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(en) avtonom: "When we help each other without trying to cash in, everyone gets better" Interview, Peter Gelderloos [machine translation]

Date Sat, 16 May 2020 10:22:11 +0300


The Victory Day parade was held in Belarus at the weekend, and before that there were also two Passover, Radunitsa, Subbotnik and two Palm Sunday. Now Belarus is among the European leaders in terms of the growth rate of cases. Quarantine has not yet been introduced in the country and at the state level the problem is still considered to be "coronapsychosis." Against the backdrop of a critical situation, dozens of Belarusians united, organized training camps, sew masks, protective equipment, take out the necessary equipment and respirators from under the ground, make plastic shields and provide all this to physicians and vulnerable groups of people. This mutual assistance is one of the largest in the history of modern Belarus.
Telegram channel NALITZO spoke with writer Peter Gelderloos. Why are we talking to him? Because in his books, Peter collected historical facts about in which countries and for which peoples the practices of mutual assistance worked. Peter read in the media about the mutual assistance and initiatives of Belarus during the pandemic and told us why people can help each other in absolutely any country and under any regime. The conversation also touched on the issue of women's vulnerability during a pandemic, the topic of domestic violence, and Peter explained why the work of social workers and medical staff is not considered dangerous for women.

Peter, you read the article on the Guardian about Belarus, what can you say?

What is this madness. On the one hand, the situation is the same as in many other countries where states and markets work poorly in helping people. But the situation in Belarus seems more black and white, your state actually openly refuses help. Thus, this very clearly indicates the effectiveness of mutual assistance.

Do you think that a pandemic breaks masks and shows that the state does not care about people?

During a pandemic such as COVID-19, physical distance and social solidarity must be practiced to protect older people, healthcare providers at the forefront of the battle, and people with pre-existing medical conditions. However, measures taken by governments - often called social distance - are not aimed at protecting people, but at protecting the economy. They are partly aimed at reducing the spread of the virus, and more consistently aimed at maintaining social control.

What is your situation with protecting people during a pandemic?

I will talk about two states: the USA, where I come from, and Spain, where I live now. The absolute inability of the US government to do anything meaningful to protect people from a pandemic is a wonderful illustration of the weaknesses of society, which is designed from the very beginning in accordance with capitalist logic. It is the richest country in the world, but it also has more extreme poverty than most other countries that are considered rich. That is why it ranks first in terms of mortality and infections. The poor and people who are systematically racism (blacks and indigenous peoples) make up a disproportionate share of the dead. Companies like Amazon have large stockpiles of protective equipment, but hospital workers lack it. The government raised a lot of money trillions of dollars to support the stock market and large corporations, but they do not provide any assistance in renting, providing enough tests or paying for treatment. People who get sick often get $ 30,000 in hospital bills. The absolute inadequacy of capitalism is manifested in the fact that hospitals dismiss doctors and nurses in the midst of a pandemic.

Why are they doing this?

This is not profitable. They earn most of their money through optional operations that are suspended for the duration of the pandemic, so they get rid of employees to cut costs.

The main "hot spots" of the pandemic were nursing homes, where older people live until death, in prisons (where the poor and people suffering from racism live until death). The main carriers of the disease were businessmen and tourists returning from business trips, police and prison guards.

The government's response was by no means aimed at protecting people from a pandemic. In fact, some politicians and investors have said that the virus will be useful for the economy in the long run, killing many old people who receive money from pension funds. The words "Stay at home" were more recommendations than a real lockdown (Note. Ed. - isolation), and of course, most of the population did not actually stay at home. This is because people from the middle class are extremely individualistic and do not care about killing other people, and people from the lower class are forced to go to work if they do not want to ultimately remain homeless.

And what happened in the USA with mutual assistance during the pandemic?

In the United States, the real measures that protected people did not come from the state or large corporations. These were hundreds of mutual assistance initiatives that safely distributed food and essentials, initiatives that often also produced masks and disinfectants. It was the rental strike launched by the anarchists that allowed thousands of people not to pay rent and to avoid evicting their homeowners (and in May the rental strike will increase even more). It was the uprisings of the prisoners that allowed some to flee and drew attention to the conditions in the camp. And these were strikes of workers who forced companies to provide protective equipment, or to close factories and distribution centers, which became "hot spots",

But in Spain there was real isolation ...

Yes, Spain, on the other hand, set a real block in mid-March. It is important to understand that in the transition from the fascist dictatorship to democracy, very few changes have been made to the Spanish police and judicial system. Obviously, the police use all their power, the ability to stop anyone at any time, to keep people away from the street. About 10,000 people were arrested and 800,000 fined for going out. True, these very stringent measures quickly slowed the spread of the virus. At that time, Spain became the number two country in terms of the number of infected and dead. But we see that these measures were not aimed at protecting people. For example, people were fined or arrested for taking to the streets alone, without even going 10 meters from other people. Or two people who live in the same house, go out together to take out the trash. If they live in the same house, then they are not going to infect each other, taking out the garbage together. Such measures are designed to control people, and not to slow down the virus. Similarly, in early April, the government began to weaken isolation, despite the fact that cases of infection and death are still very high. They did this to allow a significant portion of the population to return to work. Immediately, infections and mortality increased again, but still they fined people (the penalty was almost a whole monthly salary) for going out to do physical exercises, or for the mother going out with her baby. The Spanish government (leftist government) also gave an unprecedented amount of money to banks and companies and facilitated the dismissal of workers, but did not lower the rent. In Spain, on average, people spend 50% of their income on rents, and, of course, unemployment is growing.

As in the United States, self-help initiatives and an annuity strike organized by anarchists have dramatically changed the lives of some of the most vulnerable. In addition to food and basic necessities, mutual assistance is also focused on mental health during total confinement.

As I understand it, in addition to the necessary things, there were also initiatives to support mental health? And why, if not a secret?

We must remember that health is a multifaceted thing. It cannot be reduced only to infectious diseases. It has been proven that in people, especially in the elderly, health deteriorates when they are isolated. People with heart disease can suffer greatly if they are not allowed to exercise.

People with mental problems are also at risk of being locked indoors. And for a month and a half, the government did not even think about the children, as if they did not exist.

For a month and a half it was not possible to play, talk, get stuck inside, looking at the screens all day (smartphones, computers). This can have an extreme impact on the development of a small child. Obviously, even a government that has taken such extreme measures as Spain does not care about people's health, it only cares about the economy.

In Belarus, the dictatorship, but, the people still self-organized and began to actively supply remedies to doctors. They also organized a camp for the homeless, a camp for staff who work in a boarding school. What do you think, how can this phenomenon be explained?

Because all people have the opportunity to organize themselves, all people can practice mutual assistance, even if they have no experience with this. Humans are social beings. If we did not have an innate ability to self-organize, horizontally, we would not exist. Governments are a recent invention in the history of mankind, and they have always been accompanied by a deterioration in health and a weakening of human freedom. Their advantage is that they are well able to conquer territory and centralize power, but as soon as we destroy their mythology, they will lose their power over us, and we will be able to organize our society in such a way that health, freedom and happiness will become the highest goals, and not a few profit.

When we help each other without trying to cash in, the deficit disappears and everyone becomes better. This is called mutual assistance. As Kropotkin showed more than a hundred years ago, mutual assistance is an important part of the evolution of species. And we see this even in such a completely individualistic, capitalist country as the United States, when the government is completely unable to help people, people begin to help each other. Belarus is another example. In the midst of a natural disaster, people rise to organize and fulfill their needs, as well as take care of the most vulnerable, like the homeless. It can happen anywhere.

Can mutual assistance be considered a protest?

Such initiatives can be seen as a protest, because they express neglect of the apathy of the government. Or they can simply be seen as survival. In the end, it is one and the same thing: governments and the economies they operate (whether they are called capitalism or socialism) do not contribute to our survival.

Is solidarity stronger than dictatorship?

Solidarity can be stronger than dictatorship. Many dictatorships were overcome by solidarity and rebel movements of the people, like fascist Spain, as a dictatorship in Greece, as an apartheid regime in South Africa. But also, dictatorships can unleash a huge amount of violence to keep people in subjection, like Hungary in '56, Czechoslovakia in '68, anti-racist uprisings in the USA in the '60s, and, of course, recent protest movements in Belarus and Russia. People should protect each other, spread, avoid isolation and develop means of self-defense.

Does dictatorship forgive solidarity and self-organization?

In specific situations, if she does not have the ability to suppress the movement, if she fears collapse, or, on the other hand, if she does not feel threatened by self-organization initiatives, the dictatorship may decide not to use repression. One example in Cuba in the early 90s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the intensification of the US blockade, Cuba did not have access to oil, its economy collapsed. People escaped mass starvation by organizing themselves by creating horizontal food-growing initiatives with a network of urban gardens and rural farms and the distribution of this food. The government has done nothing. They were afraid that if they intervened, people would rise and overthrow them. Therefore, they allowed self-organization to exist and were waiting for a better moment to confirm their authority. In contrast, in Chile, when the indigenous people began to conquer their land and organize, the police unleashed a very brutal repression. The conflict is still ongoing. And this is under democracy.

What do you think should Belarus draw after a pandemic?

That their government doesn't give a damn about them. And these are not the smartest, most capable people who rise to the top and gain control. These are the most power-hungry. And quite often power-hungry people are sociopaths. Like Donald Trump.

In social security and medicine, a large percentage are women. They recycle, they die. But no one says that women are again in a vulnerable position. Why do you think this happens?

In a patriarchal society, women are taught that it is their responsibility to take care of other people, put the needs of others above their own needs, while men are taught to be selfish and put their own needs first. This has many consequences. On the one hand, more workers in sectors that focus on care (such as health and social services) will be women, and in the event of a pandemic or other health emergency, they will be at the forefront, at greater risk. If a lot of them die, in a patriarchal society this will become normal, their death will not be noticed. It also means that women face greater poverty.

There are more single mothers than single fathers, and "female" work is paid less. In any health crisis, poor people suffer the most. Therefore, women find themselves in a more vulnerable position.

By the way, patriarchy is very important for supporting autocratic governments and capitalism. The patriarchy divides society against itself. He teaches one half of society to be selfish, to care only for their own interests or how to take root within the framework of existing hierarchies (like faithful soldiers, policemen, bureaucrats ...), and the other half teaches only to take care of their own family, take care of their fathers and husbands, no matter how cruel they may be.

How to deal with domestic violence that increased during a pandemic?

Autonomous women's shelters created by feminists provided an important safe space during a pandemic. Definitely only they can help women. Imprisonment has greatly exacerbated domestic violence. The government excluded this problem from their vision of health during the blockage. Conclusion not only greatly aggravated the problem, but also the state of emergency greatly complicated the search for solutions. Communication is limited, so it is difficult for people suffering from domestic violence to get in touch with a group that could help them, and opening new homes for shelters or protesting against rapists is almost impossible, since people taking to the streets in connection with such activities will be arrested.

What consequences do you think a pandemic will bring?

Governments around the world are trying to normalize totalitarian technology, total observation. This is also a moment of systemic conflict. The American empire is dying, its total failure is obvious to everyone, but there is no clear new leader for organizing global capitalism. The next system will not be better than the one that ends now. It will have to give strong answers to the economic crisis, climate change and environmental disaster. But these decisions will not necessarily be good for us or for the planet. The state always turns the crisis to its advantage. But at the same time, it is an opportunity. Today, very few people believe in the lies of capitalism and the state. Their masks were erased, as you said. More and more people see that self-organization and mutual assistance are possible, that they work better than the state. 2019 was marked by a wave of global uprisings and movements stronger than everything that has happened since 1968. And now, in 2020, after we saw that you can get up and fight back, we see that we can take care of ourselves and create something better. These are the two basic elements needed to make a revolution. The last element is to remember our history, and not to make another revolution, which simply creates a new, more oppressive ruling class. We must completely break with capitalism, with the state, so as not to trust leaders and saviors, but at least once to trust ourselves. necessary for the revolution. The last element is to remember our history, and not to make another revolution, which simply creates a new, more oppressive ruling class. We must completely break with capitalism, with the state, so as not to trust leaders and saviors, but at least once to trust ourselves. necessary for the revolution. The last element is to remember our history, and not to make another revolution, which simply creates a new, more oppressive ruling class. We must completely break with capitalism, with the state, so as not to trust leaders and saviors, but at least once to trust ourselves.

Is it possible to organize autonomy in any country?

Yes. All people have the opportunity to organize themselves, create free societies without coercive power. But this is not easy. This requires immediate changes, here and now, in how we think and what methods we use, but it is also a very long struggle. It will take generations to heal from all the consequences of the state, capitalism and patriarchy, from contaminated soil to individualism and trauma.

Peter later sent the following message in addition to the interview:

I hope that my interview will help spread some critical ideas and that mutual assistance initiatives in Belarus will continue to flourish! All the best!

https://avtonom.org/news/kogda-my-pomogaem-drug-drugu-ne-pytayas-nazhitsya-vsem-stanovitsya-luchshe
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