Friday, 30 May 2014

From demonic terrorist to sainted icon: The transfiguration of Nelson Mandela

By Michael Schmidt

South Africa

12 Dec 2013 09:57 (South Africa)


By far the most interesting part of the trajectory of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is his inexorable transition in the minds of many white and black reactionaries from the demonic figure of a feared terrorist to the sainted figure of a beloved icon, though one might, post-demise, call him rather a sacred zombie – because we don’t want to let him truly die and prefer him maintained in a metaphorical limbo between life and death. Referring to film, philosophy, linguistics, modern art and, not least, religion, I construct a forensic meditation on this profound transfiguration.

On Friday night, a day after Nelson Mandela died, friends and I were at dinner, discussing his legacy, as no doubt many South Africans were that night. One of my friends told me of her first impression of the man as a young girl of 10, living in the lower middle-class suburb of Mayfair West on Brixton Ridge in Johannesburg.
“When Mandela was released, I saw it on television and I asked my father who that man was. My dad said to me: ‘That’s the Devil.’ And for years afterwards, I had trouble sleeping because I knew the Devil had been released from some sort of prison and was on the loose, right here in South Africa. Years later, I started to realise that Mandela wasn’t so bad and I started to love him - and today consider him a saint.”
Out of the mouths of babes: she encapsulated in her anecdote the transmogrification of this terrifying Devil into someone chummy and likeable. What does this mean for the psyche of South Africans in mourning? The Star’s headline on Friday was “The World Weeps,” and beyond tiny enclaves of white and black extremists, his memory is universally venerated. Long before his demise, T-shirts bearing a design of Mandela’s face with the ring of a glowing halo overhead were sold on the streets of Johannesburg. It is almost impossible – especially during this period of state-sponsored mourning – to find any traces at all, in word or image, of Mandela’s “demonic” origins. True, the giant mosaic mural of his face in Liberation Café in Melville does make him look like a Marvel villain, but this is surely accidental.
Either way, it is clear from all the documentaries, retrospectives, polemics, recollections, and especially in imagery, that Mandela had already ascended to the status of demigod well before his death, so in reflecting on this fundamental change, one has to resort, I feel, to the philosophy at the heart of religious iconography, and especially to modern artists’ re-conceptions of the (usually) unacknowledged links between the profane and the sacred.
Travails of the Messiah: Madiba as Muad’Dib

Underlying this representational shift must be a narrative, an alchemical story of transmutation from the base lead of the political polecat into the pure gold of the “father of the nation.” But to remove the tale from the realm of the conventional religions to give readers some arms-length perspective, I will rather use as my quasi-religious allegory, the science-fiction story Dune, by Frank Herbert, powerfully realised as a screenplay by that master of the weird intersections of reality and psychology, David Lynch.
Our protagonist the young Nelson Mandela is born both at the centre of privilege – and on the periphery: as the scion of the Thembu royal house, he can be expected to lead a comfortable life ensconced in the fastnesses of the Transkei – and yet his privilege is rural, separated by race and space far from the national centres of power. In Dune, our protagonist the young Paul Atreides is the scion of the Atreides royal house and expects a life of privilege, yet his homeworld of Caladan sits on the edge of the galaxy, separated by politics and space far from the imperial centre. Their destinies lie elsewhere: for Paul, the red-dune mining planet of Arrakis; for Nelson, the neon-lit mining town of Johannesburg.
And so, like all metaphysical tales of transformation, the two young heroes must first embark on a dangerous voyage. Along the way, guided by ethics rooted in the Orange Catholic Bible in Paul’s case and the Bible in Nelson’s and yet increasingly shaped by the harsher disciplines of the Bene Gesserit and Communist orders respectively, wait physical hardship, emotional loss, betrayal, and exile from polite society. These demanding processes will refine them in the fires of perdition, and prepare them to lead armed insurrections by pre-existing forces not of their own creation – the Fremen and the ANC and – from within the very wastes of exile against powerful, callous, militarised settler enemies who avariciously desire to monopolise the economy by controlling the indigenous majorities.
And it is here that the real transformation begins. For, to be an outcast, is to be demonised, rejected by one’s prior privilege, cast into the wilderness: for both young men, a clandestine life. The external imagery has to change at this point, not only for pragmatic reasons of survival, but to indicate internal processes of self-abnegation for the cause – a critical stage in all canonisations: Paul has to adopt the stillsuit of the Fremen, Nelson, the overalls of a gardener. In these commoner’s clothes, the exiled royals then have to master something larger than themselves: for Paul, the loyalty of the Fremen and command of the sandworm, Shai’hulud; for Nelson, the loyalty of the black majority and command of the ANC’s armed wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe.
Once the journeyman has become the master, the nomenclature and the imagery abruptly shifts to a higher plane: Paul becomes Muad’Dib and the spice-saturated blue of his eyes shows he has transcended his human self, becoming first among Fremen, the Kwisatz Haderach; Nelson becomes Madiba, his and the intense gold of his casual shirts shows he has transcended his humanity, becoming first among free men, the Father of the Nation. But this can only occur at the moment of a transcendent, yet physical victory: for Paul, his ascent to leader of Arrakis, installed in grandeur in the Arrakeen Palace; for Nelson, his ascent as leader of South Africa, invested with pomp in the Union Buildings. From this point on, while their achievements remain driven by temporal and political forces, neither remain mere men, mortality is subsumed by symbolism, and, in their own triumph over travails, they approach divinity.

The Common Root of the Profane and the Sacred

But still, a demon, an outsider, howling in the wastes, does not easily transmute into a saint hallowed at the centre. Surely merely experiencing suffering is insufficient – or the majority of South Africans would likewise be sainted; and surely merely mastering the masses is insufficient – or every skilled politician would be treated likewise. Here, it is instructive to remember the point at which Muad’Dib sees the Fremen warriors practising using his name through their weirding module weapons to destroy enemies: “My own name is a killing word now,” Paul thought grimly. “Will it be a healing word as well?” Madiba’s name was once on the lips of many necklace mob murderers; and yet today it is a healing word. How are we to reconcile this incompatibility, between an uMkhonto we Sizwe that without any doubt drifted into outright terrorism against innocent civilians, and the way the man responsible for initiating its uncivil war is venerated today?
It helps to reach into the realm of philosophy and the arts: a series of penetrating essays collected by Demetrio Paparoni who teaches at the University of Catania, Eretica: The Transcendent and the Profane in Contemporary Art, Skira, Milan, Italy, 2007 is illuminating. In particular, I draw from the essay Sanctity and Depravity by Roger Caillios in which he notes that many societies see the profane and the sacred as identical, at least at their core or roots: “More primitive civilisations do not linguistically distinguish the prohibitions rooted in respect for sanctity from those inspired by fear of depravity. The same term evokes all the supernatural powers from which it is best, regardless of the reason, to keep a distance. The Polynesian word tapu [taboo] and the Malaysian word pamali designate without distinction that which, blessed or cursed, is subtracted from shared use…” So, the demon that was Mandela and the saint that is Madiba have the same root, and are the same at their core; as a dual entity, he is removed from the shared uses of the common (wo)man.
Lest the reader think I’m making a primitivist argument for Mandela’s metamorphosis into Madiba, Caillios also cites Greco-Roman civilisation, the mother culture of the advanced West, as having a similar profane/sacred binary: “The Greek word hágos, ‘filth’ or ‘depravity’, also means ‘the sacrifice that cancels depravity’. The distinction was effectuated later with the help of two symmetrical words, hághes, or ‘pure’ and enaghés, or ‘cursed’, the transparent composition of which denotes the ambiguity of the original word. The Greek hosioún and the Latin espiare, or ‘expiate’, are etymologically interpreted as ‘causing to exit (from oneself) the sacred element (hósios, pius) that contracted depravity had introduced’. Expiation is the act that allows the criminal [or terrorist] to resume his normal activity and his place in the profane community, shedding his sacred character, deconsecrating himself…”
The Madiba cult has all the hallmarks of an emergent religion, no matter that it is technically “secular” because it is state endorsed, so here we have a mystery: on the one hand, we have the process whereby to be cursed contains the seeds of purity, this becoming sacred (or to be the outlaw implies knowledge of the lawmaker); while on the other hand, in parallel, the pious sheds his piety, which restores to him his profane humanity (he remakes himself in our image). This binary nature lies, Caillios states, at the heart of all religion, and is never entirely shed, no matter what side one chooses: “This rift of the sacred produces good and bad spirits, the priest and the warlock, Ormazd and Ahriman, God and the Devil, but the attitude of the faithful towards every one of these separations of the sacred reveals the same ambivalence as when they are confronted with its conjoined forms.”
Thus, despite Mandela’s transcendence, if we are to be true to history, he remains at root both demonic terrorist and sainted icon, for to deny either is to produce an impossibility (and be untrue to his dualistic essence).
Caillios goes on to muse on the experience of the presence of Godhood: “When St Augustine confronted the divine, he was overcome by a shiver of horror along with a surge of love: ‘Et inhorresco’, he writes, ‘et inardesco’. I shudder and I burn. He explains that his horror comes from recognising the difference that separates his being from the sacred, while his ardour comes, on the other hand, from seeing their profound sameness.”
Madiba’s ability to dispense death as commander-in-chief and judgment as elder statesman were terrible to behold, but all the more welcoming for those faithful who drew close enough to shelter from his storm, and in doing so encountered his essential humanity.

An alternate sainthood?

Gianni Mercurio’s essay, Perfection and Perdition, takes us further in weighing up the demonic/saintly duality of Mandela/Madiba. Noting that demon and devil are Greek words, Mercurio charts the transformation of the Devil himself, from his original lowly-ranked Greek status, to his elevated Mediaeval role as anti-Christ, seducer of the faithful, inducing them to fall into perdition, to his Renaissance role as “the one who had dared, the great rebel who had challenged the Father in an act of immense courage” via Giambattista Marino and his student John Milton, of “Satan ‘majestic though in ruin’… Satan alone and abandoned. Satan beautiful and cursed” – a clear foreshadowing of Caillos’ accursed purity thesis.
But Mercurio goes further to show the modern transition of the Devil from romantic outcast to our closest friend: “‘O you, the most knowing and loveliest of Angels’, victim of God’s jealousy, is how Baudelaire addressed Satan, appealing to him to ‘take pity on my long misery’. For only he who has been vanquished [as Mandela in prison] feels compassion for the defeated. His heart beats for human beings. God’s heart less so. The fact is, that by living with them, Lucifer has learned to understand them. He knew everything about their nature, sensed their needs and their desires. And being familiar with suffering on this earth, he sympathised with them.” Recognising Mandela’s intimacy and sympathy with our suffering during his exiled wanderings both draws him closer to us, and raises him above us.
Perhaps the transition is not that incongruous; perhaps the discomfort of the intimate change experienced by my friend derives not from her perceptual shift of his being from demon to nice guy, but the change was rather from outcast devil to Promethean hero, from the original fallen serpent to Luciferian light-bearer? That’s, however, an easier intellectual and emotional transition to make than Caillios’s cloven sacred profanity – but will probably be harder for the demigod’s acolytes in this predominantly Judeo-Christian country to swallow because it does not sit well with their rigorously sanitised iconography. Nevertheless, whatever one’s perspective, the horror and the love remained indivisible in the man himself. DM

Initial edits by Jo Davies; further edits by The Daily Maverick. Michael Schmidt, who hails from a family of artists, is an iconoclastic investigative journalist and published non-fiction author who met Mandela on several occasions during his career. He writes in his personal capacity.

Wellington Anarchist Bookfair 2014: I spoke on How Anarchists Build Counter-power

Reflections on Sydney's first-ever Anarchist Bookfair

This article was originally written for Anarcho-Syndicalist Review. By Jay Kerr & Sid Parissi.
A collective of anarchists organised a significant political event in March 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Although initiated by the Jura Collective that operates a long running bookshop, events and organising centre, it quickly grew into an autonomous collective of various groups and individuals. Previous bookfairs had been held in Melbourne, a city some 900km to the south, but none had been held elsewhere in the country. This article is an account of the preparation for the event by Jay, one of the organising collective and impressions of the day by Sid, a member of the Jura Collective.

The Making of an Anarchist Bookfair
In the Conquest of Bread, Kropotkin discussed the notion that everything we enjoy in the present is because of the combined efforts of people in the past and people in the present; these words ring true in organising the first Sydney Anarchist Bookfair.
Over six months of preparation boiled down to a one day event that took place in March this year at Addison Road Community Centre, building on the work of anarchists around the world who have been organising anarchist bookfairs for decades and the encompassing the efforts of a dynamic anarchist movement in Sydney.
From the early days in London some thirty years ago, when the first Anarchist Bookfair was launched, the idea has spread across the globe. It was with that in mind that a few members of Jura Books got to thinking that Sydney, being the largest city in Australia, really should have its own.
A call out was made to anarchists across the city and before too long a collective was formed comprising of members from Jura and the Black Rose Social Centre in Newtown as well as independent, non-aligned anarchists. True to Australia’s composition as a ‘nation of immigrants’, several of the collective members were migrant workers from Europe; anarchists passing through or long term residents, working collectively alongside Australian born anarchists in establishing the parameters of this new addition to the tapestry of global anarchist bookfairs.
From the first collective meeting important decisions were made on the structure of the group, the desired limits in the size of the collective, and the inclusion of other groups. The collective aimed at being a nucleus, making consensus-based decisions with input and support from the wider anarchist community. Practicalities of the event were debated and discussed ranging from who should be invited to hold a stall or give a talk; should the collective define themes for the Bookfair talks or invite topic suggestions from potential speakers; should there be childcare and how should it be run, where is the best space to hold such an event? Some tough choices had to be made.
Acknowledging the past work of comrades around the globe, emails were sent to London and Dublin for their advice. A range of suggestions were given, practical advice that stood us in good stead, indicating the importance of setting deadlines, defining the parameters and highlighting some issues that have arisen for them over the years. Who knew that the decline in fist fights at the London Bookfair over the years corresponds directly with the decline of alcohol sales?
Organising an event of this size and trying to satisfy all requests and desires of anarchists and activists in the movement is a tough job. Stress hit hard at times and in the collective tensions became frayed, while at other times consensus decision making itself was put to the test as divisions on what and, more importantly, who the Bookfair should include brought differences over anarchist politics to the fore. Where no consensus was viable the default fell to the negative with no action taken, a situation that can (and did) hit proactive organising hard and raises issues for organising on a wider scale.
But, in general, the experience of organising the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair was positive as cool heads tended to prevail. Sydney’s anarchist community rallied to support the event with positive suggestions and contributions, promoting far and wide, from emails and online posts to flyering and poster distribution across the city; a vital part of the success of any event, especially an anarchist bookfair.
Our combined efforts were duly rewarded when between 500 and 700 people turned out to Addison Road Community Centre, browsing the stalls inside Gumbramorra Hall, and attending talks and discussions in the Latin American hut next door or over at Speakers Corner on the lawn. Anarchist Bookfairs promote anarchist ideas through attraction, offering a relaxed, non-partisan atmosphere for people to engage with others in discussing new ideas. The success of the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair, a collective effort built on the work of people from around the world, on the work of years past, offers hope for the future. Anarchist Bookfairs are worth spreading.
Impressions of the day.
Anarchists take over a former military base! Well, not quite but we did manage to fill out a large and smaller hall and a large grassed area of a former military base that had been handed over for community use. The place is now a busy community-use area and the site of a weekly market and two reuse/recycle outfits in addition to many of its other functions. Think of a mini Christiania, but not squatted. We had a great start to the day with an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ that was given by Aboriginal Elder Ray Jackson.
Wow, what a day! Everyone smiling, talking, laughing, discussing.... 30 different stalls in the big hall, anarchist, Wobbly, union, and the largest number from community groups who each paid $50 for a table – and everyone I talked to thought it was well worth it, in fact, excited about the opportunity. It was an opportunity to spread knowledge about their group, network with other groups and generally have an anti-authoritarian festival. So, Jura ran a number of tables, including ones for PM Press and AK Press, and general anarchist books. In addition, other stalls were organised by Black Rose, Melbourne anarchists, Wobblies from Sydney and Melbourne, anti-nuclear, vegan, leftist T-shirts for sale... and many more.
Besides the stalls there was vegan food and drink, and free apples and water available from the information centre, music from individual troubadours and also from the anarchist Riff Raff Marching Band, physical stuff like yoga and women’s self defence, a join-in singing group, an open ‘DIY’ area and a ‘tune-up-your-bike’ space. One of the organisers sorted out the child care, with a certified child care worker on site – They were dressed as pirates! Then there were the discussion meetings on a variety of topics. These included: Oppression of Australia’s Indigenous People, a discussion on a university strike, on Bakunin’s 200th Birthday, the Spanish Revolution, two on feminist and anarcha-feminist topics, environmental issues, and one by Michael Schmidt on ‘Global Fire: The lmpact of Revolutionary Anarchism’.
It was great to see such a variety of people attending, from babies to an anarchist elder Jack Granchoff in his ‘80s. Most were younger, in their 20’s and 30’s, with, at a guess, a good gender balance, and perhaps even more women than men. The young children running around having fun and the range of participants demonstrated that, in many ways, this was an evolving, maturing and culturally-richer anarchist and near-anarchist milieu than in the past. From a book-sales point of view, it was really encouraging to get so many books, pamphlets and other material out to people who don’t often get to the shop. So, yes, it was a bookfair, but it was much more than just that.
This writer didn’t get to the after party, but those who went said it was a blast. And everyone’s keen to build on this year’s strengths and lessons learned, and have another next year.

Politični seminar: Anarhizem in proti-moč

16 May 2014

Sreda, 21. maj 2014, ob 17h

Filozofska fakulteta UL, predavalnica R1B (Rimska)

Predavanje Michaela Schmidta o pomenu anarhizma nekoč in danes
Vprašanje, kako anarhisti gradijo kritično maso, ki je potrebna, da padajo hierarhične buržoazne vlade, bo v središču predavanja južnoafriškega raziskovalca Michaela Schmidta. Na podlagi zgodovinskih primerov horizontalne delavske moči, ki je ljudem omogočila samoupravne sisteme v Španiji, Ukrajini in na Kitajskem, se bomo spraševali o tem, kakšen pomen je imel anarhizem nekoč, na kakšne načine je bil del množičnega delavskega gibanja, in kaj iz svojega nabora idej, strategij in taktik lahko ponudi ljudem, ki s(m)o danes vpleteni v progresivna družbena gibanja, da bi zgradili alternative onkraj parlamentarne demokracije in kapitalizma.
Politični seminar: Anarhizem in proti-moč
Michael Schmidt deluje znotraj Inštituta za anarhistično teorijo in zgodovino iz Brazilije, sicer pa je dolgoletni raziskovalni novinar v Južni Afriki ter aktivist v različnih anarhističnih in delavskih gibanjih. Skupaj z Lucienom van der Waltom je objavil razvpito knjigo Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, ki na novo preizprašuje temeljne ideje in politike anarhizma. Lani je pri založbi AK Press izšla njegova najnovejša knjiga Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism, v kateri popisuje zgodovino in pomen anarhizma v množičnih družbenih gibanjih od njegovega rojstva v delavskem gibanju 19. stoletja do proti-kapitalističnih uporov v kontekstu sedanje krize.
Politični seminar, v soorganizaciji Študentskega društva Iskra in Anarhistične pobude Ljubljana, bo potekal v angleškem jeziku.
Več o predavatelju in njegovih delih:

Lost Conversations: Questioning the legacy of anarchosyndicalism

voz de mujerThere is more interest than ever in anarchosyndicalist unions, their history, and lessons for doing organizing in today’s context. During its peak, anarchosyndicalism engaged millions of workers on every continent except Antarctica. Though the Spanish experience through the CNT and 1936 revolution stands out, anarchosyndicalism was perhaps stronger in Latin America and Asia than in Europe. Despite the depth of those experiments and today’s interests, our knowledge of anarchosyndicalism is still poor.

Anarchosyndicalism is usually characterized by about being about principles and form of the anarchosyndicalist union. Emphasis is frequently placed on democracy, solidarity, and other values. Formal aspects of the union like direct democracy, autonomous locals, federations, the use of direct action, etc., are seen to carry inherent power to guarantee the desired future society. The problem partially lies with the anarchosyndicalists we find readily available in English. For instance Rudolph Rocker, the German anarchosyndicalist who in many way popularized the term, writes:
“For the Anarcho-Syndicalists the labour syndicates are the most fruitful germs of a future society, the elementary school of Socialism in general. Every new social structure creates organs for itself in the body of the old organism; without this prerequisite every social evolution is unthinkable. To them Socialist education does not mean participation in the power policy of the national state, but the effort to make clear to the workers the intrinsic connections among social problems by technical instruction and the development of their administrative capacities, to prepare them for their role of re-shapers of economic life and give them the moral assurance required for the performance of their task. No social body is better fitted for this purpose than the economic fighting organisation of the workers; it gives a definite direction to their social activities and toughens their resistance in the immediate struggle for the necessities of life and the defense of their human rights.”1

If you read Rudolph Rocker’s classic text on the issue Anarcho-syndicalism, he largely focuses on those issues and encourages thinking about it that way.2 Anarcho-syndicalism’s friendly opponents likewise frame the debate around that conception, for example: Malatesta’s critique of syndicalism3 and with him anarchist’s right wing who propose to only work within the largest established institutions, and the anti-union sections of the Marxist ultraleft. Is ideology relevant or not? Is only focusing on form enough? How much form makes it syndicalist or not? Today’s anarchosyndicalists often encourage this reading. Many anarchosyndicalist publications frequently put their agitation in terms of setting up certain structures or promoting libertarian ideas.
One of the main problems in evaluating this is that the history of anarchosyndicalism is nearly lost. With the experiences of the CNT in the Spanish Revolution of 1936 being for most purposes the height of anarchism, still very little has been translated or even studied.4 Even just looking at Spain, key texts from the Spanish experience have never made it into English. Consider that we have none of the works of the Libertarian Youth Federation (FIJL), who took similar positions to the Friends of Durruti, none of the original texts of the Mujeres Libres, none of the publications or discussions of the Friends of Durruti, or even the largest and best histories of the revolt. Worse still are other experiences. In South America anarchism was dominant in the labor movement for key periods, yet we have essentially none of the original texts or even histories translated. Taking the Argentinian FORA, even in Spanish most of the texts are out of print with few studies in the original language. The texts of Lopez Arango, Santillan, Gilimon, and other key theorists of the FORA are not in present print in Spanish and to our knowledge were never translated despite having been at the center of one of the largest and most significant anarchist milieus in the world. In many cases, even in Spanish original texts are out of print, and there is no online archive comparable to what is available in English through resources like Still less is known of or translated of other historically important anarchosyndicalist movements such as the Italian USI during the Red Years, the Korean and Japanese anarcho-syndicalists, the South African syndicalists, or even within the United States the foreign language sections of the IWW (of which many were ideologically anarchist).
Beyond the issues of language who the anarchosyndicalists were created problems for passing on their history. Most anarchosyndicalists where not wealthy or formally educated, coming from the global proletariat to a degree dissimilar to many other movements of their era. Like other parts of the broader ultraleft, anarchosyndicalist movements lacked institutional support (either by Moscow or academia) to reproduce their works, relying instead on the donations and voluntary labor of anarchist workers. It’s treasures often lie still hidden in part by the proletarian nature of the movement, lack of professional theorists to catalogue and popularize its perspectives, and a dearth of resources to publish and distribute their works. With these factors in mind, when we take a textual and historical approach to anarchosyndicalism it is often based on fragments, semi-random pieces that have made it into English, and more frequently the biases of hostile commentators from the official left who were in opposition to the syndicalist currents.
Taking a few small cases, it will become clear how this is a limited perspective. Consider that anarchosyndicalism is typically charged with having been only focused on the workplace and on men. This is largely true in that there were clear issues in the movement of unquestioned patriarchy failing to build a powerful movement of women’s workers, and a core focus on workplace struggles. Even a brief look at the history complicates the picture though. Mujeres Libres, an organization of women members of the CNT aimed at addressing patriarchy and developing its own militants, stands out as one of the most advanced feminist movements in the history of the left as a whole, and one that emerged within anarchosyndicalism as an attempt to expand upon its practices.5 Despite the interest in popular education, how little has been done to look at the practices of capacitation raised by the Mujeres Libres? Their concept of capacitation was that of increasing the abilities of women militants to intervene within struggles rather than as instruction or simply changing formal aspects of anarchosyndicalist organizations to address patriarchy. Capacitation offers an alternative view of education taken away from its elitist and intellectualist practices, and one based off key moments in struggle.
Capacitation was also raised in the writings of the FORA and debates within the Argentinian anarchist movement of the early 20th century, though I have been unable to find any in-depth discussion of it. Likewise in Argentina and Chile, a significant women’s movement emerged that produced it’s own interventions such as anarchist communist women’s publications, Resistance Societies specifically for women and women’s struggles, and fights led by women. Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil all had experiences with attempts to grapple with patriarchy and build movements both within the workplace and community led by anarchosyndicalist women.6 In Germany, the FAU-D attempted to construct women’s leagues for self-education.7 There is next to nothing in English on these struggles and the material is difficult to find in Spanish, let alone Portuguese or German. Anarchosyndicalists were grappling with the dominant patriarchy of their time, and in key instances were creative in trying to address it and build proletarian women’s organization. Little of this history is acknowledged, known even within the anarchist movement, or studied.
The same is true of struggles outside the workplace organized by anarchosyndicalist unions. The Buenos Aires Tenant’s Strike of 1907 was led by some of the women’s Resistance Societies and women leadership within the FORA. Involving perhaps tens of thousands or so tenants, it was led primarily by the FORA and represented the intervention of the organization into social life beyond the factory walls as rents were climbing excessively in Buenos Aires.8 In 1931, the CNT pushed a similar mass rent strike against unsafe and increasingly expensive housing in Barcelona.9 Today’s anarchosyndicalist organizations participate in struggles inside and outside the workplace from housing struggles to transportation and struggles around social benefits. Groups like Seattle Solidarity and the UK’s Solidarity Federation take inspiration from anarchosyndicalism in doing organizing within a broader sphere of working class life, not limited to the walls of the shop floor. Far from an aberration, the anarchosyndicalist movement did not have a position on the centrality of the workplace as cleanly as some would place on it.
Anarchosyndicalism is often charged with overemphasizing unions and inheriting defects that all unions allegedly have. The history is a bit fuzzy here as some of the groups that are called anarchosyndicalist were equivocal or even rejected the label of union. Some writers and speakers of the FORA critiqued the title anarchosyndicalism preferring to call it an anarchist communist workers organization, if a union at all.10 In Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina the anarchist workers organization were built out of Resistance Societies or locality based organization of workers.11 There were distinct organizations of trades apart from the mixed Resistance Societies. Even the French CGT arose first out of a federation of the bourses du Travail, local workers societies that combined culture, education, and mutual aid. The FORA itself went so far as to reject the industrial divisions of capitalist society altogether, and indeed ANY role for unions after the revolution.12 The clean picture of unionist workers trying to build the future cells of society becomes problematized when one goes beneath the surface.
If we think about it, it is logical. Any movement that encompasses millions will have within it a wealth of experiences and conflicting perspectives that make pinning narrow frameworks on it difficult. This history and debate within the anarchosyndicalist movement has largely been lost and ignored, reducing its breadth to caricature and a naïve workerist economism by its enemies. Though these examples themselves are limited, they offer a chance to rethink what we believe about anarchosyndicalism, these movements, and our own practices in social movements, political ideology, and the path towards liberation. The real advances and lessons of anarchosyndicalism are yet to be fully tapped. Specifically very little has been done to look at the contribution anarchosyndicalists made to understanding how workers become radicalized, the relationship between ideas and activity, and struggling against the totality of working class life. We would be better served by viewing anarchosyndicalism as a global experience without trying to reduce it to narrow formulas, structures, or merely specific moments. Our own challenge today is to find our way through the maze of a changing world. Within these struggles there continues to be echoes of the experiences of the anarchosyndicalists.
  1. Rocker, R. Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism. []
  2. Rocker, R. Anarcho-syndicalism. []
  3. Malatesta, E. (1925). Syndicalism and Anarchism. []
  4. The work of Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt in Black Flame and Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism both available from AK Press shed some much needed light on challenging a Spain and euro-centric view of anarchism. []
  5. Acklesburg, M. (2004). Free Women of Spain. AK Press. []
  6. Maxine Molyneux’s 1997 Ni Dios, Ni Patrón, Ni Maridos: Feminismo anarquista en la Argentina del Siglo XIX.; Bellucci, Mabel. (1989). Anarquismo y Feminismo. El Movimiento de Mujeres Anarquistas con sus logros y desafíos hacia principios de siglo. Buenos Aires.; Valle Ferrer, Norma. (2004). Anarquismo y feminismo. La ideología de cuatro mujeres latinoamericanas de principios del siglo XX. Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, Nº 9, junio. San Juan. []
  7. Solidarity Federation. (2012). Fighting for Ourselves: Anarchosyndicalism and class struggle.Black Cat Press. []
  8. On the Tenant’s Strike in Buenos Aires see Juan Suriano’s 1983 La huelga de inquilinos de 1907. CEAL. []
  9. Worker’s Solidarity Alliance. The Barcelona Mass Rent Strike of 1931. []
  10. Lopez Arango, E. (1925). Syndicalism and Anarchism. []
  11. De Laforcade, Geoffroy. (2011). Federative Future: Resistance Societies, and the Subversion of Nationalism in the Early 20th-Century Anarchism of the Río de la Plata Region. E.I.A.L Vol. 22 (2). []
  12. Federación Obrera Regional Argentina. (1923). Memoria presentada por la F.O.R.A al Congreso de Berlin de la Asociación Internacional del Trabajadores A.I.T.; Damier, Vadim. (2011). Anarcho-syndicalism in the 20th Century. Chapter 8.’s-1930’s []

Cartographie de l’anarchisme révolutionnaire

«L’histoire n’est pas neutre. À l’école, on nous fait croire que nous avons besoin de patrons et de gouvernements. On nous raconte que l’histoire est le récit de luttes entre gouvernements, entre armées, entres élites. On nous dit que ce ne sont que les riches et les puissantes qui font l’histoire, mais ce qu’on ne nous dit pas, c’est qu’il y a toujours eu des gens ordinaires pour lutter contre les patrons et les dirigeants, et que cette lutte des classes est le véritable moteur de la civilisation et du progrès.»
- Michael Schmidt
Avec Cartographie de l’anarchisme révolutionnaire, publié chez LUX en mai dernier, Michael Schmidt participe à réhabiliter l’impact historique des mouvements anarchistes. L’intérêt de cette précieuse - et trop courte - publication est triple.
Des mouvements de masse au niveau international
Elle sort tout d’abord l’histoire anarchiste des ornières dans lesquelles plusieurs - dont quelques anarchistes! - l’enfoncent : celles d’un mouvement surtout européen qui aurait eu pour principal déploiement l’épisode espagnol de 1936-1939. Michael Schmidt déconstruit avec brio ce mythe commode en survolant en cinq vagues (voir plus bas) la riche histoire des mouvements anarchistes à l’échelle internationale.
Des syndicats anarchistes rassemblant des dizaines - parfois des centaines - de milliers de personnes ont ainsi été les principaux moteurs de changement social dans plusieurs régions du monde : en Argentine, en Uruguay, à Cuba, en Afrique du Sud et aux Philippines. Leur présence s’est également fait sentir au Maghreb, en Afrique du Sud et en Asie du Sud-Est. De 1868 à 2012, Schmidt fait la récension non exhaustive - disponible en glossaire - de près de 200 organisations anarchistes révolutionnaires dans une centaine de pays et de régions. L’âge d’or de l’anarchisme est située entre les années 1880 et 1920, bien que certaines régions - notamment l’Asie - aient connu leur plus importante activité dans les années 1920 et 1930.
L’anarchisme était ainsi bien davantage qu’une affaire de barbus révolutionnaires européens, mais un ensemble d’outils et de pratiques vivantes mises de l’avant par des gens «ordinaires». Et ces personnes, lorsque confrontées aux répressions et défis de leur époque, ont offert des réponses variées et contextualisées que Schmidt prend le temps d’examiner. Chaque fin de chapitre se conclue ainsi par des réponses s’articulant grosso modo autour de la même «question complexe qui gît au coeur de toute révolution sociale et qui a donné tant de fil à retordre à tous les révolutionnaires de gauche : celle de la relation entre une organisation révolutionnaire et l’ensemble des exploité-e-s et des opprimé-e-s».
Des principes : une définition limpide et cohérente de l’anarchisme
Un second intérêt de l’ouvrage est qu’il offre une définition plus exigeante - et selon moi plus cohérente - de l’anarchisme. Dans les premières pages de son ouvrage, Schmidt dégage ce qu’il nomme la «grande tradition anarchiste» à travers de grands principes. Il écarte à cette étape quelques penseurs qui ont eu une influence sur les mouvements anarchistes, mais dont certaines dimensions de la pensée les excluent de la famille anarchiste. Pour différents motifs, Proudhon, Marx, Stirner et Tolstoi font ainsi partie du lot!
Des stratégies : le syndicalisme comme moyen privilégié des anarchistes
Au sein de cette famille anarchiste qu’il a balisée, Schmidt distingue deux approches stratégiques : l’anarchisme insurrectionnel et l’anarchisme de masse. Si le premier postule que les réformes sont illusoires et met l’emphase sur les actions armées, le second considère que les mouvements sociaux et syndicaux peuvent créer un changement révolutionnaire, et met l’emphase sur des gains au quotidien. Chacune des approches stratégiques a ses forces et ses limites, mais Schmidt privilégie de couvrir la seconde. Il souligne alors que le syndicalisme révolutionnaire - non pas celui des grandes centrales complaisantes du Québec - a constituté le principal moteur de l’anarchisme.
Il aurait été bien sûr intéressant d’avoir une histoire de l’anarchisme un peu plus généreuse. Cartographie de l’anarchisme révolutionnaire est d’ailleurs, à bien des égards, un succédané de Black Flame : The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, un ouvrage plus complet paru en 2009. Mais en attendant d’avoir une traduction complète de cet ouvrage, il faut saluer cette parution en français!

Ensemble de repères historiques indiquant les hauts et les bas du mouvement anarchiste.
1ère vague (1868-1894) : L’essor du grand mouvement anarchiste à l’ère de l’expansion étatique capitaliste.
2e vague (1895-1923) : Consolidation du syndicalisme anarchiste et révolutionnaire et des organisations spécifiques anarchistes en temps de guerre et d’assauts de la réaction.
3e vague (1923-1949) : Les révolutions anarchistes contre l’impérialisme, le fascisme et le bolchévisme.
4e vague (1950-1989) : Actions d’arrière-garde sur fond de guerre froide et de décolonisation des continents africain et asiatique.
5e vague (1990 à nos jours) : Résurgence du mouvement anarchiste à l’ère de l’effondrement du bloc soviétique et de l’hégémonie néolibérale.

«Par syndicalisme, nous entendons une stratégie syndicaliste anarchiste révolutionnaire dans laquelle les syndicats - qui appliquent la démocratie participative et ont une vision révolutionnaire du communisme libertaire - sont considérés comme étant le moyen principal et immédiat de résistance aux classes dirigeantes et comme le noyau d’un nouvel ordre social basé sur l’autogestion, la planification économique démocratique et l’universalité de la communauté humaine.»
- Michael Schmidt
Cartographie de l'anarchisme révolutionnaire
Michael Schmidt, Cartographie de l'anarchisme révolutionnaire, Lux, coll. « Instinct de liberté », 2012, 196 p., ISBN : 978-2-89596-136-9.
Michael Schmidt, journaliste sud-africain et militant anarchiste, remet en cause l’historiographie traditionnelle anarchiste. Trop souvent, à son goût, les anarchistes se contentent de faire référence à cinq moments forts de la mémoire collective anarchiste : les martyrs anarchistes de Haymarket exécutés en 1887 aux États-Unis, la Charte d’Amiens de la CGT en 1906, texte fondateur du syndicalisme révolutionnaire, la révolte des marins de Cronstadt en 1921 contre la dictature des bolcheviks, la révolution espagnole de 1936-1939 et enfin mai 68 en France. L’auteur critique cette martyrologie du mouvement anarchiste qui laisse de côté certaines participations beaucoup plus actives des anarchistes : à la révolution mexicaine de Basse-Californie en 1910-1920, à la révolution de Mandchourie en 1929-1931, à l’implantation des syndicats clandestins à Cuba entre 1952 et 1959… Il critique cet ethnocentrisme fixé sur l’Atlantique Nord, qui oublie les mouvements d’Europe de l’Est, d’Amérique du Sud, du Japon, de la Chine, de la Corée ou encore du Vietnam. Michael Schmidt propose un récit plus large de l’histoire du mouvement anarchiste.
  • 1 Irène Pereira, L'anarchisme dans les textes. Anthologie libertaire, Textuel, coll. « Petite encycl (...)
  • 2 AK Press, Oakland, 2009.
  • 3 « L’anarchisme classiste, parfois appelé révolutionnaire ou anarchisme communiste, n’est pas un si (...)
2Le livre de l’auteur se réfère à la « grammaire communiste libertaire »1, à l’anarchisme classiste, celui qui fait de la reconnaissance de la lutte des classes et de l’existence des classes sociales, et non de l’humanité ou des individus, la base de l’action anarchiste. Dans leur livre, « Black Flame : The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (Counter-Power vol. 1) »2, Lucien van der Walt et Michael Schmidt affirment d’ailleurs que : « the class struggle anarchism, sometimes called revolutionary or communist anarchism, is not a type of anarchism… it is the only anarchism ».3On comprend dès lors, pourquoi l’auteur fait démarrer l’origine de l’anarchisme à la Première Internationale en 1864, et plus particulièrement à la scission de 1868 entre la majorité anarchiste et la minorité marxiste.
3Michael Schmidt distingue cinq vagues de militantisme anarchiste ‑ distinction qui s’apparente plus à des repères historiques qu’à une véritable loi immuable historique. Il différencie par ailleurs deux approches de la stratégie de la grande tradition anarchiste : l’anarchisme de masse d’une part, qui considère que seuls les mouvements de masse peuvent provoquer des changements révolutionnaires dans la société et qui donne un rôle prépondérant aux organisations comme les syndicats révolutionnaires ; l’anarchisme insurrectionnel d’autre part, qui s’appuie sur la lutte armée, voire le terrorisme.
4La première vague, relevée par l’auteur, débute en 1868 avec la Fraternité internationale, créée par Mikhaïl Bakounine, à la suite de la publication de son Programme (abolition de l’État-Nation, des forces armées, des tribunaux, du clergé et de la propriété privée). L’anarchisme de masse se constitue notamment au sein de fédérations en Espagne, au Mexique, en Uruguay, à Cuba et aux États-Unis, puis plus tardivement en Allemagne. Cette première vague est une réponse aux insuffisances du marxisme et aux dangers du terrorisme populiste des narodnik. Cette vague se termine en 1894, suite à la dissolution de l’Internationale noire en 1893, et au développement de l’anarchisme insurrectionnel.
5La deuxième vague, 1895-1923, est une période durant laquelle, selon M. Schmidt, il y a une consolidation du syndicalisme anarchiste et révolutionnaire. Deux événements participent à cette expansion au début du XXe siècle : d’une part les guérillas anarchistes et la constitution de communes en Macédoine en 1903 et d’autre part l’apparition des premiers soviets, d’inspiration anarchiste, à Moscou et à Saint-Pétersbourg en 1905-1907. On peut aussi signaler la création de la Croix noire anarchiste au cours de cette période. Dans le prolongement de ces événements, des syndicats révolutionnaires sont créés aux États-Unis (IWW) puis en Australie, au Canada, en Grande-Bretagne, en Afrique du Sud… Par ailleurs, à l’issue de la révolte russe, de nombreux anarchistes (comme Pierre Kropotkine) vont s’exiler à Londres et diffuser la nécessité d’une action collective, par opposition aux anarchistes individualistes. De fait, les fédérations anarchistes vont travailler de concert avec les syndicats anarchistes révolutionnaires dans de nombreux pays d’Amérique latine, en Espagne, au Portugal… Et en 1922, une nouvelle Internationale des travailleurs est créée à Berlin. Pendant cette vague, on assiste également à l’éclosion de différents mouvements révolutionnaires : de 1910 à 1920, il y a une révolution d’influence anarchiste au Mexique, qui s’éteindra en raison de la fragmentation des groupes révolutionnaires ; en 1919, l’Armée insurrectionnelle révolutionnaire d’Ukraine, liée aux groupes anarcho-communistes, libère un territoire de 7 millions d’habitants. En Russie également des mouvements anarchistes se développent (en Sibérie, à Cronstadt…). Mais dans les deux cas, ces mouvements seront étouffés par les bolcheviks. Si on ajoute l’échec de la révolution de 1918-1923 en Allemagne, se termine une période qui verra monter les nationalismes et également le découragement de nombreux anarchistes.
6La troisième vague, 1923-1949, se fait dans un contexte de mise en place des deux totalitarismes que sont le fascisme et le bolchevisme. Durant cette période, il y a un reflux des mouvements anarchistes, expliqué notamment par la domination soviétique, mais aussi par le développement de la social-démocratie et des premiers éléments de l’État-Providence. Il y a, malgré tout, de nouveaux mouvements anarchistes avec la création en 1928 de la Fédération anarchiste orientale, regroupant le Japon, la Chine, la Corée, le Vietnam, l’Inde, et au cours de la même année de l’Association continentale américaine de travailleurs en Amérique latine. Il y a une révolution en Mandchourie entre 1929 et 1931, dans la préfecture de Shinmin, qui créée une structure administrative régionale socialiste libertaire. Cette révolution mandchoue sera écrasée par l’invasion japonaise de 1931. En Europe, c’est en Espagne que naît et se développe une révolution, à la suite du putsch de l’armée coloniale, entre 1936 et 1939. Des communes libres apparaîtront en Catalogne, Aragon, à Valence. Les différentes fédérations anarchistes et la Confédération nationale du travail vont s’allier, sans toutefois permettre une cohésion efficace. À la suite des différents échecs révolutionnaires, le mouvement anarchiste va perdurer au sein de la résistance aux totalitarismes. Par ailleurs des fédérations vont apparaître en Afrique. En 1948, des Commissions internationales anarchistes sont créées afin de faciliter les relations entre les différents mouvements dans le monde, et se réunissent conjointement en 1949 à Paris.
7La quatrième vague, 1950-1989, se caractérise par l’affaiblissement du mouvement anarchiste. Ce déclin temporaire se fait dans un contexte de guerre froide, d’apparition de dictatures en Amérique latine, du bolchevisme en Extrême-Orient, du totalitarisme en Chine, en Corée. Toutefois, l’anarchisme reste présent dans le syndicalisme, notamment lors des grèves de 1956 au Chili et en Argentine, dans la création de nouvelles fédérations comme en Uruguay ou bien dans des mouvements de guérilla en Chine et en Espagne. C’est surtout à partir de 1968 que l’anarchisme va connaître un renouveau avec les mouvements sociaux qui secouent de nombreux pays : France, États-Unis, Sénégal, Allemagne, Japon, Mexique… En Amérique latine, les anarchistes s’opposent aux dictatures, au Chili, puis en Argentine, mais sont écrasés par la répression. Au Moyen-Orient de nouveaux mouvements apparaissent, en Irak, en Iran. Certains mouvements dans l’hémisphère nord s’orientent vers une lutte plus violente : sabotages en Grande-Bretagne, premiers membres d’Action directe en France, mouvement du 2 juin en Allemagne, groupes révolutionnaires au Pays Basque… mais qui, pour la plupart, se perdront dans un terrorisme déconnecté des thèses anarchistes. Par ailleurs, on assiste à une prolifération d’organisations anarchistes à travers le monde, notamment dans les pays de l’Est et en Russie.
8La cinquième vague commence en 1990 et se poursuit aujourd’hui. Elle est portée par l’effondrement du bloc soviétique, de la Yougoslavie. Les mouvements anarchistes souterrains peuvent donc se constituer en fédérations. La fédération la plus importante dans le monde aujourd’hui étant Action autonome qui possède des sections dans de nombreuses villes de Russie, d’Arménie, au Bélarus, en Ukraine… Des mouvements se développent à nouveau depuis les années 2000 à Cuba, en Amérique du Sud, en Afrique, aux États-Unis, au Canada. Par ailleurs, l’anarcho-syndicalisme reste présent, ainsi la CGT espagnole compte 60 000 adhérents.
9Autre intérêt du livre, Michael Schmidt met en relation chaque vague à l’évolution de la théorie et de la stratégie anarchistes. Ainsi, dans la première vague, c’est le programme de Bakounine qui domine, avec le rejet de toute solution étatiste, le rôle d’intermédiaire de l’organisation révolutionnaire anarchiste. Dans la seconde vague, les exilés russes à Paris (dont Makhno) publient La Plate-Forme, qui préconise une discipline interne stricte et une unité théorique et tactique au sein des différentes organisations anarchistes et le projet d’une société révolutionnaire fondée sur les soviets. Les anarchistes traditionnels s’opposeront à cette orientation en accusant les plate-formistes de bolcheviser l’anarchisme, et proposeront la synthèse anarchiste, avec une idéologie plus souple, d’où le nom de synthétistes. Lors de la troisième vague, en Espagne, les durrutistes publient un document stratégique prônant la création d’une junte (un soviet) révolutionnaire, et sont également accusés d’autoritarisme. Dans la plupart des pays, la plate-forme reste dominante. Lors de la quatrième vague se développe le fontenisme (de Georges Fontenis, militant français) à la suite de la publication du Manifeste du communisme libertaire. Ce manifeste s’oppose aussi bien à l’extrémisme individualiste qu’au bolchevisme, et prône la constitution d’une avant-garde implantée au sein des syndicats et autres organisations de masse. Enfin, lors de la cinquième vague, les plate-formistes s’imposent dans un mouvement anarchiste en pleine croissance, et notamment en Amérique du Sud où la Plate-Forme est connue sous le nom d’especifismo.
10Le livre de Michael Schmidt est un ouvrage militant, écrit par un militant anarchiste. La conclusion est de ce point de vue explicite et appelle à la lutte quotidienne. Il ne s’agit donc pas d’une présentation historique objective des mouvements anarchistes. Mais ce n’était pas le propos revendiqué de l’auteur. On y trouvera toutefois des informations intéressantes sur des mouvements et des organisations oubliées, ou en tout cas, trop peu étudiées par les historiens ou les anarchistes eux-mêmes.


1 Irène Pereira, L'anarchisme dans les textes. Anthologie libertaire, Textuel, coll. « Petite encyclopédie critique », 2011.
2 AK Press, Oakland, 2009.
3 « L’anarchisme classiste, parfois appelé révolutionnaire ou anarchisme communiste, n’est pas un simple type d’anarchisme… c’est le seul anarchisme. »

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Jacques Ghiloni, « Michael Schmidt, Cartographie de l'anarchisme révolutionnaire », Lectures [En ligne], Les comptes rendus