Sunday 30 December 2018

Reflections on 2018 and 2019

As I reflect on 2018, it has proven to be a busy and diverse year, full of challenge, promise and, for want of a better word, blessings. It has taken me from the depths of the  massive refugee camp at Khutupalong in southern Bangladesh, near the epicentre of the Rohingya Genocide, to the heights of the ash-clouds of a freshly-erupting Popocatepetl volcano in central Mexico, has embraced four journalism conferences, travel to four countries, marked my first entry into the world of film-making, and resulted in the completion of four significant works: a unique monograph on African Anarchist Movements; a book on love, loss, sex and death; the third-edition rewrite of Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism for its Arabic and Spanish translations, and the completion, after eighteen years' unpaid labour of my magnum opus, the global anarchist movement history In the Shadow of a Hurricane which is now being reviewed by a subject-matter expert prior to publication. I am now on the verge of signing a contract for an intense new book that I will write over 2019.

Although I continue to write on African affairs, especially in the under-covered maritime sector, journalism is now the minority of my work, and my transformation into a human rights rapporteur is nearing completion as we prepare to establish the first Safe Haven for persecuted human rights defenders in Johannesburg, the culmination of a process that began back in 2012. I am very excited about this, especially given that I hope we can name the initiative after my late friend Anton Hammerl, killed in Libya in 2011, but there is trepidation too, because after having worked on several relocations of at-risk people already, I am aware of the many pitfalls and do not want to fail my charges. Fortunately, I am consolidating a team of women, three in Johannesburg and three in Cape Town, who have demonstrated a passion for getting on board this project. On that note, given the depredations inflicted on women globally by those who desire to control all of us, I will foreground women's protections in my work going forward as I bring the Safe Havens conference to South Africa for the first time in 2019.

In the coming year, I am definitely queued to work at least in Namibia, South Africa, and possibly Mozambique and Zambia (as a researcher), India (as a trainer), and definitely in the Netherlands (as a rapporteur), with further work in South and South-East Asia on the cards too (perhaps embracing countries as diverse as Nepal and Vietnam), as my conflict-sensitive journalism training deepens its reach into Asia as part of a three-year regional project. I have also been invited to a literary festival in Georgia in the Caucasus, and might also speak on my work in Canada and Russia should those opportunities bear fruit. There is also a possibility that I may be contracted to do work in Boko Haram territory around Lake Chad (Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon), though the current state-backed linguistic conflict in Cameroon and the security situation in the region in general makes this tricky. And then there is the question on doing on the ground research into the Rojava Revolution - very difficult given the blockade on all sides by Daesh (Islamic State), Turkish, Syrian regime, and right-wing Kurdish forces - but not impossible... if a Norwegian friend in her sixties can do it, so can I ;) 

I am also embarking on some new directions, including research and possibly script-writing for film, the establishment of a much-needed blues bar / intimate theatre since the closure of The Blues Room in Joburg several years ago, and some perhaps more reflective explorations. The year has seen the forging of new friendships, the testing of old friendships, and what I guess you could call the closure of a quarter-century romance cycle. I look forward to seeing what personal developments 2019 will bring. Here is a sketch of key events of my life this past year:

2018: Rewrite of 3rd edition of Cartography completed
          Contracted research into pro-apartheid background of UK “ex”-fascist Max Mosley
          Ran four In-depth Journalism Boot-camps for 57 journalists (Bangladesh)
          Ran Conflict-Sensitive Journalism Workshop for 25 journalists (Bangladesh)
          Reporting on the Rohingya Genocide at Kutupalong (Bangladesh)
          ProJourn delegate to Menell Media Exchange 2018 
          Radio Freedom’s second podcast with Taurai Mabhachi during Radio Days Africa
          Chaired debate on fake news – "Reading Between the Lies" – at ISS
          Ran Advanced In-Depth Journalism Workshop (Bangladesh)
          In the Shadow of a Hurricane completed
          Presented on "Writing Narrative Non-Fiction" at SA Book Fair 2018
          ProJourn delegate to Anti-Racism Network of South Africa conference
          Chaired ProJourn debate on the Rohingya Genocide at Holocaust & Genocide Centre
          Started research work for fact-based African feature film
          ProJourn delegate to Crisis & War Reporting in Africa conference
          Official rapporteur at Safe Havens 2018 (Sweden)
          SACRP announcement of opening of Safe Havens initiative in Johannesburg
          Contract secured in principle for writing a new book over 2019
          African Anarchist Movements: Race, Class & Liberation published (Mexico)


Saturday 29 December 2018

Flying the Enemy's Flag

Book review of James Ellroy’s Perfidia, Penguin, 2014

In the age of sail it was an acceptable ruse de guerre to sneak up on an enemy ship flying his own colours as camouflage to get oneself to a position advantageous to a swift and successful assault; but to fail to run up one’s own colours before actually attacking and attempting to kill or seize the prize was ungentlemanly conduct known as perfidy. 
The theme was applied to love and betrayal by Mexican composer Alberto Domiguez for his song Perfidia which became a 1940 hit for Xavier Cugat, band-leader at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City during WWII – and now crime noire don James Ellroy has employed it as the treacherous heart of his latest novel, Perfidia, revolving around Japanese fifth-column activity in LA in the weeks after Pearl Harbour. 
In tune with this age’s fascination for prequel narratives of popular works, Perfidia lays the groundwork for Ellroy’s LA Quartet of novels: The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, and White Jazz. Of those, the first three – Dahlia and Confidential were made into compelling films – are masterful but the final volume runs out of steam and appears to lose its way off the central narrative.
That is despite the fact that the central figure in the last three novels is former IRA gunman turned brutal LA policeman on the make Captain Dudley Smith, a great literary creation at the nexus of the torsion between shady cops and the criminal underworld of 1946-1958 Los Angeles. 
But in Perfidia, which covers only 6-29 December 1941, the Dudster, then just a sergeant, is on the rise, exploiting his confessional ties to JFK’s bootlegging father Joe Kennedy, to Chinese tong boss Uncle Ace Kwan, and to Mexican blackshirt state policeman Carlos Madrano, his killer instinct honed by a racist and yet entirely opportunistic Irish Catholicism, and abetted by a deliciously droll patter delivered in a seductive brogue.
Many other Quartet figures find their first breath here, but one stellar entry who only passes by in The Black Dahlia is 21-year-old Midwestern farmgirl Kay Lake, an arriviste ingénue and quick-study whose penetrating personal diary forms the connecting tissue of the narrative. Lake’s pitiless yet charming self-assessments of her own perfidy are stunning and deliver a nuanced, flawed, dynamic character worthy of big screen treatment. 
Ditto for the rapid evolution of the moral ambivalence of closeted young queer Japanese police forensics buff Dr Hideo Ashida, desperate to prove his worth to bad men like Sergeant Smith in order to gain protection for his brother Akira and their drunken, Tojo-supporting mother Mariko as it swiftly becomes clear the country’s Japanese population are headed for mass wartime internment.
For Ellroy fans, although his inimitable blend of fictional and true-life characters remains, there are several departures from his usual style. For one thing, James Ellroy is the anti-James Lee Burke; where Burke’s denouements resolve high dudgeon with an unusual quietness, Ellroy is infused with the Götterdämmerung of his native Hollywood and his novels end not with a whimper but a bang – yet here, the key mystery of the novel – who murdered the fifth columnist Watanabe family, trying to make it appear like a family suicide, and how is this linked to plans to profiteer from the looming mass internments – is resolved with somewhat unseemly, almost offhanded speed. 
Then, apart from Lake’s diary, Ellroy’s usual technique of using FBI memos and other quasi-documentary snippets to link the narrative are gone. And despite the fact that the entire book is driven by a visceral exploration of post-Pearl Harbour anti-Japanese animus, often referencing a then-still-potent domestic and international fascism, Ellroy has tempered the racist language that marked – some would argue, marred – all his other works, in particular the brilliant Underworld USA Trilogy which covers the dramatic seven years from 1958-1972 covering the JFK assassination and its aftermath from the perspectives of them what done it. Perfidia is not quite up to the Trilogy’s standard, but will prove more than satisfactory to those readers hungry for a foretaste of the characters that made three-quarters of the LA Quartet great.


The Red of His Shadow

Book review of Mayra Montero, The Red of His Shadow, Panther, 2002

Vodoun, the syncretic religion of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, comprising Haiti in the west and Dominican Republic in the east, is seldom accurately represented in fiction, subject as it has been for centuries to white mistrust of black theology, and in recent times to B-grade horror movie renderings of zombies.

Even Harvard scientist Wade Davis’ excellent 1985 book The Serpent and the Rainbow – a unique investigation into the real psycho-pharmacological bases of zombiesm, combined with a history of the rebel black republic of Haiti after its successful slave revolution of 1804, and a detailed explanation of how vodoun developed as an underground slave exaltation of West and Central African religions under the guise of their overlords’ Catholicism – was turned into a cheap Wes Craven thriller in 1988.

An unsurpassed exploration of the roots of rock ‘n roll via Haiti, where the faiths of African and Irish slaves combined to form vodoun and shape modern American culture, is the 1985 essay by Texan writer Michael Ventura, Hear That Long Snake Moan, which is available online. But Davis and Ventura offer rare English-language non-fiction insights into vodoun, so it was perhaps inevitable that an accurate depiction in fiction would be penned by a Cuban writer, in Spanish.

With a light touch, but penetrating empathy, Mayra Montero explores the mutual antagonisms, racism and interwoven cultures of pitch-black migrant Haitian “Congo” cane-cutters working for a pittance in a coffee-coloured Dominican mulatto world. Bucking traditional prejudices and a rain of curses from her family, the clairvoyant Dominican Anacaona marries the Haitian cane-cutter Jean-Claude Revé, brother to the vodoun houngan Papa Luc Revé, whose shy but willful daughter Zulé, possessed of a natural susceptibility to be ridden by the Loa, those ancient African gods, is destined from a young age to become the mambo of her own vodoun Societé.

Every year during Holy Week, Zulé’s Societé prepares itself with incantations, appeals to the Loa for protection and profit, dresses in its finest, beats its ritual drums, and, lead by its elders and queens, sets out from the batey, the worker’s barracks near the sugar mill, on a sacred procession, a Gagá, through the countryside, during which time they will exchange gifts of rum, cigars, cakes and fowl with the batey communities and Societés they encounter, while the mambos and houngans dispense advice and intercede with the spirit world.

It is usually a time of great celebration, but this year everyone is on edge because they know Zulé’s Gagá is destined to cross paths – and machetes – with the rival Gagá of the Haitian houngan Similá Bolosse, feared as a bokor, a master of the dark arts, not least for his connections to the disgraced yet still dangerous tonton macoute death-squads of ousted Haitian president Papa Doc Duvalier, and their drug shipments, the loss of one of which is blamed on Zulé. 

Montero’s lush and livid prose is brought to us by the skilled translation of Edith Grossman, who has also made Latin American greats like Gabriel García Márquez accessible to English readers. Peppering her text with vodoun chants and slave songs in Haitian Creole, Montero draws us into the realities of the cane-cutter’s physical poverty and spiritual abundance. 

With language as plain as cassava yet as firey as rum, she spins a tale – apparently inspired by a real crime of passion – which for all its grittiness has the lyrical, doomed beauty of many of Latin America’s great voices; definitely a talent to watch.


Thursday 27 December 2018

The Two Faces of Global Separatism (2014)

Catalan anarchist flag, a variant on the separatist estelada (the communist version has a red canton and yellow star). Not all Catalan anarchists desire Catalan separatism per se, even if they support the region's claims to linguistic-cultural identity - the anarchist vision being rather of decentralised multi-ethnic societies along the lines of the current Rojava Revolution.

I wrote this piece for Daily Maverick in September 2014. Events in Basque Country, Scotland and especially Catalonia have since evolved - while the Rojava Revolution has seen an area larger than Belgium become independent in northern Syria under a feminist-ecological libertarian communist social system (although this is explicitly a pan-Syrian and not a separatist project). The piece was selectively quoted by my dilettante political opponents to try and "prove" me to be an ethnic separatist, but as I make clear in the text, separatism in South Africa is a dead letter and a political chimera. 

- Michael Schmidt

My father until very recently lived in a stone house on the wild outer reaches of Scotland, on South Uist, the southernmost island in the remote, Atlantic-lashed chain called the Outer Hebrides. He appealed to me to visit, but my cynical response was that I'd have to be on a cod-fishing trawler headed from the Danish Faroe archipelago to Iceland and get blown off course by a storm to wind up in South Uist, it is that far off the charts. 
For four fractious centuries, the Outer Hebrides formed part of the inconsistent Norse Kingdom of the Isles which included the Inner Hebrides, Shetland, Orkney and the Isle of Man, and it only became a part of Scotland in 1266. It has more than 50 uninhabited islands, has barely any trees, and until fairly recently could only be reached by ferry from the mainland. So if today's Scottish referendum on dividing the two old sovereignties goes against Whitehall, the bucolic wastes of the Outer Hebrides may recede further from the world we know.
I like to joke that the Romans, having conquered the known world, reached the plains of Caledonia, and on being confronted with wild Picts who dyed their skin blue with woad, spiked their hair with lime and ran naked, screaming into battle, decided, "To hell with them, this is the end of civilisation as we know it!" and threw up Hadrian's Wall. In all seriousness, many South Africans have sympathy for the cause of Scottish separatism as many Scots fought on the side of the Boers against the British Empire a century ago.
But separatism has a chequered history, here and around the world. Some acts of "national" reassertion, often on cultural/linguistic/ethnic grounds, have descended into appalling blood-letting, as was the case in ex-Somalia which has been without a unitary identity since 1991, being torn between rival regionalist tribes, Salafist fanatics, expat wannabe authorities, and foreign interventionists. And such tribal feuding is not the exclusive preserve of "backward" societies, as was sadly proved in the heart of Europe by the case of ex-Yugoslavia, which rapidly descended into fratricidal war in 1990-1999, stuttering on until 2001 in Macedonia and Preševo.
Earlier this year, I visited beautiful Slovenia, which was the most fortunate of the statelets which emerged from the wreckage of Yugoslavia, having only experienced 10 days of war in their battle for independence in 1991, with only 19 killed. But can one really call a land with only two million people a country? Does it have the requisite critical mass in industry, finance, hell, even the arts, to be truly sovereign? Is separatism a necessary surgical response to an increasingly bland monocultural world? Would an independent Palestine not in truth remain an economic vassal of Israel? A resident of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana boasted that her country had lead a charmed existence, surviving the Napoleonic Wars, the Balkan Wars, World Wars I and II, and the break with Yugoslavia almost unscratched.
This was not entirely true, for the darkest (and mostly unacknowledged) part of Slovenian history was the massacres and death marches of Četniks by Tito's communist partisans in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Ironically, this bloody backlash against the very concept of nationalism which, once the liberal dream of Woodrow Wilson, had become warped and tainted by six years of Nazi rule, resulted in four Cold War decades of an Eastern Europe consisting of states with the most ethnically homogenous populations ever.
During its painful dissolution, parts of ex-Yugoslavia saw a descent into barbarism unseen in Europe since the Nazi era. There was a deliberate evocation by Croatian extremists of the genocidal wartime regime of Ante Pavelić, whose Ustaše (Insurgent Croatian Revolutionary Movement) clerical fascist regime's pogroms and concentration camps killed around 29,000 Roma, 30,000 Jews and perhaps 600,000 Orthodox Serbs. 
In the 1990s, European neo-Nazis proudly took the opportunity to sign up as neo-Ustaše irregulars, and the world was once again faced with images of skeletal creatures hanging on barbed wire in concentration camps. Forensic scientists poked around mass graves, and a chilly new term, "ethnic cleansing," entered common parlance. The amoral slaughter was powerfully captured in books such as Madness Visible by Italian war correspondent Janine di Giovanni, and films such as Oliver Stone's deeply unnerving, almost unwatchable Saviour (1998).
There is a nasty threat of a reprise of that time in the current separatist versus anti-imperialist war in the eastern Ukrainian oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, where the confused situation precipitated by the barely-disguised Russian annexation of Crimea in the wake of the Maidan and Anti-Maidan protests for and against Ukraine's toenadering with the European Union, has seen Kiev, desperate to stave off the loss of more of its Russophone eastern territories, allowing the formation of the neo-fascist Azov Battalion to fight the pro-Russian separatists. 
At 300 strong, armed with tanks and heavy weapons, and with historical inspirations from ultra-nationalist one-time Nazi allies the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, Azov is a force to be reckoned with and has also attracted foreign white supremacist volunteers. While claims of atrocities committed by its soldiers against civilians appear to be the stuff of Russian propaganda, there remains a serious question of what role these fascists will legitimately be able to claim they deserve to play in Ukrainian public life after the battles are over, for having defended Ukraine's sovereignty. 
While the disputed yes vote in the March 2014 referendum for Crimea to separate from Ukraine - to which it was only added by Khrushchev in 1954 - may have been the legitimate expression of most Crimeans' desire for reunification with Russia, it was hardly the result of a process as legislatively clean as that playing out in Scotland right now because the choices were loaded between joining Russia and quasi-sovereignty, both of which meant a degree of separation from Ukraine. But it was certainly more legitimate than the clandestinely-armed separatist war underway in Donetsk and Luhansk. Separatism can be a painful, even murderous, business. 
But sometimes it evolves from terrorism into democratic dissent. That certainly has been the case with Quebec in Canada, where the violent separatism of the communist Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) peaked in the "October Crisis" of 1970 in which an FLQ kidnapping and a murder saw martial law imposed on Quebec - and improved the fortunes of the legalistic route to Québécois independence of the social democratic Parti Québécois which attained its first of several periods of governance of the province in 1976. And yet, in 1980 and again in 1995, referenda on Quebec separatism were defeated by 60% and 50.6% of the Quebec electorate respectively, so though separatist fortunes cannot be said to be in terminal decline, popular resistance such as last year's "Hot Spring" in Montreal did not advance a devolutionary agenda.
I have just returned from the Spanish "autonomous commune" of Catalonia, which, like the Basque Country to the north-west, has a long tradition of separatism and which will be going to the polls to vote on separation from Spain on November 9 in a non-binding referendum that Madrid, terrified of losing its industrial heartland, has vowed to block by any legal means in Spain's constitutional court. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo warned on Tuesday that a yes vote in Scotland would set an "awful precedent" for Spain and the EU, one that would unleash a process of "Balkanisation"; Spain has vowed to block an independent Scotland's entry into the EU.
In Barcelona, the separatist movement, buoyed by the closeness of the Scottish vote, is divided along ideological lines, between the bourgeois separatists who want industrial and tax autonomy from the politically dominant yet under-contributing centre, and the socialist separatists who see in an independent Catalonia a chance for leftist reconstruction. In its grandest formulation, it is a vision of a Catalan-speaking country that includes coastal Valencia and the Balearic Isles (but excludes the tiny mountain enclave of Andorra and the Catalan-Occitan southern reaches of France around Perpignan). During the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939, Catalan politics was given a separatist flavour by the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), though the anarcho-syndicalists were overwhelmingly the largest faction in the region.
In the down-at-heel district of Gracia, I revelled in a 16th Century festival that sees each street lavishly decorated, troupes of drumming children dressed as devils unleashing squalls of fireworks, and adults building the teetering human towers known as castells which are recognised by UNESCO as a uniquely Catalan "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity." 
Here, one can enter a store draped with the Chappie-wrapper yellow-and-red striped Catalan flag and purchase maps of Greater Catalonia and T-shirts in English hailing "Freedom for the Catalan Territories". In the store, I asked if I could buy something not distinctly Catalan at all, but rather something of from a sister movement, a Basque Ikarruña, its nationalist flag, a Union Jack in red, green and white - and indeed I could, for here even the anarchist movement, today represented by the third-largest trade union federation in Spain, is a staunch supporter of territorial cultural-linguistic autonomy for the likes of the Kurds currently fighting Islamic State fanatics. 
The Basque fight for independence, wonderfully told in Mark Kurlansky's The Basque History of the World (1999), has embraced both the political path of those like the Basque Nationalist Party, and the guerrilla path of clandestine groups such as the left nationalist Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA), and its anarchistic splinter of the 1970s-1980s, the Autonomous Anti-capitalist Commandos (KAA), both of which were involved in assassinations, viewed by themselves as legitimate elements of a liberation war, and by their enemies as sheer terrorism. 
ETA's closest international relations have been with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, whose goal is the separation of the entire island of Ireland from British control. Boers certainly loved the 19th Century Irish for their resistance to Britain and for their support during the Boerevryheids Wars, but the  socialist tinge of the Provos scared off the politically conservative Boers in the 20th Century. Now, however, the neo-Boer right such as Front Nasionaal is quite happy to look to national secessionist movements of all political stripes as justification for their renewed calls for the establishment of a Boerestaat, basing its argument on Article 235 of the Constitution and similar self-determination clauses in international conventions such as the United Nations Charter. 
The Soutie left also produced a secessionist formation, the Cape Party, which argues for independence for the old Cape Province, basing its argument on the same legal grounds (but not on ethnic hegemony), making a very Catalan-like complaint that the Cape's tax contribution to the wealth of South Africa is disproportionately spent elsewhere by Pretoria. But neither party won seats in this year's general election, leaving it to the conservative right Freedom Front Plus to carry the Vierkleur forward - a dubious proposition given that it's leader was seduced into Cabinet by the previous Zuma administration. 
Serious separatism involves a lot of shrewd economic and political calculations - and hard realpolitik horse-trading - but ultimately, it rests on mobilising the historically-rooted sentiments of a defined populace, of tapping into their "oral and intangible heritage". In Scotland and Catalonia, such sentiments are running closer than the Québécois ever attained in favour of independence, though fortunately neither have given rise to extremism of the sort erupting in eastern Ukraine. In South Africa, by contrast, separatism whether by force of arms or by the book appears to have died on the vine.


Tuesday 25 December 2018

African Anarchist Movements: Race, Class & Liberation

"Black consciousness of blackness was also the fruit of a long history of radicalism nourished by struggles for abolition and against capitalism. Over the course of the nineteenth century in particular, this resistance was to a large extent driven by international anarchism, the principal vehicle for opposition movements against capitalism, slavery and imperialism." 
– Achille Mbembe, Critique of Black Reason, 2017


Colonialism, state & class formation………………………..….4
Influences, ideologies & organisational forms….....................6
The national question & communist challenge………………10
Anarchism in other African countries………………..………..13
Decolonisation & national liberation war…………..…………16
In conclusion: is there a distinct “African anarchism”?..........20


With the exceptions of the Middle East and Central, South, and South-east Asia, the anarchist and syndicalist movements of Africa are the least studied of all on Earth. Their movement histories if not forgotten entirely, have been deliberately sidelined or distorted by latter-day nationalist and communist historiography which has treated them at best as insufficient, infantile forerunners of their own more “mature” and “progressive” praxis. It is only in very recent years that primary research has been conducted into the North and Southern African anarchist and syndicalist movements – and even so, the focus has been rather narrowly on Egypt and South Africa, even though in the “classic period’ prior to World War II, the movement developed well beyond Egypt along the string of Mediterranean coastal cities all the way to Dakar in Senegal on the Atlantic Ocean, and penetrated well beyond South Africa from South West Africa (Namibia) and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) inland as far north as Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), and British East Africa (Kenya and Uganda). Nevertheless, it is mostly on these pioneering works that I will base my analysis of the roots and adaptions of what I term the “broad anarchist movement” , works that are specifically focused on the key question of the movement’s engagement with the complex racial, linguistic and religious fragmentation of the emergent proletariat in Africa under colonial and imperialist domination, collected in the groundbreaking book Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870-1940 . In particular, I will draw a comparative analysis from the following chapters of that book: Anthony Gorman, “Diverse in Race, Religion and Nationality… but United in Aspirations of Civil Progress”: The Anarchist Movement in Egypt 1860-1940; and Lucien van der Walt, “Revolutionary Syndicalism, Communism and the National Question in South African Socialism 1886-1928.

I will compare the Egyptian and South African case studies of their hey-day, that is, from the 1890s until the mid-1920s, and draw a few comparisons with other studies of the anarchist presence of that era in the other parts of North and Southern Africa, touching on Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Mozambique respectively. I will examine questions of what gave rise to the movements in these areas, and what their key ideological orientations, themes and achievements were, and how in their politics and organisational forms anarchists dealt with labour fragmentation and the questions of race, colonialism and imperialism – and with nationalist and communist challenges. Then I will rely on my own incomplete primary research into the later post-war movement in Algeria – buttressed by a new study on the topic – to draw some further lessons about anarchist engagements with actual armed national liberation movements. In conclusion, I will attempt to answer the overarching question of whether there is a distinctly “African anarchism” that distinguishes itself by its origins and orientation from the universalist claims of the international anarchist / syndicalist movement. For this I will rely on latter-day African anarchist organisational positions, from South African libertarian socialists of the 1970s, to self-described anarchists in Senegal in the 1980s, from Nigeria and South Africa in the 1990s, from Morocco and South Africa in the 2000s, and from Egypt in the 2010s. In other words, I examine the colonial, liberation, and contemporary eras. However, this is not a chronological narrative history: the issues will rather be tackled thematically.

To start by framing my topic, I have previously defined anarchism as “a revolutionary and libertarian socialist doctrine: advocating individual freedom through a free society, anarchism aims to create a democratic, egalitarian, and stateless socialist order through an international and internationalist social revolution, abolishing capitalism, landlordism, and the state.” In a later work, I expanded: “The revolutionary vision of anarchism gained a foothold in the imagination of the popular classes with the rise [from the late 1860s] of the anarchist strategy of revolutionary, federalist syndicalism – though it was not yet known by this name – in the trade unions affiliated to the First International. It has since provided the most devastating and comprehensive critique of capitalism, landlordism, the state, and unequal power relations in general, whether based on gender, race, or other forms of oppression. In their place it has offered a practical set of tools with which the oppressed can challenge the tiny, heavily armed elites that exploit them. Anarchism and its trade union strategy, anarcho-syndicalism, have been the most implacable enemies of the ruling-class industrialists and landed gentry in state and capitalist modernisation, centralisation and domination projects around the world… This broad anarchist tradition had, and continues to construct, concrete projects to dissolve the centralist, hierarchical, coercive power of capital and the state, replacing it with a devolved, free-associative, horizontally federated counter-power… The broad anarchist movement has currency primarily because it remains a proletarian practice that grapples with the question of power, in relation to both intimate, interpersonal relations and to the broader balance of forces in society. The anarchist conception of counter-power is in opposition to the Marxist conception of the seizure and adaption of coercive, vertical, centralised, bourgeois power. Instead, anarchists argue for, and in their innumerable revolts and their four main revolutions, have practiced, a free, horizontal, federalist, proletarian counter-power that equitably distributes decision-making powers and responsibilities across liberated communities.”  

Specifically relevant for this monograph is the sharp difference in approach between early Marxism and anarchism to imperialism, and to the liberation struggles of colonised peoples in Africa and elsewhere. In their Communist Manifesto (1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had dismissed the colonial and post-colonial worlds as the “barbarian and semi-barbarian countries.” Instead, Marxism stressed the virtues of capitalism (and even imperialism) as an onerous, yet necessary stepping stone to socialism. It is not until Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), that Marxism produced its first serious engagement with the conditions of racist oppression in the colonial and post-colonial worlds – and even that was significantly after the Japanese anarchist Kōtoku Shūsui’s ground-breaking study Imperialism (1901). In fact, a generation earlier in 1873, the anarchist founding figure Mikhail Bakunin had thrown down the gauntlet to imperialism, writing that “Two-thirds of humanity, 800 million Asiatics, asleep in their servitude, will necessarily awaken and begin to move,” At that time, the newly emergent anarchist movement was engaging directly and repeatedly with the challenges of imperialism, colonialism, racism, national liberation movements, and colour-stratified post-colonial regimes in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean – and, as predicted by Bakunin, would shortly do so in Asia as well. As a result, in many countries of what today we would call the global “South” it was anarchist militants who established the first revolutionary socialist networks and trade unions, all stressing the power of the common humanity of the organised working class to defeat divisions of race, colour, creed and gender.


Wednesday 12 December 2018

Rohingya Genocide Debate: YouTube video

Left to right: Adv Shabnam Mayet, Judge Richard Goldstone, David P. Kramer, and Michael Schmidt

The Ulu Club for Southern African Conflict Journalists and the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre hosted a film and debate on 14 November 2018 on the ongoing Rohingya Genocide. Following a screening of the Frontline documentary Myanmar's Killing Fields (here), as Ulu Club convenor I chaired the panel of Judge Richard Goldstone (former chief prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunals on the former Yugoslavia and on Rwanda),l Advocate Shabnam Mayet (activist with Protect the Rohingya), and David P. Kramer (former activist with the Free Burma Campaign). My blog post on the event is here. The video of the debate is here.


Saturday 1 December 2018

Insurgent Battlespace

Insurgent Battlespace: Revolutionary Anarchist Praxis

Michael Schmidt

The Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939 brought into sharp relief the question of revolutionary war: whether it was to be fought along conventional hierarchical military lines, or along unconventional horizontal militia lines. Crucially, this was not merely a question of strategy and tactics – though military historian Antony Beevor hailed the militia over the conventional military in Spain – but at its heart also of ideology, the motivating rationale for armed action, and the ethic which mobilises the masses. 
In the years since the Spanish Revolution’s defeat from within and because of its capitulation to militarisation and statism, and especially during the post-WWII era of national liberation struggles in Asia and Africa and leftist insurgencies in Latin America, the libertarian military option was largely forgotten, and the guerrillas of the 1950s-1980s largely learned their strategy, tactics and ideology from statists, whether Sun Tzu, Guevara, Mao, Giap or others – though as I will show, the libertarian tendency, although occluded, was never entirely absent from anti-imperialist struggles in much of Latin America, and to a lesser extent, North Africa, North America, Europe, and Japan.
What may have seemed a question for a previous age, has however, come to the fore again in the post-Soviet era, starting with the Zapatista insurgency in Chiapas in 1994, moving through the Argentine factory occupations of the 2000s, the Arab Spring of the 2010s, and into the libertarian communist revolutionary experiment in Rojava (Western Kurdistan) today.
But today’s guerrillas, especially those who wish to establish a free society and not merely yet another repressive-exploitative state-capitalist formation, it is a vastly altered battlespace, with hunter-killer drones, cyberwar, intimate satellite imaging, non-lethal weaponry, biometric tracking, over-the-horizon strike capability, 3D-printed weapons, dirty bombs, and so forth.
For post-Soviet libertarian communist revolutionaries, therefore, the question of revolutionary war in this new battlespace, or revolutionary neowar as I term it, is urgently framed by new technologies, new post-Soviet ideologies including Salafist terrorism and a revived libertarian communism – and a whirlwind of competing centrifugal hegemonic-imperialist and centripetal decentralist-proletarian forces.
And yet, this essentially asymmetrical war between the poles of what the autonomists Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt call “empire” and “multitude” or what the anarchist Felipe Corrêa calls simply “domination” and “self-management” has been trapped in resistance forms either shaped by a liberal incapacity to grasp the nettle of power (as in the Occupy movement that “occupies” nothing but pre-existing public space), by a naïve, self-incapacitating mass pacifism (as in the Egyptian Spring’s reliance on the theories of the likes of Gene Sharp), and by outmoded tried-and-failed forms of statist guerrilla warfare (in particular the foquismo of Ché Guevara, the militarism of Carlos Marighella, and the proto-state terrorism of the likes of the Red Army Fraction).
A clear question therefore needs to be asked of anarchists, libertarian communists, libertarian autonomists, and all free-associative, decentralist groups, networks and formations: how do we fight back today? How do we ensure that popular mass forces seize power – the ability to transform exploitative relations – and break it down into local directly-democratic, socially pluralistic administrative bodies, horizontally-federated in order to establish a durable libertarian counter-power? In response I offer to the brave combatants of Rojava and elsewhere an updated doctrine for libertarian communist armed struggle.



Chapter 1. Revisiting Class War
• Means & Ends: the Militarisation Question in the Quest for Social Justice & Peace. 
• The Fulcrum: the Militant Minority & the Masses. 
• Combating Daesh: on the Need for a Libertarian Communist Revolutionary Guerrilla Doctrine. 

Chapter 2. Socio-Military Counter-power
• For the King or the People?: the Mobilising Ethic.
• For God or Liberty?: Strategy & Tactics.
• For the State or the Free Zone?  
• For the Party or the Social Revolution? 
• The Attractions of Atrocity: on the Avoidance of Terrorism.

Chapter 3. Articulating Proletarian Forces
• Objective Conditions: Insurrectionary versus Mass Strategies. 
• Battlespace: Three Spheres Theory. 
• Critical Mass: Five Forces Theory. 
• Grades and Circles: Libertarian Communist Structures. 
• The Grassroots: Beyond the Factory Gates. 
• Graphic models of the Three Spheres Theory, Five Forces Theory & Concentric Circles Praxis.

Chapter 4. Escalating Armed Struggle
• Insurrection to Territorial Control: Armed Risings 1870-1959. 
• Social Revolution: Anti-Fascist Counter-power 1918-1939
• Vanguard or Rearguard?: Cold War Armed Struggle 1944-1979. 
• From Chiapas to Rojava: Post-Soviet Resistance 1994-2019. 

Chapter 5. Revolutionary Neowar 
• Perpetual War: the Final Solution Frontier. 
• Chaotic Resistance: Enabling Divide-and-Rule.
• Organised Intersectional Combat: Arming the Social Revolution.

Postscript: Organisational Models
• Libertarian Communist Military Models.

Glossary & Index