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(en) SA, Zabalaza #5 - Fire-Ants & Flowers - Revolutionary Anarchism in Latin America

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 1 Jun 2004 14:40:38 +0200 (CEST)


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THE SOCIAL QUESTION
The most crucial issue facing the glob-
al anarchist movement today is not only
how to win the battle for the leadership of
ideas among the anti-capitalist movement,
but how to ensure that direct action, mutu-
al aid, collective decision-making, horizon-
tal networks, and other principles of anar-
chist organising become the living prac-
tices of the social movements. We will
examine the examples of Latin American
anarchist organisations to see how they
ensured what they call "social insertion" -
that they as militants and revolutionaries
are at the heart of the social struggles and
not mere (cheer-)leaders in the margins.
This is a core question not only
because it demands a definition of the role
of the revolutionary organisation, but also
because it focuses on how revolutionary
anarchists define their relationship with
non-anarchist forces originating in the
struggles of the working class, peasantry
and the poor.
To put it another way, the key is how
we approach the oppressed classes and
how we contribute towards the advance-
ment of their autonomy from political
opportunism, towards the strengthening of
their libertarian instincts and towards their
revolutionary advance.
Globally, the working class has
changed dramatically since 1917, an inter-
national revolutionary high-water mark,
when South African anarcho-syndicalists
(anarchist unionists) of all "races" like
Thomas Thibedi, Bernard Sigamoney,
Fred Pienaar and Andrew Dunbar founded
the first black, coloured and Indian trade
unions in South Africa. Today, trade
unions, the old "shock battalions" of the
working class are decimated, compro-
mised or bogged down in red tape. The
once-militant affiliates of Cosatu have
been silenced, restructured, bought off
with investment deals and enslaved to
their "patriotic" duty to support the ANC
elite.
The inevitable resistance to the ruling
class' neo-liberal war on the poor has pro-
voked resistance. But although the new
phase of struggle began with the SA
Municipal Workers Union fighting a water
privatisation pilot project in Nelspruit, it
swiftly moved beyond the unions.
Today, most observers agree that
together, the progressive United Social
Movements (Landless People's Movement
and Social Movements Indaba) embrace
about 200,000 supporters - compared to
the SACP's 16,000 seldom-mobilised
membership.
Which is why the regional anarchist
movement, in founding the Zabalaza
Anarchist Communist Federation on May
Day 2003, has oriented itself towards
anarcho-communism that goes beyond
the factory gates. Anarcho-communism
has its ideological origins in the Pan-
European Revolt of 1848 and the writings
of house-painter Joseph Dejacque, who
opposed the authoritarian communism of
his contemporary Karl Marx. But it only
really became a genuine mass working
class movement within the First
International. Essentially, it is the practice
of social revolution from below rather than
political socialist revolution from above,
and it calls for a movement located in the
heart of working class society.
Of course there are conservative, right
wing and even proto-fascist forces within
the majority-black oppressed classes,
which hobble their ability to challenge the
elite. Which is why anarchists, autono-
mists and other anti-authoritarian social-
ists are directly involved in the progressive
social movements.

ANARCHIST DAYS 2: BRAZIL
Since the dark period of opposition to
apartheid in the 1980s, the southern
African anarchist movement has, because
of language barriers, largely drawn inspi-
ration from the North American and
Western European movements and far
less from our comrades in the rest of
Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, Austral-
Oceania and Latin America. But social,
economic and political conditions in the
global North are very different to those in
the South and our orientation has conse-
quently shifted southwards.
Countries like Brazil not only suffer US
imperialism, but also act as regional
policemen towards less powerful neigh-
bouring states. This is similar to South
Africa's subservient position to British
imperialist interests, and its role as region-
al enforcer: remember the 1998 invasion
of Lesotho to crush a pro-democratic
mutiny?
Other similarities between SA and
Brazil are that both countries have recent-
ly come out from long periods of military
dictatorship (Brazil's ended in 1985), both
have militant social movements (the MST
landless movement in Brazil for example,
which has occupied some 2-million
hectares) and both now have left-talking,
right-acting governments (the Workers'
Party came to power in Brazil in 2002) that
push anti-working class neo-liberalism.
Which is why I was sent as a delegate
of the Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) - a
founder organisation of the Anti-
Privatisation Forum (APF) and a member
collective of the Zabalaza Anarchist
Communist Federation (ZACF) - to the
Anarchist Days 2 congresses in Porto
Alegre in Brazil in January 2003. Run in
parallel to the mostly reformist and author-
itarian-socialist World Social Forum 3, the
event was a follow-up to the first Anarchist
Days meeting organised in 2002 by the
Gaucha Anarchist Federation (FAG) of the
southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do
Sul, the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation
(FAU) and Libertarian Struggle (LL), an
anarchist collective based in the city of
São Paulo that has since transformed
itself into the Insurrectional Anarchist
Federation (FAI). The first Anarchist Days
was a truly international event, with partic-
ipation from the hosts, plus 15
autonomous organisations of the base
from across Brazil, the Central Workers
Organisation (SAC) of Sweden, the
Anarchist Communist Unity Congress
(CUAC) of Chile, Anti-Capitalist Struggle
Convergence (CLAC) of Canada, the
Libertarian Socialist Organisation (OSL) of
Switzerland, and the Industrial Workers of
the World (IWW) of the United States.
The follow-up was more of a Latin
American continental affair, with delegates
from the hosts, 22 Brazilian autonomous
social organisations of the base, Black
Flag (BN, Chile), Tinku Youth (TJ, Bolivia),
the Workers' General Confederation
(CGT, Spain) and myself. Considering
that Brazil is the size of the USA excluding
Alaska, with Africa-like difficulties in com-
munication and travel, the Brazilian repre-
sentation was itself a coup for the organis-
ers. Other groups present, but not as del-
egates, were the ex-Workers Solidarity
Alliance (ex-IWA, United States), the
Central Workers Organisation (SAC,
Sweden), and the No Pasaran Network
(RNP, France).
The events comprised two mass
marches of social movements through
Porto Alegre, the second one being a
demo against the Free Trade Agreement
of the Americas (FTAA, the Latin American
version of NEPAD); two public workshops
on revolutionary anarchism at the
Workers' Museum (a similar facility to the
Workers Library & Museum in
Johannesburg); a meeting of the Brazil-
wide Forum on Organised Anarchism
(FOA); a meeting of International
Libertarian Solidarity(ILS) affiliates
(including BMC); and the First Meeting of
Autonomous Latin-American
Organisations of the Base (ELAOPA).

BRAZILIAN & ARGENTINE ANARCHISTS & THE SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
The FAG of Brazil was founded in
1995 with the help and inspiration of the
FAU of Uruguay. Since 2002, the FAG
and other "specific" anarchist movements
from Brazil such as the Cabocla Anarchist
Federation (FAC) of the Amazon have
worked together in the Forum on
Organised Anarchism. In Latin countries,
"specific" anarchist organisations adhere
to the lessons of the "Organisational
Platform of the Libertarian Communists"
(drawn up by veteran Ukrainian guerrillas
in 1927): federalism, tactical and ideologi-
cal unity, and collective responsibility, prin-
ciples that the ZACF is also based on.
On the ground, the FAG mobilises
among the garbage-collectors (cata-
dores), pushes for the opening of universi-
ties to the poor, networks together a num-
ber of autonomous "Popular Resistance
Committees" in working class communi-
ties and works with the Independent
Media Centre and with community radio
stations. Its position regarding the social
movements, in its "FAG Declaration of
Principles", is that "[o]n the political-ideo-
logical level, political groups including the
FAG, should enhance the social and pop-
ular movements, to make them more mili-
tant, without trying to make them 'anar-
chist'. The social movement should not
have a political ideology, but its role should
be to unite, and not to belong to a political
party. In the social movements, it is possi-
ble to unite militants and build a unified
base, which is not possible at an ideologi-
cal level."
The FAG then takes its non-sectarian
stance further: "Because we know that we
are not going to make the revolution by
ourselves, we need to be aware that we
need to unite with other political forces
without losing our identity. This identity is
the anarchist organisation and is the
avenue by which we want to build unity
with other political forces in the social
movement."
Through the FAG's policy of "social
weaving", it reunites community organisa-
tions of the oppressed classes, whether
unions, soccer clubs, community radio sta-
tions or neighbourhood associations.
"This way we try to form a solidarity group
between all the organisations in the com-
munity, increasing strength mutually in
direction of the struggle."
In Argentina, a country with a proud
tradition of mass anarchist organising (and
anarchist trade union dominance) in the
first three decades of the last century, neo-
liberal policies pushed through by the
International Monetary Fund and World
Bank provoked the collapse of what was
once one of the strongest Latin American
economies. This lead to a popular upris-
ing in 2001 that saw five state presidents
ousted in rapid succession, the occupation
of factories and the establishment of
Popular Autoconvened Assemblies across
the country.
Auca (Rebel), an Argentine anarchist
organisation based in the city of La Plata
to the south-east of the capital Buenos
Aires, was founded in 1998. Having
deeply involved itself in the United Popular
Movement (MUP), Auca takes a similar
position to the FAG on what in Latin
America is termed "social insertion": "Our
organisation is not the only one inside the
popular organisations that is struggling for
revolutionary change, and surely in the
future it will also not be the only one.
Historical examples have shown us that
different political models of the working
class and the people have converged in
the different revolutionary processes
throughout history...
"Within revolutionary efforts, it should
be understood that the model of the Single
Revolutionary Party is exhausted. It has
demonstrated its lack of flexibility against
the different political manifestations of our
class.
"As anarchists, we believe that our pro-
posal embodies the true interests of the
proletariat, and it is in anarchy where we
find the final goal of human aspirations,
but we are aware that the comrades of
other organisations believe the same thing
regarding their ideologies."

FOR A FRONT OF OPPRESSED CLASSES
Auca's position is that they "are not
rejecting the imperative need for the unity
of revolutionary forces under a strategic
project. Rather, we believe that the main
body for the gathering together of popular
power is the Front of Oppressed Classes
where syndicalist, social and political mod-
els which, in general, struggle for revolu-
tionary change will converge.
"It is there, in the heart of the FOC,
where a healthy debate of political tenden-
cies and positions should be engaged in,
so that the course the FOC takes is repre-
sentative of the existing correlation of pop-
ular forces. The FOC should not become
a struggle of apparatuses."
Calling the FOC "a strategic tool",
Auca states: "Obtaining a victory over a
more powerful opponent is only possible
by tensing all the forces and obligatorily
applying them with meticulous wisdom
and ability against the smallest 'crack'
amongst the enemies, and in all contradic-
tions of interests amongst the bourgeoisie
of the different countries, between the dif-
ferent bourgeois factions and groups
inside each country. It is necessary to
take advantage of the smallest possibili-
ties to obtain an ally of masses, even
when they are temporary, hesitant, unsta-
ble and uncertain.
"The backbone of the Front of
Oppressed Classes is based on the
(strategic) alliance of the peasant work-
force where the majority and leading force
is the proletariat..."
The concept of a Front of Oppressed
Classes as an idea is totally different to the
authoritarian communist concept of a
Popular Front, which communist parties
around the world have used as a Trojan
horse means of first welding together pop-
ular opposition into a hierarchical umbrella
organisation, then inserting themselves
into the leadership of the organisation.
This is what happened with the organ-
isations within the United Democratic
Front (UDF) during the final struggle
against apartheid, which suddenly found
themselves being dominated by a grafted-
on ANC-SACP "leadership", even though
UDF members were drawn from a variety
of political traditions. Their final fate was
the illegitimate and unilateral disbanding
of the UDF by the ANC-SACP after the
unbanning of the liberation movements in
1990, and the subsequent bloody political
ascendancy of the conservative nationalist
agenda over the very community and
workplace structures that had defeated
apartheid in the first place.
Instead, the Front that Auca supports
is a revival of the proud, militant traditions
of progressive and radical class organisa-
tions, wiser this time and divorced from
opportunistic political parties, being
focused instead on working class autono-
my and self-management. Only a hori-
zontally linked, community co-ordinated
network of class organisations is diverse
enough and resilient enough to not only
bear the assaults of the neo-liberal elites,
but launch its own raids on the bases of
capital.
A truly egalitarian FOC with every
active member equally empowered with
the ability to make policy decisions at a
collective level is a very tough organism
because it has no centre for reactionaries
to destroy or for opportunists to seize.
This, and not the tried-and-failed
approach of trying to hammer the United
Social Movements in South Africa into
some kind of shabby and marginal
"Workers Party" (a contradition in terms)
that will pathetically try to contest bour-
geois power within the halls of bourgeois
power itself. Instead, the FOC would
establish an increasingly strong "dual-
power" situation to first undermine the
authority of bourgeois power, and then
assume many of its functions, devolved to
community level (as we did in the 1980s
with popular civics, for instance).

SOCIALIST "GOVERNMENT" FROM BELOW
Auca's position statement goes on to
state that the creation of revolutionary
change means achieving precisely this
type of popular power: "We will call the
tool that allows us to make an initial bid for
power the Government from Below. This
will basically consist of directly building
power through solid criteria of unity and
strategic alliances.
"To guarantee the efficiency of this, it is
crucial to increase grassroots participa-
tion, focusing the different sectors around
specific programmatical questions. This
tool will be set up and consolidated
through three organisational stages that
will gradually go forward and overlap one
another."
Auca's three-stage approach is: 1) a
greater co-ordination of popular organisa-
tions around a consolidated joint plan of
struggle, based on joint class interests; 2)
the regionalisation of the struggle so that
municipalities can be controlled at grass-
roots level and so that joint demands can
be drawn up at regional plenaries and be
presented to bourgeois power; 3) consoli-
date regional grassroots power, not
through elections, but by a dual-power
"Government from Below".
Auca state that "we are not in a revolu-
tionary situation" - although Argentina is
closer to it than South Africa - "but are
rather creating the foundations of social-
ism and that the Government from Below
will operate within the general framework
of the bourgeois state."
The general idea would be to use dual-
power to train the class to assume both
the running of collapsed social services at
local level and to counter-act state repres-
sion of the social movements. The ZACF
may well adopt a similar strategic
approach, with its township food gardens
and community libraries - and its Anti-
Repression Network, respectively.
Auca states its aims as "giving more
power of decision to the grassroots groups
that are born in the heat of the struggles,
and are the current incipient bodies of
dual-power - mainly the popular organisa-
tions with territorial power and popular
assemblies. The democracy will be struc-
tured starting from a new approach that
involves the shape of political representa-
tion."After economic exploitation, this point
is the second in importance in relation to
the struggles that are currently going on.
We must break definitively with bi-parti-
sanship, but also, and fundamentally, we
must give shape to the development of a
new form of DIRECT AND POPULAR
democracy [capitals in the original text].
"This means that decisions will no
longer pass through the hands of a few
enlightened politicians, but rather through
the hands of all the people struggling in
the streets. It is essential to struggle for a
federalist character of democracy that
means that the decisions that affect the
social body are made by one and all,
through an operation that expresses the
thought of the social base of the country
Guiding this practice will be one of the
maximum requirements of the
Government from Below, a first taste of the
society in which this is the official organi-
sational approach."

FIGHTING DIFFERENTLY TO ACHIEVE DIFFERENT ENDS
The CIPO-RFM of the southern
Mexican state of Oaxaca, which borders
on Chiapas, was founded in 1997. Today
it is an organisation of about 1,000 indige-
nous American members, named after
Mexican revolutionary anarchist Ricardo
Flores Magon and now boasting its own
radio station. Where the Zapatista
National Liberation Army (EZLN) in
Chiapas used arms, initially, to create
space for social dialogue, CIPO-RFM is an
unarmed movement. Instead it relies on
innovative non-violent tactics that have
proven successful even though they face
state-backed death-squad attacks on their
members. Importantly, these tactics have
allowed the CIPO-RFM to make nonsense
of the state's claims that they are a dan-
gerous or terrorist faction.
One of the tactics is that when they are
confronted with riot police on horseback,
instead of pelting the cops with stones,
they throw bags of tiny ants at the horses.
The ants have a vicious fiery bite and drive
the horses wild, sowing confusion in police
ranks and defeating attempts to suppress
the organisation.
Another tactic involves moving entire
communities that have been cut off from
their neighbours by police / army road-
blocks through the roadblocks peacefully.
The women approach the cops and sol-
diers armed with flowers that they present
to their oppressors. Delighted, embar-
rassed and confused, the armed forces
allow the flower-givers and their children
to pass them by, trailing men from the
community in their wake.
Of course the state forces learn and
adapt to these fire-ants & flowers tactics,
but the point is that non-violent tactics
have achieved far more than a frontal
armed attack ever would - and it builds up
a grudging respect for the anarchist forces
among foot soldiers and cops who are
largely drawn from very similar social
backgrounds to those they are forced to
go up against.
A fundamental anarchist ethic is that
"means are ends-in-the-making", which is
to say that the means that we as revolu-
tionaries adopt in our struggles at all levels
and in all phases will directly determine
the nature and quality of the lives we build
for ourselves and our class. It stands to
reason that one cannot repress in order to
create freedom or resort to terror in order
to lift the clouds of fear off our horizons.
Probably the best expression during
the Anarchist Days 2 meetings of how
anarchists should engage with the social
movements was given by CIPO-RFM del-
egate Raul Gattica, who said that that
anarchists "do not come like an illuminat-
ing god" to the social movements, but
rather as comrades who live humbly
alongside and within the movements,
assisting the autonomy of the movements
to the best of their abilities.
This non-vanguardist, non-sectarian
attitude will be the ZACF's guiding princi-
ple in relating to our own social move-
ments.

POST-SCRIPT: ILS MEETING
At Porto Alegre, there was also a
meeting of the International Libertarian
Solidarity (ILS) network of which most
ZACF groups are members. The ILS was
established in Madrid in 2001 to link the
largest and most active sectors of the
global anarchist movement together.
The meeting was attended by ILS del-
egates from BMC, FAG, FAU, LL, LEL,
CIPO-RFM and CGT, with delegates from
BN, the ex-WSA and BN as observers
(Auca was accepted into the ILS in
February). The meeting felt that the lack
of presence of the Libertarian Mutual Aid
Network (RLAM) of Spain, the OSL of
Switzerland, Libertarian Alternative (AL,
France/Belgium), RNP and the Libertarian
Communist Organisation (OCL, France) -
together with the then up-coming ILS
meeting prior to the G8 $ummit in Evian,
France, in June 2003 - meant the meeting
should be brief. As a result, all organisa-
tions present simply gave a description of
the challenges facing them, particularly in
terms of money and resources.
Of interest to Africans was the presen-
tation by LEL, which operates within the
favellas (squatter camps) of Rio de
Janeiro, in conditions of grinding poverty
and gangsterism - not dissimilar to the
conditions ZACF members know in the
townships of Johannesburg, Durban and
Cape Town - yet which has built communi-
ty meeting centres and a vibrant press.
- Michael Schmidt (ZACF)


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