Tuesday 31 January 2017

AU in a pickle over Western Sahara

The African Union (AU) has gotten itself into a pickle with a majority of members voting this week to admit Morocco in defiance of the presence of AU founding member Western Sahara, which Morocco considers integral to its territory - but which the latter's liberation movement considers to be a colonised territory. This piece was written on 17 January 2017, two weeks before the fatal AU decision.

Michael Schmidt

A battle royale is looming in the African Union, primarily between its Francophone and Anglophone blocs, over the bid by prodigal son Morocco to join the Union in defiance of the presence of founder member the Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic (SADR) which South Africa and half the member states view as the continent’s last colony.
The matter will come to a head at the AU’s Heads of State and Government Summit at the end of January, though it seems Morocco has a straight majority backing its application: at the previous summit in Kigali last July, AU Assembly Chair Idriss Déby received a motion signed by 28 out of 54 member states in favour of Morocco’s bid – but also stating they would move to immediately to suspend SADR because it did not represent a true state.
SADR’s claimed state, Western Sahara, tops the United Nations’ list as the world’s largest non-self-governing territory. But in a letter to Déby in Kigali, Moroccan King Mohammed VI declared SADR to be a “phantom” state. In recent years, as Moroccan business has spread ever further south, and with new embassies opening in Benin, Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Mauritius, the king has embarked on a charm offensive across the continent – and it seems to be working.
Morocco’s claim is mostly backed by French-speaking AU members, especially those in West Africa who are under the sway of key Rabat ally Paris, which views Morocco as a vital moderate Muslim bulwark against terrorism – but is resisted by traditional opponent Algeria plus most of English-speaking Africa, notably Nigeria and South Africa, the latter’s ANC government viewing SADR’s Polisario Front as a sister liberation movement.
On 6 January, President Jacob Zuma officially received SADR President Brahim Ghali, an old Polisario fighter. Ghali said afterwards that the “Sahrawi people are struggling to recover the total sovereignty of their state and of all their national territory,” and Zuma responded that "it is unfathomable that Western Sahara... still remains colonised… We remain committed to continue to support the people of Western Sahara until you are free to live in your own land and able to decide your own future.”
Veteran journalist Jean-Jacques Cornish, who interviewed Ghali during his visit, said Morocco’s bid was as if apartheid South Africa had attempted to rejoin the Commonwealth while downplaying its own occupation of Namibia. Cornish conceded Morocco might win the vote on entry, but said it would immediately be faced with a dramatically divisive battle over any subsequent attempt to expel SADR. 
Rabat’s former Chargé d’Affaires to Pretoria, Rachid Agassim, would not be drawn on any Moroccan plans to expel SADR, however, stating only: “We are not going back for a clash; we are going back to strengthen African countries for the development of the continent. Morocco has been for the last few years the second-largest African investor in Africa…”
Rabat withdrew its ambassador to South Africa in 2004 when Pretoria formally recognised SADR – but, Agassim said, the kingdom had applied in June last year to upgrade its representation again to full ambassadorial status. 
“We are not colonising anybody. You know the history of colonialism in Africa is quite clear and Morocco’s experience was among the harshest; we were colonised by two different countries… This is a question of the territorial integrity of the Kingdom. With the AU, it is better to solve questions from inside than from outside.” He said that it was Algeria that had unaccountably refused to allow the UN to conduct a census of Sahrawi camps on its territory, thus blocking a plebiscite on Western Sahara’s future.
Morocco stormed out of the Organisation of African Unity 32 years ago over its admission of SADR as a full member. Former colonial power Spain had relinquished control of Western Sahara in 1975 to a joint administration of Morocco and Mauritania, but this precipitated a war with Polisario, backed by Algeria. Today, Morocco controls two-thirds of the territory, with Polisario restricted to the desert hinterland. 
Yet next Tuesday [24 January], Pretoria is scheduled to accredit new SADR Ambassador Rachid Radhi, who is upbeat over the decision by the European Union Court on 21 December that two politico-economic deals, giving access to Moroccan agricultural produce in exchange for European fishing rights in Moroccan waters and financial aid, did not include Western Sahara, which the court did not recognise as a part of the kingdom as its people had not consented to the deals.
Radhi said Morocco, in its AU bid, was trying to ignore the colonial issue, “but they cannot; it’s a stumbling block in front of them and under the Constitutional Act, no country can be admitted into the AU without respecting the borders at the time of independence.” 
He said that with its ocean resources, Africa’s largest phosphate fields, and new gold finds in the desert, an independent SADR would probably model itself on a similar desert economy like that of Namibia. Both Radhi and Agassim dangled carrots of potential South African investments in the disputed territory.
Although the Moroccan application sits on the desk of outgoing AU Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, her spokesperson Jacob Enoh Eben said “Decisions to admit members are taken by member states, so the chair’s role is to facilitate the administrative process and the transmission of requests.” The vote on Morocco is expected to take place on either 30 or 31 January.
Clayson Monyela, Deputy Director General of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) said that Morocco’s request as a colonial power was “without precedent”: “it would seem essential to obtain from the Moroccan Government an explicit and unequivocal statement of its commitment… to: the sanctity of colonial borders; recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of all African Union Member States; the peaceful resolution of conflicts among Member States of the AU; and the non-acquisition of a territory by force, which requires an immediate end to the illegal military occupation by the Kingdom of Morocco of most of the territory of Western Sahara.”


Monday 30 January 2017

Revising the Russian & Ukrainian Revolutions

While I am doing the rewrite on the Russian and Ukrainian Revolutions for Wildfire, I am struck that few records capture the excitement of those times as well as US communist journalist John Reed, collected in his seminal book Ten Days That Shook The World. Here he is, riding to Petrograd in a truck loaded with Red Guards and driven by a grizzled worker, recalling dawn breaking on the morning of the October Revolution, when anarchists and Bolsheviks had stormed the Winter Palace:

"The road was crowded with the proletarian army going home, and new reserves were pouring out to take their places… Across the horizon spread the glittering lights of the capital, immeasurably more splendid by night than by day, like a dike of jewels on the barren plain. The old workman who drove held the wheel in one hand, while with the other he swept the far-gleaming capital in an exultant gesture. ‘Mine!’ he cried, his face all alight. ‘All mine now! My Petrograd!’"

The above sketched map represents Petrograd during the October Revolution. The Vyborg District was the working-class and factory district where the anarchists had their greatest strength (though they also dominated the railways, two stations of which can be seen here), while the Kronstadt naval base on the horizon is where they had a strong presence within the revolutionary fleet.

Unfortunately, the crushing of the revolution by the Bolsheviks themselves has disjointed the anarchist narrative of organisational lineages. For instance, the Petrograd Anarchist Federation (PAF) was founded there in 1906 and survived Tsarist repression until, after having many of its militants give their lives on the front in defence of the Revolution from White reactionary forces, they were suppressed by the Bolsheviks in mid 1918. A similar fate awaited the Petrograd Anarchist Communist Federation (PACF), and Union of Anarcho-Syndicalist Propaganda (UASP). 

Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks upheld Russia's colonial exploitation of the Ukraine by not only betraying the Makhnovists and Black Guards who had repulsed the White Armies' attempts to march on Moscow, but also the Union of Black Sea Sailors (SCM), founded in 1906, and the South Russian Anarcho-Syndicalist Group (JUGAS), founded in 1905: both were suppressed in 1918/1919. There was a new sheriff in town - and he was a deceitful and murderous sonofabitch!


Friday 27 January 2017

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The article below was published in a pan-African journal in September 2016. I republish it here in honour of International Holocaust Remembrance Day today, 27 January 2017, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex in Poland by the Red Army in 1945. The picture above is of the liberation of the Mauthausen death camp in Austria by the US 11th Division. Some 7,000 Spanish Republican militia - most of them anarchists - were murdered in Mauthausen by the Nazis. But some Spanish anarchists had their revenge: the anarchists of the 9th Armoured Company which were the very first Allied troops to liberate Paris on 24 August 1944 (see victory parade below), accepting the surrender of General Dietrich von Choltitz and his 17,000-strong Nazi garrison. "El Nueve," The 9th, then fought its way across Europe, campaigning in Alsace-Lorraine, helping to liberate cities such as Strasbourg and numerous towns, fighting in Germany, passing through the Dachau concentration camp just after it had been liberated by the US Army and concluding its campaign only when it seized Hitler's “Eagle’s Nest” mountain retreat at Berchtesgarten in Bavaria.

Reassessing Genocide in Africa
Michael Schmidt

“There are no devils left in Hell. They are all in Rwanda.” - a Roman Catholic priest reported in Time magazine on 16 April 1994, ten days after the Genocide began.

The Common Nature of Genocide 

They came in their droves, each one in turn lighting their own tiny candle. There was the skinny young man in the brown leather jacket and cloth cap, the curvy woman in her silver-patina skirt and white blouse, the petite bald man with his severe black suit and tailored shirt, the young woman with the gold earrings matching her heels and her braids piled high on her head. Each one had lost someone in the Rwandan "Hundred Nights" Genocide of 1994 and they gathered in Johannesburg on 21 April to pay their respects to their dead – and to watch a film on the treacherous themes of forgiveness and reconciliation in atrocity-fractured societies.
The event was hosted by Constitution Hill plus the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, the South African History Archives, and the High Commission of Rwanda. The film screening commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the initiation of the Hundred Nights by génocidaires, and the 20th anniversary of the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearing into the atrocities of the apartheid era, on 15 April 1996. 
I had covered the TRC when it sat in Durban, especially the amnesty hearing of former Vlakplaas death-squad commander Dirk Coetzee, and had covered the 10th anniversary of the Hundred Nights in Kigali and Butare in 2004, so I had been invited to attend. We had an overflowing venue with perhaps 200 people, including many Rwandan Genocide and some Jewish Holocaust survivors in the audience. 
Before the memorial candles were lit, Rwandan High Commissioner Vincent Karenga warned about the attempt by Rwandan génocidaires – some of them sheltered by countries that had given them asylum – to reach out to "genocidal forces" abroad in the world, seeking justification for their crimes, stating that the slogan "Never Again!" would be irrelevant if education on the causes of the genocidal impulse were not vigorously pursued. 
Genocide is a complex phenomenon, marred by perpetrator denialism and revisionism, but is defined by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
Genocide is sadly nowhere near as rare as we’d hope – because mass scale or success are not defining factors under the Convention. It usually emerges within broader conditions of social collapse, such as during the implosion of failed states and the rise of the primitive accumulation of organised banditry such as in ex-Somalia, during civil war by predator states such that waged in Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko; it is often entangled with ethnicised struggles over resources that result in pogroms as in Darfur, and sometimes with revolutionary class war in much more developed countries such as Libya during the Arab Spring.
In Africa, while sub-state actors also engage in genocide – as with the Muslim Séléka versus Christian Anti-Balaka militia in the Central Africa Republic at the moment – the privateer state is more often the perpetrator: a privateer state consists of a narrow-based consortium of hard-nosed business entrepreneurs, ethnic factional leaders adept at populist politics, a tiny bureaucratic class, and the better-trained sections of the military, usually the paratroopers (where such exist), armoured infantry and the presidential guard. The privateer state usually survives not only by extorting its citizenry, but by extending its extortionist operations into neighbouring states and often ethnicises its conflict in order to express a coherent mobilising propaganda that appeals to a distinct supranational ethnic constituency.

Is Reconciliation Desirable?

Karenga’s warnings about the viability of genocidal currents in Africa today was followed by a brief set of filmed interviews with Rwandan Genocide survivors (at least two of whom I later spotted in the audience). Their stories of what happened to their families defied imagination: the one woman spoke of her mother being turned over to the Interahamwe militia by Catholic nuns who had promised to shelter her; the génocidaires came and cut her legs off, then finding her still alive the next day, cut off her breasts, then the following day, returning to find her dying, executed her. 
The documentary itself, A Snake Gives Birth to A Snake, takes its name from the chilling response of an Inkatha Freedom Party member when asked by the TRC why he had hacked a nine-month-old girl to death with a panga during the 1992 Boipatong Massacre in which 45 people were slaughtered south of Johannesburg. The film follows an ethnically diverse South African acting troupe as they recreate the roles of the most crucial interlocutors of the TRC process – that of the translators themselves – around twelve of whom are gathered together by director Michael Lessac. 
With iconic musician Hugh Masekela devising songs based directly on TRC testimony ("They cut off my husband’s hands..." etc), the play not only recreated the clash of competing truths at the TRC, but as the doccie shows, pitted the actors' own sense of their place in our shattered history against each other’s, as they increasingly come under the strain of the burden of our political history while touring the play in Rwanda, then Northern Ireland, then ex-Yugoslavia, with veteran journalist Max du Preez documenting the process.
After each performance, the troupe gathered together audience members from all of the competing sides in the host country and held a round-table discussion on the themes raised in the play – with an especial focus on the meaning of forgiveness and whether it was desirable or possible. It was a rougher journey than either actors or film-makers had expected: in Rwanda, the point was made by one audience member that among young Rwandan school kids, the parents of half of them were murdered, and the others were in jail for genocide; in Northern Ireland, even the Catholic and Protestant dead are buried separately and one Irish National Liberation Army veteran stated that if Ireland had a TRC it would benefit the victims' families not at all because he felt no guilt for the killings he had committed; while in ex-Yugoslavia, the troupe continually ran into problems of trying to bridge the ethnic divide as it was almost impossible to secure mixed audiences, or to even screen Albanian and Serbian text translations of the play alongside each other.
At one point du Preez asked a circle of young Rwandans for advice on how to deal with the fact that with his pale skin and Afrikaans surname, he will always be presumed to be an apartheid perpetrator (in fact he was convicted of "terrorism" for his journalism), and the one young Tutsi girl responded that there were Hutus in her class and she "loved them dearly" because they allowed her to express herself from time to time in bitter outbursts against the Hutus for having initiated the Genocide; so, she said, the solution was not to run away and hide one’s guilt, but to go and live among one’s former victims and show them one’s human face so that one day one’s humanity and contrition will be accepted by them.
The film gave me serious pause for thought on my own career as a journalist: even with 26 years behind me, much of them spent working in poor black areas, I felt that I was still only part-way down a long journey of reconciliation, and the current debate on decolonisation and the entrenched nature of cultural and structural racism underscores that many wounds are unhealed in the post-apartheid era. After the screening, I spoke informally to United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa: "Looking back at that time [Boipatong], I can't believe we made it," he said to me; "Sadly we still have much unfinished business," I replied, thinking of the 2008 Pogroms in which 62 people were slaughtered and 100,000 displaced in what was partly a genocide as defined by the Genocide Convention, and the 2012 Marikana Massacre by police of 34 striking platinum miners in what was a clear case of class war; "Yes we do," he responded.

The Tension Between Truth and Justice

Rolling forward to 11 July and the closing event of the commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide, the Holocaust and Genocide Centre screened the Beate Arnestad documentary Telling Truths in Arusha, which follows the genocide trial in Arusha, Tanzania, before the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) of Catholic priest Father Hormisdas who presided over a church and college where mass killings took place in 1994. Throughout the trial, Hormisdas sat calmly, his eyes shielded behind his spectacles, displaying no outrage at the charges, no sense of horror at the scale of the Genocide; in fact, Arnestad’s camera caught him speaking privately to his defence attorney, dismissing the 800,000 death toll as nonsense. 
Following the film, representing The Ulu Club for Southern African Conflict Journalists – an outfit that holds events to allow the public to interrogate journalistic ethics in covering societies in conflict – I lead a discussion on the difficult themes it raised. I stated that it perhaps helped to distinguish between veracité (fact) and verité (truth) – as the film demonstrated that fact and truth are not necessarily the same thing, neither for the survivor, nor the journalist, nor the perpetrator, nor the judicial officer presiding at Arusha, and that the search for a fact-based and fundamentally true justice is perhaps hardest of all. 
It was with bitterness that I had to report, however, that the genocidal impulse was far from dead in Africa. As we met that night, forensic and eyewitness evidence was being painstakingly compiled of year-old mass graves in Angola where MPLA government forces massacred perhaps 3,000 people at Mt Sumi in April 2015, and of fresh mass graves in Mozambique as a result of the return to civil war between RENAMO and FRELIMO there. 
Other recent cases of mass slaughter in Africa abound: for example, back in 2007-2008, pogroms in Kenya left perhaps 1,500 dead and perhaps 600,000 displaced. The crisis was rooted in political unrest following the contested election of President Mwai Kibaki, but opposition supporters of went on the warpath, killing members of Kibaki’s’ ethnic group, the Kikuyu, which immediately ethnicised the conflict, with Kikuyu striking back at the Luo and Kalejin ethnic groups. 
Another example occurred in 2009 in Conakry, Guinea, when troops loyal to junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara opened fire on a rally of pro-democracy activists, killing an estimated 157 people: this was merely the latest massacre by Camara’s putschists who had killed 60 and 23 people respectively in general strikes held in January and February 2007, establishing martial law; the massacres reinforced the established pattern whereby Guinean privateer regimes use massacre to prop up their shaky authority against the anger of the popular classes.
The roots of the Rwandan Genocide are far more complex, but long simmering since the Belgians instituted “ethnic” classification cards in the 1950s for groups identified as Tutsis, Hutus, and Twa. But these were essentially fake ethnicities: of the 18 clans in Rwanda, all except arguably the royal clan were ethnic mixes of Nilotics, Bantu and Pygmies who had intermarried over a millennium; but those classified Tutsi had to own more than 10 cattle, and it helped if they were tall; this was a class designation that had spurious racial elements appended. The result of such faux ethnicisation was 100,000 slaughtered in 1959 and 800,000 in 1994.

Structural Enablers of Hatred

One eyewitness to the Rwandan Genocide, US journalist Scott Peterson in his book Me Against My Brother (2000), came up with one of the earliest and still to my mind most viable analyses. Peterson had trawled through the looted ruins of the mansion of President Juvénal Habyarimana – the 6 April 1994 shooting down of his jet sparked the Genocide – and found there a proudly framed photograph of Tutsi homes burning during the so-called “Apocalypse Revolution” in 1959 in which 100,000 Tutsi were slaughtered, plus a book dedicated to Habyarimana by President François Mitterand, and a private Catholic chapel. These items inspired him to speculate on three structural enablers of the Genocide.
● Firstly, the deliberate cultivation of Hutu supremacist ideology, driven by Habyarimana’s wife Agathe’s Akazu inner circle and its extremist Zero Network of politicians and public servants, dating especially from the 1990 publication of the genocidal Hutu 10 Commandments by the extremist newspaper Kangura! (Awake!), then the formation by Habyarimana of the ruling MRND party’s Interahamwe militia, and the state’s Coalition por la Défense de la République (CDR) and its Impuzamugambe militia, and then – and this is often forgotten – the “trial runs” of massacre that had already left around 2,000 people dead in the two years before the Genocide began.
● Secondly, the unblanching support by France for the MRND regime, regardless of its growing extremism – including the uninterrupted supply of weapons shipments even during the height of the Genocide when the extent of the killings was obvious. The French flew Agathe Habyarimana and select Akazu members to safety in Paris just after the Genocide began, and Mitterand officially welcomed at the Quay d’Orsay at the end of April 1994 – during the Genocide – Hutu extremist Foreign Minister Jérôme Bicamumpaka (acquitted by the Arusha Tribunal in 2011) and CDR commander and hate radio head Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza (later convicted of genocide; died in 2010).
● Lastly (and this touched on the theme of the film), the acquiescence of the Catholic Church as the preparations for genocide became irreversible, especially because since Belgian missionaries had supported the 1959 Genocide, following independence in 1962, the Church had become so integrated into the Hutu regime that the Archbishops of Kigali, including the incumbent during the Genocide, Vincent Nsengiyumva (who was killed as a perpetrator by the RPF), were invariably high MRND leaders as well, and in some cases such as at the Ste Famille Cathedral in Kigali, during the Genocide, priests such as Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka openly wore pistols, expressed Hutu supremacist views and allowed the death-squads to select from among those seeking sanctuary there for killing (he was later convicted of genocide at Arusha but continues to live freely in France).

Widening Circles of Ethnicised Conflict

At the commemoration event, I introduced Hamilton Wende, a South African journalist who worked as the sound-man on a BBC crew that went to Rwanda during the Genocide with the almost impossible mission objective of trying to explain why the Genocide was happening. In his book True North (1995), as with Peterson, Wende also spoke of the impact of Belgian ethnic classification in the 1950s and Belgian support for the 1959 Genocide, but unlike Peterson’s work which had the benefit of six years of hindsight, Tony’s work is marked by the immediacy of being plunged deep into the moral twilight zone of the Genocide as it was unfolding.
He used some resonant phrases such as “spiral of madness” to describe what he was seeing – but the one that may assist us here is “Republic of Dementia,” and he described his journey into what he called an “incoherence of darkness,” “half-drowning in a spiritual Interzone, grasping at the flimsy edges of our own rationality,” as both a physical and metaphysical journey. 
And as Karenga warned, the perpetrators’ revisionism was already attempting to establish its legitimacy: back in 1994 we see Wende interview the mayor of the nearest town in the Nyarubuye Parish where some 4,000 people were slaughtered by the génocidaires: the interview takes place in the UN’s Bonacco refugee camp, full of tens of thousands of perpetrators, and as Hutu extremist radio pushes out a revisionist line over the airwaves of the refugee camp, claiming it is the Tutsi “invading cockroaches” who are committing genocide, the mayor, who is accused of organising the Nyarubuye massacre, reveals his true self by evoking nasty anti-Tutsi sentiments.
The Rwandan nightmare, in which the génocidaires hacked their names into our hearts with spiked clubs and machetes, is properly condemned – but its memory has also been used by the post-Genocide regime to prop up its despotic authority, and to justify punitive raids into neighbouring countries, transforming contemporary Rwanda into a privateer state and generating ever widening circles of instability, ethnic and ethnicised conflict in the Great Lakes region. Rwanda is not the last we have seen of genocide.

Preventing Pogroms

But I want to end on a more hopeful note – because genocide is not inevitable. Ideally, the preconditions for genocide should be recognised by adequate early-warning systems that monitor génocidaire revisionist activities and that can motivate the international community to prevent or curtail the construction of institutional systems that facilitate mass killings. Community resistance is also vital as demonstrated during the 2008 Pogroms in South Africa: comparing Alexandra Section 2, east of Johannesburg, known as “Beirut” and Section 5, known as “Setswala,” Jean-Pierre Misago of Wits University’s Forced Migration Studies Programme, co-author of a the report for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on the Pogroms, said Beirut had succumbed to the killings while Setswala had fended off attempts by the pogromists to spark killings in their neighbourhood. 
“The Section 5 community comrades met the Section 2 pogromists at the border of Section and told them ‘no, you can’t come in here; we will sort out our own foreigners, because you don’t know who they are’.” You can bet the Setswala reception committee was armed to the teeth, to back up their ploy, but it worked, keeping the killers at bay while Setswala’s foreigners were helped to leave town quickly, their vigilant neighbours keeping watch over their homes to ensure no-one looted them. Critical to their success was that there was no institutional support for the killings as there had been in Rwanda, but the lesson was clear: when communities stood together, they managed to prevent the pogroms from spreading. 
However, I argued in the wake of the Pogroms that community defence must go beyond mere moral encouragement: it must firstly be strongly armed, with legal firearms not just knives and clubs, to meet force with force; secondly it must prepare in advance safe zones that operated like Setswala in Alexandra, where those in danger are sheltered and where pogromists fear to tread; and thirdly, it must establish local networks like the street committees of the anti-apartheid struggle to gather intelligence and co-ordinate actions. Today I would add that such networks must act as bellwethers for the likes of Amnesty International but also for new continental organisations such as the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN) to enable a vigorous multilateral intervention that compels authorities in the afflicted state to suppress the genocidal impulse, dismantle its operational organs, and actively undermine the viability of the virus of the genocidal idea by combating hate speech and revisionism at all levels of society.


Wednesday 25 January 2017

Anarchist Militia in the Spanish Revolution

The Malatesta Battalion, formed of exiled Italians, many women and men who were veteran anti-Fascist fighters from the Arditi del Popolo, and who gave their lives in June 1937 in the defence of Basque Country from 65,000 Spanish Falangists and 25,000 Italian Fascists backed by the Nazi Condor Legion's bombers.

The anarchist militia of the Spanish Revolution are usually reduced by historians to only the Durruti Column, Ascaso Column, Land and Freedom Column, and Iron Column, but as this nearly-complete list shows, the phenomenon of the working class under arms was phenomenally widespread. "Confederal Milita" are those of the CNT-FAI-FIJL (or CNT-FAI-JJLL in Catalonia), while "Syndicalist Militia" are those of the Syndicalist Party. Note that I am *excluding* regular Republican Army units dominated by anarchists (though I indicate where anarchist columns were later militarised as part of that Army), or units formed by the Confederation and its allies but consisting primarily of professional soldiers, civil guards etc. I have also not indicated the four international centuries formed within the Durruti Column, the one formed within the Iron Column, the one within the Land and Liberty Column, and the one within the Ascaso Column, but do list the International Battalion in Basque Country as it was a free-standing reserve unit.

- Confederal Militia, Asturias [mil]: CNT Battalion No.1
                                                       CNT Battalion No.2
                                                       CNT Battalion No.3
                                                       CNT Battalion No.4
                                                       CNT Battalion No.5
                                                       CNT Battalion No.6
                                                       CNT Battalion No.7
                                                       CNT Battalion No.8
                                                       Galicia Battalion 
- Confederal Militia, Basque Country [mil]: 1st Battalion of Engineers
                                                                    Bakunin Battalion (no.65)
                                                                    Celtic Battalion (No.30)
                                                                    CNT-FAI Battalion
                                                                    Durruti Battalion (No.51)
                                                                    Freedom Battalion
                                                                    International Battalion
                                                                    Isaac Puente Battalion (No.11))
                                                                    Malatesta Battalion (No.36)
                                                                    Sacco-Vanzetti Battalion (No.12)    
- Confederal Militia, Aragon  [mil]: Aguiluchos Column, later 125th Mixed Brigade
                                                      Alpine Battalion
                                                      Ascaso Column, later 125th Mixed Brigade
                                                      Durruti Column, later 26th Division
                                                      Kropotkin Battalion, JJLL
                                                      Land and Freedom Column, later 153rd Mixed Brigade
                                                      Red and Black Column, later 127th Mixed Brigade
                                                      Sur-Ebro Column
- Confederal Militia, Centre [mil]: Bakunin Battalion
                                                    Espartacus Battalions (x4), later 77th Mixed Brigade 
                                                    Ferrer Battalion
                                                    Free Spain Column, later 70th Mixed Brigade
                                                    Juvenil Libertario Battalion
                                                    Orobón Fernández Battalion
                                                    Palacios Column
                                                    Sigüenza Battalion
                                                    Toledo Battalion
- Confederal Militia, Valencia [mil]: CNT No.13
                                                       Confederal Column No.2
                                                       Iberia Column, FAI-FIJL, ex CH
                                                       Iron Column (CH), later 83rd Mixed Brigade
                                                       Malatesta Division, ex CH
                                                       Torres-Benedito Column
- Confederal Milita, West and South [mil]: Alcoy Battalion
                                                                   Andalusia-Extremadura Column (CAE)
                                                                   Andrés Naranjo Battalion
                                                                   Ascaso No.1 Battalion
                                                                   Ascaso No.2 Battalion
                                                                   Bujalance Sparrows Century, later CAE
                                                                   CEFA Column
                                                                   Fermín Salvochea Battalion, later CAE
                                                                   Juan Arcas Battalion, later CAE
                                                                   Makhno Battalion
                                                                   Pancho Villa Battalion, later CAE
                                                                   Pedro López Battalion 
                                                                   Raya Battalion 
                                                                   Sebastian Faure Battalion 
                                                                   Zimmerman Battalion, later CAE                            
- Syndicalist Militia [mil]: Jaime Cubedo Battalion (Valencia)
                                       Syndicalist Battalion (Asturias)


Wednesday 4 January 2017

Fallist Politics Critiqued at Racism Conference

Achille Mbembe, left, speaks at the IAJ / AKF Reporting Racism Conference in October 2016

Time will tell what themes dominate the news in 2017 in South Africa, but the scourge of ingrained social racism and the structural enablers of white privilege hogged headlines in 2016. I covered the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism  / Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Reporting Racism Conference in October for ProJourn's Southern African Cities of Refuge Project. Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Sibongile Khumalo sang for us and there were some particularly strong presentations, especially Joe Thloloe recalling Black Wednesday 1977, Achille Mbembe and Micah Reddy on today's Fallist movements, Karen Turner (Temple U, USA) on the self-interrogation of journalism students regarding race and ethnicity in the light of #BlackLivesMatter, and David Smith on allowing a plurality of voices on-air to combat hate radio in Africa. Here is a brief story on the Mbembe-Reddy debate:

Michael Schmidt

The race debate in the electronic age is like a virus in terms of it being a disease, a contagion, consisting of outbursts, and spreading like wildfire, resulting in sets of things burning, stated Prof Achille Mbembe at the Reporting Race Conference held in Johannesburg over 18 – 19 October 2016.
A Cameroon-born, Sorbonne-educated philosopher, Mbembe of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER), has argued for academia to be “decolonised” by reaching beyond Western knowledge sources, yet he is a leading liberal critic of the “Fallist” student movement.
The conference, hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism and the High Commission of Canada, is the conclusion to a series of debates on race, and marked the 39th anniversary of the “Black Wednesday” closure on 19 October 1977 by the apartheid state of 18 organisations and three newspapers, and detain Black Consciousness journalists and activists.
Mbembe argued that the #FeesMustFall movement had foregrounded racism in problematic ways: “Liberalism is anathema for a lot of those young activists today… because of its perceived complicity with racism,” he said. “The idea of a constitutional state is central to our dispensation, and is typical of liberalism. But they do not only reject the racism of liberalism… it is a wholesale rejection of liberalism.” He said it was worrying that the students spurned electoral representative democracy as either corrupting, or as inherently illegitimate – claiming that their call instead for “a direct democracy that is structureless, that is horizontal” was a “zero-sum game” with violence its only tool and 100% compliance with the radical line demanded “or you are a heretic,” winding up “inviting the worst horrors of state violence.”
I challenged Mbembe on the fact that the "violence" debate was a red herring as the state itself had often initiated violence as in the Marikana Massacre and with the police in several cases actually starting riots with Fallist students. I also questioned his blanket deligitimisation of the liberatory aspects of Fallists politics and praxis, saying while I recognised the problem within the movement of intolerance, lack of class analysis, and what anarchists call the "tyranny of structurelessness," and would have liked to see more positive construction – strongly promised in 2015, but faltering in 2016 –  he could not ignore the positivity of the movements' direct democracy and horizontalism where these were practiced.
Mbembe did not quite answer my stance on state violence when he responded that there were only two routes for struggles for justice to take: “moral struggles when the fight is about abiding by a set of irrefutable principles like freedom and equality” which could neither be won by – nor defeated by – violence; and “purely political struggles that are framed by the principle of force.”
But he conceded: “Rainbowism did not end racism. There is a bitterness in these [student] texts that the idea of non-racialism that was the basis of the struggle has not brought racism to an end, therefore there is a rejection of non-racialism and the idea of rainbowism, which is seen as doomed.”
Mikah Reddy, the media freedom and diversity chief at the Right2Know campaign, responded that Mbembe’s critique of identity politics which had come under fire by the Fallists, was very popular as an end in itself, which lead to a politics in which all minorities were “ring-fenced” and anyone else who tried to engage with the experiences of those within the fences were seen as “trespassing.”
Earlier, Wits media studies lecturer Dr Glenda Daniels had said she felt “like a scab” in that while she supported the Fallists’ decolonisation debate, she also had a duty to work with those students who wanted to study. Yet police were only allowing white students onto campus and keeping the black students at bay as presumed protestors: “This is racial profiling.”
Press Council Executive Director Joe Thloloe spoke powerfully in closing of his experiences of detention in 1977 and his disbelief at emerging from jail months later into a world in which Stephen Bantu Biko and Robert Sobukwe were dead. Yet he found striking parallels with today’s student unrest, saying that he felt he was watching “a replay on our screens” of scenes from his youth.
Opening the conference on 18 October, former President Kgalema Motlanthe had used the example of the racial reconciliation achieved by the Blue Bulls holding their Super 14 semi-final tournament at Orlando Stadium in Soweto in 2010 to argue that “we will not be able to stop racist attitudes until we have dealt with the infrastructure backlog.”
A moment of silence was held for veteran photojournalist Juda Ngwenya, who covered the civil war in Liberia and the democratic transition in South Africa, and who died on 19 October.


Monday 2 January 2017

Celebrating 30 years as an anarchist, 1987 – 2017

Celebrating 30 years as an anarchist, 1987 – 2017 

Time flies when you’re having fun; I can’t believe it’s 30 years since I was liberated from two years of indentured labour in the apartheid SA Defence Force and became an anarchist. There was a guy called Cliff in the Army whose girlfriend was a German anarchist; back then, that was pretty exotic and the idea intrigued me. 
As a young student I quickly gravitated towards the alternative movement which was anti-militarist, anti-fascist and pro-gender diversity, and began to read books on anarchism ordered through Deep South Distribution (Cape Town). 
Between Vanegeim and Bakunin, I found the first obtuse and the second engaging, confirming an early bias towards pro-organisational, class-struggle, collectivist anarchism, but I also used the Natal Mercury newspaper morgue to research The Angry Brigade, indicative of what became a sustained interest in insurrectionary anarchism too. The two tendencies, mass and insurrectionary anarchism, constitute what Lucien van der Walt and I later defined as “the broad anarchist tradition”.
It was inevitable that, working in Durban, I would encounter, then join, the Anarchist Awareness League founded by Shane Freeman – and with that began a lifelong affiliation with anarchist organisations regionally and globally. Within seven years of becoming an anarchist, I was involved in forming the first of eight regional and three international, multiracial anarchist organisations and initiatives I have started over the years. I was also involved in founding five press freedom initiatives, and three African anarchist journals. This strong focus on organisational construction has underpinned my activism in the townships and further abroad.
Four years after that, I performed my first duties as an international delegate, to Zapatista-held Chiapas. Overs subsequent years, I would not only return to Mexico, but conduct work and activism in 42 other countries on six continents, marking my perspectives as deeply transnational, though my primary focus is Sub-Saharan Africa.
Ten years after becoming an anarchist, I started writing my first pieces for the anarchist press, on the struggle for democracy in Swaziland, a path that would eventually lead to the publication of three books on anarchism – one of which is a political science set-work in US and SA universities – and two on Southern Africa’s transition to democracy from an anarchist perspective. I am currently working on three new books on anarchism, two on journalism, and two multimedia projects, with more in the pipeline.
Although in recent years, my work and activism has, on balance, shifted away from journalism towards press freedom and human rights, I have become, thanks to my past 16 years of research in nine languages for the Counter-power project, the leading expert in the history of the global anarchist movement since its origins in the trade unions of the First International in 1868. 
I am exciting about my current research into anarchist history, theory, tactics and strategy, and look forward to many more decades of constructive work in the cause of the broad anarchist movement for direct democracy, autogestion, free association, and horizontal, federated, mass-organised proletarian counter-power.

1987 – 1992: Researched anarchism as a young anarcho-punk
1992 – 1993: Joined the Anarchist Awareness League (AAL)
1993 – 1997: With the AAL and other collectives, co-founded the Durban Anarchist Federation (DAF)
            1996: DAF delegate to the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), Chiapas, and Guatemalan Civil War
1997 – 1999: Joined the Workers’ Solidarity Federation (WSF)
            1997: Started writing for the WSF journal Workers’ Solidarity
            1998: WSF delegate to Socialist Caucus (Zambia), and co-founded with Wilstar Choongo the Anarchist Workers & Students’ Movement (AWSM), intended as a WSF affiliate
            1999: WSF delegate to both factions of the Confédération Nationale du Travail (CNT), France
1999 – 2003: With former WSF members, co-founded Bikisha Media Collective (BMC)
                      BMC delegate, elected treasurer, Worker’s Library & Museum (WLM)
            2000: BMC co-delegate to the CNT Vignole’s Autre Future (France), met Federation Anarchiste (FA) & Alternative Libertaire (AL) 
                      Work began on what becomes Counter-power
            2001: With BMC and other organisations, co-founded International Libertarian Solidarity (ILS-SIL)
                      With BMC, co-founded and started writing for its journal Zabalaza
            2002: Founded the Anarchist Black Cross – Southern Africa (ABC-SA) and its journal Black Alert
                      With the ABC-SA, founded the Anti-Repression Network (ARN)
            2003: BMC delegate to founding conference of the Encuentro Latino Americano de Organizaciones Populares Autónomas (ELAOPA), and to ILS-SIL summit (Brazil)
                      With ZACF and other organisations, co-founded and started writing for the anarkismo.net website
                      With Black Action Group (BAG), Soweto, co-founded the Phambili Motsoaledi Community Project (PMCP)
2003 – 2010: With ABC-SA, BMC, BAG and other collectives, co-founded the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF); elected international secretary
             2004: ZACF delegate, distributes anarchist materials (Rwanda)
                       ZACF delegate to Anarchist Round Table (New Zealand)
             2005: ZACF delegate to Civil Society Conference (SA)
                       Five Waves (which becomes Cartography) published (SA)
                       Trip to Iran to meet with Edris as ZACF delegate cancelled
             2006: ZACF delegate to al-Badil al-Shuyu’i al-Taharoui (BST) and to cover Summer War (Lebanon) 
                       ZACF delegate to ZACF (Swaziland)
             2007: ZACF delegate to cover Darfur War (Sudan)
                       ZACF restructured as Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF)
             2008: Work began on Mass-Line Anarchism
                       With ZACF and CNT-Vignoles, founded the Afrique Sans Chaines journal
                       Published in Die groβen Streiks (Germany)
                       Anarquismo Búlgaro em Armas (Mass-Line Vol.1) published (Brazil)
             2009: Black Flame (Counter-power Vol.1) published (USA)
                       Black Flame launched (SA & Mexico)
                       ZACF delegate to ex-Socialist Caucus (Zambia)
             2010: Founded the Professional Journalists’ Association of South Africa (ProJourn) on a mirror of the ZACF constitution; elected admin secretary
                       Black Flame launched (Canada), and ZACF delegate to Common Cause (CC) Ontario, Union Comuniste Libertaire (UCL) Quebec & Organización Popular Anarquista Revolucionaria (OPAR) Mexico
2011: With ProJourn, founded The Ulu Club for Southern African Conflict Journalists
          Work starts on The People Armed
          Met ex-North Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), USA
          Met Mötmakt (Norway), and Alternative Libertaire (AL) & Confederation des Groupes Anarchiste (CGA), France.
2012: Delegate to the General Assembly of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), Sweden, and met the Sveriges Arbetaren Centralorganisation (SAC)
          Founded the Southern African Cities of Refuge Project (SACRP)
          Cartographie de l’anarchisme révolutionnaire published (Canada)
          As a former Clive Menell Media Fellow, co-founded the Menell Media Exchange (MMX) in SA
          Invited to present on anarchist history at the 140th anniversary International Anarchist Gathering at St Imier (Switzerland), but unable to afford costs
2013: Failed to get a visa to meet persecuted anarchist Brahim Filali (Morocco)
          Interviewed for Ni dieu ni maître: Un histoire de l’anarchisme (France) and met Alternative Libertaire (AL)
          Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism published (USA)
          Planning started on Not Night, but An Absence of Stars
          Schwarze Flamme published (Germany)
          Failed to meet Libertarian Socialist Movement (LSM), Egypt
          Co-founded the Institute for Anarchist Theory & History (IATH-ITHA), Brazil; elected council member
2014: SACRP delegate to the General Assembly of ICORN (Slovenia)
          Cartography launched in Slovenia and met Federacija za Anarchistično Organiziranje (FAO)
          Cartography launched in Australia & New Zealand and met Anarchist Affinity, Jura Books, and the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group (Australia), and Rebel Press (New Zealand) 
          Work began on Radio Freedom (Zimbabwe)
          SACRP launched in Johannesburg and Cape Town to promote ICORN
          Met with Embat and corresponded with Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), Spain 
          Work began on The People Armed, Isandlwana – a Love Story, & on Black Crowbar
          Drinking with Ghosts published (SA)
2015: Drinking with Ghosts launched (SA)
          SACRP hosted ICORN delegates in Cape Town to promote it as a City of Refuge
          A Taste of Bitter Almonds published (SA)
          SACRP delegate to Safe Havens 2015 (Sweden)
          Met the Sveriges Arbetaren Centralorganisation (SAC) and Mötmakt (Norway)
          Work resumed on The People Armed
2016: International panel of anarchist historians drafted onto The People Armed project
          Planning started on Unexploded Ordinance, and Death Flight
          Bitter Almonds launched (SA)
          SACRP relocated Zimbabwean human rights defender to Windhoek (Namibia)
          SACRP delegate to civil society conference on the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia & Related Intolerance (SA)
          SACRP delegate to Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) conference (SA)
          SACRP delegate to IAJ/AKF Reporting Racism Conference (SA)
          SACRP delegate to Safe Havens 2016 (Sweden)
2017: Final phase of writing of Wildfire (Counter-power Vol.2) under way
          Planning on Death Flight: Apartheid’s Forgotten War-Crime under way