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Aitor Tarradella from Embat: “For me to Leave Spain is a Strategic Move”

mer, 12/27/2017 - 16:42

The Barcelona Interview Series

“Tomorrow there will be elections in Catalonia. On November 20 we spoke with Aitor of Embat.”

How did you react when the independence movement came up and was getting stronger, because I guess it wasn’t easy to find a position on what to do in this situation?

Aitor: Well, first I am from Embat and we are people from different generations. We have a real connection and knowledge of the independent movement. Even before it was stronger as it is now. The leftwing independence movement is from well… between 82 or 86. So they have a long history. So your question about independence or emancipation of Catalonia.. It’s something that was very present in our organisation from the beginning. Even before it’s creation. So when it really started we already had our point of view and a position about that. So it wasn’t really difficult to take a stand about that. Our position about this kind of self-determination was an idealist position. The situation is often more visible and more clear in colonies like for instance Algeria or the Philippines (These states are officially independent, but still treated as colonies, EIE). So we tried to make this relation between the colonies and Catalonia. But I think our strongest position is not this point, it’s a strategic one. The strongest point is about the restoration of the democracy in 1978 and the fact that in these 40 years the Spanish state is like a fortress. It’s blocking any advance to change anything. Even the smallest reformist idea. So we think that it was an opportunity to make a declaration of independence to break out of Spain. It opens a new field, new possibilities to change things. Not directly an anarchist society but to have new possibilities to to work on that. So we understand the declaration of independence in this way. A strategic way. So people can take the streets and have more empowerment and then we might be able to really change things someday. But at the same time we weren’t very enthusiastic about it (the declaration of independence, EIE). Because society was not prepared. Some independentists have really strong ideas about nationalism, like this inter-classist scenario. Which is not our thing. But we understand this as a strategic step anyway. So yes we decided maybe we are going to vote, it’s going to happen and maybe things will not change in the way we want but it will open a new field. We can work out new strategies on this new field. The place where we are is closed, were stuck and can’t change anything (inside the Spanish state, EIE).

The date that drastically changed a lot for me was the 20th of September. That was the day that the Spanish Guardia Civil and the Policia Nacional came to the CUP (Far-left party in Catalonia, EIE) headquarters and to the Catalonian ministry of economy. They started to confiscate voting registers and arrested officials. There were a lot of people on the streets. The committees to defend the republic were created and expanding fast. This day was not just about big politics like Catalan president Puigdemont against Rajoy (Spanish prime minister, EIE), on this day it became a grassroots movement. People started to take action, maybe not the kind of action that I was expecting but that day changed the whole scenario.

There are many different groups, initiatives and parties who are part of the independence movement. Can you tell us something about your views on these different groups and about their positions?

Aitor: First of all I will speak about the political parties that were in Catalan parliament before the Spanish state forced us to hold new elections on the 21st of December. We have this coalition of parties Junts pel Si ( which means Together for Yes, JxSi, EIE). Which is a coalition of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, EIE) which is a party that is about 100 years old. Then we have Convergence and Union (Convergència i Unió, CiU, EIE), a liberal right wing and conservative party which has its origins in the transition. This party was dissolved and re-founded as PDeCAT. In the Junts pel Si there are also some independent people from other parties that were not present in the independence movement. This coalition was created to organize the referendum and to make the declaration of independence possible. There are also some people from civil society in this coalition. The presidents of the ANC and Omnium are also in it. This is part of the spectrum. For me it’s totally right wing and controlled by the parties. The people from civil society that are in it, are there to have a good appearance but they have no social content. They have this totally inter-classist idea and that’s it.

Then there is CUP, which is the left independentist party. It came out of the left-independentist movement. There are two main organisations in CUP, one is more anti-capitalistic than the other. They have different points of view in strategy. There is also ARAN, which is the youth organisation of CUP. A left independence workers union, there is also a feminist organization, and an anti-repression Organization inside CUP. So this is the spectrum where they work with. I think they are really interesting. They started as a municipalist movement and tried to do politics from the city councils. A few ago they did the step to get into Catalan parliament. They did that to support the declaration of independence. They are also interesting because they have really strong ethics. They have a salary cap. Their MP’s can keep 1400€ of the 5000€ they receive. The rest are given to solidarity movements and social issues. The structure of CUP is mostly horizontal. They don’t have a chief in command or something like that. Decisions are taken in assemblies. They also have a quite ambitious program. They are anti-capitalists, feminists and ecologists. There are also some parts of the old left, like some communists in CUP. But their visions are pointed to what I would call the new left. Their main reference are movements like the Zapatistas and Kurdistan (Aitor meant Rojava, EIE). They are not coming from the old Soviet-Union ideas.

So these are the parts of the independent movement that are in parliament. On the streets you have the left-independentist movement. These are organisations that are not only working in a parliamentist way. There are for instance syndikalists etcetera etcetera. On the other hand we also have the ANC and Omnium which are the main organizations that nowadays are leading the Catalan independence process. They are linked with Junts pel Si. These two organisations are inter-classist and have no social content. They just want independence for independence. They have faith in the institutions. At first it seemed that they were the ones that were pushing the government to declare independence but right now it seems that they are just taking orders from the government. Now they say, stay calm, wait for the elections blah blah blah.

Than we have some other indepententist movements, but in my view they are not properly organized. There is Negres Tempestes (Read our interview with Negres Tempestes, EIE), which is a small collective. I think that’s the spectrum inside the independence movement.

And now, since the 20th of September, we have the CDR’s, the Committees to Defend the Referendum. These are local organizations that are mostly initiated from the left and created to have a response and defend the referendum so people would be able to vote (during the referendum on the 1st of October, EIE) but also to defend people against the police. Most of the CDR’s are very diverse. Not one of the CDR’s is similar to the others because they are formed by many people which are very diverse. But at the same I think that this diversity is a benefit. They have a lot of debates about many issues that the other organizations cannot do. In some places, where they are more horizontal than in the others, they are horizontal and they use methods of direct action. They have no leaders. I think this development is really interesting.

There are also anarchists who are not involved in the independence movement. Can you tell us something about their position and how do you think about that?

Aitor: I think that the independence movement or maybe it’s better to say this independence idea has been present from the beginning as I started to get politically active. It’s present in all the anarchist movements for a long time now. Many years ago it was linked with anarchists that were totally ideologic. Idealistic about anarchism. The mainstream anarchists at that time were people like for instance squatters, dressed in black and all this stuff. They had this position that we have to be against a declaration of independence and things like that because it’s about nationalism and creating a new state blah blah blah. I think that was the main position. A few years ago this has changed but because the independent movement has changed, the anarchist movement has changed it. Nowadays there are much more social anarchists, or maybe I should say practical ones. They try to develop new strategies and create new material to work with other people. If you do that you cannot be an outsider of society. I think that changed a lot. But right now I think it’s not mainstream to be an independentist in anarchism. There is a debate right now and I think it’s kind of late. During a meeting with many people we had a good debate about this but at the same time no-one is getting to a conclusion. Everyone is giving his or her opinion but that’s it. There was no position like: this is what we need right now. So the debate is ongoing because many people don’t want to come to a conclusion. I think it’s an error for anarchism because we don’t make clear what our position is. For our organization it’s kind of difficult to work with other anarchists because of this. Because we don’t have clear answers from many other people. They are like well I am ok with this, but not with that. Maybe some have to go 2 steps forward and others 2 steps back. So it’s very difficult and right now we have this position in Embat but we have to work with the leftwing because they are the only ones with a similar position. I think it’s a bad strategy (by parts of the anarchist movement, EIE) and it’s a stalled debate, it’s not going anywhere.

We actually got a lot of mails after we started publishing different views from anarchists in Catalonia about the Catalan process. Mails like: “Why are you publishing his?” Some people were really upset. But we continued to publish about the Catalan process, because in our view you need to look into a subject and read different positions and views to be able to develop your own position. I don’t know how people want to start a debate without knowing these different positions.

Aitor: Sometimes people just have different opinions, not just about independence. If you don’t discuss the mainstream position about something it’s difficult to expose it. Ah no you are a communist or what? It’s even difficult to debate about that. Some people just have their principals and their principals are totally untouchable.

What are the main reasons for you why Catalonia should leave Spain?

Aitor: I am going to answer what I have said before. For me to leave Spain is a strategic move. To break Spain, to fracture the Spanish government. Leaving Spain brings us in a new position. To work on social issues. It’s to create a new scenario where we can work with. I think this break-up is not going to be just a new place for politics in general, but also on a social level. There are many people that are not organized in the streets but this new scenario gives us new possibilities to work with.

What should change if Catalonia becomes independent in comparison to the situation now?

Aitor: We have 3 different parts and we need a superb position to be able to change things. In one part we have the Spanish government. It’s totally fascist. Authoritarian and repressive. Large parts of Spanish society is very traditional. There is high unemployment and many people are still voting the Spanish governing party Partido Popular (PP, EIE). But we also have the Catalonian government. We know since last week that they were not prepared to make the official declaration of independence. They just did this symbolic thing to make people feel relaxed and now they are in exile. It seems that they are trying to start a dialogue with the Spanish state to get some kind of referendum pact or something similar. And then we have civil society. It has organized itself in the committees (CDR’s, EIE) but also in other ways. Now people have been empowered but I think it’s not enough. On November 8 there was a general strike, but it was hidden. They called it a general stop just not to call it a general strike. But people were able to block the main roads in the territory. I think that was a big victory for many people. But now it seems that we are stuck. We don’t have any other plan. People seem to wait for new steps of the Spanish and Catalan government. Many people are still acting in a responsive way.

On the other hand we have the Spanish left (parties). For me they are kind of shameful. They are not doing anything about it. They are just waiting to give a new statement and looking what they can gain and are afraid to lose votes. They are not working on a street level at all. For me that’s wrong and cynical. I think the Spanish left have to change radically or they will end up in another regular party. They have to change their mentality a lot.

So for things to change here, I think we cannot do much more than waiting for the government. We are still dependent from them, which is a shame, but this how things are right now. But at the same time it’s a great moment for us. There have been a lot of demonstrations, almost daily. It has been really tiring for a lot of people in the committees, every time they had to go to the center of Barcelona. So right now I think it’s a good moment for the committees to grow up and to get stronger during the time we will have to wait for the elections and see what happens. People didn’t believe in themselves so much and we should develop a vision what the next step in the independence process could be. For me that would be a constituent process. I think the CDR assemblies are the best place to do that. So people can empower themselves and be a part of it, create it and are not just responding to the government. But also because people who are not part of the independence movement right now can empathise with it. We are also organizing, together with other parts of the left, a social constituent assembly. It’s the left and social answer on the ANC und Omnium on a political level. This can be a good assembly where people can empower themselves and maybe this could change some the point of view of people.

Many people in Europe don’t know what’s meant with the regime of ‘78. Can you explain that to our readers?

Aitor: We’re coming from a dictatorship that lasted 40 years and then we had this kind of transition. Some historians call it transaction. This transition was also a big moment in Spanish history. When Franco died we had a period of about 4 or 5 years that a lot of things were changing. A new constitution was written and a lot of political parties came up, especially the ones that ruled Spain since then. The PP, which is a right wing party. A lot of their politicians came from the Franco government. And the PSOE. First they were communists and marxists but during the transition they changed their ideals and now they are social-democrats. Well they were social-democrats in the beginning after the transition. But now they are just neoliberals like the others. So during the transition they were like well we are in favour of abortion but in the end there is just economics and their politics are the same. This transition was written in 78. So from there to here only these two parties have been ruling Spain. That is why we call it a two party system. You also see this on other states, like the United states but there it’s a kind of tradition. Here it’s not a tradition. It’s something that happened because some people wanted it to happen. It smells, it’s rigged. So we were in a cycle of struggles and thought we could change something. We tried again and again. But this system cannot be changed because these parties are the same. They are controlling the economy. It’s a kind of rotative system, like these hotel doors. They go in as politicians and they go out to get into the energy enterprises or other corporations. There is also a lot of corruption in these parties. So we call this the regime of 78. This political block is not changing. They are like the dictatorship. Never. Even now, with new parties like Podemos they are not changing this. Podemos can’t change it because the PP and the PSOE are to strong. They cannot be foughted from within the institutions. So we have to make this break-out to change it. On the political level that’s the regime but we also have some old ideas in the heads of some people. And there is the king. The constitution. There are a lot of people in Spain right now who are against independence. They argue that we have a constitution. If you want to go you first have to modify the constitution. But the constitution is also fortressed for these parties so you cannot change it. It’s not just a political regime, it’s also a kind of social mentality regime.

The Spanish government suspended catalan autonomy with article 155. What do you think would be a effective way to resist against this kind of repression?
Aitor: This article was approved for the same reason as the fact that we cannot change anything. It’s was approved to make sure the two ruling parties of the Spanish state keep the power in the whole state. It’s part of the constitution. So it’s part of the mentality of the 78 regime. We cannot really resist against this article. People are still not organized enough to break it. There are many people in the independence movement that are opposing this article. They resist but right now it’s really pacifist. But not just pacifist, it’s passive. Mostly there are symbolic actions. So this is a big repressive action by the Spanish government but if we are not empowered enough we cannot do much about it. People wait until the upcoming elections and that a new government would change something. But for me… I don’t know… maybe some public workers like from public TV or radio or teachers, who’s jobs are being questioned by the Spanish government at the moment can do something but it’s not something that can be easily changed.

How can people outside of Catalonia support the struggle here? Do you have any ideas about that?

Aitor: I think that the main thing they can do is spreading the word. It’s like you told me before. Many people know but it seems a lot of them don’t want to know. I think right now the only thing that can really change something right now is some action by the EU. Some government… We are still not empowered enough to do things that could be effective ourselves outside Catalonia. So yes, I think the main thing that people can do is to spread the word and to receive good information. It’s important because there is a lot of disinformation from Spanish TV.

Can you tell us something about the rise of Fascism in Spain and Catalonia?

Aitor: I think that’s an issue to be worried about. A lot of people here who are Catalan nationalists are not fascists. Often they have a more liberal opinions. Most fascists in Catalonia are working together with Spanish fascists. For now, I think it’s still not as dangerous as it could be. But at the same time I think that the extreme positions we are facing right now are feeding fascism. I think it’s kind of inevitable. This is how things happen. If something big happens like here in Catalonia, you will always find people who oppose that and a part of them will do that in the most extreme way. With fascist positions. So yes fascism is growing but at the same time there are many people on the streets to fight for other things. Which is actually good.

On the other hand we have Spanish fascism. For me that’s the more dangerous one because in this struggle there is a lot of nationalism. I don’t deny it, it’s also on the Catalan side. People are getting this ideas, these things are in there heads, this nationalism. Many people who are against Catalan independence rapidly became a kind of super Spanish and started to say things like ‘fuck Catalans’ and ‘We are all Spanish’. It’s like they have put this kind of ideas in a bag and won’t go out. They don’t want anything else. But on the Catalan side you have a similar phenomenon. Like I am Catalan and I am pro liberty and for human rights blah blah blah. So they put themselves in the other bag and also won’t go out. Not in any direction. So because there are a lot of people against Catalan independence in Spain. They think that the economy will get worse, not because of economics or political reasons but because of Catalan independence. For many people it started with carrying a flag. They meet other people with a flag. They empathized and became fascists although they often don’t even know this about themselves. This is how Fascism is growing. To some extent below the surface.

Another problem is that the Spanish left is doing nothing about this. Like I said before they are just trying to gain votes with watering speeches. By doing this they are doing the fascists a favour. They don’t talk about it. They are not organizing on the streets. They don’t do anything to stop it So fascism is growing in Spain. But these days fascism is also growing in Catalonia. Not at the same level but there is no real resistance against it. One of the reasons is that many people in the independence movement are taking orders from the ANC and Omnium. They are kind of liberal so they are very passive about doing anything. If Nazi’s in Catalonia or even here in Barcelona notice that there is not a lot of resistance, they will grow again. So that can become a problem but at the moment it’s more a Spanish than a Catalan problem.

What do you think about the pacifist strategy of the independence movement?

Aitor: Ok I can understand it because from the beginning of 15M until now all the movements had a pacifist agenda. At the same time it’s kind of inclusive because a lot of people are scared of violence. Or even scared of violence that I don’t even understand as violence like.. Things like breaking a window of a bank… Or selfdefence. That kind of stuff. I think there are a lot of people that are scared of things like this. So instead of trying to define what is violence and what is making them scared, they are making the point that they are not violent. But without a definition about what violence actually is, its more like when the media say this and that is violence, then I am against it. Then you are paralyzing yourself. Than its a dogma, nothing else. Its dificult, because parts of the media are telling people all the time that these actions are violent, but they are not, they are non-violent. The parts of the media that are telling this, are able to do that because when we don’t have our own postion about violence, a position that’s based on a definition of violence, then we can’t do much against these stories of violence by parts of the media. To give an example. There were discusions about spraying paint on a bank office during the general strike at October 3. Some people thought that this was a violent action. So I think the discussion should not be about violence or non-violence. It should be about what is violence?, and what are we able to do?, and what do we want to do? Or willing to do?

There is also a new organisation now. Its called something like “Stand for Peace”. This organisation is trying to make things even more pacifist. For me it’s kind of strange, because until now everyone has been so pacifist. If you try to aske something from the European Union I think it’s a good strategy, but a strategy, not a dogma. Of course it has been useless (to ask something for the EU, EIE) but the big organisations are still making clear that they are pacifists. At first I had some doubts about what they were doing. I thought okay, maybe they will define what is violence and what is not and that they will explain people how you can do certain actions and explain why these actions are useful. But at the end it wasn’t like that. It was just to make clear that a protest or something like that had to be totally pacifist. They are not even open to discuss their actions or their point of view. The communication is only going one way: Top-down. So I am very skeptical about the positions of the big organisations and especially the new organisation on this.

Last month we reported from a demonstration of the independence movement. We saw that a part of the protesters were celebrating the Catalan police. We were… well.., let’s say surprised. What is your position on things like that?

Aitor: I understand that you were surprised. I think first people have to understand the diversity of people that are pro independence. A lot of these people were not organized and never were part of a movement until now. Many of them were not on the streets 5 or 6 years ago, during 15M. So right now it’s their position. In some of the CDR’s, the seöf-defence committees a lot of people are thinking about that. They discuss this kind of things. To make it clear I am against people celebrating Catalan cops, or any other cops and all that kind of stuff. Some people think that it’s okay to celebrate the Catalan police, many of them are thinking this for many many years. I don’t think you can change this by writing a good statement, the CDR’s are probably the best place to discuss things like this again and again. We have to work on that day by day. I don’t even think I would support to do it in a collective way as a group. I won’t do that. I think I would do it as an individual. Day by day, speaking with people, with empathy. Working with people who don’t see you as a freak, but to empathise with people. So they notice that your ideas are not as crazy as it seems.

I also want to add that a lot of people are celebrating the police because of the terrorist attack that happened this summer. The head of Catalan police was described as some kind of super-hero and there was a lot of bullshit published about that. But others just didn’t think a lot about it. They are just like… well… I am Catalan and I support Catalan police. Without any doubt, without seeing all the stuff Catalan police have done over the years. Like murdering people and even admitting it.

We remembered how Catalan cops cleared the 15M occupation at the Catalunya square in Barcelona in 2011…

Aitor: Yes actually one of the policemen who took part in that police operation… there was an image of a woman that gave a police man a hand during an independence demonstration and after that many memes appeared with this image because there were several court cases against this police man because he was accused several times of torturing people that were arrested.

On November 19 we were on a anti-fascist demonstration on the Via Augusta (Barcelona) and again and again fascists were provoking the demonstration, trying to attack them. A lot of the fascists were masked. The first question is.. Is there an increase in fascist violence in the last couple of months and the second question is… The way people were marching on the anti-fascist demo on November 19 and how they continued their march after the fascists showed up… There was not any moment that the anti-fascist demo would have been able to defend themselves. They didn’t even try. They were not even building chains or things like that. They were totally depending on the Catalan police. It was quite dangerous…

Aitor: I wasn’t there but I heard a lot of comrades were talking about this demonstration and how aweful it was. I think the anti-fascist movement is kind of divided in two tendencies. One is the classic one with red and black which is standing outside of society. People see them as violent. But the other one, the one that organized the demonstration on November 19… they don’t see racism and fascism as an institutionalized problem. A few days before the demonstration they were still working together with the social-democrats… the ones who defend the 155 article and stuff like that.. The ones that work together with parties who stand for the regime of 78… They are believing in the institutions and are pro police. They also don’t have this action tradition… They just march for marching. It’s symbolic. The old antifa movement normally would have reacted on the fascist provocations during the demonstration, maybe there would have been fights or even a riot…

I didn’t even mean direct actions or stuff like that… There were a lot of elderly people on the demo at November 19 and just to give an example people could have build-up chains around the elderly people when the fascists showed up to protect them from the fascists.. but on the demo people didn’t even try things like that…

Aitor: I understand what you mean. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have a real or let’s say big fascist problem in Catalonia. It’s kind of growing at the moment but in Catalonia it’s a bit like in the Basque country. There aren’t many organized fascists so it never was a big threat, so people are not used to having to be prepared to defend themselves against fascists during a demonstration. Many people feel comfortable, also on the streets and they think they don’t have to resist. They think the police will defend them. I doubt that, but that’s what many people think.

Actually the police did during that demo. But I would not rely on it…

Aitor: Yes I know what you mean. The other thing is that you have this dogma about pacifism here. I say pacifism but in the end it’s just passivity. Doing nothing about it and I think that’s a problem because someday we are going to have some people killed and this would happen because of this passivity.

A few days before the demo you referred to, there was an anti-fascist demo organized by the “old” antifa movement but there were not many people. I think the anti-fascist movement has to unite and re-organize. But I have to say that the area where you were on November 19 is probably the only district of Barcelona where there are a lot fascists.

Yes we saw a lot of fascist stickers and posters and stuff there, that we didn’t see anywhere else in Barcelona. Not on this scale.

Aitor: This city is very divers and multi-cultural. Many migrants are coming to Barcelona and live here. If you are in Raval, a neighbourhood where many migrants live, you don’t see any fascist stickers or other fascist stuff at all.

When did the independence movement start?

Aitor: Well… I give you the short version. From the past couple of years where it became mainstream. The boost came shortly after 15M. That was the time that the ANC was founded. Artur Más, the former Catalan president, started to talk about independence in a liberal way. Before that the independence movement wasn’t that big, but mostly they were from the left. Historically people were working on this for about 100 years but it’s only about 5 years ago that it really started to grow.

What do you think was the main motivation for people to join this movement.

Aitor: Right now I think that many people joined the independence movement because they have a nationalistic point of view. But there are also many people who joined because they don’t see any alternative in Spain. They see Spain as a monolith where you can’t change anything. Not even when you would start a new party. It wouldn’t change anything (Podemos is about to proof that, EIE). I think the main reason for many people to join the independence movement wass because they thought: This is an alternative, it’s something new and it could happen.

We went on an assembly of one of the CDR’s and we also were on some of the 15M assemblies a couple of years ago. Do you think parts of the independence movement came out of 15M?

Aitor: Yes I think so. I was active in the 15M movement. During that time there were already a few meetings were we spoke about independence. There were a lot of people with this kind of ideas . It was also the time that CUP came into parliament. So yes I think there are links between the 15M movement and the independence movement. Ofcourse I speak about the 15M movement on the Catalan territory.

What do you think about how a future anarchist society should deal with people that work for the state now. I don’t only mean people like cops, but also state officials who work in the office and write the deportation order or stuff like that.

Aitor: I think we would need some kind of community police like they have in Chiapas in Mexico, or the kind of militias like in Rojava. Not to patrol the streets but to be able to respond when something happens. For the people who work for the state now, like police men, I think they could do social services for the community. Social services that are not oppressive. I would like to add that in 1936, during the Spanish revolution, a lot of cooperatives and councils gave the bosses the opportunity to join them. Not as a boss but as an equal member. They didn’t have more authority then the other members, but they could join.

Big organizations like the ANC are dominating solidarity work for the independence movement in foreign countries. Do you know other, more grassroots organized groups who are organizing solidarity for the independence movement in other countries?

Aitor: The idea to do that was discussed in some CDR’s, not a lot, but it has been discussed. And the CDR assemblies are spreading. There is one in Mexico, one in Paris, one in Berlin and also one in Scotland. And I think one in Ireland. The Kurdish movement also showed their solidarity. For me that was important. It showed me that we are not doing as bad as it seems.

Do you want to install a republic of councils? Not a Soviet-Style one but one like Like some other groups that support the independence movement? And if yes, how do you want to create it?

Aitor: Well I haven’t sorted out all my thoughts about it but I think it will be the best way to work. Not only in a solely Catalonian way. We have a long way to go. I think a new Catalan state cannot be declared without the people that are living there. Things will have to change. I think that the Committees (CDR’s, EIE) should play a major role in the territory. They should be a point where things come together and take part in the constituent process. That could change a lot of things.

Do you think the support of this idea of a republic of councils is big enough at the moment?

Aitor: No. Not at all. Not at all. I think that some parts of the left-independentist movement will share this idea, also some anarchists. But I think that most people don’t share the ideal of a more social society. So I think the support is not big enough.

Let’s talk about economy and consume. What kind of economic models would you propose for a Catalan republic?

Aitor: I think that a lot of things would work better as it works right now, when we would organise the economy in cooperatives. Cooperativism. This is already growing a lot in Catalonia and also works very well in Rojava. It also works well in the Turkish part of the Kurdish territory. There it’s used to escape from the control by the Turkish state. But also the old anarchist model like no private properties but the thing to start with would be the cooperatives to create a new economy.

What do you think about the feminism fight in Catalonia?

Aitor: I think it has a lot of similarities with the feminist struggle in the rest of the western world. I think the women are aware of who they are. It’s growing a lot and has a lot potential. The feminist struggle is also playing a crucial role in the construction of the confederal democracy model people are working with in Kurdistan. That’s inspiring the feminist struggle here. This could be something that could change a lot of things, not just socially but also issues like feminist economy.

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Response: What kind of formation to build working class power?

mer, 12/27/2017 - 16:31

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation

By Tom Wetzel

In a recent Socialist Worker piece Bill Keach asks the question, “Does the working class really need a party of its own to fight for and advance its interests?

In order to make his case for a “revolutionary socialist party,” the model favored by Leninists and those in the tradition of Trotskyism and the ISO, he argues:

“Some on the left, particularly anarchists, are opposed to the project of party-building, arguing instead that spontaneous, diversified resistance to capitalism must be the basis for challenging exploitation and oppression.”

This argument starts by posing a false dichotomy since there are various ways of conceiving how the working class can build and unify a movement to “fight for and advance its interests.” His claim that anarchism advocates movements that will develop purely “spontaneously” is a strawman argument because in reality only a minority of anarchists are “spontaneists” who believe that somehow a revolutionary mass change in society could happen through such a “spontaneous” uprising.

Anarcho-syndicalists, for example, always placed a high emphasis on preparation, organizing, grassroots popular education such as the storefront worker schools in Spain in the ’30s, and deep involvement in locations of struggle such as workplaces.

Leninists often argue that a vanguard party is needed to pull together the activist minority – “vanguard” – from different social movements to be able to confront the whole system. As Keach says:

“Socialists respond to such arguments by emphasizing that capitalist rule is enforced by a highly organized state, dependent on top-down political parties, which in turn are supported by a network of highly organized, ideologically driven, well-funded interest groups and the corporate media. Only a political party organized by and dedicated to the interests of working people can hope to take on these capitalist power structures.”

The capitalist regime is indeed a complex system that has all sorts of fault lines, not only struggle in the workplaces against the bosses, but against racism and gender inequality, against worsening ecological destruction and the repressive aspects of the state, as with the brutality and violence of the system of policing.

This requires that the oppressed and exploited majority build a “counter-hegemonic bloc” to be able to have the forces to confront the power of the dominating classes.

But anarcho-syndicalists are also socialists – libertarian socialists – and they have available in their theory a different way of conceiving of how the oppressed majority can form a counter-hegemonic bloc. This can be put together in a more grassroots way via an alliance of democratic worker-controlled unions and other social movement organizations, building towards a cohesive class front. The links between active participants in the various unions and social movement are important, but they do not need to be mediated through a “vanguard party.”

Moreover, this way of building a class front is more likely to avoid the problems that have historically dogged the party model. Putting a vanguard party into control of the state has historically been simply a transition to the empowerment of a new bureaucratic boss class – defeating the liberatory goals of socialism.

Tom Wetzel lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, is active with Worker’s Solidarity Alliance and has organized around housing and transit issues in San Francisco. 

If you enjoyed this piece we recommend Tom Wetzel’s review of the classic “For Workers Power” by Maurice Brinton looking at the Russian Revolution.

Cuba and the Demonization of Anarchists: A Lesson for Our Times

mer, 12/27/2017 - 16:06

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation

By Rafael Uzcategui

Originally titled “Authoritarian Demonization of Anarchists, Cuba and the Gaona Manifesto”

The possibilities anarchism points toward have many enemies. Its fiercest opponents, however, are those authoritarian regimes which, distorting and subverting the ideas of socialism, have promoted themselves historically as embodying the values of liberty, equality and fraternity. In every situation, state capitalist governments, applying religious categories to secular contexts, have over-simplified conflicts by defining them as being between “the faithful”–those who support them, and “heretics”–those who oppose them. In this alleged confrontation between the two positions (in religious terms the struggle of “good” against “evil”), the authoritarians need to claim that all the world’s revolutionaries are with them confronting the forces that oppose them–even though this isn’t certain.

As we know, ever since the Russian Revolution of 1917, nationalists and authoritarian leftists who have come to power have developed various strategies to dismantle, co-opt, and fragment whatever revolutionary organizations remain. They do this precisely because such groups constitute opposition to their plans from the left, because they denounce the contradictions and abuses of the ongoing process of the centralization of power. In the case of anarchism–an attitude and way of thinking which is highly resistant to bureaucratic reorganization of power and authority–tragic examples abound. In Russia (and later the Soviet Union), China, Spain, and dozens of other examples, statists have systematically persecuted and exterminated anarchists. The killing, however, has been accompanied by lies, misrepresentation, and the creation of nonexistent support to confuse and paralyze the international anarchist movement.

Cuba 1961

Those who know the history of anarchism in Latin America know that Cuba developed, along with countries like Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay, an anarcho-syndicalist movement that played an important role in the labor conflicts of their times. As is well documented in the book El anarquismo en Cuba [Cuban Anarchism] by Frank Fernández, [1] anarchists on the island were prominent in several unions, published newspapers and magazines for discussion, propaganda, and agitation, as well as providing social centers for people to meet and interact.

The Cuban anarchists, as interested people can confirm, joined the popular struggle against the dictator Fulgencio Batista and, his ouster in 1959 aroused in them the same positive expectations about the future of the island as in the rest of society. As Fernández relates, the anarchist publications of the day, Solidaridad Gastronomica and El Libertario, expressed a favorable and hopeful attitude regarding the new government, while not trusting it unthinkingly. [2] But, in late 1959, any criticism of the government, no matter its source, began to be labeled “counterrevolutionary” in the new language of power. At the same time, the Castro clique began inviting representatives from all the revolutionary tendencies of the world to the island in order to convince them of the regime’s goodness.

Among those invited was the German anarchist Augustin Souchy, who visited Havana in the summer of 1960 to learn about the experiments with land reform. His inquiry resulted in a lengthy article, printed in an official publication, reporting on what he had seen during his visit. Souchy also wrote a pamphlet entitled Testimonies on the Cuban Revolution [3], which was published without going through official censorship, and had a tone different from what the regime had hoped for. In this pamphlet Souchy warned of the authoritarian turn the new administration was taking. Soon after he left Cuba, the entire print run of the pamphlet was seized and destroyed by the government, following a recommendation by the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). But the pamphlet was made available outside the country thanks to an edition published by Reconstruir of Buenos Aires. The anarchists could not be easily convinced by the Castro government’s propaganda. A new strategy was needed.

Many Cuban anarchists of the time belonged to the Asociación Libertaria de Cuba (ALC). In 1961 its Secretary of Relations, Manuel Gaona Sousa, was in charge of maintaining contacts with the international anarchist movement. However, from early on, Gaona was enthusiastic about both the July 26 Movement (M26J) and Fidel Castro. Gaona’s prestige and record of participation within the anarchist movement, his key role in communications with the outside world, and his desire to cooperate with a government that he supported were used to maximum effect by the Cuban authorities. Gaona wrote a manifesto, “A clarification and a statement of the Cuban anarchists” [4] which asserted that “nearly all anarchist activities are now integrated in the various agencies of the Cuban Revolution.” It also denied that anarchists were being imprisoned for their activism. Both assertions were contradicted repeatedly by anarchist publications on the island.

Gaona’s manifesto, which was sent to all anarchist publications of the time, contained five key ideas: The first that there were no anarchists arrested for their convictions; second, that there was no political or religious persecution in Cuba; third, that anarchists supported Castro’s government; fourth, that Castro’s government represented the ideals for which the anarchists fought; and the fifth part was a crude and literal copy of the government’s propaganda about the purported political and economic benefits delivered by the Castro regime. Finally, the document stated: “We want to alert fellow anarchist Movements in Mexico, Latin America, and the world, and fellow Spanish-speaking exiles in America, so that they won’t be taken unawares by the malicious and deceitful information sent out by people who serve, consciously or unconsciously, the Cuban counterrevolution.” Although the manifesto claimed to express the position of Cuban anarchism, it was signed by just 25 individuals, and it later became known that some signatures were collected by Gaona through deception. Many anarchists who he asked refused to sign a text that they regarded as renouncing the basic principles of anarchism. Among them was the well-known comrade Marcelo Salinas y Lopez; they were persecuted and sooner or later forced into exile.

The Isolated anarchists

Gaona’s manifesto brought about several dire consequences for the anarchist movement of the island. From the point of view of the Cuban authorities, it divided the anarchists into “good,” the small group that supported Gaona’s position, and “bad,” the rest. It also sowed confusion in anarchist organizations outside Cuba, especially in Latin America.

At this time there was also a U.S. government offensive against Cuba. And in this context, on the left there was a lot of admiration for the bearded July 26 Movement (M26J) as a model for guerrilla insurgencies in Latin America. On the other hand, there was poor communication with the anarchist activists on the island. Under the circumstances, the manifesto literally paralyzed anarchist criticisms and questioning of the new regime. In fact, the isolating of the Cuban anarchists promoted their persecution and extermination. To give a few examples: Augusto Sánchez was imprisoned and murdered; Rolando Tamargo and Ventura Suárez were shot; Sebastian Aguilar Jr. was shot; Eusebio Otero was found dead in his room; Raúl Negrín was burned alive. Casto Moscú, Modesto Piñeiro, Floreal Barrera, Suria Linsuaín, Manuel González, José Aceña, Isidro Moscú, Norberto Torres, Sicinio Torres, José Mandado Marcos, Plácido Méndez and Luis Linsuaín were arrested and sentenced to prison. Some comrades could not stand the torture in prison, such as: Francisco Aguirre, who died in his cell; Victoriano Hernández, sickened and blinded by the abuse, committed suicide; and José Álvarez Micheltorena, died a few weeks after his release.

Manuel Gaona was actively involved in promoting the persecution of his former comrades. Although the accusations against the genuine anarchists employed the typical Stalinist epithets–such as labeling them “CIA agents” among other things–they proved to be effective. According to Fernández, “The confusion in the international anarchist camp regarding the Cuban situation was promoted by the Cuban government’s propaganda machine, which had enormous resources, talent, imagination, and great political skill.” Even exiled Cuban anarchist groups, like the Cuban Libertarian Movement in Exile (MLCE), [5] were accused by other anarchists and anti-authoritarians of being “counterrevolutionaries.” For example, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, at the International Anarchist Congress of Carrara in 1968 accused the MLCE of “being funded by the CIA.” The abandonment of Cuban anarchists by their peers is one of the worst mistakes in the history of the anarchist movement. It was not until 1978, with the publication of The Cuban Revolution: A critical perspective by Sam Dolgoff, [6] that the world’s anarchists began to understand what really had happened on the island. But it was too late.

Half a century later, the farce

Fifty years after the Gaona manifesto, there are attempts to use the same strategy again. At a time when various self-described leftist and progressive governments have come to power in Latin America, the new bureaucracies are trying to spread the idea that all revolutionaries, including anarchists, are on their side. Some converts, inventing phantom organizations and initiatives, spread the idea through the Internet that the “true anarchists” support the governments of Rafael Correa, Evo Morales, Cristina Kirchner, and Hugo Chávez, among others, and that those who criticize them are “false anarchists”, and are “far from the popular struggles.”

One of the most extravagant attempts has been made by a freewheeling “Revolutionary Anarchist Federation of Venezuela,” which in its first statement expresses support for the Bolivarian government of Hugo Chavez and affirms the need to join in its electoral coalition, the Gran Polo Patriótico, contending in the upcoming presidential elections. However, there is a big difference between now and Manuel Gaona’s times. Information technologies nowadays make it almost impossible for people to lack information in the way that allowed ignorance of the real nature of Fidel Castro’s government in the past. Anyone interested and concerned can now research and find out the different opinions and initiatives in the popular and revolutionary milieus which expose the contradictions of these governments and their increasing involvement with today’s globalized capitalism. They can learn about these regimes’ criminalization of those who are involved in social struggles, and the protection of the new bourgeoisie through state capitalism. History repeats itself–the first time it is tragedy, the second time it is farce.

 

Originally published in Spanish in Tierra y Libertad. Translated into English by Charlatan Stew and friends, June, 2014. Republished from The Anarchist Library.

There is an earlier English translation by Christie Books, titled Authoritarian Chimeras, Cuba, and the Gaona Manifesto, posted on the Christie Books website (February 5, 2012): http://www.christiebooks.com/ChristieBooksWP/2012/02/authoritarian-chimeras-cuba-and-the-gaona-manifesto-by-rafael-uzcategui/

Footnotes

[1] Published in English as Cuban Anarchism The history of a movement. San Francisco: See Sharp, 2001. Available online at http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/frank-fernández-cuban-anarchism-the-history-of-a-movement

See especially Chapter 4: Castroism and Confrontation (1959–1961), and Chapter 5: Exile and Shadows (1961–2001)

[2] In Cuban Anarchism: the History of a Movement, Chapter 4, Fernández relates how the anarchists in Cuba decided to issue a Declaración de Principios (Declaration of Principles), in the summer of 1960, accusing the Castro regime of strengthening government centralization, and moving toward a Marxist dictatorship. The eight points of the Declaración also outlined the ways in which their anarchist perspective differed from the policies of the regime: “1) it defined, in accord with libertarian ideas, the functions of unions and federations in regard to their true economic roles; 2) it declared that the land should belong “to those who work it”; 3) it backed “cooperative and collective work” in contrast to the agricultural centralism of the government’s Agrarian Reform law; 4) it called for the free and collective education of children; 5) it inveighed against “noxious” nationalism, militarism, and imperialism, opposing fully the militarization of the people; 6) it attacked “bureaucratic centralism” and weighed forth in favor of federalism; 7) it proposed individual liberty as a means of obtaining collective liberty; and 8) it declared that the Cuban Revolution was, like the sea, “for everyone,” and energetically denounced “the authoritarian tendencies that surge in the breast of the revolution.” http://www.illegalvoices.org/apoc/books/cuban/front.html

[3] Augustin Souchy, Testimonios sobre la revolución cubana. Buenos Aires: Editorial Reconstruir, 1960. Available online at http://issuu.com/ellibertario/docs/testimonios_souchy2

[4] For a discussion of the use of the terms “libertarian” and “anarchist” interchangeably, especially in places outside North America, see: An Anarchist FAQ (02/17), The Anarchist FAQ Editorial Collective, Published June 18, 2009. Version 13.1 http://www.theanarchistlibrary.org/print/The_Anarchist_FAQ_Editorial_Collective__An_Anarchist_FAQ__02_17_.html

See Section A.1.3, Why is anarchism also called libertarian socialism?: “Anarchists have been using the term ‘libertarian’ to describe themselves and their ideas since the 1850’s. According to anarchist historian Max Nettlau, the revolutionary anarchist Joseph Dejacque published Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social in New York between 1858 and 1861 while the use of the term ‘libertarian communism’ dates from November, 1880 when a French anarchist congress adopted it. [Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, p. 75 and p. 145] The use of the term ‘Libertarian’ by anarchists became more popular from the 1890s onward after it was used in France in an attempt to get round anti-anarchist laws and to avoid the negative associations of the word ‘anarchy’ in the popular mind (Sebastien Faure and Louise Michel published the paper Le Libertaire–The Libertarian–in France in 1895, for example). Since then, particularly outside America, it has always been associated with anarchist ideas and movements. Taking a more recent example, in the USA, anarchists organised ‘The Libertarian League’ in July 1954, which had staunch anarcho-syndicalist principles and lasted until 1965. The US-based ‘Libertarian’ Party, on the other hand has only existed since the early 1970’s, well over 100 years after anarchists first used the term to describe their political ideas (and 90 years after the expression ‘libertarian communism’ was first adopted).”

[5] “Una aclaración y una declaración de los libertarios cubanos”, available online at http://issuu.com/ellibertario/docs/manifiestogaona

[6] Montreal: Black Rose Books (1976). Available online at http://libcom.org/history/cuban-revolution-critical-perspective-sam-dolgoff

“¡Que se vayan todos!” – A New Rebellion in Argentina?

mer, 12/27/2017 - 16:01

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation

By comrades with Acción Socialista Libertaria (ASL), Argentina

These days people are gathering spontaneously in the streets of downtown La Plata and Buenos Aires neighborhoods. People are taking the streets against the government and in protest of another wave of attacks on social benefits. Moments like these bring flashbacks to the days of December 2001, the year of the popular rebellion that rose up in the wake of the financial collapse that rocked Argentina. This was the year when the people, the masses, were fighting in the the streets, taking over factories and organizing neighborhood assemblies against many of the direct effects of imperialism, the state, and the capitalist system: their government, the impositions of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), and their so-called “representatives” in different institutions.

Since the formation of right-wing coalition Cambiemos (“Let’s Change) in 2015 which successfully backed Argentinian businessman Mauricio Macri to become the president, the idea of the country “going back to the 90’s” (a period of neoliberal reforms) became common in political debates, and once again, the specter of 2001 is haunting Argentina.

Prior to the rebellion

Many months passed and as misery and repression slowly but continuously kept growing, many of us were wondering if something like this would actually take place, or at least, if the the people would actually react against these measures. The climate seemed even more contradictory when the streets were filled with protests against government’s measures, repression of the Mapuche people, and claiming justice for Santiago Maldonado but also denouncing sectors involved in the protest, particularly local anarchist organizations and individuals as being “infiltrators” because they were more likely to use violence against the State and its forces (sometimes in good conditions, sometimes in bad conditions). Meanwhile President Macri won the mid-term national elections of the legislature, symbolically installing his coalition as a legitimized majority. Now the time of popular resistance has come, or at least that’s our impression in recent days.

“We will not allow another Hamburg”

On Wednesday December 13, during the protests against the WTO 11th Ministerial Conference that took place in Buenos Aires, we saw the first major repression of the Cambiemos period. We’ve had repression against protests in the past but they were mostly localized to particular sectors of the movement and usually took place after the demonstrations ended and the crowded were breaking up. The method used was to send in the police to hit and arrest random people with some instances resisting the attacks. During the 13th we saw hundreds of repressive forces ready to repel any kind of popular demonstration together with many other measures, such as the use of deportations and censorship, designed to stop any kind of resistance. This was the government’s way to send an international message for next year’s G20 summit: “We will not allow another Hamburg”.

All this military deployment happened again the next day, Thursday, December 14, as the State called for an extraordinary session of the lower house of Congress to discuss and vote on a “provisional reform,” an austerity measure directed against the pension system pushed for by the IMF.

Macri’s neoliberal reforms

This “reform” is just another fancy name to make us work until 70 years old, making it even harder to retire, and downgrading the amount of money people will receive. The legislation “changes the formula used to calculate benefits by linking them to consumer prices instead of tax income and wage hikes” which opens the gates for a process that would destroy the current imperfect but sustainable social security program. This law is not the only structural reform Cambiemos and Macri wants to impose on the people but part of a “package of (neo-liberal) reforms” that push a free market model for healthcare, workers rights and education and would significatively change the way the oppressed classes live today.

A state of siege on the streets

However, the session on Thursday had to be suspended as the people were repressed with such brutality that not even the hegemonic mass media could hide it. The streets of downtown Buenos Aires seemed in a state of siege with people being shot, retirees being attacked and many wounded. Even congressmen were gassed in front of the cameras, after the session was suspended, the people kept going outside to defy the State’s repressive forces.

After all this repression, the government announced another extraordinary session for Monday, December 18 with continuing threats of bypassing the congress through use of a Necessity and Urgency Decree, an executive order for special circumstances allowed by the constitution. But this time we could see the social forces were even more prepared to resist – raining stones on the police and unafraid of the barrages of tear gas and rubber bullets. No matter how much the police attacked, the people would appear again and again, refusing to disperse and give up the streets. The media had to repeat constantly that there was a group of so-called “violents” alienated from the “real protesters” and responsible for attacking the cops to make it believable. But this division did not exist as images showed hundreds of protesters resisting police attacks with sticks and stones and anything they could find. The repression lasted hours once again and people left the streets in the afternoon but appeared again at night, this time though spontaneously and not only in Buenos Aires but in many cities all around the country. It was a new cacelorazo,” a form of demonstration featuring banging on pots and pans which became popular during the 2001 economic collapse in Argentina.

“The government is on fire” A new unity, a new cacerolazo

The debate in congress lasted all night and after many fights, rigid votes and positions, the measure was passed. But social movements and popular forces did not surrender. Through this process of intense social conflict we have seen a clear advance in the radical conscience of the people and, at least momentarily, as willing to directly confront the forces of the State. At the same time, we see greater unity across political and social lines, as comrades say: “When you’re throwing rocks at the cops, no one asks if you’re anarcho, trot, or whatever.” This is the unity in the struggle we need to build between the oppressed. Repression did not stop us and the legitimation of the congress and other State institutions will not stop us either. That is why, new cacerolazos are underway in cities across the country. And that is why we shout once again: “¡Que se vayan todos!” (“They all must go!”)

If you enjoyed this piece we also recommend reading this solidarity statement with comrades in Cordoba, Argentina and “Anarchism in Latin America: The Re-Emergence of a Viable Current” which is the introduction to a forthcoming book from AK Press on anarchism in Latin America. 

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