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(en) US, Atlanta, George Sossenko: Living Anarchism - The end of the US Social Forum; the beginning of…?

Date Wed, 11 Jul 2007 09:38:12 +0300

“…wishing you to follow my path, fighting for freedom.” ---- George Sossenko
I’m writing this last message from Germantown, a neighborhood in Philly. It’s an area that has a long history of rebellion (in 1688 Quakers living here passed the first formal anti-slavery resolution) but also of pseudo rebellion of elites (George Washington lived here for a short time). I left Atlanta a few days ago on a very surreal note. ---- A few days after the forum ended the streets of Atlanta were still sprinkled with people sporting USSF shirts and tote bags. I ran into a small labor picket of carpenters on strike but despite the massive convergence at the forum, the carpenters were on the picket by themselves with nobody to support them. I told some of the strikers about the recent massive carpenter strike that started in Tacoma where several thousand carpenters went on strike when their contract expired. Before I left town I learned about land trusts in the city. I still don’t know too much about them but one land trust that has existed since the 1980s is essentially a self-governed community. The police never roll through the community and everyone living there seems to work on a collective level to get their problems solved. There’s a lot to learn from already existing communities, structures and organizations – we just need to look around for them. I also met up with and hung out with some SDSers, Wobblies and Atlanta anarchists before I left. The most interesting anarchist I met was George Sossenko, veteran of the Spanish Civil War. I feel it fitting to end the story of my trip to Atlanta on a hopeful note. I think back to the time I spent with George and I keep on telling myself, “it was just a dream; it was just a dream.”

It wasn’t.

The (abridged) story of George Sossenko:

I met George at an anarchist workshop at the USSF. I found his phone number and was able to track him down to talk to him before I left town. He and his wife Birdie picked me up for lunch and I spent the next few hours talking with him about the Spanish Civil War, anarchism and revolution.

When he first met me he sporting a red and black flag button with the acronyms CNT and AIT with the word antifascista emblazoned in bold black letters. He told me in a slight French but also very European accent, “I am a worshiper of logic.” I soon found out that this was the case. He told me that he’s a “fourth generation atheist – God has never entered [his] house”. I asked him to tell me about the Spanish Civil War. He and his wife Birdie told me that if the revolution in Spain had been successful, both the Holocaust and the Second World War would never have occurred. History would have been drastically different. When we all sat down for lunch he pulled out a leather bound binder and showed me a dozen articles and a few pictures. One picture was of him and three of his comrades in Aragon, all of them wearing the signature Durruti Column cap. “I was 16 years old in this picture. I was just a little boy.”

George joined the International Brigades in his home country of France at the age of 16. He went to Spain by way of Andorra and fought in Barcelona, near Madrid and in Aragon. He soon joined both the Durruti Column and the CNT. I asked him how he initially became attracted to anarchism and he told me it was because of capitalism – the fact that, he said, any day one person can make $10,000 and another only $2. I asked him the same question again later and he said, “I already told you” then paused and asked, “Do you know who Nestor Makhno is?” I nodded. He told me of the revolution in Ukraine, the Bolshevik betrayal, Makhno’s flight to Paris where he eventually died (when George was just a teenager). George’s friend told him about Makhno after the revolutionary’s death and both decided to attend his memorial ceremony. George met Alexander Berkman and very soon after became immensely interested in anarchism, in both thought and practice. That interest has never waned over the years; it’s only intensified.

Our talk was filled with sadness and frustration. He spoke of Guernica, the betrayal by the West during the revolution, how the Russians “liberated” Makhno’s family in France from the fascists, only to throw them in the gulags in Russia. He told me about people’s fascination with and attraction to communism when he was younger. But as a “worshiper of logic” he was able to see through the commisarocracy and bureaucracy that developed in communist systems. He also spoke of the youth. He was very inspired and excited by the dedication, seriousness and commitment of younger people at the USSF. But he also spoke of the apathy expressed by many young people today – he sees this as a result in part of a form of disinformation he believes is very similar to the kind he witnessed fascism spread throughout Europe in the 30s and 40s. He told me that when he was younger than me students in France would have fistfights and battles in the streets and on campus over politics. It was a war. I thought maybe he was hinting at and hoping for student and youth militancy and greater organization in this country.

Living anarchism:

When George told me about Spain when he was there, a society he witnessed, experienced, felt, lived, I hung on every word that escaped his mouth. The only connection I have with anarchism, as experienced and lived at its height in Spain, has been in books. Hearing from someone who lived in an anarchist society, fought for it and believes that it can happen again was a surreal experience. He described a society without police or courts, priests, hierarchy, government, capitalism, a society without bosses and masters. He told me how happy people were to live their lives – to really live their lives. This was a society, he said, where “the union was in power”.

This society where the union was in power had a lasting effect on George. He’s 88 years old now and more active than ever. He was at the USSF every day starting at 8am where he spent time volunteering at the Vets for Peace booth, frequented workshops and discussions, and found time to help with translating at the forum (he speaks seven or eight languages). He and his wife often have meetings because they’re “too involved” and sometimes need a little rest.

Age has taken a hold of George Sossenko but he still seems young, active and very much alive. I remember once looking at pictures of Lenin before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution. It looked like he aged 20 years in the span of five. For Lenin, Revolution was a tiresome and stressful affair; by no means libratory. The Russian Revolution killed him – stress killed him. Lenin breathed death into the people of Russia and Eastern Europe and in time his breath caught up with him. George had a vastly different experience with the revolution in Spain.

Through George’s eyes I could see that the revolution in Spain wasn’t just a single spectacular historical event. It wasn’t something that rose and fell, lived and abruptly died. I can hear the revolution in his voice and see it in his eyes. The revolution isn’t something constrained by time and space. It didn’t start in Spain and it didn’t end there either. I felt it in Atlanta. I feel it now.

Maslauskas, an Olympian in Atlanta
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