Much to our benefit, members of The Commoner were able to help organise, support, and watch a wonderful conference on the Kronstadt Rebellion of red sailors against the Soviet Government. Held on March 20-21, the conference featured film screenings, readings, and panel discussions with historians, activists and journalists. Although the rebellion does not come directly under the anarchist umbrella, it still stands as an important historical moment for anarchists and serves as a rallying point around which to criticise the violent intolerance of the Soviet Union. Some of the conference recordings are embedded in this article, but keep an eye on their YouTube channel for more releases.
On the first day of the conference, Dr Lara Green moderated a historian’s panel consisting of: Konstantin Tarasov, a research fellow at the St. Petersburg Institute of History; Simon Pirani, an honorary professor at the University of Durham; Dmitri Ivanov, a research assistant at the European University at St. Petersburg, and Alexei Gusev, an associate professor of history at the Moscow Lomonosov State University. On this panel we were first introduced to the history of Kronstadt and its forms of self-government, courtesy of Konstantin Tarasov, and on the anarchist involvement in the meeting on Anchor Square which drew 10-15,000 people.
Contributions by Ivanov focused on the anarchist involvement and reporting at Kronstadt, including such figures as Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, and of communist resistance to the Soviet government. The phrase, ‘all power to the Soviet, and not to parties,’ written in newspaper reports shown by Ivanov, especially resonated with the conference's anarchist audience. Simon Pirani and Alexsey Gusev, meanwhile, whilst disagreeing on whether or not we can call Kronstadt part of a ‘third revolution’ in Russia, both explained the links between their struggles and that of working-class groups in Moscow, Petrograd and the countryside. Central to the discussion was the fact that the red sailors were by no means alone, and that in certain areas popular sentiment was turning against the Soviet bureaucracy — most powerfully from those same revolutionaries who helped them overthrow the old order.
Not wishing to consign its discussions to history, the conference also hosted panellists who spoke about Kronstadt resonances in the present. The second panel focused on disinformation, counter-revolution, and the uprisings in Syria. Hosted by Shon Meckfessel, the panel consisted of: Ramah Kudaimi, a Syrian American activist who has worked in the Palestine solidarity movement. Lara al-Kateb, a Syrian gender studies researchers and member of the Alliance of MENA Socialists; Omar Sabbour, a freelance Egyptian writer and analyst, and Javier Sethness, a primary care provider and member of the Workers Solidarity Alliance. Ramah Kudaimi painted a wonderful picture of spontaneous action arising out of the Syrian revolution and the Arab Spring, with anarchists and non anarchists alike promoting local coordination councils in Syria. Ramah also spoke about the disinformation spread by the Syrian regime to slander the rebels and cut transnational solidarity. Lara el Kateb gave an informative lecture on the spreading of conspiracy theories across social media, and the campist “US bad” form of anti-imperialism which helps Syria and Russia do away with human rights. She took western leftists to task for insinuating that dissenters to the Syrian regime were western puppets, thereby denying them full agency in their actions.
Omar Sabbour continued with these themes, polemically taking down the “anti-imperialist” who cannot see the imperialist ties between the US, Syria and Russia. Choosing, instead, to support the enemy of their enemies. The US, after all, have routinely supported the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad when it has been politically expedient for them to do so. Javier Sethness tied this all back into radical history, speaking about the badjacketing of anarchists by Karl Marx and others figures. It is easy to see the connection with the Kronstadt sailors, who were subject to Soviet disinformation that they were “white” non-revolutionaries, and to counter-revolutionary efforts during their massacre at the hands of the Red Army. Ramah Kudaimi made some especially strong points when calling for solidarity across borders, more focus on Syrian rebel groups, and for leftists to stop falling for state propaganda when they could be listening to the real activists on the ground. Lara al-Kateb and Omour Sabbour also make their opinions of media groups like RT and Greyzone clear, for pulling Western leftists into the grip of Syria and Russia.
The day finished off with a video presentation by the Russian historian and journalist Jaroslav Leontiev, translated for the audience by Elijah Baron, and a film screening of The Russian Revolution in Colour.
On March 21, the conference started with a panel titled ‘The After-Lives of Kronstadt’. Hosted by Laurence Davis, a professor at University College Cork, the panel included: Dr Danny Evans, a historian at Liverpool Hope University and co-host of the radical podcast ABC with Danny and Jim; Mike Harris, a founder of the Anarchist Communist Federation of North America (ACF) and the Workers Solidarity Alliance; George Katsiaficas, an activist, author and previous research affiliate at Harvard, and Dmitri Buchenkow, a Russian political migrant, author and academic, translated for the audience by Irina Sissekina. Laurence Davis opened the panel with a speech on the philosophy of Walter Benjamin, how we might, as Benjamin says, reignite the fragment of the past, the reconquering of socialised territory and product by the Soviet State, and where anarchists could improve their theory in respect to other oppressions such as race and gender. Mike Harris provided a spirited commentary on the socialisation of housing by spontaneous housing committees, with anarchists like Maksimov contributing to a belief in the possibilities of power from below.
Danny Evans gave an informative presentation on the Spanish Civil War and the May Days of 1937, laying out the parallels between the Kronstadt sailors’ feeling that communism had been betrayed, and the anarchists of Spain who felt betrayed by Stalinist betrayals and slander. George Katsiaficas spoke of the continuing trend of centralised parties co opting and then eliminating the spontaneity of popular movements, pointing to historical examples such as the Makhnovists or the Hungarian Revolution. Dmitry Buchenkow, meanwhile, gave a thought-provoking presentation of the differences between ‘political’ and ‘social’ power, with anarchists ignoring the latter to their own downfall. The anarchists of the CNT-FAI who stepped into government, and the many anarchist groups who have splintered into obscurity were two examples given by Buchenkow to illustrate this issue. Overall, the panel took the events at Kronstadt, which we might imagine as ‘fragments of the past’, and reignited them to critique modern movements and anarchist organisations. As argued by Mike Harris, these discussions should feed into a ‘struggle for freedom’ which we should pursue in the spirit of the sailors.
Following on from that was a film screening of Maggots and Men, and a Q&A with the director Cary Cronenwett, the director of photography Illona Berger, and artist, educator and cultural organiser Zeph Fishlyn. The next and final panel, hosted by Javier Sethness, focused on the ‘social crises of 2021’ and featured: Lynne Thorndycraft, the only surviving member of the anarchist bookstore Left Bank Books, founded in 1973; Tom Wetzel, a writer for Ideas & Actionand ZNet, and Bill Weinberg, an award-winning 30-year journalist on, amongst other topics, human rights and indigenous peoples. The panel was opened by Lynne Thorndycraft, who spoke about the pamphlet she wrote in 1975 on Kronstadt, the sailor’s demands for the ideals of 1917 to be properly realised, and the dual existence of two Leninisms: one which spurred the Kronstadters on and another which justified their suppressions. She also raised concerns about new radicals learning their socialism from an authoritarian tradition, and coming to fetishise revolutionary activities for their own sake, defending negative movements for “actually doing something.”
Tom Wetzel followed on from Lynne by discusses the workers congresses which came to fruition in Soviet petrograd (and elsewhere), their focus on the decentralised socialisation of housing and business, and how modern movements may replicate their efforts to meet the needs of our desperate, covid ridden times. Finally, Bill Weinberg echoed the words of Ramah Kudaimi, Lara al-Kateb, and Omar Sabbour, giving a talk on Syria and the inability of some leftists to tell the difference between genuine revolution and the actions of imperialist powers. In response to questions Weinberg also criticised some anarchists for reading a great deal about Bookchin and Rojava, but not being aware of Syrian comrades.
The conference then came to a close with some words from its co-sponsors, including us.
Here are some words from some co-editors and writers at The Commoner:
Samuel — For a UK visitor these were two very packed evenings, and would have been tiring had it not been for the informative and entertaining panellists and visitors who brought new life to the history of Kronstadt. We at The Commoner are mostly interested in the promotion of new anarchist ideas, and so it was excellent to be involved in and witness a conference that, whilst grappling with a historical subject, dragged it into the context of the 21st century. Ultimately, the sailors at Kronstadt suffered from issues held in common with many revolutionaries: betrayal, disinformation, and counter-revolution being some of them. Comparisons with Syria were both welcoming and enlightening, and we will certainly be looking into legendary Omar Aziz, who helped build self-governing communes in Syria. Questions that criticized anarchist practise, such as those on ‘social power’ raised by Buchenkow, were also very welcome for the challenges they brought to the discussion.
Søren — I was compelled by a general sentiment expressed by a few of the speakers at this excellent conference: that Kronstadt was both a turning point and a clarifying moment that harkened the failure of a socialist revolution. This idea has been around for some time; many contemporaneous and modern anarchists have highlighted the disillusioning and radicalising effect of seeing the Kronstadt rebels crushed under the boots of the Bolsheviks. I was moved by one particular talk from Dr Evans where he laid out parallels between Kronstadt and the May Days of 1937 in Catalonia. His talk also called to my mind the Paris Commune, which itself was brought down by republicans (and royalists) working with the State in the national interest. Perhaps there is something to consider in these historical echoes. The death rattle of the State, a wounded snake flailing as it struggles to stay alive, is a recurring threat throughout history. Moments like Kronstadt draw a line in the sand around the new society. Drawn to encompass authoritarian rule, they invariably end in failure. Whatever future anarchists hope to build for ourselves, we must learn the signs of such Achilles heel moments and head them off well before the fall becomes inevitable.
davel - Laurence Davis’ point about Kronstadt sitting in contemporary imagination as fragments of the past which need reconstructing, activating and redeeming was very interesting. It framed the Russian Revolution in a similar manner to Alain Badiou’s writing on the event, where after an event, such as a revolution which ruptures and upturns the social order, a militant must show fidelity not to an organisation or state, but to the truths that the event has articulated. In this sense, we can move beyond a simple moralistic condemnation of the Bolsheviks and understand their actions as militants turning away from the truth(s) of the Russian Revolution that Kronstadt showed us, in part because their political situation remained solely within the State, both as an apparatus of control and what Badiou conceptualises it as, a metastructure which dominates the political situation and often the revolutionary imaginary. For Badiou, in order to effectively show fidelity to the emancipatory truths that the revolution spoke of, and which Kronstadt reaffirmed, we must move beyond not only the State but the party form. And even if, as Badiou cautions us, the State cannot be smashed, the ruptures that political events can foster, challenge and unsettle the limits it places on us and present us with new windows for redemption in a Benjaminian sense. And in doing so, just like the Sailors at Kronstadt, we can present ourselves within politics in forms of organisation which allows us the fullest dignity, even for a moment.
In February, the imprisonment of the rapper Pablo Hasél and the riots in Linares, in Andalousia, following the beating of a man and his daughter by plainclothes cops sparked a brief moment of revolt in the Iberian territory, especially in Catalonia. The reasons go beyond freedom of expression: hatred of the police, refusal of the curfew, the economic and social situation, etc. Saturday 27th February a riot broke out in the centre of Barcelona: banks and shops were trashed, ATMs burnt, clashes and barricades against the cops, and slight burning of a police van. At the repressive level, many were wounded, there were about one hundred arrests, and a dozen people were imprisoned, among whom eight comrades arrested on February 27 and March 1st for the burning of the van. For more info: presxs27febrer.noblogs.org 27/03/2021
I’m Danilo, one of those arrested after the demo of 27th February. As many already know, I am writing from Brians 1 (Martorell). It is one month today since we were arrested and I wanted to publish something earlier but I had to get a better idea of what was going to happen, both for myself and for the others, also get news from outside, etc.
That said, I want to start by thanking the very many gestures of solidarity we have received, many people have implicated themselves in that, giving a lot, be it materially with letters, money, postcards, clothes, etc. or practically with demos, initiatives and other. Each of these contributions helps us a lot to keep up our morale and feel supported which is very important here, really thank you!
To sum up, for anyone who doesn’t know, we are accused of attempted homicide, attack on authority, public disorder, continued offence of degradation and belonging to a criminal group. Recently the comrade accused of having set fire to the urbana [Barcelona city cops’ van] has been released on bail. Which is great in and of itself, and we also think that perhaps this is a signal that the case is starting to fall apart.
However, it is always very complicated to predict anything, given the absurd pathetic media circus, in addition to the seriousness of certain charges, which is why I personally prefer to get used to the idea that it’s going to take a relatively long time to get out of here. It’s not that I don’t like the idea, I just prefer to have good surprises rather than disappointments, not start worrying about time, etc., so far that has worked for me, and I can say that in spite of everything I am calm!
About our arrest, I must admit I hallucinated that we weren’t badly beaten up, it’s something I anticipated when we were handcuffed in the street, I thought it was ordinary protocol in these situations (I still think so), or maybe it is the exception that confirms the norm. In truth I am perplexed, and finally I reached the non-conclusion that perhaps the fact that the media had been talking for days about “disproportionate interventions” as they called them, the mossos [Catalan cops], or that they wanted to avoid new “martyrs” who could give strength to the demonstrations … I really have no idea, but all the better for us! Insults and threats, we got. “We’ll see you in the street in Mataró when you’re outside, pig, let’s see if you stone us!” A schmit told me at the Mataró comico, before they take us handcuffed, Luca, Albo, Hernan and me, to the very shabby theatre they did to search Nabat, a squat where some of us lived, with the anti-riots posing in front of journalists in the middle of the road, before bringing us back to the cell, pff ! As well as Sara’s release, something else very positive, and that I wasn’t expecting, is that we are all here at Brians 1, in three different modules. Those of us in the same module see each other every day outside in the yard (6 hours a day, 4 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon) while we write to each other from one module to another and the letters “only” take some three days to arrive, in addition to being able to have communications, internal visits, etc. This is all very good, we support each other and that really helps. Module 4, where Albo, Luca and I are, is the quietest, as they say, “the schoolyard”, “respect module” for civil servants. Most of them are here for stup (trafficking), theft and bullshit, then there are some that in other modules would not last a day (sexual offences) and a lot of snitches, that’s why this module is so quiet, some prisoners are more guards than the guards, even more than in other modules, at the slightest thing you are sent to the special and afterwards to a conflictual module. In the end, luckily we also meet some good people, things could be much worse. Something else, before finishing, I want to express my utter contempt for the disinformation media of the regime, once again they are at the top in their efforts to manipulate public opinion with their lies, sensationalism and bullshit, supporting the repression, servile scavengers who take advantage of the ill-being of others, is that a job? Always offering a medium on which the repressive apparatuses can then build their retaliation.
Each time they are threatened, they try to sell the same story: behind the diffuse social malaise and the revolts there is only a group of conspirators, in order to be able to apply exemplary punishment, two for the price of one: on the one hand they strike those who disturb with their struggles and demands and on the other they try to frighten those who think of going out in the streets to protest. They claim to be surprised when a crowd of young people explode in rage, identifying those responsible (cops, journalists, banks, multinationals, large businesses) for increasingly precarious and miserable living conditions and for more and more suffocating social control systems. They pretend to be victims, like the worst executioners do, wolves in sheep’s clothing! I wanted to make it clear to those supporting us that this is what I think, I think it matters. Fuck the repressive apparatuses and their states! I will not give up my ideas for fear they will be criminalized.
Anyway, sorry if it’s too long, but there was a lot to say about this month and I didn’t want to do it in a boring telegram or communique style.
A huge hug to everyone! Hope I can get back to you soon! And once again, thank you for everything!
Much strength and solidarity also for the others repressed in prisons all over the world!
Freedom for all!
Down the prison walls
And long live anarchy!
In this special edition of Mutual Exchange Radio, Alex McHugh interviews Ilya, a Russian social anarchist and anti-fascist.Ilya has written for C4SS a couple of times as well as translating some English articles into Russian. In this interview, part of our “Around the World” mini-series with C4SS contributors across the world, we dig into the current muted nature of Russian political activism, the Russian far-right and the dangers they pose, and antifascist hardcore and anarcho-chanson music.
CUSTER COUNTY — Two sets of headlights headed straight for the geodesic dome house that serves as the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch’s headquarters.
Outside in the deep dark of Colorado’s Wet Mountain Valley, the people who live at the ranch prepared to defend their home.
For weeks, they had received threats online and warnings from others in the area that the rhetoric against the leftist, anarchist alpaca ranch commune for queer people had intensified. The day before, March 4, someone aggressively tailed the ranchers’ truck down the washboard county dirt road as they drove home. The ranchers thought the headlights could be those people coming to harm them. They grabbed their guns.
Then the headlights swerved away. It was the neighbors coming home down their dirt drive, which follows the alpaca ranch’s fence line for a bit.
The Tenacious Unicorn Ranch stood down, relieved.
“I think that moment proved that this is home,” said Penny Logue, one of the ranch’s founders. “We were ready to defend it.”
For about a year, the Tenacious Unicorn ranchers have called home a 40-acre plot of hardscrabble land about 20 minutes south of Westcliffe, the seat of rural Custer County, population 4,700. About nine people live on the ranch at any given time, though that number changes as people come and go from the property.
Logue and her business partner, Bonnie Nelson, created the ranch as a place where queer people can live and work safely and without fear. Along with the human occupants, the property is home to about 180 alpaca, a few dozen ducks and chickens, a herd of gigantic Great Pyrenees dogs, a flock of sheep, a few goats and a handful of cats.
The ranchers love the valley and Westcliffe. The community has been welcoming and incredibly helpful, they said. But after stories about the ranch appeared in High Country News and on Denver’s 9NEWS, they have received online threats and faced increased in-person harassment, they said. In one 48-hour period in early March, they were followed in their truck and caught armed people trespassing on their property twice.
The harassment prompted increased security measures, like cameras, lights and the ongoing installation of 1.5 miles of 6-foot fence around the entire property. But it hasn’t changed the group’s mind about settling in the conservative ranching valley. When they felt threatened, their neighbors offered help.
“We’re a haven for a vulnerable group of people, so it’s doubly important that it’s safe,” Logue said. “It’s not a normal occurrence for queer people to just have exclusively queer space.”
Logue and Nelson chose the valley as their home because it was affordable and would support their dream of a working farm.
They moved in March 2020 from a ranch they were leasing in Larimer County after falling in love with the dome house property. Every day they watch from their home as the sun and clouds play on the jagged Sangre de Cristo mountain range, in all of its moods. At night, the sky is so dark they can see the stars’ colors.
The group shares food, a bank account and chores. Ranching is hard work, said Logue, who grew up on a Colorado farm. Animals must be fed, poop scooped, fences mended. Sixteen-hour days are normal. There are many sleepless nights, like when the ranch’s lambs were born in the middle of a cold snap.
Shearing the herd once a year yields nearly 2,000 pounds of wool, which they turn into yarn to sell. They also pick up work from other ranches or communities, like digging fences or cleaning out barns. Nelson worked for a bit as a driver for an Amish man. They also raise money online.
In their downtime, the ranch residents cook and eat together in the dome house, filled with food, manuals on alpaca health and bulletproof vests adorned with patches showing a rifle on the trans pride flag.
The walls in the main room are bedecked with several large rifles, a 5-foot sword and pride flags representing some of the identities of the people who live there: non-binary, lesbian, agender and asexual. There’s also a red-and-black flag stating, “Sometimes antisocial, always antifascist.” New people arriving at the ranch cry with relief sometimes when they see the flags hanging, Nelson said. It can be tedious living in a world where people see you as “other.”
“We all want to get away from everything because there is so much pressure and stress brought up by just existing,” Nelson said.
The ranch can especially be a safe place for transgender people who are transitioning and who may not want to be in the public eye during the process. Logue said she worked during part of her transition and was met with stares and many questions.
“Having worked retail from beginning to mid of my transition, I can tell you that the world is not kind,” Logue said. “It is unpleasant to be in the public eye during your transition. Offering a place to do that privately is really important. And who doesn’t want to be surrounded by alpaca all the time?”
“An old-school conservative Christian county”
On top of the stress of raising herds of animals, the ranchers have navigated a tension between the ranch and some of the valley’s residents that began after a Fourth of July parade in Westcliffe.
In town that morning running errands, the ranchers saw people carrying Confederate flags and banners with the logo of the Three Percenters — one of the prominent anti-government militia movements in Colorado that is classified by the Anti-Defamation League as far-right, antigovernmental extremism.
The ranchers later posted on social media denouncing the flags, which made people angry. Then, in the High Country News article published in January, Logue called the event a “fascist parade.”
The Sangre De Cristo Sentinel — a weekly conservative publication in Westcliffe — republished the magazine story but included lengthy editor’s notes at the beginning and end. The notes, written by publisher George Gramlich, called the ranchers a “hypocritical bunch of hate-filled xenophobes” and said the article was “very, very disturbing.”
In an interview Wednesday, Gramlich walked back some of the language in the note and said the article was generally well done and that the Tenacious Unicorn ranchers are good people. When asked which part of the story he found disturbing, Gramlich pointed to the quote calling the Fourth of July parade fascist. That sentence felt like an attack on the community as a whole, he said.
“There could have been a Three Percenter flag there, but basically people can bring their own flags,” Gramlich said. “We’re not excluding anybody.”
Some in the community agreed with Gramlich’s rebuke of the comment, letters to the editor and social media comments show. Others disagreed.
“The article does not imply that the community as a whole is not good,” one Westcliffe resident commented on Facebook.
The Sentinel has also re-printed several transphobic cartoons and commentary pieces from websites like The Daily Signal and The Federalist.
“This is an old-school conservative Christian county. Folks here have never seen any folks like them before they moved in,” said Gramlich, who has lived in the valley for nine years.
The Tenacious Unicorn ranchers said the publication stirs up transphobic sentiment in the area, though they mostly try to ignore the articles. The backlash they’ve faced has also drawn people to their aid, they said.
Stephen Holmes, owner of Peregrine Coffee in Westcliffe, said much of the angry rhetoric toward the ranchers has come from “a small radical minority” that feels like they have more power in town than they do. Holmes and the Tenacious Unicorn ranchers have grown a friendship over the past year.
“I’m a Christian, I’m a minister, and I’m a Bible teacher,” Holmes said. “People might think that would provide a big gap between me and people like Penny and Bonnie, but there has not been that gap.”
“I think people should try to get to know them,” he said. “They’ve been extremely kind to me.”
Last month, when the ranchers found the trespassers and were facing increased online threats, they asked for help. People from across the country came to the farm to provide guard services. For all of March, the ranchers and volunteer armed security guarded the property 24/7. The ranchers often wore heavy vests with bulletproof plates as they went about their chores and tried to leave the property as little as possible.
On Wednesday, Logue and Nelson still wore their handguns as they worked around the property, even though the tension had started to ease.
“Doing what we do, people are going to hate us,” Nelson said. “If you’re doing things right, the right people are going to hate you.”
The vast majority of the community, however, have welcomed the ranchers, Nelson and Logue said. They’ve joined in with other alpaca farmers in the area to pool their fibers and have them processed in bulk to create hats and socks.
Logue and Nelson hope to expand the ranch so that more trans and queer people can live with them. The dome house already is filled with people.
“We can’t literally house every trans person in this country,” Nelson said. “They won’t all fit in this valley.”
The long-term goal is to help other queer groups start similar communes across the nation. Logue and Nelson envision helping other groups with downpayments, co-signing loans, teaching others how to raise alpacas and donating starter herds.
“I would love it if you could stay at a Tenacious Unicorn from California to New York and never have to stay in a cis hotel,” Logue said.
The group plans to soon fly three flags on the property: one representing the transgender community, one red-and-black flag representing anti-fascism and one pirate flag. They’re not interested in trying to hide who they are.
“We’re not leaving,” Nelson said. “We’re building our foundation stronger.”