Since the opening of a new prison for migrants in Laval Quebec in October of 2022, we’ve been consistently hearing from detainees about the terrible conditions. In-person visits have been suspended, while detainees are blocked from accessing their medication, have complained of being served rotten food, and many have continued to see their mental health spiral. All this in a brand new facility, that the federal government touted as a “more humane” form of detention. Now more than ever, it is clear that detention can never be “humane”, and only ending the practice of immigration detention in its entirety can put an end to these abuses.
While we work towards our ultimate goal of abolishing immigration detention, and obtaining status for all, we are doing what we can to support detainees on a day to day basis. Although visits have been suspended, we are still able to bring deliveries to the prison. Common requests include toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo and soap, socks and underwear, deodorant, cigarettes, international calling cards and clothing, especially winter clothing. These modest contributions can provide some small dignity and improve detainees’ living conditions, but more importantly, they send a message to detainees that they are not alone, that others are aware of what they are going through, and that people recognize the injustice of their mistreatment. On the outside, our deliveries keep us in touch with detainees and keep our political work grounded, as we fight alongside them for their liberation.
We are calling for donations to keep the deliveries going. Any amount that you can give can go a long way towards providing support to someone locked up inside the Laval migrant prison.
Most importantly, we need people to continually denounce Canada’s practice of imprisoning migrants. Rather than pouring millions of dollars into the construction of new prisons for migrants, like the one in Laval, the federal government needs to focus on the real solution: an ongoing and inclusive regularization program! The struggle continues until every last detainee has been liberated! Free them all, Status for All!
Comments Off on Rethinking Identity, Safety, and Appropriation – Or: Why is Tarot Banned at the Bookfair?
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair’s Statement on Cultural Appropriation reads, “To the best of our capacity, we will not be accepting applications from people wanting to present or table if we know them to be making culturally appropriative choices in how they dress or behave.” The statement was most recently updated in 2019 and can be read in full at www.anarchistbookfair.ca.
This year, the bookfair collective instructed two tabling applicants—including Black-owned bookstore Racines—not to sell tarot cards at their tables because doing so would constitute cultural appropriation. Their decision was based on a claim that tarot was developed by the Romani. I was surprised to hear this. I’m by no means a tarot expert, but I had always thought that it was created by White Europeans.
I have since done a fair amount of research on this topic. There are certainly Romani people who believe that Westerners have appropriated tarot and that it should remain a closed practice (i.e., not utilized by non-Romani people). At the same time, some Romani people refute this notion and encourage others to engage with the practice or deny that it has anything to do with their culture whatsoever. I’ve gleaned much of this sentiment from the internet, through forums, blogs, and social media. I have no way of knowing whether the discussions I’ve encountered are genuine, but I also have no reason to believe otherwise. There appears to be no consensus among Romani people of whether the practice is of Roma origin and, if it is, whether it should remain closed.
Tarot is over 600 years old. Historians (and not just White European ones) generally agree that it was developed in Italy. The first documented tarot decks were recorded between 1440 and 1450 in Milan, Ferrara, Florence, and Bologna. The oldest surviving cards were painted in the mid-15th century for the rulers of the Duchy of Milan. Tarot was initially used for a variety of games. The earliest example of it being utilized for cartomancy (i.e., fortune telling or divination, what we most commonly know it to be used for today) comes from an anonymous Italian manuscript from 1750. French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette (1738-1791), who went by the pseudonym Etteilla, was the first to develop an interpretation concept for tarot. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, tarot became widely used for cartomancy in Western Europe, particularly in Italy and France.
So, why do some people associate tarot with Roma culture even though all evidence points to the fact that it was developed by Europeans? The most likely explanation is that tarot was falsely said to have originated in the Middle East by two French intellectuals.
French pastor Antoine Court de Gébelin (1725-1784) claimed that tarot was a repository for “arcane wisdom.” In an essay from his book Le Monde primitif, analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne, de Gébelin noted that the first time he saw a tarot deck, he perceived that it held the “secrets of the Egyptians.” Without producing any evidence, he claimed that Egyptian priests had distilled the ancient Book of Thoth into tarot’s images.
Jean Alexandre Vaillant (1804-1886) was a French teacher, political activist, and avid student of Roma lore who took de Gébelin’s claims one step further. He asserted that Romani itinerant workers had brought tarot to Europe. At the time, it was believed that the Romani originated in Egypt (genetic research has since shown that they come from present-day Rajasthan, India). Given their long history of nomadism, Vaillant concluded that they must have brought tarot to Europe. Like de Gébelin, he provides no evidence for his claims, either.
Tarot’s association with Roma culture might itself have come from the racist European convention of associating occultism, witchcraft, and other forms of non-Christian spirituality with the “Orient.” It’s quite possible that de Gébelin and Vaillant sought to make sense of tarot’s evolution from innocuous playing cards to instruments of esoteric knowledge by associating it with the ancient Egyptians, and in turn, with the Romani.
Apart from the claims of cultural appropriation, I have also seen arguments based on the premise that Westerners who practice tarot make it harder for the Romani—who still experience widespread poverty and disenfranchisement—to make money off tarot readings. Of course, if you’re thinking of reading tarot in proximity of a Romani person who’s also doing that, you may want to consider going somewhere else so as not to infringe on their livelihood. However, this argument doesn’t hold up in the context of the bookfair, where people would simply be selling their own reinterpreted versions of tarot decks. Most of the articles I’ve found about tarot and cultural appropriation also make this point.
Underprivileged ethnic and racial groups have long offered cartomancy, palmistry, and other divination services to make a living. While the Romani have certainly been avid practitioners of tarot for hundreds of years, there is no connection between them and its origins. It’s undoubtedly important to be mindful of how our actions affect socially disadvantaged people, but I don’t think it makes sense for the bookfair collective to prohibit anyone from engaging with tarot based on claims that it is appropriative.
I’m aware that there have been and currently are internal disagreements on the collective regarding the tarot issue and the cultural appropriation policy as a whole. This text is not a denouncement of the bookfair collective or the people on it. I appreciate everything y’all do and will keep attending the bookfair for as long as it exists. By publishing this, I hope to open up dialogue regarding the cultural appropriation policy and shed light on its shortcomings.
To be honest, I don’t care much for tarot. I’ve gotten a few tarot readings and found them to be only somewhat interesting. Ultimately, I’m not that concerned with whether tarot is allowed at the bookfair. However, this issue can be a jumping-off point for a broader discussion about identity, safety, and appropriation. These are topics that I’ve been talking through with comrades of colour for many years, in the context of the bookfair and in general. I wish I had more time to write this, but I also thought it would be important to finish by the time of the bookfair.
As a person of Indigenous American descent, I’ve thought about identity for most of my life. As an anarchist, I’ve wrestled with ideas about who gets to speak for minority groups. When police murder a person of colour, so-called community leaders often come out of the woodwork to tell everyone to remain calm and trust the legal system to find justice. What about the people who want to burn it all down? When a few people claim that a particular practice is appropriative or harmful, it’s easy to point to their opinion as irrefutable fact. Should we ignore all those who disagree with them?
I’m sure a convincing argument could be made for why drinking yerba mate—a traditional drink that has been an integral part of my ancestors’ spiritual practices and traditional stories—is appropriative. Does that mean that you should consider this view as representative of everyone who comes from the same part of the world as I do? Honestly, I’m happy to see others enjoy something that has been so important to me and the people I share a cultural lineage with. There are many who agree with me and many who don’t. Just a few months ago, an article titled “Are Yerba Mate energy drinks racist?” was published in Concordia University’s student-run newspaper, The Concordian. However, as with many conversations about cultural appropriation, there are no definitive answers to this question.
What I do know is that I’m tired of individuals speaking on behalf of groups they claim to represent, and even more tired of people who don’t belong to those groups taking their word as gospel. We’re free to make personal statements, but speaking for others requires consent. Claiming that the Black, Indigenous, Romani, or any other community ascribes to a particular position is not only unverifiable but can be damaging to those who disagree. Too often have I seen comrades of colour be mistreated by the community they belong to and the self-ascribed allies that support them for critiquing popularly held ideas or questioning people who claim to speak for them.
If you search hard enough, you can find arguments for practically anything being appropriative. There are articles that say that it’s racist for people who aren’t Indian to do yoga or people who aren’t Chinese to practice acupuncture. Most of these claims never really take off, even if some of them make just as much if not more sense than the reasoning used to say that tarot is appropriative. Non-Chinese folks gave free acupuncture treatments at the bookfair last year, which illustrates the arbitrary nature of enforcing a cultural appropriation policy. Why has tarot crossed the threshold of cultural appropriation while acupuncture hasn’t?
Black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw was right when she said that, despite having transformational power to bring marginalized people together, identity politics “frequently conflates or ignores intragroup differences.” The practice of making generalized statements about people of colour is part of a long history of reducing minority groups to a few identifiable characteristics. Those with the power and resources to broadcast their ideas to the public are more likely to speak on behalf of a respective group. It appears that claims of cultural appropriation must gain a certain amount of social momentum before they’re taken seriously, which is likely impacted by the level of prestige possessed by the people who make these assertions.
At the very least, if the bookfair collective plans to maintain a cultural appropriation policy, it’s vital that it isn’t enforced based on misinformation. Decisions should not be made due to the faulty claims of a few people on the internet. There’s already enough backlash against the “woke left,” “cancel culture,” and other such concepts—and not just from the right, either. Unreasonable policies risk alienating people of varying political, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. I’ve known several working-class comrades of colour who have distanced themselves from leftist and anarchist milieus due to identity-based discourse they saw as ungrounded, inconsistent, and pedantic. Instead of bringing us together, identity politics often divide us along class lines.
The Statement on Cultural Appropriation reads, “We’re not interested in policing people’s bodies, nor is it logistically feasible—or desirable—for us to monitor every person who attends the bookfair.” While the bookfair collective doesn’t prevent anyone from attending the event due to their lifestyle choices, it does make decisions on who gets to table based on whether they believe applicants are engaged in cultural appropriation. It also cites “aesthetic choices such as non-Black people wearing ‘dreadlocks’ and people non-Indigenous to Turtle Island wearing ‘Mohawk’ hairstyles” as common examples of cultural appropriation while stating that one should consider staying home if it’s “more important to wear your hair or dress any way you want.”
Many cultures around the world—including throughout Europe—have had hairstyles indistinguishable from present-day dreadlocks and mohawks. The bookfair’s statement implies that a Hindu person with a traditional jaṭā hairstyle, a type of dreadlocks, would be engaged in cultural appropriation. So would an Indigenous Colombian with a mohawk, because modern colonial borders mean they didn’t make the cut of being from what is considered to be Turtle Island. I would hope that neither of these people would be denied a table based on a set of narrow and objectionable metrics, but this is what the bookfair collective has explicitly laid out in writing. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone chose not to attend the bookfair or apply for a table out of a concern of being called out for not meeting these parameters, not to mention the countless white-passing people of colour who already deal with the trauma of erasure and are attempting to reclaim their roots.
Feelings of anxiety may be exacerbated by incidents that have taken place at past bookfairs. In 2016, Midnight Kitchen, a McGill-based collective that volunteered to provide food that year, decided not to serve people they perceived as White with dreadlocks. I believe this incident has played a significant role in shaping the public image of the bookfair throughout Canada and beyond. I was living on the West Coast at the time and remember hearing about how White people with dreadlocks weren’t allowed to attend the bookfair at all. I quickly learned that this wasn’t true, but it was nonetheless fuelled by real dynamics that had taken place. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had heard this rumour, and there are probably people who believed it for much longer than I did.
One of the sources cited in the bookfair’s Statement on Cultural Appropriation is a zine titled “Answers for white people on appropriation, hair and anti-racist struggle” by Colin Kennedy Donovan and Qwo-Li Driskill.
The authors assert that “by wearing ‘Mohawks’ and dreadlocks, white people demonstrate they are unaware of anti-racist struggles and deteriorate trust between white people and people of color/non-white people.” This is one of several statements in the text that homogenize people. I’ve known plenty of White people who have these hairstyles and are solid antiracist comrades. Their lifestyle choices have never impacted our mutual trust. I’m totally fine with the authors expressing these thoughts as opinions, but here they present them as objective statements.
Also present in the text is the claim that “the hairstyle called ‘Mohawks’ is rooted in distinct Iroquois and other First Nations/Native traditions.” The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois is a colonial name that some view as derogatory) did not wear what we commonly refer to as the mohawk. The hairstyle was falsely attributed to them by Hollywood films from the 20th century. A customary Haudenosaunee hairstyle consisted of plucked-out hair and a three-inch square of hair on the back crown of the head with three short braids. The Pawnee, who historically lived in what we now call Kansas and Nebraska, had a hairstyle that resembles the present-day mohawk. The authors make no reference to them, so it seems they simply fall under the category of “other First Nations.” This is in itself a form of invisibilization that could have been avoided with a bit of research.
Overall, the zine has a fairly self-righteous tone and doesn’t read like something meant to educate people in good faith. I understand that a lot of identity-based discourse has developed out of a place of anger, but there are more respectful ways of talking about such a sensitive topic. I don’t think this text has a place in any reasonable discussion about cultural appropriation. If the goal is to achieve productive results in fostering equity for people of colour, this is not a great source to put forward.
It’s apparent that a particular culture based on identity-based discourse exists at this bookfair. Whether or not this is informed by the Statement on Cultural Appropriation, I’m not sure. Nevertheless, I don’t want anyone to be turned off from the bookfair because of this policy or the incidents that have occurred there over the years. I want more people to be exposed to anarchist ideas, so we can have a better chance at fighting those who have a real hand in upholding white supremacy. Maybe it’s time to examine the benefits of this policy and weigh them against the damage it may inadvertently cause.
According to the collective, cultural appropriation “has meant that many people who feel the brunt of racialized oppression have felt unwelcome at the bookfair.” This is particularly significant in Montreal, where the anarchist scene is mainly White. While I don’t deny that some people see great value in the cultural appropriation policy, I have yet to meet any. Most of the anarchists of colour who I’ve talked to about these topics have noted that they feel more like outsiders when others try to accommodate them based on their background, especially when those people are White. It can seem patronizing to be given privileges or treated with special care. Some of us don’t want policies to protect us from harm. We would much rather be able to exercise our individual and collective strength to engage with and overcome challenges.
I will make a perhaps crude analogy and compare the cultural appropriation policy to marshals at demos. I believe that most people who take on roles as protest marshals have good intentions. They pre-emptively block traffic so nobody gets hit by a car. They maintain cohesion so that everyone stays together. They intervene when there’s internal conflict so disputes can be quickly resolved. All of this is done in the name of collective safety. That being said, I can’t say I’ve ever been to a marshalled demo that I’ve really enjoyed. It doesn’t feel liberatory to have a coordinated group of people impose what they believe to be the most desirable outcome on everyone else. It has always been more rewarding to deal with difficult situations on our own terms, because that’s how we get stronger together. If someone is found to be doing something harmful at the bookfair, I hope we would have the collective capacity to deal with that situation accordingly. If we can’t do that, I don’t have much faith in our ability to achieve the transformational change we strive for as anarchists.
Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, a group of Black high school students who had never been politically active organized an anti-police rally in the city I was living in. Their event quickly gained the attention of some local leftists and anarchists of colour, who called them out for disregarding the “safety of the BIPOC community.” One of their grievances was that the organizers had plans for an open mic segment during which people of all backgrounds would be given a platform to voice their opinions on racism and police brutality. The premise was that not vetting speakers risked the safety of attendees because a White person might take the mic and say something harmful. They incessantly tried to force the organizers to cancel the rally, and criticism quickly became harassment. The organizers received a slew of hateful and threatening comments. When I contacted them to offer my support, one of them told me that this was the first and last time he would try to organize a political event because of how he was treated. The fallout was so severe that I wouldn’t be surprised if the turnout was ultimately cut down by half, as people were confused about which side of the conflict to be on.
In the end, the organizers held the rally anyway. A large and diverse crowd showed up. Everyone was allowed to take the mic no matter what they looked like. At one point, an older White man went up and said something mildly offensive. The crowd heckled him, and a few people took him aside to explain why his comment was problematic. Nevertheless, everything turned out fine. The man stayed for the remainder of the rally, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one who learned something valuable from that interaction. Several other White people were given a chance to speak, and I’m glad they did because what they said was thoughtful and inspiring.
A couple of weeks later, the group that had boycotted the rally held their own event. The premise was the same, but this time only people of colour who contacted the organizers in advance were allowed to speak. The mood was dismal. The mic was dominated by university students who listed their professional qualifications before going into academic monologues that sounded more like dissertations than words from the heart. Ultimately, the barriers to access generated in the name of safety resulted in a dull and formulaic event. The crowd was smaller and less diverse compared to the previous rally.
Wait, so what’s this weird tangent got to do with the bookfair? My point is that trying too hard to achieve a certain level of safety can be stifling. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be mindful in our organizing and plan for unfavourable situations. However, safety seems to have become less about protecting each other and more of an obsession with ensuring that nobody ever feels uncomfortable, which is an unrealistic expectation. I have too often seen people of colour fight each other over the notion of safety instead of concentrating on the primary forces that keep us unsafe: the state, the police, and the people who uphold these institutions.
Much of the popular identity-based discourse entered anarchist circles 10-15 years ago. A lot has changed since then, and I think it’s time to reflect on how helpful these ideas are to our daily lives. Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed the rapid emergence of armed and organized fascist groups in North America. We’ve also seen a 66 percent increase in the number of police murders in Canada, with a disproportionate number of victims being Black and Indigenous. So, can we please stop trying to burn each other’s projects to the ground over disagreements? Can we move beyond focusing on whether people’s lifestyle choices are okay or not? Because when shit hits the fan, you’re damn right I’m gonna want the White oogle with dreads on my side. I’ll take all the fucking help I can get.
Cultural appropriation can undoubtedly be a useful concept. The ability to hold on to traditional practices and ensure that they aren’t altered by people who have no historical connection to them is crucial for the cultural continuity of ethnic and racial minorities. Many unique and distinguishable cultural practices should be protected. I also think that cultural appropriation is particularly egregious in the context of capitalist enterprises (e.g., offensive sports mascots, demeaning Halloween costumes, New Age spas offering sweat lodge ceremonies, etc.). I want everyone who attends the bookfair to feel relatively safe and welcome. However, I question the extent to which this is being achieved when I think about the range of people who may be turned off by the limited view of the Statement on Cultural Appropriation.
I propose that the bookfair collective open this topic up for discussion. I fear that the tarot issue is only the beginning, and that without public feedback, the cultural appropriation policy will continue to be enacted in unreasonable ways. I firmly believe that the current version of the Statement on Cultural Appropriation could alienate the same people it’s trying to support. It’s time for the wider anarchist community to shape the future of this policy.
In the summer of 2021 on Vancouver Island, thousands of people moved through a de-facto autonomous zone spanning multiple watersheds. An entire constellation of struggle burned bright, welcoming into its fold a new generation of land defenders. Creeker is a grassroots, anti-authoritarian zine series that aims to bring depth, variety, critique and continuity to the ongoing process of reflecting on the Ada’itsx/Fairy Creek blockades. It’s intended for creekers themselves, land defenders elsewhere, and the land defenders yet to come.
The latest volume is the biggest yet, containing a timeline, maps, multiple firsthand accounts, reflective pieces, and critique. Printed versions are available at Camas Books in Victoria and Spartacus Books in Vancouver.
Comments Off on International Call For Solidarity With Anarchists In USA Atlanta
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
The struggle against cop city, and for the Weelaunee forest has been explosive, experimental, and wild for nearly three years now. In the process our enemies have brutalized us, charged people with domestic terrorism, leveraging 5-35 years in prison against them, murdered our friend and comrade Tortuguita, attempted to repress our struggle, and yet we are still here fighting.
As the forests we swore to protect get clear-cut, and people face hefty sentences leveraged by the courts, as we stare at the possibility of raids, repression, investigations, and the unknown, we desire to take the plunge. We will make our enemies pay for every inch. We will not let them know a moment of peace.
We call for the mechanisms of the US capitalist system, the government, and the infrastructure that upholds it to be moved against in an effort to make this wretched civilization and those responsible which took our friend and levies the might of their courts and police against us pay.
For the past two years, peasants living on the banks of the Zapatosa swamp in Colombia have been participating in the recovery of 8,000 hectares of land. Their goal is to protect the wetlands, improve their lives and build food sovereignty. In doing so, the peasants are opposing powerful interests that have seized the land for oil palm agribusiness and cattle and buffalo breeding…
Comments Off on Call for solidarity from the #EkoniAci movement! Blockade at km 16!
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
In order to enforce the moratorium on logging on their territory, Nitaskinan, members of the Atikamekw of Manawan are currently setting up a new blockade. It is located at km 16 on the road to Manawan, north of St-Michel-des-Saints. Logging companies have been informed that they will not be able to return with their machinery when the thaw occurs on May 19. We need to be many to ensure that they respect this instruction.
It is possible to come now to help set up the camp. Those who can free themselves, the most sensitive moments are likely to be from May 19 to 26. The blockade will remain in place afterwards and solidarity will still be necessary.
The Atikamekw of Wemontaci also need support at the moment, in the area of Renard au rat. Tensions are rising and threats are being made.
Comments Off on On Crow, Fascist Drifts, and People Who Are Not Comrades
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
This article contains research taken from public sources, mostly from articles posted publicly by Crow himself. Our intention is not to dox Crow, but rather to provided a compilation, summary, and analysis of already easily available information. We are also not encouraging anyone to harass Crow, threaten him with violence, etc. We simply want to give other anarchists the information they need to keep him out of our organizing.
We should also flag here that this text quotes Crow (somewhat graphically) discussing sexual assault allegations. If that’s something you’d prefer not to read, we suggest skipping the section entitled “Crow on Women/Feminism.”
In early April, CBC published a hit piece and an accompanying video about anarchists and their alleged participation in an attack on a CGL worksite in February 2022. In it, they quoted one Anton Bueckert (who many of us know as Crow—he uses both names on his blog), who had responded to a CBC journalist who had contacted him via email in February of this year. A lot of people have probably already heard some bad things about Crow—that he has treated people poorly, or not been good about security, and more recently, that he has made anti-vax conspiracy politics a central project.
Since the beginning of his Nevermore project, he has embraced anti-feminism, as as well as the conspiracy-laden, reactionary populism of the convoy movement. And, since January 2023, Crow has been more openly promoting antisemitic and anti-trans conspiracy theories on his personal blog. At the same time, the Nevermore project now lists as “contributors” a number of more prominent conspiracists with longstanding ties to red-brown/third-positionist platforms. We think these developments make it quite clear that Crow has made a definite break with any kind of meaningful anarchism, and with the liberatory principles that most of us understand as central to anarchy.
We are sharing this information because we see no space in our movements and communities for alliances with the far-right, or for the promotion of fascist/third-positionist ideas. We are using the term third-positionism somewhat broadly here to describe a phenomenon what in other contexts is also called querfrontism or red-brown alliances. That is, political ideologies that combine both ideas traditionally associated with far-left movements (e.g. anti-capitalism, anarchism, etc.) with ideas central to fascist or neo-fascist movements (e.g. antisemitism, reactionary populism, etc.)1 We think it is important that anarchists across North America understand the political trajectory that Crow seems to have taken, so that we are all able to make informed decisions about how to relate to him should he try to re-involve himself in anarchist stuff on this continent.
Crow used to be involved in anarchist scenes in Quebec and Ontario and has spent some time in BC. He has also been involved in anti-colonial and anarchist movements in the US.
When the COVID pandemic began, Crow started publishing Nevermore, a COVID conspiracy/anti-vax zine, and maintaining social media pages and a website associated with the publication.
A few years ago, some of us started paying attention to the increasing links between Crow’s Nevermore project, and European conspiracist publications/projects such as Winter Oak and The Stirrer. While in its early days Nevermore might have been slipping past some anarchists in Canada because the conspiracy theory and anti-vax content was somewhat less prominent, Winter Oak was already quite straightforwardly conspiracist, with its obsession with the Great Reset etc. Both began to merge their politics and to promote each other, along with public health misinformation such as lies about vaccines, and claims that ivermectin could cure COVID, etc.
Even when the main conspiracy theories promoted on Nevermore mostly revolved around COVID and “The Great Reset,” the project and its core contributors were still clearly flirting with some far-right ideas and figures. The project has long cited and promoted the work of people like James Corbett2 Jennifer Bilek,3 and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.4 It also hosts materials that make pretty explicit comparisons between the Holocaust and mRNA vaccines.5
Crow left Canada for Mexico in May 2021 but, on his trips back he has occasionally shown up in organizing contexts. On his blog, he mentions plans to return to Canada in May 2023. It is also possible that he could try to get more involved in anarchist scenes in the US again.
Following the publication of the CBC article last month, we found Crow’s personal blog and learned more about how his politics have developed. Crow himself connects his experience of “breaking taboos” by speaking out about “the COVID conspiracy” to his and other anarchists’ newfound willingness to confront other “taboos” including “trans ideology”, feminism, Marxism, and “Jewish banking”.
(For more on Crow’s intellectual hero, Paul Cudenec, and other contributors at Nevermore, please refer to the second addendum at the end of this article.)
Crow on Women/Feminism
Crow has developed very explicit men’s rights/anti-feminist politics. He has written multiple blog posts decrying feminism, saying that there’s no gender inequality in Canada in 2023. He happily predicts that soon the only feminists left will be “man-hating dykes who don’t want to compete with men for the sexual attention of bisexual women,” along with several other offensive stereotypes.
He’s got a whole lot of anger towards feminists and he isn’t at all afraid to show it. In his words: “You had a good thing going for yourselves, with your men so fucking wrapped around your finger that the pussywhipped faggots are apologizing for raising their voices while they’re clearing their shit out of the house that they worked decades paying for.”
Some of these opinions seem to be related to his story about leaving Montreal because of a rape accusation. We don’t know anything about the situation he’s referencing, but this is how he defends himself against that accusation: “The definition of rape is a penetrative assault, and I had never penetrated the crazy bitch who was lying about me for attention.”6
Crow on Trans Kids
Crow also hates trans kids. He believes and is publicly promoting the notion that Drag Queen Story Hours are queer people “forcing your ideology down the throats of children,” and that gender affirming health care is “mutilating the genitals of children and making them life-long dependents on pharmaceutical drugs that will undoubtedly cause all kinds of fucked-up side effects.” He claims to have no problem with trans adults—make of that what you will—but he seems to have fully signed on to the trans-people-are-groomers line.7
This is an unfortunate, if somewhat predictable, development. Nevermore has featured articles from The Stirrer (a UK TERF blog) since 2021, and Nevermore itself has referred its readers to Jennifer Bilek’s9 work on more than one occasion. In 2022, an article published on Nevermore claimed that“in an increasingly pornified culture, [Drag Queen Story Hour events] are leading to the sexualisation of children, removing innocence from their lives.”10 More recently, another article on the site claimed that drag “is a parody that plays on every regressive gender stereotype that’s put on women” and “reinforces gender stereotypes,” and then compared drag to blackface.11
Crow dedicates at least one whole post on his blog to promoting the conspiracy of Judeo-Bolshevism, the antisemitic theory that The Jews were behind the Russian Revolution and that communism is a Jewish conspiracy. In Crow’s words: “Marxism was a Rothschild-sponsored plot.”12 This roundly disproven theory was not only central to Nazi propaganda in the lead-up to and during the Holocaust, but also spread throughout many parts of the West, both before and after WWII.
Crow’s antisemitic conspiracist thinking is not limited to buying into the theory of Judeo-Bolshevism. Unsurprisingly, he also thinks that woke ideology is silencing the “truth” that Jews control the economy. He writes: “Now, let me ask you this: If it could be proven beyond all reasonable doubt that some of the most powerful people in the world are Jewish bankers, would you really be that surprised? Or would it merely confirm something you’ve long suspected?”
He also compares Jewish religious beliefs with Nazi ideology: “Nazism was wholly incompatible with the original spirit of the Volkisch movement, because Nazism denies that Jews are part of the manifestation of the universal life force that the original Volkisch movement revered. But is not the Jewish belief that the Jews are God’s chosen people equally misguided?”13
Finally, given that Nevermore has already been engaging in some implicit Holocaust revisionism by suggesting that mRNA vaccines are essentially equivalent to the Holocaust, it probably shouldn’t surprise us that Crow himself seems to hold some questionable ideas about Jews and genocide. In his words:“given the fact that communists keep betraying and murdering us, why are [we] hiding the fact that Marx was, in all likelihood, an agent of the Rothschilds? This is a pretty big fucking deal, isnt it? Keep in mind that Im [sic] Mennonite. My ancestors fled Russia after the Bolshevik coup, and my [sic]. I am a survivor of genocide, and the people responsible for that genocide were Jewish bankers. And their descendents rule the world today, and were [sic] not supposed to talk about them because their co-religionists were also the victims of genocide.14
To summarize, Crow seems to think that: 1. Jewish bankers tried to exterminate his Mennonite ancestors. 2. These same Jewish bankers are still in power today. 3. The (supposedly Rothschild-funded) Soviets carried out a genocide equivalent to (if not greater than) the deliberate Nazi extermination of six million European Jews.15 4. Because of the Holocaust, people like Crow are silenced from talking about the power of the Jewish bankers who ostensibly rule the world.
In our opinion, this sounds an awful lot like the theory of “double genocide,” an idea that gained popularity in certain post-soviet European states (e.g. Lithuania) where there is often a vested interest in ignoring or obfuscating local collaboration in the extermination of Jews.16
Throughout this entire diatribe, Crow emphasizes over and over again that he does not hate Jewish people, and that he is definitely not an antisemite. Unfortunately though, it seems that the only things covered by his definition of antisemitism are statements such as “the Jewish nation is parasitic.” Given that our own understanding of antisemitism includes more than just overt hate speech, we’ll take his claims of not promoting antisemitism with a big grain of salt.17
Crow’s Exchanges with the CBC
Crow’s correspondence with the CBC journalist should also give anarchists pause about whether he should ever be privy to sensitive information. While the quote that the journalist used in the CBC article was surprisingly reasonable, the full content of what Crow sent to them over months of emailing back and forth is all over the map. He doesn’t seem to have shared any potentially damaging information like guesses on individuals who might have been involved, but he does vacillate between reasonable explanations of anarchist participation in anti-colonial struggle, tirades against woke ideology, personal threats against the journalists, and promotion of conspiracy theories.18 One particularly troubling aspect of this correspondence is that Crow seems to think that he holds all the cards in the exchange, is fully in charge, and is actually the one gaming the journalist. This kind of hubris can cause even “well-intentioned” anarchists to become unwitting collaborators with repression.
As a final kicker, we’ll mention that Crow seems to be starting to believe that climate change is a hoax.19
Why Are We Writing This?
We’re sharing this information not because we want to spread mean-spirited gossip about someone for fun, and definitely not because we want to feed into Crow’s narrative that white men are being persecuted and pushed out of their communities by “wokeists.”
However, it is entirely conceivable that Crow will return to Canada (or go to the US) and try to get involved in anarchist organizing in some way again, and we want people to know what he’s been doing, saying, and thinking so they can assess whether or not they want him involved.
From our perspective, Crow has already drawn a clear line between himself and anarchists; he sees the vast majority of us and our communities as a “demented cult.”20 We’ve watched his slow but accelerating slide into solidly third-positionist politics and we don’t think that he should be related to as a comrade.
Thankfully, as he’s been on the outs for a few years now, he doesn’t seem to have been able to do much damage to our movements yet. But anarchists should be aware of the risks of having him know anything about what we’re doing, and we all need to make sure his fucked up ideas can’t spread any further into our circles. Hopefully, seeing how this slide into third-positionism has happened for Crow will also better equip us to intervene earlier in the process for others.
Some thoughts on how schizophrenia relates to this story…
Something we learned in writing this piece is that Crow is, in his words: “a diagnosed schizophrenic.”21 While our intention is neither to pathologize Crow, nor to make excuses for his behaviour, we think it’s important to address this fact up front for a number of reasons.
Schizophrenia is an often misunderstood and heavily stigmatized condition. Unlike experiences such as depression, which are widely discussed and acknowledged in the anarchist scenes we’ve participated in, Schizophrenia is something that most anarchists have probably not experienced themselves or necessarily had many intimate, first-hand interactions with. That said, for some of the authors of this text, this topic happens to be a highly personal one; some of us have witnessed up close the impacts of schizophrenia on the lives (and deaths) of our loved ones. This is partly why we want to try to give this context the attention and nuance it deserves.
A tricky thing about schizophrenia is that its presentation shares many surface features with conspiracist beliefs. People with schizophrenia often experience paranoia, delusions of persecution, and see patterns that aren’t really there. In a world rife with conspiracy theories, it’s not surprising that for some people, these delusions are also informed by readily available cultural narratives. From the outside, all these things can be hard to tell apart.
There’s also a fair bit of literature that makes some clear distinctions between paranoid delusions and belief in popular conspiracy theories. Without getting into it too much here: experiencing clinical paranoia might make one more inclined to conspiracist beliefs and people who hold conspiracists beliefs might be statistically more likely to be experiencing clinical paranoia, but most conspiracists are not schizophrenic, and most schizophrenics are not conspiracy theorists. Many schizophrenics experience paranoid delusions but don’t also start hating feminists, Jews, and trans people, or courting the far-right.
We don’t have any special insight into how Crow experiences the world. We have a lot of empathy for people who live with schizophrenia, but we also don’t think that it makes sense to simply assume that this diagnosis is the root cause of Crow’s political trajectory. What feels most relevant to us (and why we still think its important to publish this text) is the very real impact these beliefs have on the world. People who are hurting, people whose paranoid beliefs might have some pretty understandable origins, can still end up doing quite real harm to the people around them.
In Crow’s case, we know him to be actively propagating some incredibly harmful ideas about women, about trans people, about Jews, and about his former anarchist comrades. He has been connecting with others who share similarly harmful beliefs and has built a growing media platform dedicated to promoting these ideas as widely as possible. At a certain point, the origin of these beliefs matters less than how they manifest themselves in the world.
Crow’s relationship with Paul Cudenec seems to have been essential to his increasingly reactionary drift. Crow describes Cudenec as “the mystic and philosopher increasingly recognized (albeit not by himself) as the world’s greatest living anarchist thinker.”
According to Crow:
“The truth is that were it not for Paul Cudenec, Nevermore would not exist, and I do not know what I would be doing with my life.
When I encountered his writing, everything changed for me. I knew what I had encountered. This was the antidote to the poison of post-modern nihilist bullshit which had infected the Left.”22
Because Crow clearly understands Cudenec’s influence as such a critical one, we have decided to give Cudenec and his ideas some extra attention for those who are curious…
Cudenec is a British anarchist who claims to have been active in anarchist movements in the UK since the late 90s. Apparently he has been living in France for the past several years. Along with a personal blog, he also maintains Winter Oak (which seems to be primarily a platform for publishing his own writing) and another website called “Organic Radicals.”
Paul Cudenec is deeply inspired by the work of René Guénon, an esoteric anti-modernist French philosopher, who founded the school of thought known as “Traditionalism” (which Guénon also called “perennialism”). Guénon “believed that certain ancient religions, including the Hindu Vedanta, Sufism, and medieval Catholicism, were repositories of common spiritual truths, revealed to mankind in the earliest age of the world, that were being wiped out by the rise of secular modernity in the West.”23
While Guénon himself was not necessarily a fascist, his philosophy went on to directly influence several notable fascist thinkers, and continues to inspire various currents of the European New Right. Most significant, perhaps, was Julius Evola, a proponent of esoteric, anti-modern fascism, who considered Guénon to be his “master.” Other acolytes included esoteric Nazi, Savitri Devi, and Aleksandr Dugin, the founder of “Eurasianism.”
Follwing Guénon, Cudenec has called his own philosophy “anarcho-perennialism.”24 It should be said here that Cudenec is, by his own declaration, certainly no fan of Evola. Rather, he seeks to rehabilitate ideas popular on the far-right (Guénonian Traditionalism, the German völkisch movement) by dismissing any suggestion that there might be some continuity between these philosophies and the more overtly fascistic schools of thought that they inspired.
Of course, we could probably argue forever about about whether examining such connections is at all helpful, or whether it is simply an exercise in guilt-by-association. Suffice to say that it would certainly be easier to take Cudenec’s disavowals of proximity to the far-right at face value if he were not also actively propagating far-right conspiracy theories about Jewish bankers and trans people. These disavowals are further undermined whenever Cudenec praises people like Mircea Eliade,25 Oswald Spengler,26 and Ernst Jünger.27
Cudenec is also a big fan of contemporary thinkers like Renaud Garcia, Jaques Luzi, and Alexis Escudero, who represent a faction of the “anti-industrial” French left that has become known for promoting the idea that trans people, reproductive healthcare, and the “gay lobby” are all tentacles of a global transhumanist plot.28 And let’s not forget Sylvia Guerini, an Italian TERF and conspiracist involved in the Resistenze al Nanomondo network, which has been criticized for its eager collaboration with fascists.29 Cudenec has been rubbing shoulder with these characters in real life too.30 In 2022, he travelled to Italy to attend the Three Days Against Techno-Sciences gathering, where he gave a talk called: “A developing evil: the malignant historical force behind the Great Reset.”31
While Winter Oak was embroiled in some minor conflict in 2018 for defending Assadists and promoting Syria conspiracies,32 conspiracism was not the majority content on the site until sometime in 2020, when Cudenec seems to have gone all-in on full-throttle conspiracy mongering. His writing now focuses almost entirely on The Great Reset, on The Rothschilds (who he believes are uniquely evil),33 on defending obscure historical antisemites like Hilaire Belloc,34 and on exposing how most other anarchists are actually funded by the ruling class, and have been sent to smear people like him who are resisting “the bio-technology industry’s transgender cult.”35
But wait, there’s (Never)more!
As mentioned, Winter Oak has been tightly integrated with Nevermore since pretty early on. Not only is Paul Cudenec Crow’s intellectual hero, and someone he considers a “true spiritual master,” but he was also one of the earliest contributors to Nevermore. But, while Cudenec seems to have kickstarted Crow’s interest in antisemitic Rothschild conspiracy theories, it’s clear that he’s looking at other sources as well. In a comment on one of his blog posts, he mentions one of these sources in particular: a book called None Dare Call it Conspiracy, which Crow says “blew his mind.” This is a 1971 pamphlet written by Gary Allen (an anti-communist John Birch Society affiliate), which argues that The Rothschilds are responsible for WWI, communism, Hitler, the Federal Reserve, and the Black Power movement.
Meanwhile, back at Nevermore, the project appears to have gained a number of additional contributors. We think it’s worth mentioning a few of them here, since they include James Corbett36 and an assortment of other conspiracists ranging in prominence:
Whitney Webb, for example, is a “journalist” for Mint Press who has just published a book arguing that Jeffrey Epstein was actually a Mossad honeypot sent to blackmail the American political class on behalf of the Jewish mafia.37 Others, like fringe Houston mayoral candidate Derrick Broze, might call themselves anarchists, but clearly mean something very different than we do by this word—something more along the lines of “I really hate the Federal Reserve and really like cryptocurrencies and meditation.”38
Another “anarchist” contributor is Nowick Gray, whose personal quarantine reading list39 features people like: David Icke, Tucker Carlson, Glenn Beck, Kevin Barret,40 plus plenty of content from the “Philosopher’s Stone” blog,41 and some crazy video about how UNDRIP/WEF is coming for your land because of #landback.
Gray and fellow Nevermore contributors Cory Morningstar, Whitney Webb and James Corbett also all write for the prominent red-brown platform, The Centre for Research on Globalization.42
Our point in discussing Crow’s influences and collaborators is to demonstrate that Crow hasn’t simply adopted some wingnut ideas in isolation. Rather, he’s embedded in a transnational echo chamber of conspiracists who have been embracing increasingly reactionary, transphobic, and antisemitic ideas. The other point is that the “anarcho-perennialism” that Crow now champions is just a rebranding of Traditionalism, and is fully compatible with many of the underpinnings of European New Right philosophies. That Crow continues to peddle these ideas as “anarchist” and tries to involve himself in anarchist movements also suggests that his projects have the possibility to become dangerous points of fascist entryism into our scenes.
This isn’t about smearing all green anarchists, anti-industrialists, or people who are into alternative spirituality as proto-fascists. We know many comrades who are inspired by these tendencies but who remain steadfast in their ethical, anarchist, and anti-fascist commitments. Nor is it about some bullshit horseshoe theory of politics. Rather, we think it’s important to pay attention to the variety of trajectories that can lead anarchists to decide to make common cause with the far-right, whether that’s uncritical populism, transphobia masquerading as a critique of techno-industrialism, or the anti-imperialism of fools. That so many of these tendencies seem to converge in the conspiracist quagmire of far-right internet forums should tell us something about conspiracism’s cross-tendency appeal, and should highlight the need to develop better firewalls against red-brown alliances and more robust analyses of power.
1If you are interested in a deeper dive into the history of these ideas, this remains one of the best overviews of red-brown alliances that we are aware of: ravingsofaradicalvagabond.noblogs.org/post/2018/01/15/an-investigation-into-red-brown-alliances [archive]
2A long-time conspiracy theorist and early adopter of Soros conspiracies who believes that “Hitler was a Rothschild” and seems to see shadowy Jewish hands behind everything from WWI to 9/11.
3A particularly vitriolic TERF whose main contribution to the discourse seems to be promoting the idea that George Soros and a variety of other wealthy Jewish financiers are secretly behind “the trans agenda.”
4A far-right, conspiracist, Catholic bishop who rages against the “globalists religion” of the “Davos Sanhedrin” and believes (among other things) that Bill Gates and George Soros are the true architects of “the ethnic substitution plan in Europe,” and that the current Pope is beholden to the “homosexual agenda of the New World Order.”
15Crow says: “At least as many Russians died as a direct result of de-Kulakization as Jews died in the Holocaust. Im going to go out on a limb and say that it was probably a lot more. In any case, Stalin killed more people than Hitler, and we havent even talked about the greatest mass murderer of all time, Mao, which was of course also a Marxist.”
We should also note that we are definitely not trying to minimize the horrors wrought upon the world by Stalinism. This said, we do think that it’s important to put Crow’s rhetoric around genocide in context. The Mennonites certainly suffered from religious persecution in the USSR. However, unlike in the case of the Holodomor, or the deportations of the Chechens and Ingush, we are unaware of any scholarly literature that discusses this persecution as a genocide, least of all as one carried out by “Jewish bankers.”
In trying to inform ourselves about this topic, what we found instead was a far messier history of Mennonite participation in the Holocaust. As historian Ben Goossen puts it:
“Mennonite experiences of and involvement in the Holocaust differed widely. We know that a handful of individuals actively participated as executioners and concentration camp guards. We also know that a substantial percentage of Europe’s Mennonites benefited from and often sympathized with aspects of Nazism. Around 120,000 people, or about one-fourth of the denomination worldwide, lived under Nazi rule at the height of Hitler’s expansionism. Generally categorized as members of the Aryan racial elite, Mennonites sometimes received goods taken from murdered Jews or moved into their vacant homes. Others leased slave labor for their farms and factories, or otherwise profited from genocide. […]
Arguably more impactful than Mennonites’ own actions, however, was the denomination’s enrollment in Nazi propaganda. In 1929, popular opinion had pressured German politicians to help approximately 4,000 of the Mennonite refugees in Moscow relocate to Germany. The event became a founding myth of the Third Reich.”
17If you *are* confused about how to think about antisemitism, Mathew N. Lyons offers a pretty good overview here: threewayfight.blogspot.com/2018/11/principal-enemy-demystifying-far-right.html [archive]
18Incidentally, this also highlights some more questions about the “journalistic integrity” of Rob Brown’s reporting, whose CBC story failed to mention that the source he was quoting not only seems to have a fairly tenuous grasp on reality, but was also actively threatening him. Not that as anarchists we should spend too much time getting worked up about the CBC…but still…
33He has written an entire book on the subject: Enemies of the People: The Rothschilds and their Corrupt Global Empire. This is also one of the books that Crow cites as being particularly formative in opening his eyes to the “truth” about The Rothschilds.
41This blog has some truly mind-boggling, neo-nazi level antisemitism on it.
42Again, see Vagabond’s excellent article for more information on Global Research.
15/05/2023 – Correction: In the original version of this text we wrote that the Stirrer was a blog run by Helen Steel. It has since come to our attention that this is not correct. We apologize for any confusion that this has caused.
In 2007, in the course of preparations for actions against the 2008 Republican National Convention, an insurrectionary network of queer anarchists formed under the umbrella Bash Back! Over the following three years, this network participated in a vibrant array of confrontations, organizing efforts, and publications, expanding and intensifying the struggle against sex and gender normativity. Today, as fascists and other bigots renew their assault on queer and trans people and anarchists fight back, there is an urgent need for renewed coordination and innovation. In this context, participants in the original Bash Back! network have called for a new Bash Back! convergence in September 2023.
As they put it,
The intervening years have been marked by intensification—of crisis, alienation, loss, and struggle. The right wing no longer hides behind euphemisms: they want to exterminate trans and queer people. The left offers only false solutions: vote, donate, assimilate. A decade of representation, symbolic legal victories, social media activism, and mass-market saturation has left us worse off by all metrics. Our fair-weather friends won’t save us from the consequences of their strategy of empty visibility. The inescapable conclusion is that we must come together to protect ourselves.
History confirms the queer legacy of building connection in a world that hates us, the legacy of riotous joy—the legacy of bashing back. The attacks will continue on our nightclubs, forests, story hours, and siblings. To hold on, we need spaces—underground if necessary—to re-encounter each other, spaces to remember, build, share, and conspire.
To explore the legacy of Bash Back! and what it has to offer today, we conducted the following interview with previous participants in Bash Back! who are helping to organize the upcoming convergence.
Tell us about the gathering in September. What can people do to participate or contribute?
The 2023 Bash Back! Convergence will be taking place in Chicago from September 8-11. We’re inviting all of our queer comrades for a weekend of building connection, learning from each other, and developing new strategies and tactics to fight against the social order. We are organizing this because there have been so many inspiring examples of queer people bashing back against bigots—for example, the reactionaries who try to shut down drag shows. However, there is still a need for increased cohesion and strategizing, especially in light of the escalating attacks against queer and trans people across the country and across the world. Of course, these attacks come in the context of a deeply-rooted and escalating crisis of capital more generally and a climate crisis that deepens with every passing day.
More specifically, there is an obvious need to build anti-capitalist, anti-statist, and anti-assimilationist militant queer tendency. The liberals and leftists have pushed assimilation so that queer and trans people can be used as political pawns, to be sacrificed when electorally convenient. Any gains in the culture war have led only to the subsumption of queerness to the logic of capital and the false freedom of consumer politics.
In terms of what folks can do to participate or contribute, the main thing right now is that we are looking for folks to propose programming for the convergence. We’re accepting proposals until June 20. Beyond programming, the biggest thing that people can do is to start building relationships and affinities with people in their communities. That’s always been the essence of Bash Back!; it’s never been a centralized organization but rather a network to share ideas and camaraderie.
Bash Back! originated in the run-up to the 2008 Republican National Convention. Did the fact that it began largely in the Midwest rather than on the coasts influence its character and the way that it developed?
Bash Back!’s origins are rooted in a context that, a decade and a half later, seems worlds away. Two things, I think, were central to the political climate that gave rise to Bash Back!: the summit-hopping method of protest and a surge in the popularity of insurrectionary anarchism within the anarchist/radical milieu at the time. By summit-hopping, I mean the large demonstrations against the gatherings of capitalists, such as the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle in 1999 and the meetings of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, G8, and G20 throughout the 2000s. In hindsight, these protests were dramatic and high-profile, but largely symbolic. Then you had insurrectionary anarchism becoming more popular—especially, I think, with people who had been politicized or radicalized by the anti-war movement but also saw that movement for the utter failure that it was. In terms of tactics, the focus was on affinity groups and black blocs.
In that context, the original idea for Bash Back! came out of the organizing that was going on to disrupt the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota) in 2008. A strategy session in Milwaukee in 2007 gave rise to the idea of a queer/trans blockade of the RNC, and Bash Back! grew from that initial idea.
One of the most significant things about the original iteration of Bash Back! is that it was largely a product of anarchists from the Midwest. At the time, a lot of the more visible “radical” or progressive queer activism was coming from the coasts, with established activist scenes that often stifled new ideas or were under the stranglehold of the ideology of non-violence. There was also a degree of cultural elitism, in which the assumption was that being a “radical queer” had to happen in the big, liberal, coastal cities. So Bash Back!, coming out of the Midwest and not beholden to any established “radical queer” scenes, opened up new possibilities for militance, especially in direct resistance to the extremely anti-queer churches, politicians, and other assorted gay-bashers of that time.
Recount some of the major events, struggles, and court cases in the first phase of Bash Back!
This is a tough question to answer, because there was so much that happened across the country because of Bash Back! But a few things that I think are important to highlight:
DNC/RNC 2008: the nascent Bash Back! network was involved in protests in Denver (for the Democratic National Convention) and the Twin Cities (for the Republican National Convention)
Pittsburgh 2009: Bash Back! held a rowdy march in Pittsburgh during the G20 Summit.
Mt. Hope Church: In November 2008, Bash Back! people disrupted a Sunday service at a notoriously anti-gay megachurch in Lansing, Michigan. This led to a lawsuit by the Alliance Defending Freedom against Bash Back! that, after a several-year legal fight, resulted in a permanent injunction against church disruptions.
Avenge Duanna campaign: In February 2008, Duanna Johnson, a black trans woman, was beaten by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee. She was murdered in November 2008, presumably by the cops that beat her months prior. This sparked a campaign in Memphis to avenge her death.
In addition, Bash Back! organized three convergences:
Chicago 2008: this focused on planning actions around the DNC/RNC in the summer of 2008.
Chicago 2009: this focused more on developing Bash Back! as a tendency, building connections, and sharpening our attacks on the social order. A street march in Boystown, the gay neighborhood in Chicago, was attacked by police. This caused a bunch of conflict within the convergence between those who fought back against the police and liberal/identity-politics types who pushed for non-violence in the face of police violence.
Denver 2010: this was the last convergence of the original iteration of Bash Back!; the same liberal/identity politics vs. queer insurrection divide was the elephant in the room for this entire convergence. These tensions were as palpable as they were insurmountable, and so Bash Back!, in its original iteration, was declared dead.
However, these highlights do not even scratch the surface of what Bash Back! did. Chapters across the country were involved in countless acts of vandalism, numerous street confrontations with police, protests against assimilationists and exterminationists, physically bashing bigots, and innumerable acts of propaganda. These things are the legacy of Bash Back!
Tell us how Bash Back! worked from existing identity politics frameworks in the late 2000s, but also pushed against them.
When Bash Back! was starting, the ideology of non-violence had a stranglehold on the activist milieu. In terms of identity politics, there was an assumption among many of these liberal/“radical” activists that any confrontation was inevitably pushed by macho, middle/upper class straight white men and thus was racist/sexist/homophobic because queer/trans people, women, and people of color would take the brunt of police repression and violence. Bash Back! pushed directly against that narrative; that was a big part of the drama around the Chicago 2009 convergence. Some people really could not believe that queer/trans people, poor people, women, and people of color had agency to fight cops or be more confrontational. Part of Bash Back!’s appeal was that marginalized people were unapologetically fighting back in a concrete way. In a very practical sense, Bash Back! was pro-violence, and people were not used to hearing this perspective from marginalized groups.
Further, Bash Back! always took a stance against assimilation and liberal identity politics that saw social/political/economic representation as an end goal. So back when issues like gay marriage and military service were the big issues for mainstream LGBT organizations, Bash Back! was firmly opposed to this, and even targeted groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the Stonewall Democrats for being assimilationists or for selling out trans people for political gain.
On a more abstract level, I think that competing approaches to identity were actually a central part of why the original iteration of Bash Back! dissolved. There was a spectrum of views about identity in Bash Back! On one hand, you had a tendency influenced heavily by queer nihilism and insurrectionary anarchism; for this camp, queer identity was an identity of opposition to the capitalist social order and its heteronormativity. Then, on the other hand, there was a more positive approach to queer identity; positive in the sense that it was not based on political opposition to the social order but instead more tied to an individual’s experience of gender/sexuality. Because Bash Back! was an identity-based organization, these competing understandings of queerness led to competing visions for Bash Back!, which ultimately dissolved the network.
What has changed since the heyday of the original network? What does the Bash Back! model have to offer today?
The original Bash Back! started just before the economic crisis in 2008. It feels like we have been moving from crisis to crisis since then—and on top of that, the crises are intensifying. I think that’s probably the biggest change since Bash Back! first started; the permanence of crisis and the sort of hopelessness about the future hadn’t really set in at that time. It used to be controversial to say that things were going to keep getting worse and that we effectively had no future; now, that’s the common understanding of the plight of millennials/Generation Z. Between the seemingly permanent crisis of capitalism and the ongoing climate disaster, things seem bleaker now than they did before.
But on the other hand, I think that many of the ideas that were being popularized not only in Bash Back! but also in the anarchist milieu more broadly in that era have gained traction in a way that opens up a lot of potential. For example, the concept of prison abolition and the idea of mutual aid have spread into the broader discourse. Labor organizing has also grown in sectors that seemed unreachable previously, and it seems like that has led to a rise in class consciousness as well. More along the focus of Bash Back!, the idea of people being non-binary or genderqueer has also moved into the mainstream in a way that I at least would not have anticipated, given the social climate that Bash Back! originally existed in.
Without diving too much into dry economic analysis, I think it’s indisputable that the contradictions of capitalism have become more glaringly obvious in recent years. And history pretty clearly shows us that crises in capitalism translate to an increase in reactionary politics and repression. Historically, we can look to the example of Magnus Hirschfeld, who was an early advocate for queer and trans people in Berlin in the 1930s. People know that Nazis burned books; what’s often lost is that they burned the library of Hirschfeld’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, which was perhaps the first organization specifically advocating for and supporting queer and trans people. So there is a clear history of queer and trans people being the first targets during reactionary moments in history.
Ultimately, that’s what makes the current moment so important and where I think that we can draw on the lessons from the initial era of Bash Back! I think that the fundamental strength of the Bash Back! network was that it was focused on building power not only outside of but in staunch opposition to the state and capitalism. This is really important, because the selling point of the Democratic Party in recent years has been that things will be even worse if Republicans are in control. And that covers up the fact that the Democratic Party is ultimately a party of capitalism; they have no capacity or will to make things better for people. All they will offer is a sort of managed descent into fascism, and the price is assimilation. The alternative, of course, is the outright exterminationist approach of the Republicans.
Bash Back! rejected the assimilationist, statist, and capitalist politics of the mainstream LGBT organizations at that time and focused on queer people building community among comrades, practicing mutual aid and solidarity, and attacking the state, capitalists, and reactionaries. It’s the unapologetic and uncompromising militance that was, I think, the most important contribution of Bash Back! and should be the focus going forward.
How can people get involved? What are some tactics and strategies people can employ in their own communities on an ongoing basis, so this will not just be a convergence but the emergence of a new wave of momentum throughout the continent?
It’s hard to say exactly how to get involved with Bash Back!. Obviously, we want people to come to the convergence and share ideas, make connections, and build bonds of solidarity. But in terms of how to get involved, there is no really easy answer. Part of what made Bash Back! so important was that it was a fairly loose network with autonomous chapters doing what made sense for the people involved in those chapters to do locally.
But generally speaking, Bash Back! has focused on confronting bigots, mutual aid, self-defense, and propaganda. Fundamentally, there has to be an understanding that the state is not going to protect us, that politicians will not protect us, that we have to build solidarity within our communities as a matter of survival. For that reason, building trust and camaraderie is essential. Confronting those who would destroy us is essential. And in a world that seeks to keep us miserable, expressions and celebrations of queer joy are essential.
As for guidance, the old Bash Back! Points of Unity are a good starting point:
Fight for liberation. Nothing more, nothing less. State recognition in the form of oppressive institutions such as marriage and militarism are not steps toward liberation but rather towards heteronormative assimilation.
A rejection of capitalism, imperialism, and all forms of state power.
Actively oppose oppression both in and out of the “movement.” Racism, Patriarchy, Heterosexism, Sexism, Transphobia, and all oppressive behavior is not to be tolerated.
Respect a diversity of tactics in the struggle for liberation. Do not solely condemn an action on the grounds that the state deems it to be illegal.
You too can be Bash Back! Organize a chapter and take action in your community!
In our experience, most of us in North America aren’t in the habit of thinking very much about DNA traces. Information about how DNA traces are created or prevented is limited to several myths that are passed around. That said, you can be pretty certain that whenever arson is involved, a DNA forensics team will be involved too. For example, an arrest was made recently for a Jane’s Revenge arson after DNA was recovered at the crime scene. We want to briefly summarize some practical considerations. By arming ourselves with some preparation and an accurate understanding of how DNA is transferred, it is possible to drastically limit the amount of DNA we leave behind. Although DNA is something we should always keep in mind when planning our participation in a riotous moment, we don’t want people to feel overwhelmed by this information. Actionable knowledge empowers us to avoid the dual traps of recklessness (acting as if DNA doesn’t exist) and immobilization (as if leaving traces and their analysis in a laboratory is inevitable).
As noted by DNA minimization protocols in the CSRC Threat Library: “We are constantly shedding DNA in various forms; skin cells, hair, saliva, blood, and sweat are all sources of DNA, and unlike fingerprints they can never be reliably removed from an object once contaminated. DNA minimization protocols are intended to enable the manipulation of objects without leaving DNA traces on them. As you would expect, these protocols aim to eliminate skin cells, hair, air-born saliva particles, blood and sweat making contact with the objects. The chemical destruction of DNA is often also involved.” To prevent or at least significantly limit leaving DNA traces, it is necessary to wear new gloves, a face mask, a hair net or, even better, closed headgear (e.g. a swimming cap) and washed clothes with long sleeves and pant legs to cover as much skin as possible.
In the context of a riotous moment, there are several things to prepare for:
Either smash it or burn it – not both. Smashing something can sometimes involve a lot of contact with the object, which risks transferring DNA traces to the object in question (especially if you have to climb onto it). Sustained fire will destroy DNA traces, but for an object that is first smashed and then burned this is no guarantee; the parts of the object that have been touched may not be sufficiently heated by the flames to destroy all traces. In the context of a riot, this means that people with incendiary intentions should try to take initiative early, before people with smashy intentions hit up a given target. A scenario that is less than ideal: a crowd smashes up a car, perhaps someone touches the car with gloves that have been worn many times (and so have accumulated DNA on them) or cuts themselves on the broken window, then a few minutes later someone torches the car. An ideal scenario: the car is burned first, which requires no smashing – either an accelerant bottle is placed under the front tire (faster, under a minute) or firestarter cubes are placed on the front tire (slower, about five minutes). It is sometimes necessary to break either a window or a door to gain access to a building, but machinery and vehicles can be burned without any smashing by positioning accelerant in the right location.
Wear new impermeable gloves which you’ve never previously touched, and put them on last once you’ve already changed into black bloc. This is because you want to avoid any skin, hair or sweat on the outside of the gloves, which could then be transferred to any objects you touch. Always handle tools that you are bringing with such a new pair of gloves, even if you don’t plan on ditching the tools. Take care that the tools you are using, and especially the projectiles you are leaving at the site, have been free of your DNA from the beginning, and transport them carefully. Dishwashing gloves are excellent for preparing for the action (when standing out doesn’t matter). For during a riot, you can use work gloves that have a thick impermeable coating on the palms and fingers. Have an extra pair that you can change into in case you mistakenly touch your face or something similar.
If you’ll be using a hammer, practice breaking windows in a controlled environment before the heat of the moment. Blood is a very obvious source of DNA to even the most incompetent investigator. The main thing is to make sure that your hand or arm never passes beyond the window, which requires that you generate force from the wrist rather than the elbow or shoulder. A quick wrist flick generates sufficient force with a properly weighted hammer.
Be careful to not have anything that can fall out during the ruckus – closed zippers are your friend. Be especially cautious if rummaging through bags or backpacks.
Any clothing used during the riot should not be recovered by the forensics team if it can be avoided. The days of leaving a giant heap of black hoodies in the middle of the street should come to an end – clothing will generally have DNA traces on it. Ideally, you would take clothing far enough away to be able to dispose of it properly (either burn it or put it somewhere where if it is found, it won’t be considered as related to the riot). A judgement call will be required when deciding whether to try to carry the clothing far away or whether to hide it somewhere on your dispersal route. If searched, black clothing may be enough to lay charges but is unlikely to result in a conviction by itself. Any identifiable clothing or other items in the bag could be more incriminating, so you’ll need to assess the risk of a bag search and weigh it against the goal of keeping your rioting clothing out of the hands of the police. Objects that cannot be concealed in a backpack (like large shields) can be hidden, or coated with bleach (which has around 10% sodium hypochlorite – see further reading) or burned with accelerant that is placed on the exit route ahead of time (in plastic bottles that will burn, not in a jerry can).
Don’t use tape to construct firework molotovs. Tape is a magnet for DNA. Rather, use plastic zip-ties to secure the firework to the bottle. Ideally there should be two fireworks for redundancy, to minimize the likelihood of an unexploded molotov being recovered. Moreover, take DNA minimization precautions when constructing and transporting the molotovs (again, see further reading). This is especially important if they have to be ditched before being used. Fireworks on their own will likely be equally effective at keeping police at bay without risking the same level of repression that molotovs entail – care should also be taken to not leave DNA traces on firework casings. Traditional molotovs (using a glass bottle) need to hit a hard surface to shatter and so are unreliable when thrown inside of buildings. For example, at the site of the first Jane’s Revenge arson, DNA of three individuals was found on an unexploded molotov, the window glass, and a lighter (criminal complaint available here, use Tor Browser).
Comments Off on A Year After: 29 Lessons of Operation Solidarity
This text comes to us from a faction of what was Operation Solidarity, the anarchist organization in Ukraine from which Solidarity Collectives broke off several months ago. As a local project far away from the events addressed in the text, we cannot easily judge the details of the conflict, although we know that the authors of this text generated a lot of frustrations among those who broke from them and various groups engaging in solidarity outside of Ukraine. Despite that, we believe it is relevant to our readers, as a document from anarchists with experience in a situation that few of us in our local context can speak about credibly, regardless of whether it tells the whole story. We published a text from Solidarity Collectives here.
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
Operation Solidarity is a volunteer organization created by anarchists prior to the full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine. In the early stages of the new round of war, the organization became an important, useful and media-successful project. We, its founders and participants, reflected on our own experience and drew practical lessons, which we want to share in this article. We hope that our experience will help other activists in their work and prevent them from making some mistakes; we hope that new, beautiful anarchist projects will emerge from this experience.
Some pre-words: in the article you can find a word “Milieu”. By this we mean all people who are interested, sympathize or get involved into anarchist activism. We use this word instead of Stage or Movement, because we think that these words are not fulfilling our understanding of local reality and practices.
Organizations must begin with careful preparation: in-depth discussions, reflection and detailed proposals.
The Collective Agreement’s creation stage is extremely important.
Structures need mechanisms of self-sustaining, embracing integration of new people.
It’s always necessary to negotiate the terms of cooperation with other people/structures BEFORE cooperation begins, in order to understand each other’s expectations and not to let each other down.
We shouldn’t empower people to make strategic decisions from the beginning, assuming that since you are an anarchist, there will be no problems.
Communication should be respectful and comfortable – otherwise the team can fall apart.
We must fight informal hierarchies in the Movement.
It’s better to refuse or cautiously cooperate with “leftists”. We shouldn’t let them chart the development course of our structures.
1) Prepare everything in advance
We began preparing for the invasion and creating the organization in late January 2022. We didn’t have enough time to think all things through and get a total agreement on the interaction, which subsequently led to a split and further animosity. Therefore, it’s important to take enough time to create new structures, which takes at least 3 months.
2) Get busy with your equipment
An individual lesson.
We provided 150+ fighting comrades with basic items: body armor, helmets, IFAKs [individual first-aid kits], and tourniquets. In addition, more serious and specific requests were met, like quadcopters, cars, and radio stations. Nevertheless, it was incredibly difficult in the chaos of the first days of invasion. Much of what arrived to the comrades at the time turned out to be useless or even harmful and the necessary things had to be sought in Europe and the United States.
Over time the situation got balanced, but it became obvious that it’s better to take care of your own equipment and have the maximum necessities in advance. Therefore, we recommend every non-belligerent activist own and know how to use a tourniquet, IFAK, radio, body armor and helmet, ideally to have their own weapons; and know how to drive a car.
3) Have a well-thought-out proposal
Organization starts with an idea, then comes to the project proposal. It can be created individually or collectively. A project emerges when the team has discussed, finalized and approved the proposal.
But when it comes to extreme situations, like the outbreak of war or uprising, it’s better to have a ready and concrete proposal that people can support and implement. Often you can see anarchists supporting or rejecting some ideas only on the basis that the speaker displeases them. It’s time for us to change our internal culture of voting «for people» and come to a culture of voting «for projects».
4) We need documentation
We didn’t have time to finish the documentation detailing the inner workings, rules and a number of other important points – the Collective Agreement. This was necessary in order to create complete transparency about the project, to develop in harmony and to integrate new people to the project. Our attempts to finish the documentation in parallel to the activities of the organization were actively resisted and resulted in a split.
It’s important to finish the documentation BEFORE launching the project; or at least to have an established and understandable culture of interaction.
5) Make a Collective Agreement
Collective Agreement (CA) — is a written document that records goals, describes mechanisms and processes and the culture of the project. On the basis of this information further activities are built, experience is transferred and new people are integrated.
A CA can include all kinds of tools for resolving conflicts, making decisions, electing and appointing specific people to perform certain functions, describing public communication, recording the collective criteria for accepting or expelling participants, etc. You choose the items to fill out the CA based on your group’s needs, desired efficiency and work processes.
6) Think through the process of integrating new people
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to discuss in detail with each new person their tasks and responsibilities. So later we faced a situation where misunderstanding and disagreement with the goals of organization turned first into a conflict and then into splitting of the team on the basis of disagreement in the vision of the goals, means of their achievement and the need to stick with the already existing prescribed plan.
The information contained in the CA can be simplified and used for the reception of participants. It should be communicated and discussed with each individual at the stage of admission to the structure, given time for reflection and only then accepted into the organization. There is nothing wrong with the idea of a “trial period”: often 1 month of working together is enough to see how well you fit each other.
7) Structure is incredibly important
Operation Solidarity had an elaborate (but not prescribed) structure, documented and approved tasks, functions, a media strategy, a forward-looking vision (a network of cooperatives, a social center, and fellowship structures).
There was an assumption of organizational membership. The members belonged to the “Core” and could make decisions on the development of the organization through a system of assemblies, but within the framework of the goals and strategy. Volunteers who came for the activity and didn’t want to be a part of the organization/weren’t anarchists, were part of the “Environment”.
With the arrival of new volunteers, and then participants, our group encountered resistance, devaluation, and denial of the organizational work we had done before. The new people wanted to do things in their own way without offering any specific proposals nor mechanisms. Decisions to approve the structure were delayed and sabotaged. People began to hold their own meetings, bypassing the usual mechanisms to exclude us; negotiating among themselves, carrying out duties as they thought was right. Together, this led to growing tensions and new conflicts.
What conclusions did we draw? If you are building an organization, then: 1) stick to the structure you originally planned; 2) inform people about how it should work, get full clarity and agreement on your processes and mechanisms; 3) don’t be afraid to say “no” and refuse – people can always create something in their way if they don’t like yours; 4) stay flexible to feedback from people and newcomers, but always be aware of your own boundaries.
If you come to an organization: 1) it’s your responsibility to familiarize yourself with its documentation, including goals, mission, vision, values and principles, standards and expectations, mechanisms; 2) if the organization doesn’t suit you for some reason, don’t join it; 3) it’s normal to have your opinion and be critical, but if you come to the organization and you don’t like something in it, it’s worth discussing, not demanding immediate changes. Because you may not fully understand the context.
8) Hold the course
It’s especially important to emphasize the need to follow the goals/set course of the project. Of course, it can evolve; reformatting/rejecting the original idea in favor of a better one is a good thing. Just not in the initial stages and only when you have confidence in those around you. Obviously it’s strange to start out as a revolutionary organization and become a parliamentary party along the way, for example, without having achieved the original goals.
The course is maintained through regular synchronization. This is why strategic meetings are necessary, where development is discussed, achievements and failures are analyzed, misunderstandings are eliminated and team unity is strengthened. With lack of attention for to this factor, it will be very difficult to reach consensus and keep the team together when important decisions should be made.
9) People’s inexperience
Most anarchists & leftists denied the possibility of invasion until the last minute, and had minimal experience of collective coordination, participation in long-term projects and organization building. A serious problem arose with sometimes radically different understanding of Anarchism. Unfortunately due to a lack of time and energy, we haven’t been able to bridge the gap of experience, practice, and theoretical basis between different people.
It’s necessary to be very careful in the selection of personnel, to gradually deepen the inclusion of people in the activities of the organization. It’s especially important to train them before transferring direct responsibilities.
10) Visioning and dividing of duties
Before even having the headquarters and a functioning organization, based on previous experience, we agreed that the work processes would take place in the Departments: Media, Communication, Warehouse, and Technical. Within these Departments, participants could make local decisions, while strategic decisions would be made at the General Meeting. Each Department was accessible for people after: familiarization with their functions, communication with coordinators, and expression of desire.
In reality, there was no time for interviews, so responsibilities were divided spontaneously among the most active people. A clearer division and structure came a month later. Although many participants were against a structure, one was formed naturally, matching and complementing our expectations: instead of 4 Departments, we had 9, each of them had its own coordinator and together we tried to make decisions at the General Meetings.
Duties can and should be divided among the people, by discussing their abilities, functions and responsibilities in advance. This increases efficiency and reduces conflicts.
11) Delegate and contact experts
It’s super important to have people from different spheres of life you can turn to for advice or help.
At the beginning, not many of us knew much about military equipment. We were reached a comrade who was well aware of the subject. We were therefore eager to get her estimate or recommend before buying.
Setting up a system of accounting and storage also took a lot of time and was accompanied by conflicts, because people didn’t have similar experience and a clear idea. The issue could have been resolved much more quickly and easily if we had approached competent people.
If it’s possible to delegate responsibilities without loss of quality, or to ask for help from a more experienced colleague, it’s always worth it.
12) Formality balance
Regular meetings and a written protocol of the results are necessary. Sooner or later, there is a need to go back to previously made decisions, expressed ideas and suggestions, to check the fulfillment of tasks, etc. For this to be possible at all and for you not to lose the “pearls” of collective activity – it’s necessary to keep agendas (a list of questions to discuss) and meetings reports.
Some may think this is an unnecessary bureaucracy, but even during OpSol we had many situations when we needed to refer to “the past”, so the described approach fully justifies itself.
13) Take decisions with those whom you trust
On the day the invasion began we made ourselves known media-wise and signaled to other comrades: “Let’s join us in volunteering to tackle this problem together!” We didn’t want people scatter to other projects or get lost. We were able to bring them together and set a vector for the development of the entire local Milieu. Absolutely different anarchists with absolutely different points of view and intentions came to us, so we got kind of a mix. The situation was intensified by the fact that people had none or very little experience of working with each other on serious projects.
Despite this, we tried to make decisions by consensus. Where it wasn’t possible, we looked for synthetic alternatives or made compromises.
Our experience confirmed once again that compromises are the worst way to make collective decisions. It’s almost always better to pause or divide than to go along with someone else. Diversity is good, but not in the ideological and strategic issues of one collective.
Decisions are best made by people who have a positive experience interacting in common projects and have been actively communicating for at least 6 months. This is not a guarantee of success, but it increases the chances that conflict will resolve good.
14) Vouching is working badly
Vouching is one of the oldest and most organic anarchist practices.
Nevertheless, our experience has shown that it worked very poorly when accepting new people. Members and volunteers recommended others more as friends than as comrades and good performers. The decisive factor in vouching was the convenience of interpersonal communication.
It seems to us that this practice must be changed by making ideological orientation, reliability, and performance the primary criteria.
15) Against “leftists”
In Ukraine, the majority of anarchists don’t consider themselves “leftists” and feel distrust to those who identify themselves in that way. This is due to the memory of the history of the anarchist movement, the betrayals by the “allies” (think of the Bolsheviks) and contemporary events.
Paradoxically, anarchists actively communicate and cooperate with the “leftists”, joining as crowd their projects like “Social Movement”, supporting their initiatives and there’s no a problem with it. But the problem is that ideologically we are different, and sooner or later it becomes critical. The worst thing happens when we allow “leftists” to be hegemons in our projects and discourse: in 2014 this led to the situation when most Western leftists/anarchists weren’t understanding what was happening in Ukraine, remaining “neutral” or supporting Russia; in 2022 this ended with the collapse of at least one ideological and strategic project – Operation Solidarity.
We recommend creating common organizations with people with whom you agree on major issues and have worked on the same project(s) for at least 3 months. Always discuss in detail the expectations of each other, unity of opinion on key issues, details and boundaries of your cooperation.
16) Commune = great idea
From the beginning we thought about the format in which the organization would work. In January-February, we searched for the space that could meet all the living and working needs of the participants: it should have the necessary working area, storage space, recreation area, separate WC and kitchen. The resulting solution of a closed commune as a form of organization of work and life was successful in the initial stages for several reasons:
1. Making a closed commune of politically similar people, having an action plan and activities for everyone had a positive effect on the psychology of the participants and helped them to concentrate on their actual tasks; to feel involved in an important cause.
2. The space appeared to be safe and logistically comfortable, became a shelter for many people. Especially during the hottest days of the occupation of the Kyiv region and bombing of the city.
3. Because we were in an enclosed space for a long time, there was full inclusion in the work process and greater transparency. The live communication between the participants always simplified the understanding of work processes and increased the efficiency of task implementation.
4. We gained tremendous experience in communal self-organization and self-government, gained important skills of collective activity and organization building.
17) Healthy communication is very important
Trust and team dynamics depend on the nature of interpersonal communication.
We fell apart up because of, aside from other things, rude communication from one of our group members occurred. In stressful situations it can be difficult to control your frustrations and reactions, but you should strive for consistently calm, considerate and inspiring communication.
18) Learn to facilitateand solve conflicts
The knowledge and skills of facilitation are basic team-building activities, without those you will hardly create a sustainable team project.
Conflict is a problem with all people and communities. Unfortunately you can’t build a conflict-free society. The good news is that conflicts can be learned to be solved! Conflictology and practicing facilitators/mediators can help.
Even short reflection sessions work great, but it’s a really good idea for a structure to have its own facilitator whose main task is to prevent and regulate conflicts in the team.
19) Towards healthy conflict culture
Conflicts are inevitable and it’s important to learn how to resolve them. Anarchists often do this very badly, making conflicts public and turning into scandals. We cease to look serious to outsiders; activists become frustrated and discouraged, which has a negative impact on the whole Movement.
Therefore, we need to improve our culture of conflict. We need to understand that spreading rumors and lies is immoral and that public disputes and bullying is offensive. It’s not a good idea to bring internal conflict to public without the consent of all parties. Conflicts within organizations can only be discussed by external actors if they are called upon and legitimized by the conflicting parties as those who can help resolve the conflict.
Bringing out information about internal conflict in interpersonal communication without broadcasting (adequately) the position of the other party is wrong. Either this shouldn’t happen at all, and the desire to complain about comrades in private, behind-the-scenes rather than public discussion, should be suppressed by participants as inappropriate behavior. Or it should happen in a balanced and formalized way. For example, with short texts about the situation from all sides of the conflict, which we can use to tell someone about the conflict, to ask for help, etc.
We need to develop and implement fair conflict resolution mechanisms.
20) Horizontality is a dynamical process
No organization has become horizontal because it was named as such. Horizontality is formed through specific processes, mechanisms and a culture of interaction. Its establishment sometimes takes years. Horizontality is very fragile and can easily be destroyed at almost any stage – by a careless word, a rash action or, conversely, by inaction. This is an art that we anarchists ought to master to perfection. Alas, with few exceptions it isn’t.
Everything we organize and do as anarchists is an exercising and seeking the answer to the question, “How can a horizontal organization of community/society work?”
21) Look after each other
The mental and physical state of the project participants is very important. If one person has too many tasks, and the others don’t show solidarity and help, it will likely lead to burnouts and conflicts.
Any structure has a much better chance of survival when the relationships within it are like in a strong and friendly family.
We must take an interest in and care for the condition of those with whom we work side by side; pay attention to already deteriorating emotional or health conditions and help comrades in difficult situations: plan days off, sick leave, vacations, and any opportunities for mental and physical recovery.
22) Connections mean a lot
Operation Solidarity wouldn’t become as large-scale as it was, if there were no help from other people and structures.
The headquarters were provided to us by caring friendly entrepreneurs. We are immensely grateful to the international support network that have been raising money and sent supplies to our comrades-combatants. Moreover, we often found that foreign comrades did most of the logistical work: finding the right equipment, making the necessary arrangements with traders, buying, organizing delivery, getting the vegan food and humanitarian aid.
Thanks to old connections, new acquaintances and mutual help, we managed to get or exchange valuable and necessary things. We were helped by hackers, famous clipmakers, journalists and talented videographers, people with military experience and other volunteer organizations. This was made possible by: a) visible and important activities; b) the absence of certain ideological barriers and demonstrative attributes that discouraged people; c) the professional and cultural diversity of the participants.
23) Negotiate the terms of cooperation
When working with other organizations, foundations, groups, or individuals, it’s important to be specific: what? how? who? why? Receiving assistance (financial, material, humanitarian, etc.) almost always imposes additional responsibilities and obligations on you – these must be made clear. It’s necessary to specify in advance the goals and conditions of cooperation, its framework and mutual expectations, so that there are no conflicts and negative situations due to unjustified expectations from each other.
24) Lack of communication within the Movement
Communication consists of coordination (“what and how are we doing?”) and synchronization (“why are we doing it?”).
We realized that we are in lack of the Movement’s communication organs, both national and international. There are no platforms where we can collectively present a proposal, start a project, or come to an agreement. There are no mechanisms or bodies that can reason or appease/agree on the ambitions of individuals and groups.
Earlier, secure mailing lists were used – today messenger chats. But we feel that something more meaningful and huge is missing: an international network with a common council of national actors, organized from the bottom up. When we have such a body, we will be able to act many times more effectively, coordinate interests more quickly, and regulate conflicts much more easily.
25) Reaching out to the broader target audiences
Through organized media work and cooperation with foreign activists and journalists, OpSol has become known not only in activist circles. We reached a broader target audience and exposed ourselves as a structure that supports the anarchists/leftists in the struggle against imperialism. In this way we drew attention to ourselves and the situation as a whole, increased interest in our ideas, and gained recognition and additional support. Here are the most important stories about the organization:
– Channel 5: garnered 2.1 million views on YouTube in two days.
– Popular Front documentary about HoodsHoodsKlan anti-fascists fighting: 143k views on Youtube in total, 400k Instagram followers and several live screenings in the US and Europe.
26) Don’t fixate on Movement
Contrary to popular perception, it wasn’t only leftist/anarchist structures that provided us with financial and material support. A significant portion of the donations came from Ukrainian businesses, the middle class, ordinary people, and the diaspora. At best, they were liberals who helped our comrades and Aim.
We achieved this because we followed a premeditated media strategy, contacted various organizations, and tried to talk less about our political views publicly and directly, while remaining attractive to ordinary people, but keeping our core.
27) Decentralize resources
OpSol was indeed centralized in the control of resources. The reasons were: a) the tight deadline for preparation; b) the initiative of one person and the unwillingness of others to take responsibility until Feb 24.
Conflicts arose with the arrival of new participants, denial of the work done earlier and a lack of trust. They ended in ultimatums, blackmailing and an international boycott of our group.
We gave most of our resources to the opponents of the new initiatives, and we can see that they are doing really important work in organizing military support at the expense of anarchists/leftists from all over the world. But we see two problems with this:
1) the comradeship resources are pretty limited and drying up – confirmed by ColSol’ member (listen from minute 18). In addition, they are also needed elsewhere: Rojava, Chiapas, Myanmar.
2) Military support is far from the only challenge facing individuals and the Milieu today.
The challenges we have faced and will continue to face cannot be met by spontaneous acts of mutual aid. We need stable, self-financing and regularly operating structures: a replenished self-help fund, lawyers, rehabilitation and training centers, jobs, and recruiting mechanisms. We were understanding this before the invasion, a year ago and we are more and more convinced of it today. Operation Solidarity was about that.
Therefore, our lesson: decentralization of resources can and must happen in projects where there are clearly defined, equally understood objectives (unity) and trust in each other, based on actions.
28) Explore the possibilities of cryptocurrency
Although the original idea of cryptocurrencies as decentralized and beyond the control of big capital and governments is now defamed, it’s a very useful tool.
We had been accepting donations to the bank accounts, PayPal (requiring passport details) and cryptocurrencies. We had the least problems with cryptocurrency, which allowed us to make almost instant transfers from anywhere in the world.
With a deeper knowledge of crypto it turned out to be possible not only to save, but also to multiply existing finances. That’s what we used to refill the organization’s funds.
29) Use suitable tools
We started using Telegram first, then Signal, and then Element to organize our work. Telegram is insecure by default, but relatively convenient for collaborative work. Signal is known as secure (which we doubt), but uncomfortable for teamwork. Element satisfies both requirements well, but it took us almost 3 months to figure it out.
We recommend doing preliminary research on technical solutions potentially suiting your tasks and making their use a prerequisite for participation in the organization.
Much has been done in the Milieu in the last 30 years. Much remains to be done and we are, in a sense, just starting our frighteningly beautiful journey. But we believe we can do it.
There is no clearness about when the war will end and what damage it will bring to the country, to the Movement and to all of us individually. But it’s in our power to come together, to organize ourselves, to overcome our differences and become better because of past experiences, to minimize the damage of historical events and to face the future with confidence. Both terrifying and inspiring prospects for this new reality are already visible and inevitable: grassroots volunteer networks, infrastructure facilities, queer units, anarchists who control kamikaze drones and have gone through trench battles, structures born in the dark — many, many things. How will we face this reality? What will we become, and how will it change because of us? – As always, it’s up to us. Individually and collectively.
What has happened this year and our further perspectives requires a more detailed analysis for better understanding of the connection with the global context and the Movement. This is the work we have yet to do and present the results to you, our dear comrades.