BRAV-M [the Brigades de répression des actions violentes motorisées, police motorcycle units established during the Yellow Vest protests] are roaming the streets of Paris to chase down and beat up protesters, if on Friday a prefectural decree forbade any gathering anywhere in an area comprising about a quarter of the entire capital, that is because [Emmanuel] Macron, [Minister of the Interior Gérald] Darmanin, and [Paris Police Prefect Laurent] Nuñez have agreed on the method: empty the streets, shock the bodies, terrify the hearts… while waiting for it to pass.
Let’s repeat, one never wins “militarily” against the police. Police represent an obstacle that must be kept in check, dodged, exhausted, disorganized, or demoralized. To do away with the police is not to naïvely hope that one day they will lay down their arms and join the movement, but on the contrary, to make sure that each of their attempts to reimpose order through violence produces more disorder. Let’s remember that on the first Saturday of the Yellow Vests movement, on the Champs Elysees [a famous avenue in Paris], the crowd that felt particularly legitimate chanted “the police with us.” A few police charges and tear gas later, the most beautiful avenue in the world was transformed into a battlefield.
That said, our strategic decision-making capacities for the street are very limited. We have no general staff, only our common sense, our numbers, and a certain inclination towards improvising. In the current configuration, we can nevertheless draw some lessons from these last weeks:
The policing of demonstrations, which is to say, the task of keeping them within the bounds of harmlessness, is a task shared between the union leaders and the police force. A demonstration that goes as planned is a victory for the government. A demonstration that overflows the bounds prepared for it spreads anxiety to the top of the government, demoralizes the police, and brings us closer to the abolition of work. A crowd that no longer accepts the police-led route, that damages the symbols of the economy and expresses its anger joyously, is a disruption and therefore a threat.
Until now, with the exception of March 7, all mass demonstrations have been contained by the police. The trade union processions have remained perfectly orderly and the most determined demonstrators were systematically isolated and brutally repressed. In some circumstances, a little audacity releases the energy necessary to escape from the frame; in others, it can enable the police to violently close down any possibility. It happens that when you want to break a window, you first break your nose on the edge of the frame.
Because of their speed of movement and their extreme brutality, the BRAV-M cops are the most formidable obstacle. The confidence that they have built up over the past few years and especially in recent weeks must be undermined. If we cannot rule out the possibility that small groups will occasionally outwit them and reduce their audacity, the most effective option would be for the peaceful crowd of union members and demonstrators to no longer tolerate their presence, to stand with their hands up whenever these cops attempt to break through the demonstration, to shout at them and push them away. If their appearance in the demonstrations starts causing disorder instead of restoring order, Mr. Nunez will be forced to exile them to the Ile de la Cité [the island in the center of Paris], to cloister them in their garage on rue Chanoinesse.
On Thursday, March 16, following the announcement of the use of article 49.3, a union demonstration announced ahead of time and more scattered calls converged on the other side of the Concorde bridge in front of the National Assembly. The primary objective of the police being to protect the representatives of the nation, theys pushed the crowd back to the south. Thanks to this maneuver, the demonstrators found themselves propelled into and dispersed throughout the tourist streets of the city center. The piles of garbage left by the garbage collectors’ strike spontaneously became bonfires, slowing down and preventing police responses. Spontaneously, in many cities around the country, burning garbage cans became the signature of the movement.
On Friday March 17, a new call to go to the Place de la Concorde was contained. Though the demonstrators were courageous and determined, they found themselves caught in a trap, a vice, unable to regain their mobility. The prefecture did not make the same mistake as the day before. On Saturday, a third call to gather in the same square convinced the authorities to ban all gatherings in an area stretching from the Champs Élysées to the Louvre, from the Grands Boulevards to the rue de Sèvres—in other words, across about a quarter of Paris around the Presidential Palace of the Elysée and the National Assembly. Thousands of police officers stationed in the area were able to prevent the beginning of any gathering by harassing passersby. On the other side of the city, a gathering at Place d’Italie took the police deployment in stride and started a spontaneous demonstration in the opposite direction. Mobile groups were able to block the streets for several hours, setting fire to garbage cans and temporarily escaping the BRAV-M.
The ABCs of strategy are that tactics should not clash, but should compose. The Paris prefecture has already presented its battle narrative: responsible but harmless mass demonstrations on one side, nightly riots led by radical and illegitimate fringes on the other. Anyone who has been in the streets this past week knows how much this caricature is a lie and how important it is to keep it that way. For this is their ultimate weapon: to divide the revolt into good and bad, responsible and uncontrollable. Solidarity is their worst nightmare. If the movement gains intensity, the trade union processions will end up being attacked and, consequently, defending themselves. The surprise blockades of the beltways by CGT groups [Confédération Générale du Travail, a national trade union] indicate that a part of the base is already determined to go beyond the rituals. When the police intervened in Fos-sur-Mer on Monday to enforce the prefect’s orders, the unionized workers escalated to confrontation. The more that the actions multiply, the more that the grip of the police will loosen. Gérald Darmanin mentioned that there have been more than 1200 spontaneous demonstrations over the past few days.
Beyond its own violence, the effectiveness of the police also lies in its power of diversion. By determining the place, the form, and the time of confrontation, it saps the energy of the movement. If we bet on disorder and the threat it poses to the government to compel Macron to give up on extending working hours, the blockade is crucial. Indeed, no one will wait indefinitely for the general strike of a working class and a labor movement eroded by 30 years of neoliberalism; the most obvious, spontaneous, and effective political gesture is now the blocking of economic flows, the interruption of the normal flow of goods and humans.
What has been organized in Rennes for two weeks can serve as an example. Rather than confronting the police as their primary objective, the people of Rennes have set up semi-public assemblies in which blocking actions are conceived. This Monday at dawn, a call for “dead cities” saw hundreds of people spread over several points of the city come to block the main roads and the Rennes ring road. Two weeks earlier, 300 people set fire to garbage cans in the middle of the night, blocking the street of Lorient until the early morning. The challenge is never to confront the police but to take them by surprise, to become stealthy. Even from the point of view of those who only swear by numbers and are still waiting for the general strike, this multiplication of blocking points and disorder is obvious. If, after the explosion in response to use of article 49.3 last Thursday, there had only been the call [from official union leadership] to demonstrate the following Thursday, everyone would have resigned themselves to a last stand and defeat. The blockades and the diffuse disorder have inspired the courage, confidence, and impetus the movement needed to project itself beyond the deadlines determined behind the doors of the union leaders.
The collapse of classical politics along with its parties and its disillusionment has opened the way to innovative autonomous experiments. The movement against the labor law, Nuit Debout [a movement in 2016], the Yellow Vests, les Soulèvements de la Terre [the uprisings of the earth, a recent series of environmental mobilizations using mass direct action], and many others have confirmed in recent years that not only was there nothing left to expect from representation, but that nobody wanted it anymore.
Each of these sequences would deserve a thorough analysis of its strengths and weaknesses, but we will stick to one basic fact: undoing power implies inventing new forms, and for that, in the atomization of the metropolis, we need places to meet, think, and act from. For decades, the occupation of buildings, university campuses, or other places has been part of the obvious practices of any movement. A university president who accepted the intervention of the police on his campus was immediately condemned, as it was taken for granted that the collective and participatory reappropriation of space was the minimum response to the privatization of all spaces and the policing of public space.
It is clear that today, no occupation is tolerated. If, as people have done in Rennes, one takes over an abandoned cinema to transform it into a Maison du Peuple [“house of the people”] where trade unionists, activists, and locals meet, the socialist mayor of the city evicts it within 48 hours, sending hundreds of police officers. As for the universities, their authorities shamelessly invoke the risks of disorder and the possibility of distance learning to close them administratively or send the police against their own students. On the other hand, all this underscores how important it is to have places where we can meet and organize ourselves, how much they can increase what we are capable of. In Paris, an occupation of the Bourse du Travail [labor union hall] was attempted after a boisterous assembly and a spontaneous banquet beneath the glass roof of the workers’ movement. However, it withered away in the night, due to the indecision or incomprehension of the unions and autonomous rebels. We need places to build connection and solidarity and we need connection and solidarity to hold places. The story of the chicken and the egg.
In Rennes, the movement temporarily overcame the problem: once evacuated, the participants in the Maison du Peuple met in broad daylight and continued to organize blockades as well as meetings—presumably while waiting to be sufficiently united and strong to take back a place with roof, running water, and heating. In Paris, the limits that the Nuit Debout experiment reached seem to have foreclosed the possibility of meeting outdoors. The caricature that lingers would have it that open-air discussions only produce monologues without beginning or end. However, we remember the aperitif at Valls’2 and the possibility, even from our self-centered metropolitan solitude, to make the decision at the drop of a hat to rush to the Prime Minister’s house with several thousand people. The fact that the government is so intent on leaving us without meeting points shows how urgent it is to establish them.
As we have said, the contours of the movement are becoming pre-insurrectional. Every day, the blockades multiply, the actions intensify. Thursday will therefore be decisive. From the point of view of the reform, if the demonstrations on Thursday get out of control, Macron will be cornered. Either he will take the risk of a black Saturday3 everywhere in the country—that is to say, the Yellow-Vestification that he fears above all—or he will back down on Friday, invoking the risk of significant uncontrollable outbursts.
Everything is at stake now, and more. The left is waiting in ambush, ready to sell an electoral loophole, the illusion of a referendum, or even the construction of the 4th International—whatever it takes to call for patience and a return to normal. For the movement to endure and avoid cooptation as well as repression, it will have to confront as soon as possible the question that is central to any uprising: how to organize itself. And undoubtedly, some people are already thinking and talking about how to live communism and spread anarchy.
We present here a hasty translation of a statement from comrades in France whose friend was severely injured by police in Sainte-Soline.
On Saturday, March 25, in Sainte-Soline, our comrade S. was hit in the head by an explosive grenade during the demonstration against the basins [a project of large water reservoirs for industrial farm irrigation]. In spite of his critical condition, the prefecture first intentionally prevented emergency services from intervening, then prevented them from transporting him to an appropriate care unit a second time. He is currently in neurosurgical intensive care. At this time, his life hangs by a thread.
The outburst of violence that the demonstrators suffered inflicted hundreds of injuries, including several serious physical injuries, as announced in the various reports available. The 30,000 demonstrators had come with the objective of blocking the construction of the mega-basins of Sainte-Soline, a project of water monopolization carried out by a small number of people for the benefit of a capitalist model that has nothing left to defend but death. The violence of the armed arm of the democratic state is the most striking expression of this.
In response to the window of possibility that the movement against the pension reform has opened, the police are mutilating people and even trying to assassinate people in order to prevent an uprising, to defend the bourgeoisie and its world. Nothing will weaken our determination to put an end to their reign. On Tuesday, March 28 and the following days, let’s strengthen the strikes and blockades, let’s take the streets, for S. and all those from our movements who have been wounded and locked up.
Long live the revolution.
Comrades of S.
PS: If you have any information about the circumstances of the injuries inflicted on S., please contact us at:
We want this communiqué to be spread as widely as possible.
A reference to “the best form of defense is attack,” the original text puns on the similarity between the French words for “retreat” and “retirement.” ↩
On April 9, 2016, during a general assembly, participants in the Nuit Debout movement decided to invite themselves to the home of Prime Minister Manuel Valls for an aperitif. A month later, on May 10, 2016, facing an unruly social movement, Valls announced that he had decided to invoke article 49:3 of the Constitution in order to implement the unpopular Loi Travail [labor law] without a vote in the National Assembly—a precedent for the current crisis. ↩
Starting on December 1, 2018, the Yellow Vest movement repeatedly mobilized on Saturdays, disrupting urban areas. ↩
On February 6, 2023, two earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 and 7.7 hit southern Turkey and Northern and Western Syria, inflicting tremendous damage. The death tolls are currently estimated at over 48,400 in Turkey and 7200 in Syria. The following texts offer two different vantage points on the ways that the Turkish and Syrian governments not only failed to protect their subjects but used this catastrophe as an opportunity to consolidate power and target their adversaries via neglect, blockading, and even bombing.
This story is familiar throughout the region. In Greece, on February 28, a northbound passenger train full of students returning from Greek carnival collided head-on with a southbound cargo freight train traveling on the same track, killing at least 57 people. Though the scale of these tragedies bears no comparison, both events underscored the ways that these regimes have accumulated resources for themselves rather than taking steps to preserve public safety. At the same time, both Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have used these disasters as a pretext to seek to delay elections in hopes of holding on to power. There is no other pill to take, so swallow the one that made you ill.
As our world lurches further into crisis, we are likely to see this story play out on a wider and wider stage. Natural disasters will not free us from oppressive state power; rather, authoritarian governments and natural disasters will function in concert with each other to immiserate us unless we develop interconnected ways of responding to both at the same time.
Against the opportunism and violence of the state, we are inspired by the international grassroots mobilization with which communities around the world have responded to the earthquake. This models the sort of horizontality and solidarity that will be necessary if we are to survive what is shaping up to be a century of cataclysms. But in order for our efforts to succeed, we have to understand both the earthquakes and the state as aspects of the same catastrophe and take action against both of them.
Towards that end, we present two analyses of the situation in Turkey and Syria: the first from supporters of the movements for liberation in the regions of Bakur and Rojava, the second from supporters of the revolution in western Syria.
Less than a month into the disastrous earthquakes of February 6, 2023, it is obvious to all the peoples of Turkey that the Turkish state is a state of neglect. Neglect of proper measures for disaster control, of building codes and regulations, legal and administrative oversight; neglect of Syrian refugees, Kurds, Alevis, Christians, workers, children who remain buried under crumbled cement; neglect of emergency infrastructure; neglect of the right to live safely and with dignity. We call for accountability to all those who have pursued a fetish for profit at the expense of this deep suffering.
We know that this is not a natural disaster, but a man-made one, and therefore a political one. For the last two decades, the peoples of Turkey were promised safe and earthquake-proof houses and effective emergency and disaster-prevention services. In the first 48 hours after the earthquakes, we were confronted with the vast emptiness of these promises. The state had promised a coordinated relief effort through the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency and the Red Crescent, but after years of putting money into private charities and corporations rather than public institutions, that help was nowhere to be found. In the years of bigoted civil war against the Kurdish population, the areas where the earthquake happened hosted two of the largest military bases in the country. Yet the military—the only organized force that could reach places which suddenly became inaccessible due to collapsed roads and infrastructure—was conspicuously absent in relief efforts. Less than a week after the earthquake, the Turkish military resumed airstrikes against Rojava and Êzidis in Sinjar.
As we write this, thousands are drawing fragile breaths, fighting cold weather and hypothermia under the debris. They have learned the bitter lesson that the military is not there to protect, but to join in the coordinated ritual of killing the poor. The state, the contractors, the military, the capitalist class are all executioners.
We have seen this all before. The state was conspicuously absent in the 1999 İzmit Earthquake as well. It had financially impoverished its citizens through years of IMF structural adjustment programs, weakened the civil society through military rule and neoliberal anti-unionism, and left them to fend for themselves. In the 2011 Wan Earthquakes, the already war-torn, impoverished, and displaced Kurdish population was abandoned under enormous blocks of concrete.
The areas where the two earthquakes hit on February 6—the Western Euphrates Region of Northern Kurdistan, the large agricultural plains of Hatay, the Amik Valley, and Çukurova, Efrîn in Rojava, Aleppo in Syria—are marked with the wounds of endless wars. Cities like Adıyaman, Antep, Urfa, and Hatay are crowded with Syrian refugees living and working alongside Kurdish women and children in crumbling, ramshackle apartment blocks and illegal basement sweatshops.
Amed (Diyarbakır), the capital of Northern Kurdistan, has been under police and military blockade while the state’s puppet mayors and governors have siphoned away the wealth of the people for their own comfort and luxury; now hundreds lie buried under shoddy apartment blocks built by treacherous contractors. In Rojava and Syria, buildings and infrastructure which were already worn out by war, already the objects of fear and reprisal, once again became a burial ground. For the peoples of Mesopotamia, concrete blocks have never been homes, but living embodiments of fear. Neither life nor death: the surface of the earth has become a haunted purgatory.
Despite the vastness of this human tragedy, the state continues to flaunt its punishing bravado. Mouthpieces of government media hum, “There is no help, there needs to be help,” but censor citizens when they utter the same words. The state and its media are criminalizing citizens as agents of misinformation. They are invisibilizing the heroic solidarity and mutual aid efforts undertaken by the people. In mixed cities such as Gaziantep, the part of the police and the gendarmerie affiliated with the neo-fascist Grey Wolves are mobilized in the city, and the organization’s aid units are being situated at critical points, escalating tensions. The state is preventing Iraqi Kurdish emergency and aid workers from entering cities like Hatay solely because of their ethnicity. The police have beaten, detained, harassed, tortured, and killed citizens who were targeted by neofascist agitators as looters. Those who are at the top of the chain of responsibility are washing the blood off their hands by incriminating contractors. The poor and the dispossessed are getting devoured by the greedy machinery of the religious-capitalist-construction complex. In this concerted effort of collective gaslighting, a state, a regime, is casting its own people as enemies.
We see a similar hypocrisy in mainstream Western media as well, which is projecting the destruction in Syria as a sad humanitarian crisis, onset by the bloody dictator Bashar al-Asad, while condemning the Syrian population to an even more merciless death through political sanctions. With its silence on both Erdoğan’s war on Rojava and his Islamist mercenaries’ theft of aid from the hands of the peoples of the land, it obscures who is culpable and accountable in this bloody catastrophe.
It is clear that the months that unfold will be filled with political opportunism. We should expect rising xenophobia against Syrian refugees, attempts to deport Syrian Arabs back to Kurdish-populated areas as part of Erdoğan’s imperial social engineering, Bonapartist efforts to postpone the upcoming elections and thwart democratic accountability, and more attempts by the war criminal Bashar al-Asad to regain international legitimacy.
For the peoples of Turkey, Kurdistan, and Syria, the rumblings of the state’s war machine and the quakes of the earth are the same. In the fight for collective liberation and justice, the first thing we should do is to name those who are accountable: the treacherous contractors and employers; the media, the state, and its military; the mainstream parliamentary opposition bloc, which has tempered itself to moderation, while lionizing the state and its ideological apparatus; the bourgeoisie, its crocodile tears and uninvolved gestures of charity; the neofascist militants who police and penalize survivors, refugees, and internally displaced persons in the name of “public order”; all who have sacrificed the safety and dignity of citizens for the sake of greed and a fetish for profit.
The solidarity networks that have risen from the state’s ruins portend the possibility of a hopeful future. For us, the vast amount of aid and aid workers that have arrived in Turkey’s earthquake zones validates this hope. However, the peoples of Northwest Syria, who have been affected just as much by the earthquake, have not been able to receive a fraction of this support. The Kurdish Red Crescent [Heyva Sor] is working to help people in the earthquake-affected regions of Northwest Syria and Rojava.
To support the Kurdish Red Crescent, send donations here. You can keep up with the the Bay Area Mesopotamia Solidarity Committee here.
This is an abridged translation of a text by Hamza Esmili and Montassir Sakhi, courtesy of some of our comrades from the Syrian Cantina in Montreuil.
The earthquakes that took place near the towns of Gaziantep and Ekinözü inflicted a catastrophe of rare magnitude. Both Turkey and neighboring Syria lament tens of thousands of dead, many more wounded, and considerable material devastation. Some cities, such as Antakya and Kahramanmaraş, were destroyed on a large scale. As for Syria, a country singularly devastated by a decade of government and Russian bombardments, more than five million people have lost their homes following the succession of earthquakes.
The disaster occurred in one of the most high-conflict geographical areas in the world. Far from rendering a truce possible, it intensifies the polarizations throughout the region. In its own way, the tragedy offers a sort of sieve [frame] to reveal the issues that are at stake in the region. […]
Unsurprisingly, the Ba’ath state—the pan-Arab party that has governed Syria since 1963—is using the disaster to call for an end to its international ban, decreed following its ruthless repression of the popular uprising of 2011. The argument seems simple enough: this measure is necessary to ease the burden of the Syrians, removing the legal obstacles that hinder international solidarity in the midst of tragedy. Apart from this generous and humanitarian reason, any politicization of the event seems both unwelcome and irrelevant.
This was an effective narrative. A few days after the earthquake, it was taken up in unison by the anti-imperialist left, throughout the full range of its national variants1; the European far right,2 historically supportive of the Assad dynasty3; the decolonial movement4; the remnants of Arab nationalism5; and many international organizations. As it has for a decade, the Syrian tragedy thus continues to serve as a screen for the projections—a psychoanalyst would say of the sublimations—of a variety of very different political forms.
Even if it is repeated over and over, the mystification that they all make remains deceptive. Whether euphemistic—”The sanctions must be lifted for humanitarian reasons”—or explicit—”They were inappropriate from the start”—the support for Bashar al-Assad expressed during this catastrophe is based on a lack of knowledge of the Syrian historical situation and a long series of lies that his supporters have spread in public discourse in the course of promoting the normalization of the Ba’ath regime. At the same time, the reality is that the areas liberated from the regime’s grasp—which were severely affected by the earthquake—are completely deprived of international aid and ignored by the proxies of the Syrian regime. This shows that those who called for the end of sanctions as soon as the earthquake occurred were hardly guided by humanitarian motives.
It is therefore necessary to trace the thread of the reasoning that seems to lead from the catastrophe to the demand for the return of Bashar al-Assad’s regime to the ranks of the respectable nations.6 Likewise, this means questioning the possibilities of humanitarian aid at the time of the earthquake, which cannot be untied from the political fabric that it strengthens.
Clearly, the Syrian regime has an interest in getting its international ban lifted. This ban is the consequence of the systematic repression it carried out against the uprising of 2011. At the time of the Arab revolutions, the Ba’ath state responded with a frighteningly explicit credo: “Assad, or we burn the country” (الأسد أو نحرق البلد). The wave of protest did not weaken, however: it quickly led to the formation of liberated zones (مناطق محررة), from which the regime withdrew before starting the constant bombardment, in particular by the use of barrel bombs.7 Within the liberated zones, which covered almost half of the country in 2013, central authority was not reestablished. Consequently, the revolutionary order was composite: beyond the popular slogan “One, one, one, the Syrian people are one” (واحد واحد واحد، الشعب السوري واحد), which affirms the existence of collective agreements more sacred than the sectarian abyss into which Bashar’s regime precipitated the country, the liberated zones were discontinuous both territorially and politically. Their reality was determined by the localized collectives that composed them. However, the existential aspiration for collective solidarity and justice in the face of an extraordinarily violent regime8 remained permanent in Homs, Hama, Deraa, Aleppo, Idlib, and Eastern Ghouta—some of the chief liberated zones of the country. This unanimity around the imperative to unmake the regime is represented by the constitution of the Free Army. Mirroring the decentralized nature of the revolution, it was formed by the heterogeneous alliance of mutinous soldiers and officers and brigades located in the various liberated zones. […]
Initially failing—it was on the verge of collapse in 2013—Bashar al-Assad’s regime nonetheless gave the policy of destroying the country a new meaning as it called on the military support of foreign states. As early as 2012, militias linked to Iran were fighting in Syria, including Lebanese and Iraqi Hezbollah and Hazara Afghans forcibly recruited into the paramilitary structure of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Then Russia committed its air force and troops to supporting the Syrian regime. Enabled by a succession of massacres regarding which future historians will have to decide whether they were indeed genocidal—for example, the blockade and subsequent famine of the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk,9 the chemical attack on Eastern Ghouta,10 or the policy of intensive bombardments of the liberated zones,11 in particular hospitals—the regime has continuously regained control of the country since 2014. At the same time, the regions that are brought back under the authority of the regime were violently punished; their populations face purges and renewed authoritarianism from the Ba’ath and its Russian sponsor.
In parallel with the military successes of the Russian imperial regime—whose intervention has become more and more colonial12—the Assad regime gradually renewed its diplomatic relations with many countries: Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, India, Bangladesh, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Austria, Jordan, Hamas,13 and so on. […]
Faced with the Russian-Syrian expansion, which runs parallel to the normalization of Bashar al-Assad’s regime on the international playing field, however, there remain the liberated areas of the Idlib region and the northwest of the country, in addition to the territories under the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.1415 But the argument of state sovereignty comes into full play: international relations can only bind states together. This is the logical meaning of the readmission of the Ba’ath State into the company of the other respected nations: regardless of the fact that it is permanently weakened and administers less than a third of the original Syrian population, the regime of Bashar al-Assad remains the only legitimate interlocutor for the supporters of state sovereignty at all costs, whether anti-imperialist or conservative.
This is the context in which the earthquake occurred. In Syria, it affected both the areas under government control and others that remained liberated. As soon as the catastrophe occurred, it enabled Bashar al-Assad’s regime to demand an end to the sanctions decreed against it following the repression of the popular uprising of 2011. In turn, anti-imperialist critics decried the “embargo” supposedly imposed on Syria. Regardless of the fact that this measure—which Syrian revolutionaries had demanded to stop the Russian bombing—was never actually granted, this verbiage makes it possible to evoke the sanctions decreed against neighboring Iraq throughout the 1990s—adhering to a well-known pattern of anti-imperialist discourse, according to which one historical situation necessarily justifies another.
They particularly focus on the Caesar Act16 adopted by the US administration in 2019. Never mind that it explicitly excluded humanitarian aid from its spectrum of restrictions—the earthquake allows the Ba’ath state and its supporters to see that as the original cause of the country’s destruction, rather than the relentless war the regime waged on its own people and the predatory economy implemented by Ba’ath dignitaries. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is notorious for plundering humanitarian aid, and yet his dignitaries and supporters assert in unison that the return of his sovereignty is a precondition for receiving international assistance. Any rescue operation, whether in the government zone or in the liberated areas, must therefore be conducted under the strict authority of the Ba’ath State.
Beyond their sovereignist position, the supporters of the Syrian regime—whether anti-imperialist, decolonial, white nationalist, or Arab—hardly answer the pressing question that their policy inevitably raises: how is it possible to channel aid through a regime as singularly violent towards its own people as that of Assad? The question is especially important in view of the well-known plundering of international aid that the Ba’ath state has engaged in over the past decade. Any resources sent to Assad will be systematically diverted from their purpose to strengthen the regime’s authority and expand its control at the expense of the remaining liberated areas.
But the narrative works. Dozens of convoys of humanitarian aid are pouring into government zones, dispatched by the European Union, the United Nations, and many other countries. The United Nations Secretary General greeted Bashar al-Assad; his counterpart from the World Health Organization went to Aleppo himself under the benevolent gaze of Ba’ath dignitaries. Contrary to the anti-imperialist narrative, which is based on the geopolitical division of the world into rival blocs, the list of those sending humanitarian aid to the Russian-Syrian regime is genuinely non-denominational. No ideological or strategic divisions can be seen.
While Bashar al-Assad’s regime and his international supporters are already showing their satisfaction over his return to international legitimacy, thanks to the earthquake, the liberated zones—which are among the closest to the epicenter—remain completely deprived of aid. Six million people are concentrated there, having been displaced after the Ba’ath State and its Russian guardians recaptured the other liberated areas. The overpopulation of this last region remaining outside the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime is directly linked to the latter’s reconquest of the rest of the country. In Jindires, for example, in the northwest of Aleppo, 230 Syrians died in the earthquake who had relocated there from the Damascus region.
Nearly a week after the earthquake, however, no food aid convoy was able to enter the liberated zone. The Syrian regime’s refusal to open border crossings to this area17 and the Russian state’s refusal to open the crossing points controlled by the Turkish state effectively prevented any emergency humanitarian deployment there during the first week, when it would have been crucial to finding survivors under the rubble. The agreement of Bashar al-Assad’s regime to open border crossings—which international dignitaries mysteriously celebrated—was only granted after the tragedy was complete. […]
The denial of solidarity in face of disaster builds on the massacre conducted over the past decade by the Ba’ath state and its Russian guardians, and on the internal and external displacement that it caused. Symbolically speaking, it is not surprising that the buildings that were already damaged by the bombs of the Russian and al-Assad governments were the ones that collapsed most easily when the earthquake struck, even in areas relatively far from the epicenter.
Facing the cynicism of the Russian-Syrian regime and its international supporters, how do we imagine solidarity in a time of catastrophe? The Ba’ath’s exterminatory policy is also its stumbling block. As it has violated every norm, every form of collective morality in Syrian society, no return to the previous historical situation is conceivable—neither in the liberated areas nor in those that the Bashar al-Assad regime and the Russian colonial power have reconquered.
Conversely, solidarity within Syrian society, largely autonomous of the Ba’ath state, has saved lives. By underscoring the importance of defending the collective and its members, the Syrian response to the earthquake shows the irreversible distance that separates society from Bashar al-Assad’s regime. […]
Contrary to the anti-imperialist narrative, it is necessary to recall tirelessly the historical context that this earthquake takes place in. Beyond historical revisionism, the supporters of Bashar al-Assad cannot offer an answer to the paradox of why we should set him up as the guarantor of the humanitarian response to the catastrophe when his regime is responsible for one of the worst wars of extermination a state has waged against its own people in our time.
Mehad (Ex UOSSM)
Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, Die Linke in Germany, and the Workers’ Party of Belgium are united in favor of lifting the sanctions. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, which acts as a bridge between all the varieties of the French right and the regime of Bashar al-Assad, immediately began its advocacy as soon as the regime came into being. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
The Ba’ath regime has thus welcomed many prominent Nazis. One of them—Alois Brunner, former commander of the Drancy camp [a detention camp for Jews who were later deported to the death camps during the German occupation of France during World War II]—played a major role in the structuring of the Syrian secret service alongside Hafez al-Assad. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
See, for example, the editorial of the Decolonial HQ (France). [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
See the open letter signed by a number of Marxist and pan-Arab organizations. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
The French state is also following this trend towards normalizing the al-Assad regime. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
Weakened, the Syrian regime took recourse to dropping barrel bombs without remote guidance on the liberated zones. This particularly lethal bomb is filled with TNT, potassium, and scrap metal. The explosion disperses both lethal gases and micro-shells likely to cause many injuries. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
Catherine Coquio (and others), Syria, the Burnt Country (1970-2021). The Black Book of Assad, Paris, Seuil, 2021. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
Knowing the link between the “anti-imperialist” position and the façade of solidarity with the Palestinians, the denial of this crime is particularly striking. See Amnesty International’s 2014 report. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
The chemical weapons massacre in Eastern Ghouta left more than 2000 dead. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
Aleppo, for example, was completely wrecked by Russian bombing. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
As the regime Syria became a puppet state, Russia granted itself large concessions within the country, within the historic stronghold of the Assad family of Latakia and Tartous. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
In 2022, Hamas renewed its ties with the regime of Bashar al-Assad after having severed them in 2011. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
These territories were conquered through the fight against the Islamic State, a counter-revolutionary organization largely spared by Bashar al-Assad and his Russian sponsors. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
The original version of this text reads “the territories under administration of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the east of the country”—a tendentious phrasing, since that party, the PKK, is technically distinct from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. ↩
Enacted by the United States government in 2019—which is to say, long after the outbreak of the revolution and the ruin of the country by the al-Assad regime—the Caesar Act imposed a series of restrictions on the import and export for the Syrian state. The name is derived from the “Caeser photos,” the images of several thousand Syrian detainees tortured to death in the Saednaya jails. Bashar al-Assad’s anti-imperialist supporters never mention what gave the sanctions their name. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩
The regime of Bashar al-Assad only agreed to the delivery of international aid to the liberated areas more than a week after the earthquake, when the chances of finding survivors had dropped to almost zero. [Footnote from the original text.] ↩