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(en) US, BAAM #36 of the Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement - A History of BAAM, Part 1 By Jake Carman

Date Wed, 18 Aug 2010 14:12:51 +0300

On September 24th, 2001, less than two weeks after the September 11th attacks, this brief statement (below) entitled “No War Against Nations, No Peace Between Classes,” announced the formation of the Boston Anarchists Against Militarism (BAAM): ---- “In response to the impending military aggression of the United States, a number of class struggle anarchists have come together to form the Boston Anarchists Against Militarism (BAAM!) coalition. BAAM is opposed to nationalism, racism, and war hysteria, and is organizing against the current war efforts. For more information on how to get involved...” ---- In this first incarnation, BAAM was more of an open, ad hoc coalition of various anarchist groups and individuals than it was a specific organization.

It was formed through the initiative of a few local collectives of the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (which formed in 2000) — including the Sophia Perovskaya collective and the Barricada collective — as a place where anarchists of all sub-ideologies could work together. Through BAAM, the participating collectives and individuals coordinated their work in confronting the march of US militarists at the beginning of the War on Terror. According to Jamey Lionette, who joined BAAM a few weeks after September 11th, “it certainly was a group of anarchists with a specific task, a preemptive attack against war before war began.”

Matt Carroll — who has been involved in BAAM for almost the entirety of its nine-year existence — says BAAM “formed in the wake of Sept 11th, because, well, we all expected to wind up going to war.” Indeed, it was a time when millions of US residents sat glued to the television, thoroughly consuming the onslaught of anti-Muslim, nationalist war propaganda. To the anarchists in Boston, says Lionette, it seemed the USA would attack “anyone and everyone. I think it was obvious Afghanistan was the first target, and it seems like Iraq was just around the corner.” During this period of fear and rage, BAAM gathered anarchists together to formulate a revolutionary opposition to the impending wars.

Rather than cower before the nationalistic onslaught, the BAAM coalition participated in early demonstrations against the invasion of Afghanistan. The meeting before the first demonstration was quite tense, Lionette remembers: “Someone said, ‘If some dude jumps out of the crowd and punches us, just take the blow and do not hit back.’ We all agreed, no fighting back. The mood of the country made us feel that we could easily get our asses kicked by jackass vigilantes while the cops allowed it to happen.” On October 7th, 2001, United States military forces and their British allies invaded Afghanistan, launching “Operation Enduring Freedom,” which, as of June 7th, 2010, has been the longest war in United States history.

BAAM’s first demonstration, however, came earlier, falling on September 20th, 2001. While the anarchists had been planning a march of their own, the Student Labor Action Project Anti-War Coalition planned a “Don’t Turn Tragedy into War” march as part of “a nationally coordinated day of anti-war campus action.” So, says Lionette: “we joined forces, there were lots of BAAM students who were involved in that coalition.” Indeed, in the call for the march, the coalition listed its members as “individuals and groups from Boston College, Boston University, Emerson College, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern University, UMass Boston, Sabate Anarchist Collective, Barricada Collective, S.P. Collective,” the final three being NEFAC collectives.

“I recall hearing that our anti-war march was the first in the country,” said Lionette, adding, “I can not verify that.” Meeting in Copley Square in surprisingly large numbers, anarchists marched as a contingent with black flags and banners, including one that read “Solidarity with Revolutionary Afghan Women,” taking over Boylston Street and then Mass Ave. on the way to the anti-war demonstration in Harvard Square, where, remembers Lionette, “I feel like our march doubled the crowd.” Though a heavy police force followed them the entire way, the feared incidents of violence never manifested.

In fact, according to Lionette, the burgeoning anti-war movement was quite diverse and lively, with many rallies and marches in the months that followed, and BAAM played an important role. Due to the momentum and influence anarchists held at the time, only two years after the successful World Trade Organization protests in Seattle (1999), Lionette remembers, “it seemed at first that anarchist critiques were relevant to a broad array of society, and I do honestly feel that many people looked to BAAM as leaders in the Anti-war movement.”

On October 2nd, 2001, less than one month after September 11th and at the height of the ultra-patriotic wave of violent and fearful jingoism, in a statement posted to anarchist websites entitled “Basis of Unity,” the Boston Anarchists Against Militarism defined themselves as “a coalition of social anarchists committed to building an anti-war resistance movement in the greater Boston area.” The statement was also released in the October issue of the Barricada publication.

November 1st, 2001, BAAM released another statement, “Why Anarchists Oppose Militarism and Nationalism,” defining themselves as anarchists, dispelling the myth that anarchists are terrorists or in any way support the 911 attacks, identifying the ruling class as the causes, benefactors, and aggressors of war (in particular, “the oil barons and arms dealers who helped shape the Middle East as it is today,”) and differentiating between wars of capital and patriotism, and wars for freedom. The statement ends with a slight variation on the title of BAAM’s original statement, and one that would soon be found on banners and signs, and heard in chants and songs: “No War Between Nations, No Peace Between Classes!” Beyond the student and anti-war movement, BAAM was also active within the local subcultures, like the punk scene. There is a record of a benefit for Boston Anarchists Against Militarism on November 4th, 2001 at Spontaneous Celebrations in Jamaica Plain. Four punk bands, The Spitzz, The Profits, Leon Czolgosz, and Guardia Negra performed.

Boston Anarchists Against Militarism published another statement, entitled “Why Anarchists Oppose War and Nationalism,” in the 3rd issue of the Northeastern Anarchist, the quarterly of the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (dated Fall/Winter 2001). This statement was also widely distributed as a leaflet through the years that followed.

As the anti-war movement developed, the BAAM coalition began to see how anarchist perspectives on the war were remarkably different then their liberal and socialist allies. To help define and popularize anarchist anti-war positions, on November 10th, 2001, from noon until seven BAAM hosted an event at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, entitled “Anti-War Teach-In: An Anarchist Perspective.” The schedule, as advertised in a November 7th posting on an MIT website (3), was as follows: Why Anarchists Oppose War (BAAM); Radical Art Workshop; Radical Labor’s Response (with Jon Bekken of the IWW); Voices from the Afghan Community; Diversity of Tactics in Anti-War Activism; Implications for Immigrants (Paromita Shah, National Lawyers Guild); State Repression in Wartime; Anarchist Response to Terrorism (Cindy Milstein, Institute for Social Ecology); Anarchism & Collective Organizing (Sabate Anarchist Collective, NEFAC); Patriarchy & War; and Anarchism, Nationalism, & Patriotism.

BAAM’s early success in presenting their ideas meant that the demonstrations they planned were attended by many people, including City Councilors. Lionette recalls, “ I felt other cities really were looking to our actions. I remember being almost amazed, because I felt we were not as big as people from other cities thought we were. People were coming up from Providence and New York City to see what BAAM was doing. People around the country were emailing us for info. For years afterward I would find anarchist publications in East Europe and South America and see pictures of BAAM demonstrations (people loved the No War Between Nations, No Peace Between Classes banner).” BAAM demonstrations were even large enough to compete with the big leftist and liberal coalitions for marching permits and numbers of participants.

Various socialist factions began sending people to anarchist workshops and presentations, attempting to disrupt the meetings or to try and push their party’s line. Relations with anti-war allies, first the sectarian socialists — with whom, “less than comradely words” were exchanged, says Lionette — and then the coalitions of liberals and leftists soured quickly.

As anarchist positions and thought developed, and the political differences between anarchists and their allies widened, BAAM’s own internal debates sharpened. “There began to be philosophical differences between anarcho-communists. Pretty much everyone at the time identified to one degree or another as anarcho-communists,” said Lionette. The disagreements developed around the Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, written by Nestor Makhno and other exiles of Ukraine’s anarchist revolution, who believed a unified platform would help anarchists build cohesive enough organizations and strategies to successfully navigate the rough waters of revolution. Some anarchists, like NEFAC, agreed with this concept and worked in international federations and confederations based around the platform. Strong tensions developed between platformist and anti-platform anarchists in Boston.

A real fracture soon began as some of the individual participants of BAAM pushed to solidify the coalition as its own open and non-platformist anarchist group. According to long-time BAAM member Rob Dalton, “They had gathered together all these anarchists from around the area, but then they — and by they, I actually mean mostly Barricada — started to get worried about their own creation... people like myself wanted it to be an organization in and of itself.” The debate over the political nature and future of BAAM had begun.

Look for the next installment, “The Death of BAAM, the Birth of BAAM! next month.
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