Tuesday 28 August 2018

Makhnovist Influence on the Dnieper Military Flotilla

Armoured Boat No.2, 1st Squadron, Dnieper Military Flotilla, during the Russian Civil War. It had a crew of seven, which, from the design I take to be a captain-pilot, fore Maxim-turret gunner, aft (anti-aircraft?) gunner, and four naval infantrymen/women who, during combat would fire through armoured ports in the vessel's flanks, or who would be deployed ashore in support of ground forces. Not sure what flag is being flown, but it sure isn't the Bolshevik Navy's saltire cross!

I have previously written about the Makhnovist "Navy", a small force consisting it seems mostly of riverine and coastal tugboats fitted with rudimentary armament under the command of Seymon Karetnik, but flagshipped by a converted, armoured and armed civilian steamer which plied the Sea of Azov between the Makhnovist-occupied ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol in 1919. This fascinating tale is told in a great Russian-language book, Vladimir M. Chop and Igor I. Liman, Free Berdyansk: The Life of a City Under an Anarchist Social Experiment (1918–1921), AA “Tandem-U”, Zaporyzhia, Ukraine, 2007. 

Now, it seems that there was another Makhnovist-linked naval force, the Dnieper Military Flotilla, ordered to be formed on 12 March 1919 by the anarchist-friendly Bolshevik commander Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko who was close to anarchist commander Maroussia Nikovorova whose armoured train, the Free Combat Druzhina, had liberated four Ukrainian cities from the Whites in 1918, laying the groundwork for the rise of the later Makhnovist Insurgent Army of the Ukraine (RPAU) in 1919. The Flotilla initially consisted of the following vessels:

1st Squadron – the Charlotte, and Armored Boat Numbers 1, 2 (pictured above), 3, 4, and 5;
2nd Squadron – the Courier, the Apollo, and the Samuel; and
3rd Squadron – the Arnold, the Faithful, and the flotilla flagship, the Admiral;
plus seven support vessels which would have included ammunition and fuel bunkers, and at least one tugboat.

I am still researching this but the named ships in the flotilla were likely to be armoured steamers of the "river monitor class" which were "purpose-built, armored, low-board, shallow-draft vessels designed to attack enemy fortifications, forces, or water craft in coast or river defense... There were several types, but typical was a vessel with a displacement of 130–150 metric tons, 140–200 horsepower engine, capable of 14 knots per hour (26 kilometers), armed with two 122 mm howitzers, two 40mm cannon and three machine guns or three 76 mm cannon and four machine guns." The description is from Lester W. Grau, River Flotillas in Support of Defensive Ground Operations: The Soviet Experience, The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 2016, but his study is of Civil War-era flotillas such as the Dnieper which were reactivated in the 1930s and fought in WWII, so the armaments he cites are most likely later, updated armaments, but it gives you some idea of the sort of vessels likely to have been in the Civil War-era flotilla. Many vessels were, in fact, converted civilian paddle-wheelers, barges, coast guard vessels, or small steamers such as Karetnik's flagship.

The Wikipedia entry (sigh: I know!) on the Flotilla states that its "combat vessels were of two kinds: gunboats and armored boats. The gunboats were usually conversions of boats confiscated from Kiev shipowners, on which were installed one or two guns of 37–152 millimetres (1.5–6.0 in) calibre (fore and aft, if two guns) and up to six machine guns – Hotchkiss, Maxim, or whatever was available – with some iron or steel sheet bolted on for protection if any was available. The armored boats were purpose-built patrol craft inherited from the Imperial Navy; their armament consisted of one Maxim machine gun in a rotating turret, with a crew of 7." The Flotilla carried Special Companies of marine infantry who would be deployed ashore in battle.

According to Yuri Glushakov, The Revolution Is Dead! Long Live the Revolution! Anarchism in Belarus 1902-1927, SzSS, St Petersburg, Russia, 2015, the Dnieper Military Flotilla's first commander the revolutionary sailor A. V. Polupanov, a Donbas miner, and "a person colorful and rebellious" who had in 1918 been commander of the armoured train "Freedom or Death", which had served on the front alongside Nikiforova's armoured train and the Makhnovists. The Flotilla's crews were selected in Kiev from Black Sea and Baltic revolutionary sailors. Glushakov notes that the crews remained staunchly partisan with only 63 Bolsheviks and 40 sympathisers among its 2,300 personnel in 1919: "The Flotilla lived Makhnovist ideals, and there were many such who, having visited Makhno and having got into the Flotilla, were not averse to joining him again." An early disaster in battling against the Green warlord and pogromist Daniil Illich Turpilo 400 rebels of whose self-proclaimed "Army of the Independent Soviet Ukraine" on 11 April 1919 assaulted the Flotilla at dock in Kiev from the  steamer Baron Ginzburg, later capturing the Flotilla vessels Dnieper, Salubrious, Gogol, Charlotte, and Zeus. After six campaigns against Turpilo by the FLotilla in support of some 21,000 Red Army troops, he was defeated in July and killed in November 1919.

Such was the Flotilla's aversion to regimentation that Trotsky replaced Polupanov on 13 September 1919 with a Bolshevik named Smirnov who was disliked because of his love of the officer caste; nevertheless, though Smirnov purged the Flotilla of 65% of its sailors, several hardcore anarchist ideologues remained. Glushakov cites the case of M.V, Sednev, a sailor from the cruiser Askold, who had served jail time for mutiny in Vladivostok in 1907 during the 1905-1907 Revolt. After fighting with some distinction against White Polish forces over the spring and summer of 1920 - especially its marine infantry - the Flotilla's three squadrons were dispatched to two separate locations: the Berezhinsky and Sozh Squadrons to Gomel in Belorrussia, and the Southern Squadron to Yekaterinoslav in Ukraine in the Makhnovist theatre of operations - which suggests further opportunities for fraternisation between the revolutionary sailors and the anarchists. The Flotilla was disbanded in December 1920, though several of its vessels were rehabilitated and put back into service in the 1930s.

Danube Military Flotilla Gunboat, built in 1916; here the side gun-ports through which the naval infantry could fire their rifles can be clearly seen. 

A 1916 Russian steamer converted into a gunboat. Perhaps the Makhnovist "Navy" flagship under Seymon Karetnik was similar? It seems to be about 17m in length.

A small armed tugboat of the sort believed to be operated by the Makhnovists. I have suggested a similar scale to that of the gunboat above, but it's pure guesswork based on the vertical height of the pilot's houses.

The Dnieper Military Flotilla - probably in its 1930s reincarnation - showing the small Gunboats and, in the background, larger craft including what looks like a River Monitor.

A River Monitor, illustrated in Grau (2016)


Thursday 23 August 2018

l’Eredità di Mandela

Estratto da un'intervista di Carlo Annese, GQ Italia, Johannesburg, Ilugo 2012

«Oggi esiste una divisione in classi che replica la divisione razziale d’un tempo», dice Michael Schmidt, direttore dell’Istituto per lo sviluppo del giornalismo, nell’uffi cio da cui domina Johannesburg. «Si sta verifi cando un’apartheid economica, per cui i poveri sono sempre più poveri, le township che dovevano scomparire sono ancora lì, gli operai non guadagnano abbastanza per comprare ciò che producono, e all’élite bianca del regime di vent’anni fa si è aggiunta una classe media nera agiata di non più di 300 mila persone. Tutto ciò non è solo l’effetto del governo degli ultimi anni: anche Mandela ha delle responsabilità, ma pochi vogliono vederle. La sua fi gura è stata quasi beatificata, come un nuovo Gandhi, per cui tutto ciò che ha fatto è sacrosanto, mentre anche la critica aiuterebbe a restituirgli una dimensione umana, al di là del mito: Madiba è stato un uomo di partito che ha ceduto al compromesso per riconciliare il Paese, respingendo le richieste dell’ala estremista dell’ANC di nazionalizzare le miniere e consentendo ai bianchi di rimediare ai danni imposti all’economia da anni di boicottaggio internazionale e isolamento commerciale». 


Friday 17 August 2018

Mozambique: Change is in the Air

Mozambique's liquid natural gas fields. The map was produced in 2016 by Africa Confidential.

When Renamo leader Alfonso Dhlakama died unexpectedly on 3 May 2018, there were fears that it would upset the Mozambican peace process between Renamo and Frelimo. It was also unfortunate as I had been waiting for some months to interview the reclusive former rebel leader whose movement had once been a proxy of Rhodesian then apartheid South African intelligence, making him something like a Mozambican version of Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi (whose killing I reported on in 2002); I had been assured by his aide-de-camp that the Dhlakama interview was imminent, so was disappointed at the news of his death. Here's a piece I wrote in March last year on the peace process - and Mozambique's emergent liquid natural gas industry.

Michael Schmidt

The extension of the ceasefire announced on January 3 between the Mozambican armed forces and opposition guerrillas is holding – and a peace process now appears imminent, as gloom over the country’s debt crisis is somewhat dispelled by progress on exploiting its gas reserves.
Despite ranking 180 out of 188 on the UN’s Human Development Index, liberalisation saw the economy grow at a blistering 7-8% of GDP by the mid-2010s, and in September 2015, Mozambique was declared landmine-free. Meanwhile, the discovery in 2010 of offshore gas reserves – at 2.8 to 5 trillion m³, the biggest find in the world in a decade – promised the country an influx of US$100bn in investment, which would make the country the world’s third-largest liquid natural gas (LNG) exporter within a decade, the IMF estimated. 
But then it all exploded in Mozambicans’ faces: a disputed election result in 2014 saw Renamo take up arms in the hinterland again, despite occupying almost two thirds of the seats in the Assembly of the Republic; while three security-related companies, Ematum, Proindicus and MAM, defaulted on loans illicitly guaranteed by the Armando Guebuza government over 2013-2014, adding 20% to the country’s foreign debt, and resulting in the suspension of financial aid from the IMF, World Bank and all Western donors and funding agencies. MAM’s US$535m loan was to build shipyards to service the offshore gas rigs.
So even though the Renamo-Frelimo conflict is not fuelled by gasfields bidding or the debt escalation, sighs of relief greeted the extension of the ceasefire, negotiated in two phonecalls between President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, bypassing an international team of mediators led by EU representative Mario Raffaelli. Raffaelli said the team would only return once invited by a joint commission set up by Frelimo and Renamo to iron out a peace deal. But though that commission stopped work in December, on 3 February, a working group was appointed to resolve the military impasse – and another to draft constitutional amendments and legislation on the decentralisation of power.
Veteran Maputo journalist Paul Fauvet told me that “Everyone, Frelimo, Renamo and the second opposition party, the MDM, agrees that the constitution should be amended. But neither Frelimo nor the MDM will accept Dhlakama simply appointing provincial governors in the provinces he claims that Renamo won in the 2014 general elections. A constitutional amendment requires a two thirds majority in parliament, and Frelimo plus the MDM don't have two thirds. If Renamo is not on board, there can be no constitutional amendment.
“The simplest solution would be for the elected provincial assemblies to appoint the provincial governors. Given the current make-up of the assemblies, that would result in Renamo governors in Sofala, Zambezia and Tete, and possibly in Nampula (depending on how the sole MDM assembly member casts his vote). Frelimo would have the governors in the other six provinces.”
Mozambique is scheduled to hold municipal elections next year and general elections in 2019, so there is pressure to amend the constitution before then. Last year, leading Frelimo intellectual and former security minister Sergio Vieira warned that the ruling party was in danger of losing the coming polls as it was “degenerating” while “a crowd of new crooks” looted the state.
The silver lining is that the gasfields investment is steaming ahead, with an US$8,5bn refinery announced in December, and production of about 3,4m tons/year over 25 years expected to start flowing from the Area 4 gasfield in 2022. According to Natural Gas World, last month South Korea’s KOGAS green-lighted investment of US$513m in a floating LNG rig over 2017-2022 and a guarantee of up to US$640m of the facility’s debt. 
Area 4 rights are divided at 10% each between KOGAS, Portugal’s GALP, and Mozambique’s ENH, with 70% held by ENI East Africa, consisting of Italian operator ENI and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). All boards have approved their investments with CNPC’s the last decision awaited before construction begins.
Meanwhile, a second consortium led by US-based Anadarko is expected to announce its investment in Area 1 shortly, and the latest gasfields tender awards, to Royal Dutch Shell, Norway’s Yara International and London-registered GL Africa Energy, have been hailed for boldly excluding Frelimo old guard bidders close to President Nyusi.
Fauvet said he did not expect gas to distort the Mozambican economy as oil had in Angola: “Nyusi is well aware of the dangers of excessive reliance on hydrocarbons, and repeatedly stresses the need for further investment in areas such as agriculture and tourism. So I remain optimistic.”


Wednesday 15 August 2018

Market Leaders

Not sure if this is a poem or a song or just a rant, but I was tired of sitting in Doha international airport drowning in the useless products of late capitalism:


I am so not interested in your New York Times bestseller list
with its endless screeds on how to be a feng-shui asshole in business;
I am so not interested in your favourite new-fangled gadget 
– I don’t care what it does while you ignore those around you;
I am so not interested in your overweeningly hip craft beer 
with its coyly underbrewed, oversweet stench;
I am so not interested in your Dalai Lama lecturing me on joy
when he uses his title though Desmond Tutu uses his name
I am so not interested in your Hugo Boss perfume
– that queer old Sturm Abteilung scent of fruit salad; 
I am so not interested in your slickly-branded clothing range
– it’s poorly stitched, doesn’t hang well, and won’t last the season;
I am so not interested in your vacuous attempts at artworks
that say zero about the dangerous philosophies of death and fucking;
I am so not interested in your po-faced robotic news-channels
that feed us tidbits of tragedy like the macaws we are;
I am so not interested in the faux contestations of sports matches
– run by mobsters and profiteers and mistaken for fun;
I am so not interested in your latest social media monster
because yonks ago some dinosaurs even had two brains;
I’m so not interested in the vacuum of your trans-Atlantic flight
- it’s just another kind of bus, but you’re still the same kind of kine;
I am so not interested in your anodyne mimicry of politics
– nice folks are jailed and gunned down each day for less;
I am so not interested in your shallow ruminations about the soul
– because, “brother,” I’ve never seen you really get down.


Thursday 9 August 2018

Spanish Anarchists and the Moroccan Liberation Movement

Mohammed ben Abd el-Krim el-Khattabi

In September 1936, Pierre Besnard, International Secretary of the IWA, advised the CNT to ensure the success of the revolution through the internationalisation of the war. This meant fomenting revolution in Portugal where the CGT was still active – and rescuing, and returning to Morocco, the jailed Rif guerrilla leader Mohammed ben Abd el-Krim el-Khattabi (1882-1963) to foment an uprising, which would be aided by the declaration of the independence of the colony. It was a mere 14 years prior to the outbreak of the revolution, in 1922, that el-Krim’s forces had comprehensively defeated the Spanish army in the interior of Spanish Morocco, establishing a Rif Republic that survived until destroyed by a French expeditionary force of 250,000 soldiers in May 1926, the rest of French Morocco only succumbing as late as 1934. El-Krim was so famous to the global anti-colonial cause that he was the front-page face of Time magazine in August 1925 – and his guerrilla tactics influenced future generations fighting that cause - including Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam. So it is possible that a fresh Rif rebellion and the re-establishment of an independent Moroccan zone would not only undermine Franco’s rear but provoke an uprising in French Morocco as well. Abel Paz outlines in some detail how close this missed opportunity came close to being a reality in his biography of Durruti: negotiations with a Berber national-liberationist Moroccan Action Committee (CAM) had already begun in late July with the CCMA [Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militia]. Initiated by the CCMA with Moroccan exiles in Geneva led by Emir Shakib Arslan who were in contact with the CAM’s strongholds in Fez and Tetuán, followed by the deployment by the CNT-FAI of Robert Louzon (and by the Trotskyist 4th International of David Rousset) to Fez, these had progressed well, to the extent that the CAM was to send a delegation from Fez to Barcelona to discuss how to jointly fight the rebels. Before leaving for Spain on 15 September 1936 and already expressing concerns about the retreat of the Revolution, Besnard had held discussions with the communist CGT’s secretary-general, the former syndicalist Léon Jouhoux, and other socialists “who were opposed to [socialist French President] Léon Blum’s non-intervention policy and that they had authorized him to speak in their names when the attempted to convince Largo Caballero that [Republican] Spain would grant independence to the Rif and the whole Spanish Protectorate.” Besnard had drawn up “a detailed plan for for inciting a rebellion among the Moroccan tribes (in the Spanish Protectorate) beginning wiith the escape of Abd el-Krim, whom the French had banished to Reunión Island in 1926.” Besnard also had good relations with the political opposition in Portugal to the Salazar dictatorship including the underground CGT, then boasting some 50,000 members, which remained an IWA affiliate. “The revolt in Morocco would co-incide with a revolution in Portugal, a country allied with Franco.” Successful or even sustained disruptive rebellions on two rear flanks of the Francoist forces would seriously threaten the entire rebel-fascist-conservative enterprise with collapse. Durrutti, Oliver and Abad de Santillán met with Besnard to discuss this two-pronged rear assault strategy. According to Paz, Besnard’s report of the meeting suggest that Durruti and Abad de Santillán liked the plan to free el-Krim rather than leaving the uprising in the hands of the CAM, but, with the CAM only an hour away by plane and el-Krim thousands of kilometres away, Paz states this was “fanciful” and that there were good reasons to rather support the CAM as the main instigator of a Moroccan revolt – but the weakness of Besnard’s plan in my view was its reliance on Caballero agreeing to a Republican foreign policy that was certain to upset a colonial power like France with its own Moroccan protectorate to worry about – not to mention other African colonies – which might be inspired by a new Rif rebellion to break from France. Besnard flew to Madrid, arriving on 17 September and met with Montseny who urged Caballero to hear his plan. Besnard took CNT general secretary David Antona to meet Caballero the next day, but the Republican prime minister received them coldly and only briefly with no fruitful results. Besnard returned to Barcelona to report back and found the three-member CAM delegation led by a young Abdeljalk Torres had arrived: Paz reports Oliver as telling the delegation that the CCMA would offer the CAM “arms and money to start an uprising in Morocco against Franco’s soldiers and for their country’s independence” plus any guarantees they might require. Torres’ delegation did not reply, merely stating that they had been tasked with hearing the CCMA’s proposals which they would take back to a Pan-Islamic Committee which had delegated the CAM to go to Barcelona. Returning to Oliver after apparently conferring with the Pan-Islamic Committee, Torres’ delegation agreed to the CCMA offer – but on the following grounds, in Oliver’s words: “1. They did not want independence for Morocco because they believed such independence would bring Italian or German aggression upon them and those two nations would be worse for them than the Spanish. 2. They wanted an autonomy for Morocco similar to what England conceded to Iraq after the First World War. 3. If the two previous points were accepted, they were ready to sign the corresponding agreement which would come into effect once we achieved the following: a) That the Spanish Republican government accept the accord; b) That Spain gets the French government to accept it.” Oliver correctly comments that this removed the Moroccan libration question from the conditions of revolutionary action into the purely legal realm. “My position, which I articulated to them repeatedly, consisted of the following: we are in a revolutionary situation in Spain and its victory will necessarily affect all oour international relations, including those with Morocco. That’s why I urged them to take the revolutionary stance of immediately accepting the fact of independence and letting the right to such independence be granted later. Nevertheless, these representatives of an Arab world still sleeping the secular siesta of submission to the west clung to their conservative mandate, focusing first on the right and later on the fact.” It is rather rich that Oliver who had so readily capitulated to state-capitalist compromise dared to lecture the Moroccans on adopting a revolutionary path. Nevertheless, he was correct in noting his fear that getting the endorsement of France was impossible and so would “delay Moroccan independence indefinitely.” Still, the accord was signed with the CAM – and a multiparty CCMA delegation consisting of Aurelio Fernández for the CNT-FAI, Rafael Vidiella for the UGT-PSUC, Julián Gorkin for the POUM, and Jaume Miravittles for the Republican Left, to present the accord to the central government and to defend it if need be: in Madrid, the socialist Navy Minister Indalecio Prieto accepted the accord with enthusiasm and promised arms for Morocco, but Caballero spurned the accord, denying Catalonia its right to sign such accords, despite its autonomy, and demanding that the Moroccans appear before him instead. Torres’ delegation was dispatched to Madrid and presented their case to Caballero. Rousset, the 4th International’s delegate to Morocco, recalled (cited in Paz) that Caballero “was under heavy pressure from Paris and London, who had heard about the initiative” and were “openly hostile” to Moroccan independence, so “the Spanish government told the Arab delegates that it couldn’t accept the treaty signed in Barcelona, but that it would provide money and arms to support the effort against Franco in the Spanish Protectorate.” But the CAM delegation refused the offer, insisting that they would only agree to the principles of the Barcelona accord. Another delegation member, Allal el-Fassi, explained that the Spanish Foreign Relations Minister Julio Alvarez de Vayo asked the Moroccans for time to consult Paris: he did so, in the figure of Chamber of Deputies President, the Radical politician Édouard Herriot, and had also consulted General Charles Noguès, the military chief in French Morocco; both rejected the Barcelona accord out of hand. “The Madrid government communicated orally to our delegation its inability to grant independence in the existing circumstances,” el-Fassi recalled; instead “it asked us to accept the sum of forty million pesetas for publicity on behalf of Spanish democracy, together with the promise that after victory had been achieved the Republic would strive for the wellbeing of Morocco. Our delegation protested this mean offer and indignantly withdrew from the conference meeting.” If Durruti and the Land and Liberty Column had managed to move much of the gold reserves to Barcelona as planned (a plan thwarted by the traitorous CNT National Committee), the Catalan Defence Committees would have been in a much stronger position to convince the CAM to deal unilaterally with Revolutionary Barcelona which could have bypassed the collaborationist CCMA and supplied them directly with sufficient arms and money for a full-scale independence struggle, the Republican government in Madrid having been rendered somewhat irrelevant to the Moroccans’ clear aims of independence. But it must be admitted that the CAM’s rather conventional nationalism made them inflexible so even in this alternative scenario, this solution would have proven difficult to negotiate.