The Integrity of Marius Mason

The Integrity of Marius Mason

From WFHB Community Radio, Kite Line


This week, we share the second part of a recorded discussion hosted by the Civil Liberties Defense Center.  CLDC has been at the forefront of anti-repression legal work for decades now, working on many of the Green Scare cases, in which the FBI infamously hounded and smashed radical environmental organizing between 2000 and 2008.  In this discussion, Chava and Lauren speak with Letha, a long-time supporter for Marius Mason, who is the last remaining Green Scare prisoner.  Marius is a former Bloomington resident whose public organizing and clandestine acts of sabotage in the 1990s presaged many of the ecological concerns which have now become global issues as we face climate catastrophe.  Marius was harshly sentenced – to almost 23 years in prison – for acts of sabotage against logging, highway construction, water privatization schemes, and corporate genetic engineering.  He came out as a trans man while inside and is being held at the federal prison in Connecticut.

Thanks to the CLDC for organizing this important discussion and for all their work.

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Four Months in an Anti-Authoritarian Platoon in Ukraine

resistance committee ukraine

From Enough 14

A member of an anti-authoritarian platoon in Ukraine reflects critically on the platoon’s activity, their relationship to the traditional armed forces, and the wider political significance of the experience.

Originally published by Libcom.

*This article was written in the first part of July. Now the anti-authoritarian platoon has moved forward. It transferred to the new unit, where it will recover trainings, recruitment, and, after the required preparation, it is promised that it will be moved to battle. This is the moment for conclusions after the first phase of the existence of the platoon—in the frame of territorial defense of Kiev oblast.*

The anti-authoritarian platoon is the unofficial name for a unit in one of the brigades of the Territorial Defense Forces (TDF) of Ukraine in the Kiev oblast. It came into being when anarchists and leftists of different backgrounds and groups, including anti-fascists and football hooligans, came together during the earliest stages of the war to participate in a fight against the imperialist invasion carried out by Putin’s regime.

The unit has existed for more than four months now—since the first day of the war. This is a good time to reflect and offer some analysis on how it has been going.

A couple of months before the war, alarming rumors began to circulate. At that moment, in the libertarian community of Kiev, we started to discuss how anarchists should conduct themselves if the threat of full-scale war became reality. Very few people believed that it would really happen. In that period, we developed the idea that we would need both military and civilian branches. We had several meetings; we also reached agreement with a comrade from the TDF and had a couple of trainings with him. One comrade prepared social media accounts. All our preparations were rudimentary. However, on “day X” [the first day of the invasion], we just started to follow this framework, and it helped really a lot. Operation Solidarity, the anti-authoritarian platoon, and the Resistance Committee—perhaps the most visible examples of libertarian activity during this war—are all, to a great extent, the results of this preparation process. This shows the importance of planning and developing scenarios for how you will act in different possible situations.

Comrades have asked me, *What if we could rewind back to 2020 with knowledge about today’s situation? What would we do differently?* I think we would just spend more time, energy, and attention on forming more sustainable and more numerous groups, making connections and relationships, collecting money and preparing resources, education, skill-sharing, propaganda, and strategic analysis. But you will never have enough of any of those things. Your readiness for mobilization is equally important. From my current position, I would dare to advise comrades worldwide to plan, organize, and act as if it is already the final countdown and you will face a major historic challenge next month. In the current stage of history, this is always possible, so don’t be caught by surprise, ill-prepared.

Bureaucracy, Military Order…

I think I won’t be giving away any military secrets if I say that this unit has been in a prolonged search for a place in the structure of the army. It is looking for an option to join the fighting on the front line, to restore its ability to carry out recruitment and systematic training, as well as to solve some bureaucratic problems related to the registration of the fighters. We could call this a “transition period,” but it has lasted for about three months now, so it looks more like one of the stages of our existence.

The limbo we find ourselves in now raises the question of military bureaucracy that we unavoidably have to face as part of the armed forces. First of all, we need to clarify the nature of TDF. It differs from the normal army in that it is comprised chiefly of volunteers and on a local basis. In general, the TDF is considered less professional, more of an auxiliary force. At the same time, it has the same military hierarchy, rules, and habits of the higher command.

Obviously, taking a place in a vertical hierarchy is problematic from an anti-authoritarian perspective. However, we consciously took this step. I think everyone in the platoon would agree that participating in the resistance is valuable even if it means temporary inclusion in the framework of the army.

Could we resist the invasion with arms independently from the state army under the current conditions? The answer is definitely no. Most ideas like this are being proposed far away from the country, by people who are cut off from this local context. First of all, there is not enough structure or resources on our side at the moment to seriously apply to form an independent armed force. At the same time, the Ukrainian state has enough force and will to suppress any fully autonomous force. In this situation, non-state guerrilla struggle is possible only in the territories occupied by the Russian army.

However, the most important reason is that the interests of Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian state currently overlap on one point, repelling the brutal invasion, though not on myriad other points. Because of this, any attempt to separately organize resistance doesn’t seem to find any understanding from the people at the current time. But we see that the current situation in the Ukrainian armed forces still provides a lot of space for different political groups eager to fight the occupiers.

Since 2014, certain far-right factions have organized and maintained some partly autonomous military units. These are the Right Sector Ukrainian Volunteer Corps (RS-UVC) and its splinter group, Ukrainian Volunteer Army. Unlike the state army, these structures have a certain degree of internal autonomy, a clear ideological affiliation, and are more flexible with recruitment, bureaucracy, etc. However, as far as I know, all the same, they remain under operative command of the Ukrainian Army; and nowadays, at least, the RS-UVC is being transformed into a “more normal” and subordinate military unit.

Let’s return to bureaucracy. Initially, our unit had a green light for active development, but then the line of the command of the battalion we belonged to dramatically changed. We appeared stuck in our battalion, with very few options to invite new comrades into our ranks and the necessity to carry out some merely formal and boring tasks and duties, which damaged both our internal structure, our training process, and our spirit. Participants with foreign citizenship faced additional bureaucratic problems. We also couldn’t arrange a proper opportunity to go to the fight as a unit; as of the first days of July, we remain in the rear. However, the situation is not desperate. We work on ways to solve these bureaucratic obstacles.

The collision with the military bureaucracy seems unavoidable in our situation. The lesson of this story is that more contacts and connections you have in the institutions that you want to deal with, the greater will be your chances to overcome or bypass the bureaucracy. In these past months, I have concluded that we, as revolutionaries, should not be squeamish about making contacts within state institutions. As long as we are clear about our political goals, taking risks to use connections to pursue those is more justified than restricting yourself from using the tools that could help the movement to gain ground.

Internal Structure and Life

According to army statutes, every platoon has several officer positions, which were assigned to those who had officer rank. Apart from this, the battalion command has hardly intervened in our internal order at all. We didn’t organize our structure according to the idyllic image of a perfectly anarchist militia in which all the positions are elected and subordinate to general meeting. The reason is partly that the unit is constituted of a variety of people, not all of whom are anarchists. The assistants of the platoon commander and the section commanders were assigned by the platoon command.

At the same time, we also implemented certain horizontal institutions. After a proposal from one experienced comrade who came from Europe, we started to practice *teqmil,* critique and self-critique sessions by sections. Deputy commanders of sections were elected. One of their functions was to transmit critiques that exceeded the section level to the platoon command at the commanders’ meeting.

After several conflicts related to media activities, the same comrade from Europe suggested that we should elect a media committee. This was approved by the command and done. Every platoon participant could vote, and the committee was formed by the three candidates who received the most votes. All interviews, texts, and photos to publish by platoon participants are to be approved by the media committee, which decides whether they fit norms established by the platoon command (mainly, security and not discrediting the Ukrainian army).

For now, all of these institutions are on pause, as the social microcosm of the unit was damaged by the above-mentioned bureaucratic obstacles and most of participants became tired and depressed as a result.

Of course, informal communication plays just as significant a role as institutional communication. On the one hand, from the very beginning, we developed a sort of democratic culture of very free expression of opinions, questions, and critique of everyone, including the command. On the other hand, there were a lot of hidden power struggles, conflicts of ambitions, and personal conflicts in general. I think that to some extent, this is unavoidable. But in our particular case, I believe it could be handled better.

One of the reasons is just lack of will, lack of effort for community building and resolution of conflicts in a comradely way. Some “old scores” of participants have also played a negative role. At the same time, I know perfectly well that people who are aware of comradely conflict resolution models are often unsuccessful at employing them.

Another problem is that from the very beginning, the anti-authoritarian platoon has brought together several groups and individuals from very different background, number, level of “conflictedness,” and tendency towards domination. This provokes additional tension. Sometimes, it seems that it might be more productive for such a close and constant collective to begin with a more homogeneous core from the start. This core would establish some rules and collective culture and integrate newcomers into it.

What fuels conflicts of ambition among us is a certain mindset which is widespread in our circles. This is the mixture of

– disrespect towards hierarchy, to the extent that even the limited power of a person in some narrow field of capability can be denied with arrogance;
– at the same time, here we can find openness and a blind eye towards informal hierarchies based at one time on reputation, personal sympathies, and the like;
– egocentrism and badly taken individualism, which is also contagious because, in the collective where it is broadly present, you can hardly maintain collectivist patterns of behavior.

This mixture creates the ground for continuous tensions.

The problematic of gender and toxic masculinity is definitely also here. I am not sure that I am capable enough to analyze it properly. First of all, our platoon has been 100% male for the most of the time it has existed. We had two non-male paramedic comrades who worked with us for nearly two months. This dramatic imbalance, in my opinion, is chiefly the result of the culture of our circles here, in which women are less present than men and also alienated from activities related to using force. This is hard to address on the level of a single particular project. However, I believe that part of the responsibility lies on our shoulders, because the atmosphere created in the collective is probably not very accessible for women. Our two comrades also had a critique regarding this—for example, that sometimes they had to shout and interrupt to be heard. On the other hand, some participants criticized the low integration of our non-male comrades into the daily routine of the platoon and the collective in general, regardless of their gender identity.

When I discuss all this with my close comrade, he says: *Believe me, this is actually a nice collective; in a “normal” unit, things could be way tougher.* And actually, I agree with him. All the shortcomings mentioned above should be criticized and addressed, but at the same time, as I evaluate them, they are still kind of moderate. We handle the majority of the challenges of collectivity in much more constructive and less painful ways than could be expected in some “apolitical” or reactionary environment. Recently, one of our friends spent a couple of weeks improving his skills in some of the “normal” territorial defense units of Kiev oblast. “Guys, we live in paradise here,” he concluded upon returning to our place.

The Political Meaning of the Project

After several discussions in the platoon, we agreed on anti-imperialism and anti-authoritarianism as two main points that define us politically. There is no common political line apart from that. For some guys, this unit is more an option to be involved in this war together with friends and people with similar interests. Others have more far-reaching plans for the platoon as the way to show ourselves to society, to gain experience, and to create some sort of sustainable space for the anti-authoritarian movement to get organized and develop.

One of the main challenges at the moment is to overcome the bureaucratic obstacles, to get an opportunity to get reorganized and finally engage directly in armed resistance against the occupiers. We all came here as volunteers willing to contribute to the fight. After more than four months with almost no engagement in action, it really harms the spirit and self-evaluation. It produces alienation from the activity we are part of here.

As for me, I am hardly a war-like person. However, the current situation calls out to participate both personally and collectively. It can open the way forward. On the rare occasions when have I have visited Kiev over the past months, I see a careless chilling atmosphere. As if there is no brutal war several hundred kilometers away that is taking the lives of many of the inhabitants of this city daily. I understand that people need to rest, to relax and please themselves a little bit. Still, this situation creates a deep feeling of dissonance. And the more time we spend stuck here in the deep rear, the more of a demobilizing effect it has on us, the more it alienates us from the purposes and cause that originally brought us together here.

At the same time, experienced comrades say that war is comprised of very different phases and situations. Being in combat itself takes 1% or less of the total time. The ability to wait, to be patient and manage the “dead time” is a useful skill for any partisan to develop and internalize.

Finishing this text, I want to stress that the story of this platoon is already unprecedented for the anti-authoritarian circles of Eastern Europe. Despite all the unavoidable shortcomings, I believe it has great potential for development and almost definitely there will be more interesting news from it. The structure which we have been able to form and the collective studying of military skills both represent important experiences.

With all the comradely critiques expressed above, still I want to affirm my respect and positive attitude towards my comrades-in-arms.

*-Ilya “Leshiy” and friends,*
*July 2022*


Jonathan Purkis and Helen Wilkinson of King Ink

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From Mixcloud, Under the Pavement Radio

Jonathan Purkis is an anarchist writer, a tutor, and an independent academic.

During his teens until his late thirties and beyond hitchhiking was his main form of mobility. Jonathan joins us to discuss his new book, Driving with Strangers: what hitchhiking tells us about humanity.

Also an interview with Helen Wilkinson of Sunderland poetry collective King Ink, recorded at cafe/performance space Pop Recs with live performances.

Wide ranging interview with Jonathan ( starts at 1hr 30 after the song 'Ghost of Tom Joad'.

Jonathan talks about the intellectual influences behind his book Driving with Strangers which extend back to writing about Earth First!, being a vagabond sociologist in the academy and, of course, hitchhiking. Jonathan celebrates the legacy of his old colleague and friend John Moore, talks about how Murray Bookchin inspires in new contexts, and why writing like The Dawn of Everything gives us scope and, perhaps, hope.


Noam Chomsky on David Graeber’s Pirate Enlightenment

Noam Chomsky on David Graeber’s Pirate Enlightenment

From ArtReview by Noam Chomsky and Nika Dubrovsky

Nika Dubrovsky speaks to Noam Chomsky about pirate societies, ‘bewildered herds’ and the fragility of the present in the context of the late anthropologist David Graeber’s final book

As questions of decolonisation rub up against the legacy of Enlightenment thinking in the West, anthropologist David Graeber argues in his posthumous book Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia (to be published early next year) that Enlightenment ideas themselves are not intrinsically European and were indeed shaped by non-European sources. The work focuses on the proto-democratic ways of pirate societies and particularly the Zana-Malata, an ethnic group formed of descendants of pirates who settled on Madagascar at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and whom Graeber encountered while conducting ethnographic research at the beginning of his academic career. 

Graeber, author of Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018), Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011) and The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (written with the archaeologist David Wengrow), died in 2020, but in a wide-ranging conversation for ArtReview, his widow, the artist and author Nika Dubrovsky, speaks with Noam Chomsky, an admirer of the anthropologist’s work, about Graeber’s last project, neoliberalism and democracy, Western empiricism and imperialism, free speech, Roe v. Wade in the US, the war in Ukraine and how Germany’s Documenta art exhibition has barely coped with inviting non-Western artists to direct it for the first time.

One of the left’s foremost thinkers, Chomsky has written major works that include Syntactic Structures (1957), Manufacturing Consent (1988) and, most recently, The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic and Urgent Need for Radical Change (2021, with C. J. Polychroniou).

David Graeber. Courtesy Goldsmiths, London

Nika Dubrovsky Thank you very much for the interview. It’s a great honour. We wanted to discuss David’s last posthumous book, Pirate Enlightenment, which will be published in January 2023 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In this book, as in his other writings, David talked about the importance of dialogue. He describes how entire cultural traditions emerge from the creation of new stories and how these traditions are then remade and edited.

Noam Chomsky That was very interesting. Both in his essay ‘There Never Was a West’, but also in the book about the extensive contributions of Native American thinkers [The Dawn of Everything, 2021, with David Wengrow], Chinese thinkers and others who, as they point out, as David points out, were recognised as contributors at the time, but then wiped from the tradition. It was regarded as just a literary technique or something. But I think he makes it very clear that it was a substantive contribution.

The discussion in ‘There Never Was a West’, about the nature of influence, was quite enlightening. The different ways in which influence takes place, in which it’s interpreted, and – as the tradition is constructed later – is filtered out, as he points out, on the basis of arguments that, if they were applied generally, would wipe out almost everything, including the tradition itself.

One of the most interesting parts of The Dawn of Everything, I thought, were the sections on the interactions with the Native American philosopher and thinker, and his contributions to how Enlightenment thought was developed by leading figures.

ND Just before Thomas Hobbes wrote Leviathan, he had seen a play by Charles Johnson, The Successful Pyrate, performed on an English stage. David suggested that this experience with Madagascar pirates may have influenced Hobbes’s political thinking. The very idea that people could negotiate with each other; that power could be organised not only top-down but also horizontally, as it was in many pirate communities, and in some indigenous cultures, came as a surprise to Europeans. David often said that his task was to decolonise the Enlightenment; to change our ideas of what kind of society we would like to live in. If we rethink our ideas about the Enlightenment, about where it came from, how do you think this will change the public imagination?

NC I think we must pursue more carefully these insights into how that tradition, as he points out, becomes the reconstruction of the past by elite thinkers who reshape it into a particular form. But when you go back to the original interactions, as David did and as they do in The Dawn of Everything, you see that what was filtered to become the accepted tradition is a sharp reconstruction of what actually happened – eliminating many interactions and many kinds of drawing on different voices, different experiences into something that was then reshaped by elite opinions.

Particularly striking, I think, was his discussion, in ‘There Never Was a West’, of periods when state authority was inoperative for one reason or another, either not paying attention or weakened. It’s at that time that interactions at the ground level developed the basic meaningful contributions to whatever functions later as democracy.

That’s where they arose, that’s how they can develop. But not the top-down conceptions that are reconstructed as our traditional heritage. It has lots of implications for direct action in the present. I think his emphasis is on things like the Zapatistas in the past, on relatives, work on pirates and so on. Pirate democracy in Madagascar and others is quite striking in that respect.

A Betsimisarakian henhouse and rice barn, 1911, Fenerive, Madagascar, photo: Walter Kaudern. Public domain. A subset of the Betsimisaraka, termed the zana-malata, were the focus of David Graeber’s dissertation research, from which Pirate Enlightenment is derived

ND In the Malagasy society that David lived in for several years and knew very well, dialogue is used as a political tool to shape public space. In your book Manufacturing Consent [1988, with Edward S. Herman], you describe how public space and the public imagination in Western countries is controlled from the top down by powerful ideological institutions.

NC Ed Herman, who passed away recently, was the prime author of that. He was a specialist in finance and taught at the Wharton School. He was interested in the institutional structure of the media and how basic institutional factors lead to the shaping of the information system that’s created. We slightly differed on that, I should say. My own feeling is that while all of that is important, I don’t think it’s very different from the general intellectual culture. My own work has mostly been, actually, on elite intellectual culture, which doesn’t have those same institutional pressures, but nevertheless leads to a version of reality that’s not very different from what comes out of the media system.

The phrase ‘manufacturing consent’, of course, is not ours. That comes from [American political commentator] Walter Lippmann. Also Edward Bernays, the main founder of the public relations industry. The two of them were members of Woodrow Wilson’s Committee on Public Information, the first major state propaganda agency, the so-called Creel Committee, which was designed to try to turn a pacifist population into raving anti-German fanatics as the Wilson administration moved into the war.

Both Lippmann and Bernays were very impressed by the success in creating a fabricated version of atrocities and so on, which in fact did change opinion dramatically. Lippmann called this technique ‘manufacturing consent’, which he called a new art in the practice of democracy. He thought that’s exactly the way things should work.

As David points out in his text, elite opinion has always been radically antidemocratic all the way through. Democracy is just regarded as ‘mob rule’, as Lippmann put it; the responsible men have to protect themselves from the roar and trampling of the bewildered herd. Lippmann, incidentally, was the leading liberal public intellectual in the twentieth century, a Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy liberal. But he was reflecting the general liberal conception of how the public has to be put in its place as spectators, while the serious guys – us – do the work of running society in the public interest.

This is almost universal. It’s not just in the media. People like Reinhold Niebuhr [an American theologian] and Harold Lasswell, one of the pioneers of modern political science. Bernays went on to be one of the founders of the public relations industry, which devotes hundreds of billions of dollars a year to these efforts to control opinion and attitudes. But it’s all based on the same conception that the public is a bewildered herd, stupid and too ignorant for their own good.

You have to control them in one way or another, not permit democratic tendencies. Perhaps you know the major scholarly work, the gold standard for scholarship on the Constitutional Convention, called The Framers’ Coup [2016, by Michael Klarman], the coup by the framers against democracy. They feared democracy, and they devised all kinds of techniques to prevent it effectively. If you look back at the Constitutional Convention, the only participant who objected to this was Benjamin Franklin. He went along, but he didn’t like it.

Yes, it is correct that this shows up in the media, but it seems to me to show up in the media not only because of the institutional structures that Herman’s work mostly outlined but also because of deeper currents in cultural history. It’s the same thing in the English Revolution in the seventeenth century when you didn’t have these structures, ‘The Men of the Best Quality’, as they called themselves, must subdue the rebel multitude.

When you read the history of the English Revolution, it looks as if it was a conflict between king and parliament, but that overlooks the public who were producing very extensive pamphlet literature and people travelling around giving talks and so on. They didn’t want to be ruled by a king or parliament. The way they put it was, “We want to be governed by people who know the people’s sores, people like us, not by knights and gentlemen who do just want to oppress us”. That’s the English Revolution, the major current that was of course suppressed mostly by violence.

The same thing shows up in the American Revolution a century later. David points out it’s a deep part of the Enlightenment. One of the striking points that he makes in the essay is that these concepts of human rights, Enlightenment, justice and so on, appeared in what’s called the West only at the time when they came into confrontation with other societies and cultures. In the whole long period before that, nobody ever bothered with such things. That can’t just be an accident. And I think we see it right through history, in a way, back to Aristotle’s Politics.

Betsimisaraka women in Madagascar, c. 1900. Public domain. A subset of the Betsimisaraka, termed the zana-malata, were the focus of David Graeber’s dissertation research, from which Pirate Enlightenment is derived

ND I found it very interesting how David links gender politics and the social status of women. Western societies in general are patriarchal, but the communities in Madagascar described by David in his book are not, so it is odd that it is us who are considered to be democratic.

NC Actually, that has very interesting, very current implications. The Roe v. Wade case, if you read [Supreme Court Justice Samuel] Alito’s actual opinion, his decision, is quite interesting. What he says is that there’s nothing in history and tradition that supports the idea that women have rights, which is quite true. If you look back at the constitution, the framers – for them women weren’t even persons. They were property. That’s Blackstone [Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765–69, by William Blackstone], English common law. Women are property owned by the father and handed over to the husband.

One of the arguments against allowing women to vote in the constitutional debates was it’s unfair to unmarried men because a married man would have two votes: himself and his property. This runs right through American history. It isn’t until 1975 that the Supreme Court officially determined that women are people, peers, who can serve on federal juries.

So Alito’s opinion is quite right. In all of American history and tradition, there’s nothing to suggest that women have rights. Therefore, Roe is breaking from the tradition by saying, ‘Yes, women should have rights’. It’s not exactly the message he wanted to convey, but it’s the essence in which his opinion is historically accurate.

It’s basically since the 1960s that there has been real pressure for not only women’s rights, but even freedom of speech. You look back at history, there’s no history of protection of freedom of speech. You begin to get the elements of it in the twentieth century, mostly in dissents. But it was not until the 60s that there was strong public popular pressure, sufficient for the Supreme Court to take a fairly strong position.

Actually, in the current regression, major figures in the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, are saying they want to rethink those decisions that establish freedom of speech, like Times v. Sullivan. We may go back to the tradition, just as we’re doing with the revision of Roe. These are very tenuous achievements. We have to struggle for them every minute.

ND The Paris salons, where many of these Enlightenment ideas were formed, mostly in endless conversations, were run largely by women. David’s Pirate Enlightenment talks a lot about war. He describes how the opposing sides put coloured signs on their foreheads, blue and yellow, to be able to distinguish one another in battle. War is also a dialogue, but a masculine one, where the instruments of communication are reduced exclusively to violence. For the characters in David’s book, however, the war ends in Assemblies, which restore complex human conversations. If we think about our current situation, what is most striking is the insistence on the abandonment of all dialogue and any exchange of opinions.

NC Yeah. That’s again a very timely issue. As you know, the NATO Summit [in Madrid at the end of June] received lots of attention, very positive attention. One crucial element of it, which hasn’t received much discussion, bears exactly on what you’re talking about. If you look at the NATO strategic statement, I think it’s Article 41, the basic thrust is we cannot have discussions and negotiations about Ukraine. It must be settled by violence. Those aren’t the words that are used, but that’s the meaning of the words.

What they say is that the question of admission of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine into NATO is not up for discussion. No third party can have any voice in it. We will decide as we wish. That’s a way of saying, ‘There cannot be any negotiations’. It’s been understood for 30 years, long before Putin, that no Russian leader will ever accept having Georgia and Ukraine in a hostile military alliance. That would be lunacy from Russia’s strategic point of view.

Just look at a topographic map or the history of Operation Barbarossa [Nazi Germany’s 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union] and you can see why. That’s been understood by high US diplomats and directors of the CIA. All of them have warned against this. But NATO, meaning the US, just decided that doesn’t matter. We’re going to continue to insist that everything be settled by violence, not by negotiations. No dialogue. It’s probably the most important part of the NATO Summit, and it’s consistent with what US policy has been. No discussion, just force.

David Graeber hosts a debate at the London School of Economics during the campus-wide programme Resist: Festival of Ideas and Actions, 2016. Photo: Peter Marshall / Alamy Live News

ND You are a prominent scholar who has worked in Western academia for many years. I know nothing about academia except that David thought it was conservative and almost reactionary, and wrote extensively about it. Perhaps the very idea that it is possible to substitute dialogue with others for direct violence while preserving democracy and freedom within our own space is shaped and supported by the Western academic community.

NC My academic life has been for 70 years at the elite institutions: Cambridge, Mass; Harvard, MIT, others like them, Oxford and so on. All the same. Ideas of this kind can scarcely penetrate. They are immune to consideration of the fact that the system that they were embedded in is based on violence and suppression. The theories that are developed, like international relations theory, completely miss much of this.

The security of the population is almost never a consideration in formation of government policy. Security of elite interest, yes. Not security of the population. In fact, this shows up very dramatically if you look at contemporary documents. Take the NATO Summit again. The phrase ‘rules-based international order’ occurs repeatedly, over and over again. We have to preserve ‘the rules-based international order’. The phrase ‘UN-based international order’ never appears, not once. There is a UN-based international order, like the UN charter, but the US doesn’t accept it. It bars all the activities that the US carries out.

The big struggle with China, ideologically, is that China is insisting on the UN-based international order. The United States wants a rules-based order. The hidden assumption is the US makes the rules. We want an international order, which is basically the mafia. The godfather makes the rules, and everybody else obeys or else. That’s the rules-based international order. And you can demonstrate that that’s the way it works, but you can’t penetrate elite discussion with this. I can talk about my own experience, but it’s just anybody in the same system can talk about it.

My apartment in Cambridge was a couple of blocks away from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. I wasn’t allowed to cross the threshold unless they couldn’t prevent it. Like, if I was invited by an international organisation or the foreign press or a student group, then they had to allow it. But otherwise it was considered contaminating the premises by even talking about these topics.

ND Sometimes it feels like we’re seriously close to the end of the world. David, however, was an eternal optimist. No matter what was going on, he would say, “Okay, let’s look on the bright side. What can we do? How can we find a way out of it?”

He tried very seriously to help [former UK Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn, but when Corbyn got crushed, David almost fell into a depression for a while. Very soon, however, he focused on the Brain Trust Project, a group of academic and nonacademic activists and artists trying to create an independent thinktank to address climate change. Yet our current situation, the disasters we are facing on such a scale, it is difficult to keep being optimistic.

NC Whatever our personal sentiments are about the likelihood of disaster, we have to maintain the ‘optimism of the will’. There are opportunities, whatever they are, and we have to devote ourselves to them. Take Corbyn. Very significant. I mean, if Corbyn had become prime minister, as it seemed in 2017 that he might very well do, it could be a very different England. Instead of being just a vassal of the United States, which it is, it could have been an independent element in world affairs.

He could have joined with Europe to lead an independent Europe, which could have made accommodations with Russia prior to the invasion, when it was a possibility. Instead of just falling into the lap of the United States and becoming a total dependency, which is what happened.

The British establishment knew what it was doing. The establishment all the way over to The Guardian, the so-called left. It’s very dangerous to allow a person to gain power who’s trying to create a popular-based political party that will reflect the interests of its constituents instead of concentrated private power. He was succeeding in that, and that’s much too dangerous to allow.

So the whole establishment, from what’s called the left over to the right, just launched an incredible campaign to discredit him, very successfully. Totally fraudulent grounds, but a very interesting illustration of the manufacture of consent, which is much broader than just the institutional structures involved.

It’s based on a real understanding that popular power is just too dangerous to permit. It will threaten elite dominance in all domains and could lead to not only an independent popular-based democracy in England but even to independent moves in world affairs, which would undermine the mafialike structure. Quite a lot is at stake in keeping somebody like Corbyn out.

Courtesy Allen Lane

ND David vividly describes how the democratic structures of pirate communities were influenced by Madagascar’s traditions. The pirates chose a captain who had full authority over the crew during combat, but not in everyday life.

Many of these pirate traditions are strikingly similar to anarchist practices and are truly democratic, allowing each member of the community to shape the social environment around them, unlike our current ‘democracy’, which is built on institutions that prevent people from access to decisions about how they might live.

NC As he stressed greatly, you don’t have democracy if representation is of the kind that liberal theorists call for. So take the main liberal theorists of democracy, people like Walter Lippmann, for example, or Harold Lasswell, or others. In this picture, the public has a role. Their role is to show up periodically and cast their weight in favour of one or another member of the elite class that represents power, and then go home and let them run the world but don’t do anything more.

That’s what’s called democracy. And as David stressed, that has no resemblance to democracy. Democracy means direct participation in decision-making at every level. You can delegate responsibility to someone temporarily to carry out or play some administrative or another role.

For example, in the Native American tribes that he discussed, where you pick a war leader for a particular conflict and then listen to him during the conflict, then he goes back and joins everyone else. That’s like the pirates, in fact, electing a captain because they need somebody to make decisions and then take them back. But it’s the public itself that always has the power and can, if it wants, take over decision-making.

If you don’t have a structure like that, it’s not democracy. And of course, such structures can be developed. Let’s go back to Corbyn. If he had succeeded in creating the kind of Labour Party he was working for, it would have been a constituent-based party with local groups putting their input into direct decision-making and so on. It’s not what the parliamentary Labour Party wants. They want to make the decisions and everybody else should shut up and listen. That’s [Tony] Blair’s party, [Keir] Starmer’s party. The weight of the establishment was so strongly behind them that the effort to create a popular party was just crushed.

Interestingly, the campaign was successful among the constituency. I’ve talked to Labour activists who were knocking on doors. They said it really sold. People just didn’t want to hear about Corbyn, they didn’t want to hear about a four-day week or any of the economic proposals. Just save us from this person who’s trying to destroy Britain. It worked very effectively.

Welfare State rally in London, 2010. Photo: Theodore Liasi / Alamy Stock Photo

ND I want to share good news from the artworld, which is also a very powerful institution, very much like an academy, very much built on exclusion and big money, seriously connected to financial capital, taxes and, ultimately, the state. One of the largest art exhibitions in the world, Germany’s Documenta, has been curated by a collective from Indonesia, who are exhibiting almost no artwork or famous artists, in the traditional sense of the word. They invited different collectives, mostly from the Global South.

This is an amazing exhibition, in the sense that it shows not the artistic achievements of some individuals, but the useful, caring and beautiful human practices of different communities.

But then again, as with Jeremy Corbyn, they are now under tremendous attack, perhaps on the verge of being destroyed. The only hope is that, just as with Corbyn, the current exhibition in Documenta can show us a glimpse of another world, as if it were an escape route that could one day save us.

NC That’s very interesting. I remember about 20 years ago – unfortunately, I forgot the name – there was an art connoisseur, Canadian, I think, who curated exhibitions of rugs. He pointed out that for thousands of years there was a form of women’s art in the Middle East, creating these marvellous rugs with wonderful designs and structures and so on. But no one ever regarded it as art, because it was women’s work. But the materials were quite fantastic. He ran into plenty of resistance. Who cares about rugs? But if you look at Oriental rugs, they’re quite amazing. By now, this artform is disappearing because it’s being replaced by commercialised duplicates. But for literally thousands of years, it was a major collective creative artform. Individuals would create their own art. They would work with each other. Because, of course, it’s collective, you can’t make a rug yourself. They made some remarkable contributions to women’s work.

ND The artworld first and foremost stands for the separation of production and consumption so it is difficult for it to relate to collective works. Therefore, a significant artist, in the Western sense, is always a loner who is distinct from the rest of us. But the industrial workers, who collectively produce things we use every day, remain anonymous. The same separation results in all of us staying as spectators and consumers, and without engaging in collaborative creativity. Documenta 15 had changed this narrative. It brought to Germany artists from Bangladesh, Latin America, African countries, and their real stories of fighting for freedom, caring for children, cooking food and so on. They showed us Westerners that most people in the world are, in a sense, better off than we are, despite their lack of the art institutions, if only because a core value of their art is care.

NC I saw something a little bit like that at the World Social Forum back 20 years ago. The first meeting of the World Social Forum, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. One of the collaborators was Via Campesina, the world’s major international peasant organisation. It facilitated areas where mostly women set up tables and shared their cultures – different societies, different languages, different ways of cooking, different kinds of seeds, and a lot of complex lore and understanding.

In fact, for the most part agriculture was a scientific activity in the hands of women. A woman would hand the knowledge down to her daughter, which seed you plant on which side of the hill because it gets the sun in the afternoon and all that kind of stuff. In fact, when scientific agriculture came in, it lowered yields because all of this knowledge was lost. But in these meetings of Via Campesina, it was all being brought back with individual understanding, complicated culinary arts, building things and exchanging ideas. It was quite amazing to watch. It’s disappearing, of course. The World Social Forum doesn’t have it anymore.

ND In Pirate Enlightenment, David describes a Marxist attitude to Madagascar’s history, where the main driving force is the struggle of the elites among themselves for the expansion of power.

David notes that it is a little strange to assume that any society is built according to this principle. But today’s Russia follows this logic: actively participating in the struggle between rival elites.

In the 1960s, the USSR pursued a different goal, supporting anticolonial movements worldwide with finance and arms.

NC Remember that Russia itself is an imperial system. You go back to the Duchy of Muscovy, which expanded over much of the world: all imperial conquests. There’s an interesting book, if you haven’t seen it yet, Crusade and Jihad [2018], by William Polk, a great historian who died recently, which is about the thousand-year war of the north, including Russia, against the mostly Muslim south. That’s why the regions that Putin is visiting right now [in July] are Muslim. They were all conquered within the expanding Russian empire. What we talk about as Russia, it’s like the United States. We think of the United States as a sovereign country, but only after it exterminated the inhabitants. Russia didn’t exterminate them, but it incorporated them.

It’s an imperial system, to begin with. And it’s mostly a war against the Global South, which happens to be mostly Muslim. As Polk discusses, it’s a major theme of the history of the past thousand years. Every form of resistance has been tried, and they all failed and end up being jihadis. That’s part of the sweep of world history. What’s bothering the West now is that it’s encroaching into Western territory. That you’re not allowed to do. You can kill anyone you want somewhere else, just the way we do. It’s very interesting to watch the reaction of the Global South to this conflict.

You read Western journals. They can’t understand why the countries of the Global South aren’t joining in with us. But these countries are laughing. What they say is, “Yes, of course it’s aggression, but what are you guys talking about? This is what you do to us all the time. We’re not going to join your crusade.”

ND A friend of mine who lives in the Middle East said: “With horror everyone watches white people kill white people. We’ve been living like this for a long time.”

NC David’s insights into all of this are very illuminating, and it undercuts a lot of conventional thinking. Also just pointing out the many options that there are for developing more enlightened, more free societies, not just the ones encoded in our artificial traditions, which exclude lots of what happened and reshape the rest into fitting into convenient frames for existing power systems. I think that’s a tremendous contribution.

Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia, by David Graeber, will be published in January 2023


Iranian Anarchists on Protests in Response to Police Murder of Mahsa Amini

Iranian Anarchists on Protests in Response to Police Murder of Mahsa Amini

From Black Rose Anarchist Federation by Black Rose / Rosa Negra – International Relations Committee


On September 13th, 2022, 22 year old Mahsa Amini was arrested by an Iranian Guidance Patrol (also known as ‘morality police’). Mahsa was arrested in Tehran for not abiding by laws relating to dress. Three days later, on September 16th, police informed Mahsa’s family that she had “experienced heart failure” and had fallen into a coma for two days before passing away.

Eyewitness accounts, including that of her own brother, make clear that she was brutally beaten during her arrest. Leaked medical scans indicate that she had experienced a brain hemorrhage and stroke—trauma induced injuries which ultimately led to her death.

In the days since these details were revealed publicly, mass demonstrations have broken out across Iran decrying Mahsa’s murder at the hands of the police.

To better understand this rapidly changing situation, we conducted a very brief interview with the Federation of Anarchism Era, an organization with sections in Iran and Afghanistan.

This interview was conducted between the dates of 9/20/22 and 9/23/22.


Black Rose / Rosa Negra (BRRN): First, please give a brief description of the Anarchist Federation of Era.

Federation of Anarchism Era (FAE): The Federation of Anarchism Era is a local anarchist federation active in so-called Iran, Afghanistan, and beyond.

Our federation is based on the Synthesis Anarchism, accepting all anarchist tendencies except nationalist, religious, capitalist, and pacifist tendencies. Our many years of organizing experience within extremely oppressive environments like Iran have led us to develop and utilize insurrectionist organizational tactics and philosophy. 

We are an atheist organization, viewing religion as a hierarchical structure that is more ancient and enduring than almost all other authoritarian systems and much too similar to capitalism and other authoritarian social structures enslaving humanity today. Class warfare, from our perspective, includes warring against the clergy class who rob us of our freedom and self-autonomy by defining the sacred & taboo and enforcing them by coercion and violence.

BRRN: Who was Mahsa Amini? When, why, and how was she killed?

FAE: Mahsa Amini, know by her family as Zhina, was an ordinary 22-year-old Kurdish girl from the city of Saghez (Saqez) in Kurdistan.

She traveled with her family to Tehran to visit families. On September 13th, while with her brother, Kiaresh Amini, the morality police or the so-called “Guidance Patrol” arrested Mahsa for “improper hijab.” Her brother tried to resist the arrest, but the police used tear gas and beat Kiaresh as well.

Many other arrested women witnessed what happened in the police van. Along the way to the police station, there was an argument between detainee women and police officers. Mahsa Amini was one of the girls protesting their arrest. She was saying she was not from Tehran and should be let go.

The police used physical violence to shut all the detainee women up. Mahsa was beaten as well. The eyewitnesses said the police officers hit Mahsa’s head hard to the side of the police van.

She was still conscious when she arrived at Moral Security Agency, but the other detained women noticed that she looked unwell. The police were completely indifferent and accused her of acting. The women kept protesting to help Mahsa get the medical attention she needed. The protests were met with violence from the police. Mahsa Amini was beaten severely by police again and lost consciousness then.

Police then took notice and attempted to revive her by pumping her chest and raising and massaging her legs. After those attempts failed, the police attacked other women to confiscate all cellphones and cameras that may have recorded the incident.

After much delay and finding the lost keys to the ambulance, Mahsa was taken to Kasra Hospital.

The clinic which admitted Mahsa Amini claimed in an Instagram post that Mahsa was brain dead when she was admitted. That Instagram post was later deleted. 

On September 14th, a Twitter account with a friend working in Kasra Hospital told the story that the police threatened the doctors, nurses, and staff not to take any pictures or video evidence and to lie to Mahsa’s parents about the cause of the death. The hospital, being intimidated, complied with the police. They lied to the parents that she was in an “accident” and kept her on life-support for two days. Mahsa was declared dead on September 16th. Her cause of death from the medical scans, leaked by hacktivists, shows bone fractures, hemorrhage, and brain edema.

Demonstrators in Istanbul, Turkey hold up an image of Mahsa Amini.

BRRN: Did Mahsa’s identity as a Kurd play a role in her arrest and death?

FAE: Undoubtedly, being a Kurd in Tehran played a role in Mahsa’s eventual death. But, this is a reality all women in Iran experience. We don’t need to look far to find video footage of the morality police beating and forcing women into police vans, throwing women out on the street from a moving car, and being harassed by Hijabi women for their “improper hijab.” Those videos show just a tiny fraction of the hell women experience in Iran.

Mahsa being with her brother on the day of her arrest was not random happenstance. In Iran’s patriarchal society, women should bring a male relative, whether a father, husband, brother, or cousin, along with on their business to ward off the morality police and discourage any surly individuals in public. Young couples can’t be seen too close to each other in public or risk being beaten and arrested by the morality police. Relatives needed to have documents as proof of their claims to the police. Arresting women for lipsticks and nail polish was a reality many of us millennials in Iran remember vividly.

The threat of acid attacks for “bad hijab” is another nightmare women endure in Iran.

Patriarchy and religious autocracy affect all women.

BRRN: How did the Iranian people learn of Mahsa’s death? What was the initial popular response?

FAE: As we elaborated earlier, there were too many eyewitnesses. No amount of threats could have stopped the story of Mahsa’s death from leaking.

It is worth mentioning the doctor attending Mahsa and the photojournalist documenting Mahsa’s condition and her family in distress, were both arrested, and their current status is unknown.

The initial response was outrage. People were already sharing Mahsa’s story from September 14th. The outrage was not yet strong enough for protests and revolts. People still thought Mahsa was in a coma, and there was hope for her recovery. Then, She was declared dead on September 16th.

First, there were small protests at Kasra Hospital, which were scattered by the police. The sparks of the current uprising were lit in Saghez, Mahsa’s hometown.

A police motorcycle is burned at a demonstration in Tehran.

BRRN: What is the scale of the current demonstrations? In what areas of the country have the demonstrations been concentrated?

The situation is very dynamic and changing exceptionally rapidly. At the time of writing this, the flames of the uprising have set 29 out of 31 provinces of Iran on fire. One of the characteristics of this uprising is that it spread to major cities across Iran, such as Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan, Ahvaz, Rasht, and others fast.

Qom and Mashhad, the ideological strongholds of the regime, have joined the uprising. Kish island, the capitalist and commerce center of the regime, has also revolted. This is the most diverse uprising we have witnessed in the last few years.

On September 23rd, the syndicalists are planning a general strike in favor of the protests.

The regime has an armed demonstration planned on the same day. A lot is happening.

BRRN: How has the Iranian state responded to these demonstrations?

The regime’s initial response was less brutal than we experienced before. One reason is that they got caught off-guard. They didn’t expect this strong response. The more important reason is that Ibrahim Raisi is at the UN. The lack of senior authority figures, publicized story of Mahsa and protests, and the pressure on the government being watched by the international community have stopped the massacre for now.

Don’t get us wrong. Police killed and injured many people from day one of the protests. Some among them were 10 years old children and 15 years old teenagers. But, we experienced November 2019 when the regime massacred many thousands of people in 3 days. 

In all the previous uprisings, the police were not directly the target of the ire of people. Not this time. They are the baddie this time, and people are out for their blood. This wears them down physically and mentally, which we take as good news.

Right now, Saghez and Sanandaj are experiencing ruthless suppression. The regime has brought tanks and heavy military vehicles to suppress the uprising there. There are many reports of live ammunition being shot at protestors.

The protests are still going. The police cars are being flipped. The police stations were scaled and burned down. We just need to arm ourselves by looting their armory. Then, we enter another phase of revolt altogether.

A barricade constructed at a demonstration in Tehran on 9/21/22.

BRRN: Is it accurate to call these demonstrations feminist in character?

FAE: Yes, Absolutely. Like all other uprisings, there were developments and movements beneath the surface.

It can be said that the recent crackdown on the Hijab and increased brutality of the morality police started in response to Iranian women’s spontaneous, autonomous, and feminist self-organization. Earlier this year, women in Iran began to black-list and boycott people and businesses, such as cafes, that strictly enforce the Hijab. The movement was decentralized and leaderless, aimed at creating safe spaces for women and members of the LGBTQ community.

That brutal oppression culminated at this moment where women are at the forefront everywhere, burning their scarves and beating down cops without Hijab. The main slogan of the uprising is also “Woman, Life, Freedom,” a slogan from Rojava, a society whose ambitions are based on anarchist, feminist, and secular ideology.

BRRN: What political elements (organizations, parties, groups) are present in the demonstrations, if any?

FAE: Many organizations, parties, and groups attempt to appropriate or influence the protests for their benefit at every uprising.

The majority of them ran into an unscalable problem during this uprising.

First, The monarchists. Reza Pahlavi, the deadbeat son of so very dead previous Shah of Iran, an individual being propped up by stolen money and media networks outside Iran, called for a national day of mourning amidst public outrage and initial protests instead of using his resources to assist the revolt. People finally saw him for the charlatan that he is. “Death to oppressors, whether Shah or Leader,” was heard all across Iran.

Then, MEK or Mujahedin Kalq. MEK has an ideological problem with this uprising. They are a cult whose women members are forced to wear red scarves. Their origin story is from combining Marxist and Islamic ideologies, hijacked by Marxist-Leninists before 1979, to the cult in service of capitalist and imperialist states today. Yet, the women in Iran are burning their headscarves and Quran. They have no say in this political climate.

Then, there are communist parties who despise Rojava and always speak ill of it. Their debunked and rusty class analysis doesn’t help them win hearts here.

With all their talks and propaganda of being proponents of secularism and feminism, they didn’t even have one slogan geared toward women’s liberation. And their ideology prevented them from chanting “Women, Life, Freedom.” They had nothing to say, so they shut up. Thanks to that, their presence is much weaker in the protests today.

The Anarchist movement is growing in Iran. This uprising, being leaderless, feminist, anti-authoritarianism, and chanting Rojava slogans, led to anarchists, affiliated and unaffiliated with the federation, having a strong presence in this uprising. Unfortunately, many have been arrested and injured as well.

We are working to realize the anticapitalist potential of this movement. Because the Islamic Republic is a death cult and religion, patriarchy, racism, and capitalism are its ideological pillars. For us to live, we need to be free; and that can’t be done without women’s liberation at the forefront.

University student demonstrators in Tehran on 9/19/22

BRRN: In solidarity. Thank you for your time.

FAE: Solidarity.

Be sure to follow Federation of Anarchism Era on twitter or telegram. If you enjoyed this article, we recommend Generations of Struggle: Interview with an Iranian Anarchist and The State of Cuba: Cuban Anarchist Reflections One Year After July 11th.


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