Sunday, 27 May 2018

Anarchists and the Division of Korea

Delegates to the 1946 Korean Anarchist Congress

As the leaders of North and South Korea meet this weekend, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on how Korea came to be divided - and how the anarchists responded to the twin challenges of national liberation and repression, in this extract from my forthcoming book In the Shadow of a Hurricane. The Korean anarchist movement is a fascinating case study as it emerged as a resistance movement to Japanese imperialism, consolidating in 1910 after the Japanese invasion of Korea, achieved a full-blown revolution in Manchuria over 1929-1932 (wonderfully told by Emilio Crisi's new book on the topic), was *unbroken* by World War II - unlike the movements in Europe under Nazi-Fascism - and yet developed in a distinctly libertarian reformist direction in grappling with how to establish an independent Korean nation against the meddling of other imperialist powers, the USA, Russia and China.

In Korea, the anarchists remained a powerful force at the end of the Second World War. In 1940, the anarchists Yu Rim of the Korean Anarcho-Communist Federation (HMGY) and Yu Ja-Myeong of the Korean Revolutionist Federation (HHY) and Korean Anarchist Federation in China (HMY-J) were elected to the exile Korean Provisional Government in Chungching, China. The following year, other HMGY anarchists like Jeong Hwa-Ahm and Park Kee-Seong became members of its shadow parliament. In 1945, Yu Rim was elected to the cabinet. The Provisional Government declared itself in 1941 to be "a Government established by the national united front of revolutionary parties and socialistic parties,” and included the HMGY, the Korean People's United Revolutionist Federation, the Korean People's Revolutionary Party, the Liberation Federation, and the Korean Independence Party of Kim Gu, who became premier of the exile government. In the meantime, anarchist guerrillas were incorporated into the armed forces of the Provisional Government. The anarchist Korean Youth Wartime Operations Unit, for example, which had been fighting the Japanese since 1938, was incorporated into the newly founded Korean Liberation Army as its 5th Detachment (later, its 2nd Detachment). The defeat of imperial Japan saw Korea and Taiwan made independent, and the Korean Liberation Army ceased its activities. However, matters were not so simple. The Soviet Union was interested in regaining territories lost in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, and in expanding its sphere of influence in the east. Soviet relations with the Allies in East Asia were increasingly fraught – particularly given American support for the Guomindang in China – and were shaped by growing Western alarm at Communist expansion. While the American occupation forces allowed the Korean Provisional Government under Premier Kim Gu to return to Korea, it had no official standing. Conflicts between the Americans, based in the south of Korea, and the Soviet Union, which had entered the north, were resolved by a plan for joint American-Soviet Union "trust regime" to last five years. 
When the trusteeship plans were announced in December 1945, riots broke out across the Korean peninsula. Korean Communists initially opposed the deal but switched their stance in early 1946 to one of support, following a Soviet directive that the local Party must support Communist territorial gains in the north. Nonetheless, the deal was widely opposed – hardly suprising given the long history of struggle against Japanese colonialism, the anti-imperialist sentiments of the left, the strength of Korean nationalism, and ongoing Allied talk of the right to self-determination. The dispute appears to have shattered the Provisional Government: Kim Gu apparently plotted a coup shortly after the trusteeship announcement, but was arrested, and warned, on pain of death, to desist. The riots were suppressed by occupation troops, a number of anti-trusteeship activists were assassinated, and publications opposed to trusteeship were suppressed. The country was divided into two zones of influence, the north ruled by the Russian military through proxy "people's committees" and the south ruled by the US military through the remnants of the old Japanese colonial administration. In the north, the Soviet Union formed a Communist government on the lines of those established in East Europe, and headed by Communist leader Kim Il Sung, who had been a Communist guerrilla implicated in attacks on the anarchists in the 1930s. Under his rule, opponents - ranging from anarchists, to the Korean Workers' Party and the moderate Korean Democratic Party – were suppressed, and Korean Workers' Party leader Pak Hun Yong was executed in 1955. Even independent-minded communist groups were caught up in the repression. Even by this time, however, Korean anarchism had been decimated in the North by ongoing Communist incursions that dated back until the late 1920s.
In the south, the anarchists remained a powerful force, but were deeply divided. Post-war meetings demonstrated that a sector of the movement had moved from an anarchist approach to national liberation to an openly nationalist one. In 1945, most of the anarchist groups were united as the Federation of Free Society Builders (JSBY), also known as the League of Free Social Constructors. This was founded in Seoul at an All-Korean Anarchist Congress by about almost 100 delegates who had emerged from underground in Korea, China and Japan. Among the founding organisations of the JSBY were the Korean Anarchist Federation in China, the East Asian Anarchist Federation, the Korean Youth Federation in South China (HNCY), the League of Truth and Fraternity (LTF), the syndicalist Dong Heong Labour Union (DHNJ) of Japan, the syndicalist Wonsan General Trade Union that had emerged in Korea itself, and more than 12 "black societies" from Japan – such as the Black Friends' League – and across Korea. Overall, the founding JSBY congress supported the unification of Korea, and independence, but treated this as a prelude to social revoluton. It also formed two organisatons: the Autonomous Workers' League (JNJ) and the Autonomous Village Movement (JMU). On the other hand, however, a clearly nationalist tendency had also emerged. Yu Rim of the HMGY and Yu Ja-Myeong of the HHY established the General League of Korean Anarchists (GLKA), representing the “anarchist” bloc in the provisional government. Now, while it might be argued that the libertarian participation in the Provisional Government did not involve participation in a state – that the Provisional Government was itself simply a broad anti-imperialist front – it is clear that this was not the case. The Provisional Government had aimed to take power after the defeat of the Japanese, and the anarchists who participated in it clearly recognised it as a statist formation. 
Dongyoun Hwang writes in Anarchism in Korea: Independence, Transnationalism and the Question of National Development, 1919-1984 (SUNY Press, State University of New York, New York, USA, 2016) that at a preparatory conference in February 1946, the “crucial issue for [the anarchists was] to lay out an autarkic economic system in Korean, which could make the country truly independent. In short, what was discussed and decided at this meeting was to place the accomplishment of ‘national democratic revolution’ as their new task. A follow-up, much larger conference was soon held two months later from April 20 to 23, 1946 at Hongchu Buddhist Temple in a small town called Ahui in Southern Gyeongsang Province. Titled the National Convention of Korean Anarchists… or the National Convention of Anarchist Representatives… it was the first national convention and initiated by Yu Rim. At it, ninety-seven anarchists were registered and present, and it marked a turning point in the history of Korean anarchism in terms of its direction after 1945. Attendees included almost all of those who were affiliated with two major Korean anarchist organizations at the time, the Free Society Builders Federation… organised in Seoul by Yi Jeonggyu and Yi Eulgyu after Japan’s surrender, and the General Federation of Korean Anarchists... Many Korean anarchsits who attended the convention were affiliated with both organizations simultaneously, mostly maintaining dual memberships. The convention was chaired by Yu Rim, Yi Jeonggyu, and Sin Jaemo, and lasted for three days. It was of cardinal significance in that Korean anarchists now formally began to identify themselves not just as anarchist but, just like Yu Rim called himself, as ‘one who favors an autonomous government’ (jayul jeongbu juuija), distinguishing themselves from conventional anarchists who were usually believed to negate the state. This.... identification constituted a major breakthrough to post-1945 activities.” 
The outcome of the conference was the formation of an Independent Workers' and Peasants' Party (IWPP) to participate in future elections. Its mouthpiece was The Workers' and Peasants' Newspaper. The Party’s aims were quite clear: Crump quotes the argument used in support of forming the IWPP at Anui: "We, the Korean people, have today neither a free country or nor a free government. If we do not demonstrate our ability to govern ourselves we are about to fall under the rule of a foreign trusteeship. Under these conditions, even anarchists are bound to respond to the urgent desire of the people to build our own country and our own government. Therefore the anarchists must form our own political party and play a positive role in building a new Korea … a positive role in politics."
In the meantime, the growing north/south divide in Korea, deepened by the intervention of the great powers, would escalate into a bloody war. The United Independentist Conference collapsed. In 1948, Kim Gu met with Kim Il-Sung, with a view to uniting north and south Korea, but failed and ended up signing a document in favour of the trusteeship. He was later assassinated. Following a separate election in the American-linked south – boycotted by the IWPP – the divide was formalised with the proclamation of the “Republic of Korea”. Kim’s predecessor in the Provisional Government, Syngman Rhee (Lee Seung-Man), was elected president. The north responded by proclaiming the “People's Republic of Korea” and the divisive die was cast. In 1950, the Korean War broke out between the north and the south, with the Soviet Union and Mao’s China supporting the north, and the United States the south. In a replay of Stalin’s policies from 1939, the CCP combined support for Kim with the conquest of Tibet. 
This was one of the many “hot” wars of the Cold War, and lasted until a stalemate was reached in 1953, with the country still divided roughly along the 38th Parallel. Half a million Westerners died, along with 2-million Koreans, in a war driven by the great powers, and which made no real difference to the geographical division of Korea – it simply hardened the division into two camps, and the alliance of each camp with its foreign backers. By that time, the first of the post-war South Korean dictatorships was formed, when Syngman Rhee closed the National Assembly and began to rule as an autocrat. Subsequently, the events of the Korean War would be echoed in Vietnam, where the country was roughly divided along the 17th Parallel. In 1960, the Northern Vietnam government advocated a war to liberate the South, where a Vietcong, or National Liberation Front, was formed. By 1965, the Vietnam War broke out, with the United States occupying the territory in the South. Heavily based among the peasantry, the armed forces of the National Liberation Front were – just like the CCP army in China before 1949 – quite outside of popular control. They were subject, instead, to a party hierarchy. While Birchall is correct to point to the National Liberation Front’s politics of a cross-class alliance throughout the 1960s – and its weak roots amongst the urban working class – it must be stressed that the eventual withdrawal of the United States in 1975 was followed by the formation of a “People’s Republic” of Vietnam under Ho Chi-minh. 
The Korean “anarchists” of the IWPP and South and North Kyeungsang Province Anarchist Conference lines had little opportunity to carry out their programmes. South Korea would fall under a series of repressive governments from the 1950s. The stridently anti-Communist Syngman Rhee forced the anarchist movement, as well as other left-wing groups, underground, and the IWPP collapsed in all but the cities of Taegu and Pusan, only recovering by 1956 when the country briefly liberalised again. But the IWPP was finally repressed following the military coup of General Park Jung-Hi in 1961. An aggressively enforced Anti-Communist Law passed in the wake of the coup in 1961 (and only repealed in 1991) drew a broad definition of those whom Park’s junta saw as the enemies of the state: anyone sharing “a world-view or ideology with radical, socialist, anarchist or communist inclinations.”


Saturday, 26 May 2018

UN dithers over Rohingya Genocide

Rohingya children in a "child-friendly space" in the Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh © Michael Schmidt 2018

Michael Schmidt

While the international community’s diplomatic fencing over whether to name the “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingyas in Myanmar what it is – a genocide – the killing reportedly continues, and 700,000 refugees in Bangladesh batten down to face what could prove to be an equally deadly monsoon season.
The massacres, mass rapes, village-razing, forced famine and expulsions were recognised as bearing “the hallmarks of genocide” on March 12 by Yanghee Lee, the UN’s human rights rapporteur on Myanmar. Coming on the heels of a report by the Myanmar military that exonerated all but ten security force members of any crimes against the Rohingya, blaming a tiny Rohingya guerrilla group instead for the mass influx into Bangladesh, her statement was the strongest reaffirmation by the UN of the gravity of the crisis since its human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warned days earlier that what he suspected were “acts of genocide” were ongoing in Rakhine state, albeit with lower intensity. 
Most diplomats, such as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have preferred to describe the crisis as “ethnic cleansing.” But the term has no grounding in international law – unlike genocide and crimes against humanity. An official UN Security Council designation as genocide is critical as it would activate the 1948 Genocide Convention to which Myanmar is signatory, but the UN has only very rarely done so – as in Bosnia and Darfur – and with China a significant supplier of arms to Myanmar, would be very hard to secure. 
The desire of most Rohingya to return to their ancestral lands is thwarted by the influence within the military of Myanmar’s ultra-right Buddhist monks, rendering Myanmar’s Mandela figure, State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi, powerless – though some Myanmar experts, like Politico Magazine’s Nahal Toosi have powerfully argued that her inaction on the genocide, and flat refusal to even use the word “Rohingya” and so bedevil her ethnic support base, reveals her to be a Burman nationalist. 
Near the Myanmar border and close to the epicentre of the genocide, Kutupalong is a vast ersatz settlement sprawled across bare-earth hillsides of 150,000 Rohingya refugees, distinguishable from local Bangladeshi Muslims by their dress, language and customs dating back to the mediaeval kingdom of Arakan which straddled contemporary Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Perched on a hillside overlooking a Red Crescent compound from which streams of refugees flow, Abdul Rahim is barely 18, but he carries a laminated card around his neck indicating he is a majhi, a Rohingya community leader, recognised by the camp authorities. How he and others like him came to leadership so young is painfully clear: most elders, too weak to escape, were slaughtered by Buddhist and Myanmar Army death-squads.
Rahim’s own 60-year-old father, Mohamed Ali, was among them: having returned from the local mosque one evening in late August, the man was “locked in his house by the army and a mob [acting] together, and the house was burned”; Rahim’s 23-year-old brother Osil Haman was shot; his mother, six other brothers and two sisters managed to escape. 
“At the time of the attack, I was visiting Kulsumar Akter, a beautiful girl of 16 who I was friends with in a neighbouring village. The army raped her and killed her in front of me. Ten or twelve very beautiful girls were gathered in a house, raped and killed by the army.”
Another young majhi is Mohamed Islam, 22, from Maungdaw in Rakhine State, Myanmar, a town that was 80% Rohingya before some 120,000 Rohingyas were relocated between 2012 and 2016, supposedly for their protection from hostile neighbours, to de facto concentration camps. He tells of the assault on his community by a force of the Myanmar Army acting alongside a local vigilante group, describing the attack as coming without warning or mercy.
“It was four o’ clock in the afternoon on 25 August. Suddenly they attacked. The [vigilante militia] was wearing army uniforms. They were shooting everyone and burning the houses; these were the targets of the Myanmar government. I was running in the yard of my house from the army, but an army sniper shot me in the foot and I fell down; the army thought that I had died so they left me. When I opened my eyes, I saw lots of dead bodies; my friend Shokil who was 27 years old was killed.”
Moved by night by two fellow survivors who carried the wounded Islam on a wooden pole between them, he said they encountered village after village with corpses strewn about. A Bangladeshi journalist earlier showed me footage of burning villages, fleeing survivors, and what appeared to be collective graves. It took the escaping trio two terrifying days to cover the 70km to the Naf River which marks the border with Bangladesh and cross to safety. 
On arrival in the forest reserve on the outskirts of the southern Bangladeshi town of Ukhia, the tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees initially had to live under the stars, taking their chances with snakes and elephants who killed several. Of the 700,000 survivors who settled in three big refugee camps like Kutupalong and ten smaller ones, UNICEF estimates 60% are children – an indicator of the terrible toll that the genocide has taken on the adult Rohingya population. 
As a result, the camp is dotted with “child-friendly spaces”; I visit one, where perhaps 50 little children squat on the floor in clusters; among the scattered smiles, there are hard eyes and faraway stares; everyone in Kutupalong seems to have scarred hearts or bodies.  
One of the few elders in the camp, Noor Bashir, 56, had a narrow escape: he lifts his bazu shirt and longyi to show me the machete-wounds on his legs and right hip. An August 2017 documentary by Al Jazeera correspondent Salam Hindawi, who managed to get inside one of the concentration camps in Rakhine state, shows a series of Rohingya women gang-rape survivors in tears as they recount witnessing their husbands taken away by the military to an uncertain fate.
Days earlier and 330km north-northwest, I had been sitting in the modest office of Bangladesh’s deputy director-general of Immigration. She was unhurried and gracious, eating her lunch out of a pink child’s lunchbox while plying me with tea and mishti sweetmeat as her minions took my visa extension application over its bureaucratic hurdles. Stacked high on the desks of offices below were applications from hundreds of Chinese and Indians as well as Belarussians and many other nationalities – but no Rohingyas, as though her department has biometrically registered the survivors, the better to host them, Bangladesh has not granted them refugee status. Even the pre-genocide community of 400,000 who fled repression two decades ago is unassimilated, disallowed from travelling far, schooling, or marrying Bengalis.
Now the monsoon storm season threatens the very lives of an estimated 100,000 survivors: though the aid organisations have built concrete stairs, water-tanks and woven-bamboo, plastic and zinc shelters for the Rohingya, the settlements are unlikely to withstand cyclone-force winds and mudslides.
That my interviews take place on the 70th anniversary of the still-unresolved dispossession of some 700,000 other Muslims, those of Palestine in 1948, make the appeals of majhis like Mohamed Islam for the full reinstatement of their people’s citizenship and homes that much more poignant – and desperate.

Noor Bashir, back, and Abdul Rahim, middle, listen as Mohamed Islam tells how a Myanmar Army sniper shot him, leaving him for dead amid burning villages and fields of corpses © Michael Schmidt 2018


Thursday, 24 May 2018

The Sulphurs of Santiaguito

Santiaguito Volcano, Guatemala © Michael Schmidt 1996

The Sulphurs of Santiaguito: Reflections on the Guatemalan Civil War

Michael Schmidt, 2013

Smoky cloud rolled down from shrouded crown of the volcano Santiaguito, chilling my skin, as yellow-rimmed fissures hissed stinking sulphur across the rutted track. Far below, on the slopes, Mayan peasants in fuchsia blouses, looking for all the world like giant frangipanis, hacked at the mud with hoes. A dented pick-up truck had just dropped myself and my companion high up in the mountains of Guatemala. 
An ethereal peace seeped through the scene - Santiaguito was dormant after all, its last bout of bad behaviour having been the 1902 leveling of the nearby mountain city of Quezaltenango - but as so much with this troubled land, all was not as it seemed. 
It was early 1996, at the bitter end of a drawn-out 36-year civil war, the longest in Latin America's gore-spattered history, and somewhere someone was always dying. The newspapers were full of luridly illustrated ways to die - none of them related to the war. Some guy had been decapitated and there sat his head, life-size and on the front page, with bits of grass stuck in his hair and his eyelids glued shut by a sash of dried blood. Or two lovers who had committed suicide by means of a shotgun. A full-colour photograph showed the ruins of their skulls collapsed together, their brains spattering the wall behind. A passenger jet had just gone down off Cuba and the TV footage showed sailors wielding boat-hooks, gaffing the bloated corpses like tuna and dumping them on the deck of a trawler. The fact that two of them were Polish MPs be damned. 
It was easy to die in Guatemala in those days - but just as easy to live as if you weren't in the right place at the wrong time. And so I floated like Neptune in a huge square stone-lined pool, topped up by a piping hot spring gushing from the black breast of the volcano, fringed with ferns, at Fuentes Georginas, a rare gem set in the rainforest. 
Stone lips drooled cooling jets of water down into lower pools where flagged pathways wound around tree-ferns into the forest. Whenever I tired of the heat in my bones, I could slither up a rock like a iguana and steam into the cool air while sipping a Cuba Libre: rum & coke. 
I could have overnighted in one of the whitewashed, tile-roofed cabins clinging to the volcano-side. But instead we returned that evening to the hospedaje where we stayed, down a side street in Quezaltenango, built inward-facing around those cool courtyards that Central Americans favour - perhaps in reflection of their own aversion to the grim reality outside. 
When we arrived, my companion's German boyfriend told us that his hike into the same mountains that day to visit another, more indigenous and promisingly colourful Mayan settlement had met with disaster. 
"We got there and the whole village was just smoking ruins." he said, aghast. "There were all these soldiers walking around and we kinda nervously asked them what happened. They told us 'There was a sickness here - so we burnt it out'." 
The notoriously vicious Guatemalan army - nicknamed the "spotted ones" because of their camouflage - had in the 1980s adopted the practice of targeting Mayan communities suspected of supporting the guerrilla insurgency. On occasion, they had been known to round everyone up, women and children included, corral them in the church, throw in a few grenades and burn the entire town to the ground. In this twisted scorched earth policy, every goat, dog and chicken was slaughtered. In that decade alone, some 200,000 people were killed and 400 Mayan villages obliterated. In February 1996, this war-by-proxy, fought against innocents, was still on. 
I'd recently discovered that my paternal great-great-grandmother was Mayan and had been married to the Belgian consul to Guatemala. Which was why I had decided to venture into the war-zone - and partly why this tale of butchery hit a raw nerve. I'd naively expected my trip to be an emotional journey of reconnection. But the bonds I found that still bind me to Guatemala were not the kind familial ones I had expected. Rather they were like the vicious twist of barbed wire that binds the wrists of the condemned. 
In one of those rooms with five rows of plastic seats and a video machine that passed as movie theatres throughout much of Guatemala, I saw a movie called La Hija del Puma (The Sister of the Puma). It dramatised just such a massacre and was being clandestinely circulated by architecture students from the university in Guatemala City. 
Barely a month previously, under a weeping sky, I had picked my way through a thorn thicket on a muddy hillside in Shobashobane, KwaZulu-Natal to find the maggoty body of a man hacked to death on Christmas Day for the crime of living in an ANC village surrounded by IFP villages. There was another woman, face-down, the back of her scalp already chewed off by mangy dogs. And Kipha Nyawose, the ANC leader, had had the dubious honour of being disembowelled (to release the spirit) while at the same time having his penis cut off in insult. The stench of their corpses still permeated my sinuses and I left the movie theatre in tears, choking out to the fifty-something American hippie: "I've just come from there! I know what they mean." Her glazed incomprehension infuriated me and I stormed out. 
But back in Quezaltenango, I walked the other side of the invisible line that tourists cross in war-zones, purchasing Mayan carpets woven in lustrous burgundy and oxblood, eating American-style pizzas and watching a Spanish-dubbed Sigorney Weaver go shit-kicking in Aliens: el Regresso at the local bug-house. 
Known by the Mayans as Xela, the city is a big centre for Spanish-language studies and the bars, cafes and restaurants were crowded with students, mostly Americans, apparently oblivious to the fact that their government had largely funded the genocide. 
The conflict had also drawn certain species of war whores: scruffy journalists trying to look like James Woods in Salvador; funereal strong-men of indeterminate criminal affiliation in black chinos and shiny waistcoasts, probably concealing switchblades; weary aid workers trying to work in besieged Mayan towns; lazy UN observers of a ceasefire which had not yet happened; chatty Catholic priests on sabbatical; edgy CIA agents who never spoke at all; and fat pederasts with a nose for the cocaine trail. 
War tourism leaves a taste in my mouth as metallic as old blood. None but the most mercenary can seriously indulge in such tastes. But having myself travelled to Guatemala from a tour of Zapatista-held Chiapas (on a spine-hammering 300km bus trip that cost only six quetzales), perhaps I wasn't so innocent either. 
Wierd conversations were not in short supply. Like trying to explain to an earnest young girl from a progressive Dutch Reformed university in the American Midwest that in South Africa, her "Dutch Deformed" faith lay at the root of the calvary of apartheid. So, how does one live as a foreigner in the midst of such unrelenting, yet undeclared pain? 
I distracted myself by paying a visit to one of the marimba schools for which the city was famous. And I went to the creepy and dusty "natural" history museum which seemed to boast more than its fair share of freaks: six-legged goats and such. 
In the earthquake-wrecked old capital of Antigua Guatemala, another bus journey eastwards down the spine of the mountains, I watched a Japanese tourist and a Mayan flute-seller perform an impromptu flautist's duel in the main square. There was a chill in the air and the shadows were lengthening from the ruined cornices of Conquistador-era churchs, but the square was full of off-duty civil servants, Mayans - like a mother and her tiny girl-child dressed in matching cobalt traditional wraps - who sold crafts to coach-loads of day-trippers up from Guatemala City. The lanky Japanese youth selected a pan pipe from those on offer and began to play. The Mayan joined in with gusto, the two sounding for all the world like a Panic version of that song about the contest between the devil and the fiddler. The jaunty notes drifted over the gloomy square, providing an otherworldly sound-track to the shadowed landscape. 
While I ate a hearty breakfast of chili con carne in a cozy family-run restaurant, looking out through the wrought-iron railings and bougainvillea at the cobbled streets, a milkman allegedly tried to assassinate new President Alvaro Arzu by ramming him with a truck while he was out horse-riding. The milkman may have only been drunk, but was shot dead anyway. 
Just before I arrived, two British girls had been executed at a roadside. Neither robbed nor raped. Just shot in the head and left for the political vultures to swap blame for the atrocity. 
This was after all the country where their version of Archbishop Tutu was later bludgeoned to death with concrete blocks in his own driveway. But as this maelstrom happened around me, I was sitting at the Sunset Bar on the beach at Panajachel, a tiny town, several hours by bus to the south-south-east of Xela, a Guatemalan version of Goa that was nick-named Gringotenango because of its population of faded gringo drop-outs. 
Built on a spit of alluvial land stretching into Lake Atitlan, a cold and very deep volcanic caldera which sported millionaires' mansions on one shore and the palm-frond huts of dugout-paddling fishermen on the other. 
The blonde barmaid turned out to be a cousin of Icelandic elven siren Björk and played me some of the latter's rare and unreleased blues cuts, then, knowing I was African treated me to Juluka's Scatterlings of Africa. As I nursed my cold Gallo beer alone with her at the bar, I reflected that I was in some ways also a scatterling of Central America, even though trawling through phone-books had failed to turn up any trace of my diluted bloodline. But I had found another blood-tie: that which unites nations which have suffered under the shadow of death-squads; that which unites those who have walked through the slaughterhouses of their handiwork. Now, in 2003, I've just read that General Rios Montt, the CIA-backed "Pinochet of Guatemala", whose regime spearheaded the genocide in the 1980s, has just had his legal restriction on making a play for the Guatemalan presidency revoked. 
An earthquake takes place in my heart and the stench of death is in my nostrils once again. Suddenly I'm back on the sulphurous slopes of Santiaguito, knowing this time that unheard and unseen, beyond the mists, people are dying. 


Sunday, 29 April 2018

Anarchist Movement Periodic Table

In finalising my world-spanning anarchist movement history, In the Shadow of a Hurricane: Global Anarchist Ideological and Organisational Lineages, I had to develop several new conceptual frameworks, one of which was my Six Waves (originally Five Waves) periodisation which theorises that the fortunes of the movement, being fundamentally proletarian in nature, rose and fell in waves that approximated the fortunes of the oppressed classes in general. These waves are: First Wave 1868-1894, initiated by the consolidation of mass-line revolutionary anarchism in the First International, a period that incorporates the Cantoalist Revolt; the Second Wave of 1895-1921 initiated by the formation of the French CGT and which embraces the Mexican, Russian and Ukrainian Revolutions; the Third Wave of 1922-1949 initiated by the founding of the IWA, which embraces the Manchurian and Spanish Revolutions; the Fourth Wave of 1950-1975 initiated by the Latin American resistance and which incorporates the Cuban Revolution; the Fifth Wave of 1976-1991 initiated by the reconstitution of the Spanish CNT and which embraces the Iranian Revolution; and the Sixth Wave of 1992-2016 initiated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and which embraces the Rojava Revolution. 

Above is part of a "periodic table" of the movement that I drew up to indicate when the movement arose (initial dates), suffered repression (pale-coloured blocks), and disappeared if relevant (white blocks). At a glance, you should be able to see that in many countries / territories, the 1930s-1980s were a bit of a dead zone - but also that other regions experienced organisational continuity, defeating the conventional anarchist historiography that claims the movement died on the barricades of Barcelona in 1939. For one thing, the Far Eastern and Latin American movements in particular survived WWII pretty much intact and in fighting spirit, while those in Europe had been devastated by Nazi-Fascism and had to rebuild from scratch. In its full extent, this table has helped me get a bird's eye view of the evolution of the movement internationally so I will probably get it replicated in the book itself to likewise assist my readers' understanding.


Factions in the Spanish Revolution

Because my forthcoming thousand-plus-page magnum opus, In the Shadow of a Hurricane, is an organisational-ideological history of the anarchist movement rather than a romantic narrative, I have had to try and navigate the complex Spanish labyrinth. I am currently doing a comprehensive rewrite of the Spanish Revolution and its aftermath, and four indispensable sources have proven to be Stuart Christie, We! The Anarchists: A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) 1927-1937, The Meltzer Press / Jura Media, UK / Australia, 2000, Augustín Guillamón, Ready for Revolution: the CNT Defence Committees in Barcelona 1933-1938, AK Press / Kate Sharpely Library, UK, 2014, and Augustín Guillamón, The Friends of Durruti Group: 1937-1939, AK Press, UK, 1996, on the preparatory period and the Revolution itself, and Chris Ealham, Living Anarchism: José Peirats and the Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalist Movement, AK Press, UK, 2015, on the exile Spanish Libertarian Movement. 

Assisted by these works and as a guide to my rewrite, I have drawn up a lengthy table (first page above) to chart how the various anarchist factions evolved during the Revolution and afterwards, based on their relative positions at various congresses, plenums etc.In part this helps track the exceptionally damaging and in fact counter-revolutionary position taken by the CNT and FAI leadership which destroyed the Revolution from within and which so poisoned the atmosphere of the post-Revolution exile movement. Hagiographers of the FAI be warned - I am following these excellent historians in damning the FAI at higher committee level as an actively counter-revolutionary organisation which by 1937 was degenerating into a conventional bourgeois political party while naturally commending the honourable resistance of revolutionary anarchist groups within and outside the FAI. But my preliminary conclusion at this point appears pretty bleak: that even the Friends of Durruti signally failed in their revolutionary task to root out - by shooting if necessary - the traitorous CNT-FAI leadership and to consolidate the revolutionary proletarian forces. All of which is pretty much why I far prefer the intransigent Makhnovists!


African Anarchist Movements: Race, Class and Liberation

I have just completed a new 13,000-word pamphlet, African Anarchist Movements: Race, Class and Liberation, which provides a comparative analysis between the anarchist / syndicalist movements in early 20th Century Egypt and South Africa, then briefly sketches the movements in nearby Tunisia and Mozambique before detailing the post-war movement in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia with an emphasis on the Algerian Liberation War, and concluding with anarchist organisational perspectives from Senegal in the 1980s, from Nigeria in the 1990s, from Morocco in the 2000s, and from South Africa and Egypt in the 2010s, bringing this little study full circle. I am hoping this pamphlet will encourage further study into African anarchist / syndicalist movement history - especially regarding Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Angola and Zaire (DRC). I will be asking some leading liberation movement lights from Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria to provide introductory commentary and will then get it formally published in Sweden, with plans for Arabic and Berber translations - so stay tuned!


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Her Apocalypse

Here's a song I wrote in Dhaka, Bangladesh, today: while looking down from an 11th-floor cafe at the monsoon sweeping over the city, a half-naked young woman ran through the traffic, apparently very disturbed. I tried to imagine what had distressed her so... Meanwhile on another rooftop a girl and mother delighted in the rains: their saris soaked to the skin, they danced about and rearranged the pot-plants in their aerial nursery...Everywhere at some instant, the moment of one person's exaltation is the moment of someone else's apocalypse...

Her Apocalypse

Her hair is wild but her eyes are quiet
her mouth a permanent scream
she runs the streets of Dhaka 
                                                chasing the skirts of the monsoon
The elephants with the blunted tusks
                                                           shuffle restlessly in the gloom
the rickshaws flee the frightening sky
she weaves through traffic
                                           a detonation in her heart
Was she the girl who smoked at school
                                                               behind the bicycle-sheds
did she feed the black beaks of the wild crows
did she steal her boyfriend's motorbike and crash it?
Or was her birth the cataclysm
                                                  the steaming streets her collision
was her apocalypse a lightbulb-naked public thing?
Her hair is wild but her eyes are quiet
her mouth a permanent scream
she runs the streets of Dhaka
                                                chasing her apocalypse
chasing her apocalypse, her apocalypse
her apocalypse, her apocalypse...