Cleansed of your bases and your trivial TV, we’ll be everything we used to be: a reply on anti-imperialism

Patrick Higgins, whose work I’ve examined before as a case study of a particularly distorted US-centric perspective, is now running a new series of articles intended at least in part as a response to my criticisms*. Since they are at least in part addressed to me, it seems only fair to read them and provide some kind of reply.

In his introduction, he sets out his claim as being to argue against “a deeply liberal approach… that atomizes history [by] shear[ing] the events in Syria away from a wider Arab context.” This seems odd to me, because it appears that the effect of his work is precisely to atomize history by shearing some events in Syria away from the most basic context – the military conflict away from all the social struggles and repression leading up to the militarisation of the revolt, and the US intervention away from all the other foreign military powers intervening in the country, for instance. If you’re looking to add context, I would suggest that the actions of the Syrian state, and those states allied with it, might be one useful element to add.

He characterises my argument as “a question that should frankly be considered preposterous: why isn’t this article about Russia, Turkey or Iran, all of which are nation-states with military roles in Syria?” It’s worth clarifying this point: an article that read events in Syria solely through the lens of Russian, Turkish, or Iranian actions would indeed be as one-sided as one that took the US as its starting point (although I think one that started with an examination of the Syrian state might have some use, especially for addressing those events prior to the militarisation and internationalisation of the conflict). What’s needed is not to pluck one particular element out and examine it in isolation, but an understanding of the general situation, and how the various actors relate to each other. You know, context.

He adds that “such a question coming from US organizers indicates extreme cognitive dissonance, or at the very least an awesome inability to study US society holistically.” I’m not sure whether this means that I’ve suddenly gained US citizenship, but if I am indeed one of the “US organizers” being referred to, it’s pretty impressive that, when criticised for having a narcissistic perspective that views the world as essentially starting and ending with the US, he responds by assuming that his critics must be from the US, and disregards the possibility that we might be from anywhere else. That in itself feels pretty telling.

Anyway, leaving aside my sudden transformation into a yank, the complaint of “an awesome inability to study US society holistically” is another of the key points at issue here. I’m happy with people studying US society holistically, that sounds like a good and noble aim; my concern is that the same level of care and thought should be put into studying other societies holistically. Syria, for instance.

Trying to flesh out his sketchy theory that anti-war communists and internationalists are basically on the same side as the US ruling class, he offers up the example of an event “named “Speak Up for Syria’s Civilians” [which] assembled at the White House to demand “international leadership to protect Syria’s civilians, followed by a march to the Russian Ambassador’s House, holding to account the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The language may be cagey, but it reads like a possible call for war with Russia.”

There’s a lot to respond to here, but one of the key points to note is that “reads like a possible” is not really a firm ground to rely on when categorising anything. I’m sure that there must have been plenty of marches which demanded international leadership to protect Palestine’s civilians and then marched on the Israeli embassy (if I recall correctly, there was a pretty memorable one in the UK in early 2009) – would these marches be automatically characterised as “reading like a possible call for war” with Israel?

Before being able to respond to this march in any meaningful sense, it’d be useful to know more about the organisers, and what their political background is. If they have strong links to the establishment, or have openly taken pro-war stances, then that should be discussed openly; but if there’s no proof of that, then we equally shouldn’t proceed as if that point was already established.

More generally, it’s worth asking: has Higgins any experience of engaging with movements that gather to protest horrific conditions (assuming he accepts that the slaughter in Eastern Ghouta is indeed a bad thing, a point where the cat appears to have got his tongue), but where a significant portion of the movement’s leadership are invested in putting forward solutions that are nationalist, or reformist, or otherwise undesirable? February 9th  is far from the first time a demonstration has assembled in response to a real problem, but where politically dubious slogans and demands have been raised; for communists to abandon all such movements at the first sight of a demand that can potentially be read in a negative light is to cede the field to our opponents in advance.

He continues by warning that “Any US leftist who shares priorities with the two wings of capital is only helping to manufacture total consent for white supremacy”. As previously mentioned, I’m certainly not a chuffing US leftist, so I’m unsure what this has to do with my argument; but more to the point, I don’t think he’s established with any clarity what these supposed shared priorities actually consist of. A single demonstration, whose organisers are left un-named, with no information about who attended it, which raised slogans that could potentially be interpreted as pro-war, is not really proof of very much at all.

Saying “you share an opinion with this person” is a cheap trick, which can be used against pretty much anyone, and doesn’t actually mean anything: “you think that ISIS is not a progressive force? You’re pretty much the same as Donald Trump, then! Oh, you also think Trump is reprehensible? That’s exactly what Clinton would say!” and so on.

This kind of sophistry is one thing, establishing actual political collaboration is quite another. It’s justified and meaningful to speak of, say, the trans-exclusionary radical feminists involved in the Hands Across the Aisle coalition as working with the religious right, because they’re in an actual coalition with Christian conservatives; similarly, it’s fair to say that prominent anti-imperialist Brian Becker doesn’t just “share priorities” with the far-right, he actively hosts them on his show on repeated occasions. This kind of political collaboration actually means something; if there’s any actual evidence to show people collaborating with elements of the ruling class, or working to an agenda directly set by them, then it should be publicly documented, but in the absence of that kind of connection, talk of “shared priorities” is just empty, “Hitler-was-a-vegetarian”-style smearing.

Responding to my use of the phrase “imperial purity”, a concept named after Asad Haider’s discussion of “white purity”, Higgins objects to my suggestion “that anti-imperialists, in their narcissistic self-absorption, make “everything” about the US” and adds “I must ask, do these people know anti-imperialists outside of the US? There are quite a few, and their hatred for US imperialism could often be described as pure.”

Again, it’s still very funny to me that this weird yankee narcissism thing seemingly makes it impossible for those afflicted by it to even imagine that they might be reading words written by someone who lives closer to Rotherham or Hunters’ Bar than New York City or San Francisco**. Know anti-imperialists outside the US? My dear boy, I actually am one (at least in the dictionary sense, although I tend not to use that term, contaminated as it is by association with people who tend to be selectively against some imperialisms and wildly in favour of others).

But while my miraculous acquisition of US citizenship is amusing, it’s largely beside the point: the actual issue here was addressed in my original article, via one of the quotes I chopped and screwed from Haider: “not every [person from a colonized country] is on board with [imperial] purity. Many are, to be sure, because the secret reality which [imperial] purity hopes to obscure is that [people from colonized countries] are just as capable of a diversity of opinions and perspectives as [Americans] are.” As someone who understands and takes seriously the fact that people from colonized countries are in fact fully human, and just as capable of having a wide range of weird and wonderful opinions as Americans are, it doesn’t actually undermine my position at all to acknowledge that there are Syrians, such as the anti-imperialist fascists of the Syrian Social National Party, whose politics are far closer to Higgins’ than to mine.

He then proceeds to get indignant about my characterisation of him as “[adopting]…the viewpoint of capital and the state”, and illustrates this by… discussing the recent protests in Iran solely through the lens of how US politicians talked about them, as if Iranian workers only exist through the gaze of the US state. I think the limitations of this kind of worldview, an approach so totally uninterested in working-class activity and organisation, so single-mindedly dedicated to just inverting whatever the Big Bad Mum and Dad in the US ruling class have to say, are pretty self-evident.

Of course, capital will always try to integrate even the most radical acts and divert them to maintain the system one way or another; but to immediately declare movements to be off limits as soon as a ruling-class actor declares an interest in trying to recuperate them is to doom yourself to never being able to connect with anything at all. Consider what this approach, where you can’t show solidarity with Syrians or Iranians if US politicians also acknowledge them, would mean for movements inside the US itself: after all, blood-soaked warmonger Hillary Clinton has officially said that Black Lives Matter, so I suppose the only true anti-state, anti-establishment response is to now be neutral on the issue of police killings, or possibly to even side with the cops. Similarly, John McCain, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have all spoken out against white supremacists and endorsed counter-protesters, so I guess that means anti-fascism’s now off limits too. Wouldn’t want to share priorities with capital, now would we?

He then sets out an argument for “why a US antiwar movement is necessary”, which is somewhat beside the point – no-one is arguing against a US anti-war movement, or at least I’m certainly not. The question at issue here is what the political basis for such a movement should be: consistent, principled opposition to all militarism and imperialism, accompanied by a concerted effort to forge links with workers and revolutionaries in other countries, which necessarily means supporting them against “their own” respective ruling classes, or the kind of solipsistic, “what if a city on a hill but bad” American exceptionalism where politics is just a question of checking what the State Department has to say and then saying the opposite.

In the words of that investigation into the red-brown pro-Assad conspiracy theory swamp: “As radical leftist anti-fascists, anti-racists, anti-colonialists, and anti-capitalists struggling for liberation, we can fight against imperialism, against racism, and against fascism at the same time, and we can oppose the American war machine and oppose colonialism without siding with reactionary and oppressive entities. We can support liberation in Palestine, Bahrain, India, Venezuela and everywhere else where people are struggling against oppression without allying to fascists and/or liberals or allowing them to try co-opting our movements. We need to act on legitimately internationalist principles and oppose fascism, state power, capital and liberalism.”

Higgins waxes nostalgic about good old-fashioned internationalism, and how, back in the day, to be an internationalist “held a much different meaning than it seems to now”, and even, remarkably enough, how ““Making connections” was the phrase of the day.”

We can agree that it’s a good thing to “take the actions necessary to inhibit the offensive capabilities of the US military” – there’s a reason why I mentioned the Plowshares people in my original article, and that’s because I think that they’re a good example that should be emulated as widely as possible, as with the UK protesters who attempted to dismantle warplanes bound for Yemen – but I would still be interested to understand more about what it is that Higgins’ understanding of internationalism actually means. Does it, for instance, include trying to make connections with workers overseas and support their struggles? Because I genuinely can’t see how an internationalist perspective that sees, for instance, Iranian workers as being among our brothers and sisters in the global working class can possibly be reconciled with Higgins’ “a US politician said a nice thing about Iranian protesters, that means we can never talk of them again” shtick.

Moving on, Higgins considers the case of Christopher Hitchens, and advises that “We ought not dismiss what Hitchens, loathsome as he very well was, still has to teach us about the place in which we find ourselves simply because he discredited himself with too blatant an imperialist turn in supporting the invasion of Iraq.” Perhaps this is a minor quibble, but I think that it’s at least worth considering the possibility that the fact of Christopher Hitchens having died in 2011 might place some limitations on his relevance to a discussion of the current situation in Syria. Maybe this is just my liberal, atomized worldview speaking here, but I would have thought that, if we’re examining people who argue against anti-American/pro-Assad readings of the contemporary situation, it might be better to concentrate on people who’ve said something in the last seven years, rather than on someone who has said literally nothing about anything since 2011.

I understand that Hitchens is here meant to stand in for everyone on “the left” who doesn’t go along with the imperial purity worldview, but it seems to me that if Higgins wants to discredit my arguments, he would do better to engage with what I’ve actually said, rather than trying to squash me into the mould of someone whose opinions I disagreed with in life, and who doesn’t seem to have grown noticeably closer to my politics since his death. Similarly, it’s fine to argue against Gilbert Achcar, or Juan Cole, but you have to argue against those people based on their views, or at least do a convincing job of demonstrating the substantial similarities between their positions and Hitchens if you want a critique of him to stand in for them.

But if Higgins wants to talk Hitchens, then sure, let’s talk Hitchens. Noticeably missing from Higgins’ Hitchens is any consideration of his social role and class position. I’m less interested in the Marx of Christopher Hitchens than the Christopher Hitchens of Marx – examining the material basis to which Hitchens’ social consciousness corresponded.

I think the reasons Hitchens ended up on the particular trajectory he did were fairly complex, so I’m sceptical of any attempt to draw out a general type based on this one figure, but if we are interested in trying to identify a category of “Hitchens types”, then one key factor has to be the actual job the man did. He was a writer by trade, a professional opinion-haver, and just as people working in customer service inevitably have a distorted and alienated relationship to the people they serve, who appear as part of the conditions of their job, so too do professional ideas-mongers end up with an alienated relationship to their own ideas, which become part of the raw material which they have to turn into commodities.

In particular, it’s worth considering how the marketplace of attention works – “self-professed Marxist makes ridiculously un-Marxist claim that you would never expect a Marxist to make” is always going to be a much hotter take than “Marxist says some Marxist stuff, precisely the sort of thing you would expect a Marxist to say”. This is important because it means that becoming a cray cray ultra-contrarian is, in effect, an occupational hazard of the kind of job that Hitchens worked in, which seems not irrelevant if we’re attempting to understand how Hitchens managed to end up with a pro-World Trade Organisation version of Marx.

In turn, factoring in this kind of materialist dimension into our understanding of Hitchens has serious consequences for Higgins’ attempt to squash other people – like me, for instance – into his shoes. As an anonymous anarchist worker, who isn’t attempting to make any kind of career out of this thing, someone who does my writing in the free time I can snatch away from the pressures of waged work, housework, social/family commitments, self-care, IRL activity, and all the rest of it, someone who is very careful to keep the name the state and my employers know me by from getting attached to my ideas, because I’m very aware of the fact that I need to sell my labour in order to survive and the majority of bosses don’t look particularly favourably on this stuff, someone who has no desire to become a professional anti-imperialist by trade or any such absurdity, I’m simply not subject to the kind of market pressures that financially reward contrarianism in some cases.

This is what makes the attempt to link a critique of Hitchens and a response to my own positions so risible. I’m not just being conflated with someone who I disagreed with politically, and who, if we leave the question of an immortal soul aside, appears to have no opinions at all about anything that’s happened since his death in 2011, but with someone who played a social role, and had a material relationship to ideology, completely different to my own, and a social role which I have absolutely no aspirations to.

And just to make things even more bizarre, this attempted conflation comes from an aspiring academic, someone who, as far as I can tell, does appear to write under his own name, which leads me to suspect that he does aspire to the career of professional ideas-monger, and so to a position where he himself would be subjected to the kinds of commercial/ideological pressures that helped to shape Hitchens’ consciousness.

So much for that. Next up: “false regionalisms”.

*as a side note, really not a substantial point or anything, but I just find it really funny that his blog is called Robespierre Monument – leaving aside the inherent Great Men approach implied there, I don’t know what the relatable US equivalent to Lidl or Aldi would be, but I really enjoy that he’s managed to pick a name that simultaneously sounds like a supermarket own-brand knock-off version of Jacobin and of the Lenin’s Tomb blog, at the same time. Anyway.

** it was either this or reference that one Streets line, and I thought that might sound sexist out of context. I suppose both references make it equally clear that I’m ten years out of date, though.

Posted in Bit more thinky, Debate, Internationalism, Stuff that I don't think is very useful, The left | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Early March round-up of repression and social struggles

A quick round-up of legal/repression related news, and other notes of interest:

There’s a few political court cases going on at the moment. In Glasgow, on Thursday March 8th, an IWW member will be up in court after having been arrested while trying to defend a teenage marcher from police harassment at last summer’s Glasgow Pride event. Down in Chelmsford, on Monday 12th, 15 people who blocked a deportation flight are now facing terrorism charges that could carry heavy sentences if convicted. The trial is expected to run 4-6 weeks, and there’s a rota being set up to try and ensure that enough supporters get down to have a consistent presence in the court throughout their trial. You can keep up with End Deportations on fb, twitter or their blog for more on that case as it continues.

There are also two alleged YPG volunteers currently facing prosecution. James Matthews definitely seems to have a fairly organised support group, with a presence organised for his court date on March 1st, and a petition asking for his charges to be dropped if petitions are your thing. The Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign should have more information on that one as it continues. I don’t know much about the case of Aidan James, but Liverpool Solidarity with Kurdistan or Merseyside Anti-Fascist Network might have updates.

As well as these ongoing cases, there’s also a number of more historic trials and court battles that have a lot of relevance to the present day. Over in Rotherham, where twelve local men were dragged through the courts in 2016 for defending the town from a far-right group, ten of the defendants plead not guilty and beat the charges in court, but two of them initially entered guilty pleas and only changed them after the court victory of their co-defendants, leading to a lengthy legal stand-off. The charges against those two have now been dropped, and Vakas Hussain from the defence campaign has published a history of the whole case.

I have no idea how slander/libel law works around these things, and lawyers are probably quite good at protecting their reputations, but there is a part of me that would like to see the people who initially gave legal advice to those two defendants publically named and shamed, because if they’d just gone not guilty like the other ten then they would have been acquitted back in 2016 and not had to carry on putting their lives on hold until now, and if you advise your clients to plead guilty on charges so flimsy that they eventually get thrown out of court, then you probably shouldn’t have any clients.

Meanwhile the spycops inquiry drags on, with “Bob Stubbs” and “Christine Green” being named as infiltrators into 1970s trotskyism and 1990s animal rights campaigns respectively, while the process as a whole has been described as like “banging your head against a brick wall” due to the inquiry’s chair’s determination to protect the police at all costs. In related news, a Humberside police misconduct hearing has found that the police operation that spied on Janet Alder after her brother was killed in police custody was unlawful, but that there is “no case to answer” for any of the officers involved. The annual Christopher Alder remembrance march will go through Hull on March 31st, and if anyone’s in Peterborough there’ll be protests against former-spycop-turned-tory-councillor Andy Coles on March 7th and April 18th.

In more historical police stuff, more unreleased police files about the Battle of Orgreave have been discovered. I’ve not seen a full response to the latest news from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign yet, but staying with the miners’ strike, the Orgreave campaign have very snazzy new fundraising shirts as part of a collaboration with the band Public Service Broadcasting, and you can read one of the band’s thoughts on the subject here. Also, if you can make it along, the annual commemoration of Dave Jones and Joe Green, the two strikers killed on the picket line, will be held in Barnsley on Saturday 10th March.

Going back even further in history, the Shrewsbury 24 campaign, on behalf of the building workers who were jailed for their role in a 1972 strike, has received a legal setback and will now be launching a judicial review to continue trying to overturn the convictions, and are asking for funds as they’re not eligible for legal aid.

Looking around internationally, a new international anarchist defence fund has been launched and is asking for donations, and Peike, an anarchist from Amsterdam who was jailed for his part in last summer’s G20 protests in Hamburg, has launched an appeal against his conviction, which looks likely to drag on throughout March and April. The Hamburg G20 prosecutions continue, and while there’s not a huge amount of English-language info available, this machine translation gives some indication of recent developments. If anyone can make it over to Hamburg on March 17th, they’ll be having a big demo against the post-G20 repression then.

Over in Russia, Moscow ABC have a lot of information about recent repressions of anarchists in Russia, and some of the defendants have shared their stories of being tortured by the security services. See the Autonomous Action site for much on this case.

In the US, as ever, there’s a lot going on, and two ongoing fundraisers that people might want to contribute to are for Kris Thompson, a woman who’s facing the threat of being framed up to silence her after she was the only witness to the St Louis police killing her wife, and for Seattle antifascists facing charges as the result of an alleged confrontation with a group of anti-Muslim bigots last year. Also on a North American note, the statewide teachers’ strike in West Virginia has been inspiring to watch, and It’s Going Down has been doing a good job of covering it. The latest news is that Oklahoma teachers look set to walk out, while WV is also now seeing a statewide strike at a major private sector communications company. On a smaller, but still inspiring note, in Parkdale, the area of Toronto that saw a major successful rent strike last year, a new rent strike has now forced the landlords to the negotiating table.

Back in the UK, there’s also a wide range of other social and workplace struggles going on. At Yarl’s Wood detention centre, detainees are on a hunger strike, and down in Brighton, SolFed are carrying out an escalating campaign against a letting agent that stole a tenant’s deposit.

In workplace news, Teesside construction workers recently went out on a wildcat over working conditions, and also took on the tricky issue of foreign workers being employed on different contracts. The long-running Picturehouse Living Wage dispute will see another day of strike action on March 8th, a day that will also see a call for a women’s strike. There’s a Picturehouse strike fund benefit scheduled for March 16th, with her off of La Roux doing a DJ set, and supporting acts including Test Department, the group who famously collaborated with the South Wales Striking Miners Choir and were generally notable for being one of the only industrial bands with non-dodgy politics.

As the UCU strike continues, there’s more and more material being produced for it: the Notes from Below collective have started doing a rank-and-file strike bulletin, and Unis Resist Borders have made a flier aimed at international students in both Chinese and English.

Finally, a quick round-up of things going on with a few radical groups: the Anti-Fascist Network have a day of discussions and training scheduled for Saturday March 10th in London, Bristol IWW are hosting a meeting for couriers on “How to win against Deliveroo” on the 19th, Plan C London have a day school scheduled for the 24th, the London Anarchist Communist Group have a public meeting on “London in Struggle” on the 25th, and the Angry Workers of the World are always putting out great written material – “Migration and National Social Democracy in Britain” is as a good a summing-up of the “big picture” and the current hype around Labour as I’ve read anywhere, while “Low wages, long hours, management bullies: Nothing can be done?! – Something is being done!” focuses in on how workers have been resisting their conditions in a few specific workplaces.

Posted in Anarchists, Protests, Repression, Strikes, Unions, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The occupiers who came in from the cold: workplace round-up for late Feb/early March

One of the biggest and most notable disputes going on at the moment is the UCU dispute over attacks on the USS university pension scheme. Academic staff at 61 universities are currently in the middle of 14 days of strike action, and the last few days have seen an explosion of student actions in support – see occupation_hub for updates, so far there’s been SOAS students cracking a squat, Liverpool students occupying, action in Sheffield, Cambridge students blockading a management building with a giant red picket fence, an occupation at UCL, another at Southampton, and campaigners at Warwick paying a visit to the temp agency on campus. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts have put together a brief guide to occupations that might be useful to anyone thinking of launching one of their own.

Also in the education sector, UCU members at 15 FE colleges – mainly London, but also Sunderland – will be walking out on Wednesday 28th Feb and Thursday 1st March over pay. Sticking with education, on March 6th, outsourced workers at the University of London who’re organising through the grassroots IWGB union will be paying a visit to a posh graduation dinner to remind the Vice-Chancellor of their demands to be brought back in-house and given terms and conditions equal to those of other staff. You can read more about that campaign here. In another IWGB dispute, cleaners at the Royal College of Music rejected new contracts that cut their hours in half, and were promptly sacked, so they’ll be turning up at a prestigious production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on March 10th to show punters the ugly reality behind the RCM’s facade.

In other news related to London’s grassroots unions, cleaners at the Daily Mail (insert your own joke about how hard they must work to clean up a building so full of crap here) have organised through the UVW and announced their intention to strike for a living wage, and cleaning company Mitie are now responding by threatening to sack them. You can donate to their strike/hardship fund here.

In news from slightly more mainstream union disputes, housing maintenance workers employed by Mears in Manchester are celebrating a massive win. They’ve taken over 80 days of strike action since last May, and have now won a pay rise of around 20%, as well as other victories, including the removal of a so-called “sacker’s charter” that would have put them on worse, more insecure contacts. Also in Manchester, IT workers at Fujitsu are still fighting back against compulsory redundancies and victimisation of union reps and workplace whistleblowers.

They suggest some ways to support their dispute:

“You can support members at Fujitsu:

  • Protest with strikers at Fujitsu, Central Park, Northampton Road, Manchester, M40 5BP (by Central Park Metrolink station) between 7-10am on week-day strike days.
  • Send a message of protest to, copying or Unite the Union, Fujitsu MAN34, Central Park, Northampton Road, Manchester, M40 5BP
  • Add your name to the “Reinstate Ian Allinson” statement: and ask others to sign e.g. your MP
  • Donations payable to “Manchester IT Workers Group” can be sent c/o John Wood, 50 Brooklyn Street, Crewe, CW2 7JF. Or transfer online to Account: 00980539, Sort Code: 30-91-48 and email with details.
  • Follow and promote the campaign on social media using #FujitsuFightback.”

The long-running RMT “keep the guard on the train” dispute continues, with action scheduled for Saturday 3rd March on Northern and Merseyrail, and Monday 12th March on Southern Rail.

In non-workplace news, Disabled People Against Cuts were calling for a day of action against Universal Credit at the start of March, but that’s now being postponed in most places due to the weather. Edinburgh are still going ahead because they’re hardy up there. Finally, the Anarchist Communist Group, a new class struggle organisation formed after the fallout from last year’s London Anarchist Bookfair, now have a shiny new website at, so give them a look if that sounds like your cup of tea. Currently active in London, Surrey and Leicester.

Posted in Anarchists, Disability, Occupations, Protests, Strikes, Students, Unemployment/claimants and welfare, Unions, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

All out for seven days at Picturehouse cinemas, escalating action at unis, and more on Universal Credit and Women’s Aid

A few notes on ongoing struggles and upcoming events:

After the postponement of their previous strike action, workers at Picturehouse Cinemas will now be walking out for a full seven days to demand a living wage, and in defiance of attempted management intimidation, from Saturday 17th onwards. Their picketing schedule is as follows:

Sat 17 – Hackney (5.30-8.30pm)
Sun 18 – Central (5.30-8.30pm)
Mon 19 – Demo at Picturehouse head office (11.30am – 2.30pm), 30 Orange Street, London, WC2H 7HH
Tue 20 – East Dulwich (10.45am-2pm)
Wed 21 – Crouch End (5.30-8.30pm)
Thu 22 – Ritzy (5.30-8.30pm)
Fri 23 – Central (5.30-8.30pm)

You can also donate to their strike fund here.

Next week will also see UCU members at 61 universities walk out for the start of an escalating strike over pensions that will run over four weeks – if you can get down to their picket lines, the strike dates are as follows:

Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)

Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)

Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)

Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

In Manchester, Fujitsu workers fighting against compulsory redundancies and the victimisation of union reps will also be out from Thursday 22 – Wednesday 28 February.

In other workplace news, the Notes From Below project have published a detailed investigation into the cleaners’ rebellion at the LSE.

In other social struggles, the campaign to save South Yorkshire Women’s Aid have set up a new fundraiser that they’re asking people to donate to or share, Disabled People Against Cuts have announced details of local actions against Universal Credit at the start of March for Brighton, Bristol, Cardigan, Edinburgh, Falmouth, and Norwich, and will also be supporting a protest by homeless groups like Streets Kitchen on March 3rd, and Tottenham community centre T Chances has been occupied by some of its users, and people are planning to resist an eviction scheduled for the end of May – keep up with Hands Off T Chances for updates.

Posted in Disability, Gender, Occupations, Protests, Strikes, Unemployment/claimants and welfare, Unions, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Syria seen from the Viewpoint of imperial purity: the crushing narcissism of empire

When your politics are based solely around a sense of national guilt, you can end up in some strange places.

When your politics are based solely around a sense of national guilt, you can end up in some strange places.

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.” – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man


“most leftist[s] know almost nothing about Syria, and the little they know is either deeply flawed or absolutely false… their anti imperialism discourse moved from the field of analysis and politics to the realm of identity: concepts were transformed to symbols, a specific linguistic expressions that tell who you are, not what you are doing and how to offer a better understanding of the world. So when you talk about struggle against imperialism, this in no way means that you are really doing anything that will annoy imperialism.” – Yassin al-Haj Saleh


Viewpoint Magazine is a publication with a very curious editorial policy. At times, it’s put out some really useful, insightful analysis, particularly where it comes to the intersection of class and what is sometimes described as identity politics, and engaging with some of the best thinkers to emerge from the broad Marxist tradition, from Pannekoek to Federici; and at other times, it’s published some barely readable crap, especially distinguished by a strange reverence for the “New Communist Movement” sects that emerged out of the defeat and fragmentation of the student and anti-war movements of the 1960s.

Among the really good things that Viewpoint’s published is a piece by Asad Haider from about a year ago, with the deliberately provocative title “White Purity”, looking at how forms of liberal white anti-racist politics that focus on white privilege and white guilt can have the counter-productive effect of making everything all about white people. One of the things that’s interesting about White Purity is that it provides some conceptual tools that can help articulate precisely why some of the more recent stuff that Viewpoint’s published is so awful.

I haven’t had time to read much of their new collection on imperialism, because it’s really long and none of us have as much free time as we’d like, but from what I have had the chance to read so far, it contains at least one really glaringly bad article, dealing with the subject of Syria. The author, Patrick Higgins, is guided by an ideology that would usually be described as “anti-imperialism” or simply “anti-Americanism”, but which, following Haider, we can refer to as “imperial purity” or “American purity”. What does imperial purity involve?

Here are some quotations from Haider’s piece which, with some minor editing, can provide a good sketch of imperial/American purity:

Among other things, [empire] is a kind of solipsism. From right to left, [Americans] consistently and successfully reroute every political discussion to their identity…

These debates, flaring up constantly since [at least WWI], provide [Americans] with a perfect opportunity to make the world revolve around them…

And so it turns back around, back to [Americans] and their fantasies. We have tried, for some time, to ignore this and continue to discuss the substantive issues. But [Americans] make our lives even more difficult when they claim to speak in our name. I can only conclude that the strange phenomenon called [empire] produces a very deep and tenacious psychopathology, and that it is time for us to attack it openly…

Indeed, to the consternation of good [Americans], not every [person from a colonized country] is on board with [imperial] purity. Many are, to be sure, because the secret reality which [imperial] purity hopes to obscure is that [people from colonized countries] are just as capable of a diversity of opinions and perspectives as [Americans] are. For [imperial] purity to succeed, [people from colonized countries] have to be romanticized as noble victims. When they fail to fit into this category, [imperial] purity seems to lack a proper foundation…

The Weather Underground used the language of “privilege” to reject the white working class as a force for revolutionary change, instead associating political struggle with vanguard groups like themselves, who attacked their own privilege by adopting a revolutionary lifestyle. What this amounted to was the self-flagellation (with explosives) of white radicals, who substituted themselves for the masses and narcissistically centered attention on themselves instead of the black and Third World movements they claimed to be supporting – reducing those movements to a romantic fantasy of violent insurrection

White liberals are suggesting that a new wave of “pro-white” socialists have arisen to defend the “white working class.” This is nonsense. [International] revolutionaries throughout [global] history have argued that the project of emancipation requires overcoming the divisive logic of [nationalism].”

Now, to examine Higgins’ article for examples of what this imperial purity looks like in practice:

Early on, Higgins includes Syria as part of a list of “targets of U.S. imperialism” and “sites of large-scale U.S. military violence”, consisting of Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. This feels a bit like comparing apples, oranges and watermelons: Iraq, certainly, is a place where the US started a war by invading, and it’s unarguable that, if the US hadn’t invaded in 2003, Iraq would not have been at war then. Libya and Syria, where the US intervened in existing internal conflicts that had already escalated into civil wars, are less clear-cut cases, and in Yemen, the main outside intervention has come from the Saudi military, with the US playing much more of a supporting role. This is an early sign of the kind of disappearing trick that imperial purity specialises in: to conflate the case of Iraq, where the US really did start a war, with the much more complex multipolar conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen, only works if we deliberately ignore a great number of other players, or insist on treating them as being solely proxies for US interests.

Higgins mentions that there are around 4000 US troops inside Syria, but avoids comparing this to the number of forces deployed by other actors in the region, or asking too much about what they’re doing. The entire thrust of his article is based around depicting the situation in Syria as being solely about a US war against Assad’s government, so it’s unfortunate for his argument that those troops have been engaged far more in attacking ISIS – one of Assad’s enemies – than in attacking the Syrian state.*

And those 4,000 US troops seem a less impressive number if we bear in mind that one report estimated that there are also 20,000 Iraqi militiamen, around 15,000-20,000 members of Iranian-backed Afghan militias, 7,000-10,000 from Hezbollah, and 5,000-7,000 from various other international Iranian-supported militias, on top of a direct Iranian military presence of 8,000-10,000 IRGC forces and 5,000-6,000 from the Iranian army. And that’s before we even begin to take other interested players like Russia and Turkey into account. Even if we assume that all these numbers are gross overestimates, it’s clear that the 4000 US soldiers are a tiny, tiny minority of the foreign forces fighting in Syria, so to brand the country as just being a “site of direct U.S. military occupation” is an impressive display of the “peculiar kind of solipsism” that characterises imperial purity. It’s like talking about New Zealand’s war on Vietnam, Poland’s invasion of Iraq or Morocco’s war in Yemen – technically accurate in a narrow sense, but showing a somewhat skewed sense of perspective.

Laying out his broad theoretical/historical model, Higgins divides the Arab world into countries with “a history of Arab nationalist and republican state structures”, which are the ones burning today – “Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria” – and “retrograde monarchies that remain comparatively stable and enjoy friendly relations with the U.S. (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and so on)”. A canny observer may spot an interesting omission from this latter list – what about Qatar? It would certainly seem to fit much better in the second list, but it would be a bit foolhardy to bet on Qatar’s continued stability, as tensions are still high between Qatar and the other retrograde monarchies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But the situation in Qatar is one that would be impossible to fit into Higgins’ preferred world view, since there’s no easy way to shoehorn Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia/UAE/Bahrain/Egypt/Chad/Senegal/etc on the other into “basically just puppets who can be used as shorthand for the US” or “oppressed noble savages”, which are the only two categories that Arabs or Africans can be allowed to occupy in the imperial purity worldview. Any remotely adequate discussion of the Qatar situation would have to start off by acknowledging that the rulers of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Chad, Senegal and so on are actually independent actors with interests that aren’t defined solely in relation to the US, or even the US + Israel, and this kind of thinking is an unacceptable challenge to imperial purity’s self-absorption.

Instead, in keeping with his US-centric worldview, Higgins proceeds to a broad overview of the region as being essentially defined by Israel, and by the attitudes that various states have taken with regards to the Israel/Palestine issue. From this perspective, the main things to note about Syria are that it is “an Arab nationalist state that professes anti-Zionism in its constitution” and that “U.S. strategists” tend to take a dim view “of the Syrian government’s relationship to anti-Israel forces”. This is politics at the level of states and politicians – politics which takes nation-states, assumed as a coherent whole, as a starting point, rather than assessing them as a product of the internal struggles going on within the territory governed by each nation-state. In other words, the Viewpoint Higgins adopts is the viewpoint of capital and the state. By framing the issue in terms of how Syria relates to Israel and Palestine, and how US strategists feel about how Syria relates to Israel and Palestine, questions such as, for example, what the Syrian government might mean to people living in Syria can be made to disappear. Imperial purity can perform some amazing disappearing acts.

Doubling down on his “Syria is defined by its relationship to Palestine and Israel, and so to the US” perspective, Higgins shares some quotes from the US ruling class about Syria’s involvement in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, and then offers the observation that “[t]he fact, for example, that left-wing Palestinian organizations were able to hold open strategy conferences in Damascus before the outbreak of war, is not in the slightest way insignificant, for either U.S. imperialists or for anti-imperialists”. This seems like one of those points where what’s sauce for the goose must logically be sauce for the gander: is it significant or insignificant that left-wing pro-Palestinian organisations are able to operate openly and hold meetings in the US itself? Is that one of the major factors that should inform our view of the US as a state? Here we can see the self-centred hypocrisy of imperial purity at play: of course Higgins would never attempt to characterise his own society using a metric as arbitrary as “can Palestinians hold meetings here?” The US is judged on its own terms, as an actor with interests of its own, as a subject, while Syria and other Arab nations are reduced to objects, mere backdrops for the struggle between the Palestinian goodies and the Israeli baddies.

Continuing with his selective blindness, Higgins reports that “The empire has resorted to scorched-earth and chemical weapon air attacks in parts of Syria. For example, “U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Maj. Josh Jacques told Airwars and Foreign Policy that 5,265 armor-piercing 30 mm rounds containing depleted uranium (DU) were shot from Air Force A-10 fixed-wing aircraft on Nov. 16 and Nov. 22, 2015,” into Syria’s rural east.”

But is it correct to speak of the empire, singular, here? Given the reports of Russian and Syrian air forces using white phosphorus, napalm and cluster bombs, with Russian air strikes alone reported to have killed around 5,703 civilians by the end of September 2017, surely it would be more accurate to speak of competing empires, plural, employing scorched-earth and chemical weapon air attacks. Whoosh! There goes the magical disappearing act again, as the entire Russian air force vanishes under the invisibility cloak of imperial purity.

Again and again, Higgins displays his commitment to a narrative of the Syrian conflict as being solely a product of US intervention, and his willingness to ignore anything that might suggest any kind of agency on the part of non-US participants. He talks about 2011 as being “when the United States and its regional partners launched the war”, which, for anyone with a basic knowledge of the Syrian uprising, might raise a few questions, like: when and how exactly did the conflict start? Could anything have possibly happened inside Syria prior to US involvement? What is it that’s being disappeared here?

He concedes that “the struggle over the nature of private capital in Syrian society and the ruling Ba’ath Party will endure after the war’s end”, but follows it up with “For those of us living inside imperial states, our relationship to that struggle will chiefly be determined by our relationship to our own governments.” Again, this is the Viewpoint of the state and capital. From a ruling-class perspective, our most important relationship is the one we have with our own governments, but looked at from “the world turned upside down”, the most basic starting point of any communist analysis, our defining relationships, and the ones that give us the power to act, are the ones we have with other proletarians.

Certainly, the starting point for that has to be the proletarians closest to us, but for most of us, the local working class is likely to include Arab, Kurdish, Turkish and Iranian workers, whether they’re refugees from the most recent conflict or arrived here as part of earlier waves of migration. And, through them, we can end up connected to their friends and relatives elsewhere. Not to mention that, when we begin organising politically, we’re likely to come into contact with socialists, communists and anarchists from Middle Eastern and North African backgrounds. Seeing our relationship to social and class conflicts in Middle Eastern and North African countries as being primarily mediated by our relationships with workers and revolutionaries from those countries seems far healthier and more sensible than viewing things solely through the prism of “our own” government’s connection to the events.

Or perhaps I’ve got it all wrong, and when there’s been protests and vigils for Aleppo or Afrin – or indeed Suruç or Ankara – in my area, I should have turned up shouting “Fake news! This can’t be directly blamed on the US, UK, or Israel, so everyone stop caring about this right now!”

Having briefly nodded at the possibility that Syrian society might actually contain a variety of different forces, and that Syrians might be more than just the passive victims of US attacks, he then returns to the more comfortable territory of the war on Syria, where “the U.S. war has targeted and exploded state institutions, which double as sites of social reproduction, from government buildings to schools”. The U.S. war. Has anyone else, I wonder, targeted and exploded state institutions? Hospitals, perhaps? To talk about “the US war” targeting sites of social reproduction, in the face of such a concerted Russian-Baathist air war against hospitals, feels like another variation on the imperial purity theme of “Syria without Syrians”.

He says that these attacks – just the US ones, obviously, not the Russian-Syrian ones – “constitute nothing short of a massive attack on social investment, the Syrian people’s wealth, for, as noted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as recently as 2013, “[state-owned enterprises] operate across all sectors in Syria”.” Of course, it’s fitting that Higgins’ first instinct is to quote the OECD, in keeping with his general instinct to relate everything back to Western/imperial ruling-class actors; but beyond that, it’s worth questioning the assumption that “state institutions” and “government buildings” can be described as “the Syrian people’s wealth”. When the Weather Underground, who Haider rightly identified as being among Higgins’ antecedents in the white/American/imperial purity tradition, bombed US government buildings, were they “attacking the American people’s wealth”? Or is it that, once again, Americans are recognised as three-dimensional and not just equated with their state, a level of consideration that Higgins refuses to extend to Syrians?

This is particularly exasperating because, just a few paragraphs prior, Higgins admits that there “were elements of the Syrian state [who were b]enefitting from and complicit with” neoliberal economic policies that drove growing poverty and inequality, which is the sort of thing that you’d think might complicate any simple identification between the state and “the Syrian people’s wealth”, but apparently imperial purity has rotted this kid’s brain to the point where he can’t even keep track of things he’s mentioned in his own article.

He then retreats even further from any attempt at actually analysing the contemporary situation in Syria, mentioning a 2005 text on the invasion of Iraq (a country which, in case anyone is having difficulty keeping up, is not actually the same place as Syria), which was informed by… the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s analysis of the situation in Palestine. Because why on earth would you bother examining what Syrians have to say about the contemporary situation in Syria when you can just recycle analyses of Palestine, a different country with different forces at play? If you have any doubt about the distorting effects of imperial purity, try to imagine this anyone getting away with this level of sloppiness when analysing those countries which imperial purity directs its, and our, gaze towards. I could be wrong, but I don’t think an article about the repressive counter-insurgency strategies of the contemporary US state, based on having read a few things about the policing of the 84-85 miners’ strike and informed by a cheerful willingness to assume that all imperialist states are basically the same, so if you’ve analysed one then you’ve analysed them all, would find many takers.

Higgins tells us that “we face an enemy with which partial compromises amount to total compromises”. Stirring words, but, even in the sense that he means them, they’d sound more meaningful coming from, say, the likes of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee or the Transform Now Plowshares folk than they do coming from a doctoral student at the University of Houston, someone whose research is funded by an institution with direct financial links to the US armed forces, the same institution that houses the Department for Homeland Security’s Borders, Trade and Immigration Institute.

But this is quibbling – the real point isn’t that Higgins, like everyone else, inevitably makes some compromises with the state that governs the territory in which he lives, it’s that he’s unable to see past the borders of that territory. The enemy that we face is a global system, and so, before we can even begin to assess the compromises that we’re making with it, we must first understand what that enemy actually looks like. Higgins’ perspective, which is apparently unable to cope with, for instance, the existence of Turkey and Russia, isn’t much use here.

He adds that “to oppose US imperialism is to oppose capitalism itself”, a piece of froth that can only be justified through the purest circular logic. It’s interesting to see where this point takes us, and to wonder how far back in history it applies – was Kaiser Wilhelm a hero of anti-capitalist resistance? Hitler? Or what about the modern day – is Putin opposing capitalism? What about the Turkish state’s attack on Afrin – the PYD/YPG/YPJ/SDF can definitely be said to have aligned themselves with the US, so does that mean that Erdogan is attacking capitalism itself? But then again, Turkey is a member of NATO, which is pretty much as aligned with US imperialism as you can get, so maybe everyone on both sides of the conflict in Afrin is fighting capitalism simultaneously? Throughout his article, Higgins delicately dances around the subject of who the US is actually fighting in Syria, but the logic of his position is clearly one that would call for principled anti-capitalist solidarity with ISIS.

Higgins then switches back to talking about Palestine – and, more importantly, talking about the US ruling class, the subject he finds himself endlessly drawn back to – saying that “Trump has offered liberation-minded peoples of the world a potentially invaluable gift [by] – this is the most important part – redirecting the eyes of the Arab popular classes towards occupied Palestine, restoring the rightfully esteemed place of the Palestinian cause in the hearts of the world’s disinherited”.

This bit makes an odd contrast to an earlier section of the essay, where he cited “Karl Liebknecht’s enduring warning belted out on the eve of world war: the main enemy is at home! [And] his additional imperative: “Learn everything, don’t forget anything!””

Obviously, the second part of the Liebknecht quote is pretty funny in the mouth of a lad so dozy and forgetful that he can fail to notice things like the presence of 20,000 Iraqi militia troops, 15-20,000 members of Afghan militias, and a direct Iranian military occupation of around 15,000 people, a dolt so addlebrained that he can note the existence of different forces with different class interests within Syrian society one moment and then go back to equating state institutions with “the Syrian people’s wealth” the next; but it’s the first of Liebknecht’s maxims that’s really interesting here. Apparently, those of us within the empire’s borders get to have an enemy at home; but this isn’t a luxury that imperial purity will grant to those noble Arab savages, so if their eyes can be redirected away from struggles in their own countries and towards the big bad Israeli foreigners, that’s a very good and important thing.

He adds that we’re seeing “demonstrations gain momentum in the Arab world, with the United States being the source of their ire”, which seems not entirely accurate. Of course, Iran isn’t a part of “the Arab world”, which might point to some limitations of using such an ethnically-loaded term to describe such a culturally and ethnically diverse region, but it’s still remarkable that, while Higgins was churning out this dreck, demonstrations in Iran were raising slogans – aimed at “their own” government – like “Let go of Palestine”, “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, I give my life only for Iran” and “Leave Syria, think about us.” Clearly, these backwards folk are in need of a stern imperial purity lecture on what their correct priorities should be.

In closing, Higgins offers one final example of the breathtaking selective blindness of imperial purity, as he asks “what constituencies can be mobilized” to support his desired anti-war movement, and suggests a combination of “the Palestinian and Black liberation movements”. The omission here is striking: since 2011, the world has seen a huge wave of migration, as vast numbers of people have responded to the war in Syria by following the time-honoured instinct to get as far away from the front lines as possible. In their refusal to fight and die for any of the competing factions, these people have already taken practical action against the war, and while most of them have wound up in other places, there’s still over 18,000 of them living in the US alongside Higgins. Since these people might, generally speaking, be expected to have at least a passing interest in Syrian affairs, it’s curious that they don’t seem to cross his mind when thinking about what constituencies to mobilize.

It’s hard to say how much credit to give Higgins here – is it because he’s consciously aware of the fact that his Grassy Knollington narrative, where not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without the US having caused it, is not likely to convince anyone with actual knowledge of Syria? Or has ignoring the existence of troublesome foreigners who might complicate matters become such an instinctive reflex that Syrian refugees genuinely don’t even trouble his consciousness when he’s trying to think of people inside the United States who might have an interest in the region?

The last words here should really go to Asad Haider, as his (very slightly modified) observation really does sum the whole thing up:

I can only conclude that the strange phenomenon called [empire] produces a very deep and tenacious psychopathology, and that it is time for us to attack it openly…”




*as a footnote, I’m aware that, while I was working on this piece, the US carried out an airstrike against Syrian government forces. But rather than contradicting my point, this attack, which was seen as exceptional and unusual, unlike the constant day-in, day-out attacks on ISIS-controlled areas, demonstrates how rare it is for US operations that be directed against Assad rather than his rivals.

Posted in Bit more thinky, Debate, Internationalism, Stuff that I don't think is very useful | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Call for solidarity with Russian anarchists and antifascists facing state repression

Via insurrection news:

Days from the 5th till 12th of February are the days of solidarity with repressed Russian anarchists. 

In October of 2017 in Penza six anarchists and antifascists were arrested by officers of Federal Security Service on a charge of creating a terrorist group. Moreover, in that time the period of raids in anarchists and antifascists’ houses has started all over Russia. The
objects of Security Service’s attention were different people from absolutely different towns. At last, a new wave of detentions was launched in January of 2018. An antifascist Victor Filinkov was kidnapped by Security Service in Saint Petersburg. The officers of
Federal Security Service have been torturing him in the forest out of the city. They told Victor to admit his participation in mythical anarchy-terrorist group. Unable to withstand the torture Filinkov was forced to incriminate himself and now he is remaining in Temporarily-staying Isolation. Filinkov’s lawyer claims that he has never seen so serious damages and trails of the torture during his practice of struggle with a police outrage.

There is another antifascist who has claimed about torture in St. Petersburg. Ilya Kapustin was also threatened by officers from FSS, but he has refused to incriminate himself and after that he was released on bail. There weren’t any proofs that anarchy-terrorist group exists in real life, only the confessions gained by the threats and torture.
Nevertheless, police is doing everything in order to force people to confirm an existence of mythical terrorist organization named “Net”, spoofed by FSS. The officers affirm that this organization has a lot of cells in every town. It means that the situation which has occurred in Saint Petersburg will be observed in the other Russian towns very soon.

Obviously, everything what’s going on in our time is an attempt to clear out an anarchist movement before the Elections of the President in 2018. In recent years we could see how the anarchist movement increased its activity after the repressions of 2012 year. These repressions can only intimidate people and crush the anarchist  movement.

In this case it’s necessary to show that we are not afraid and we can’t be destroyed by their force. Otherwise, the repressions will be used every time when the anarchist movement calls an attention of FSS. We should show them that the stronger their repressions, the more furious will be our resistance. Now it’s important to support the prisoners, to prevent the continuation of the “witch-hunting” and give a global publicity for this event.

We call you for a solidarity campaign with repressed anarchists from the 5th till 12th of February.

Arrange different street actions, evenings of solidarity, distribute information in the media and in the Internet. Do everything you can come up and implement.

The only one weapon we can counter the face of the state terror is the unity and solidarity  with each other. Without these two things we will be crushed by this monster one by one.

We are ready to provide the space for publication solidarity actions, just send them on media_ns[at]riseup[dot]net

The address for your solidarity letters: to


(Only PAPER letters)



There’s also a slightly different writeup from the St Petersburg Anarchist Black Cross, who are currently fundraising to cover legal expenses:

We are currently fundraising to pay the lawyers working on several cases related to the police raids and arrests of anarchists and antifascists in St. Petersburg and Penza, Russia.

As of now, two people in St. Petersburg and five in Penza are under arrest, while many others have been connected to their cases as witnesses. The raids and repressions are likely to continue.

The arrestees are charged with part 2 of article 205.4 of the Russian Criminal Code, participation in a Terrorist Organisation, and the entire process has been started at the request of the court in Penza.

On January 23rd, on his way to Pulkovo Airport, Victor Filinkov was detained by the Federal Security Service (FSB). In order to force a testimony out of him he was beaten, and tortured with electric shocks in the woods. Signs of torture have been confirmed by the Filinkov’s lawyer and members of the Public Monitoring Commission (ONK) who have visited him in the pre-trial detention center. Filinkov is currently in pre-trial detention/remand for the next two months.

On January 25th the FSB raided Igor Shishkin’s apartment. After the raid neither his lawyer, nor members of Public Monitoring Commission were able to find Igor for more than a day. On January 27th Igor was brought to a session in court with clear signs of beating. He is currently in pre-trial detention/remand for the next two months. Journalists were not allowed to attend the hearing and furthermore two of them were arrested.

Several witnesses were also tortured: Ilya Kapustin was beaten up and tortured with electric shocks while police demanded he give testimony that some of his acquantances are up to “something dangerous.” Medical services later recorded numerous traces of stun gun usage.

In Penza, arrests began in October 2017. Local FSB officers have arrested six people, five of whom are currently in pre-trial detention. All of those arrested were brutally tortured. The events in Penza are described in detail in this article.

Legal help is needed for prisoners and witnesses, as their numbers are constantly increasing. It is early to speak about an exact amount of money, but it will cost at least 200 thousand rubles (around 3000 Euros/3500 USD) to pay for lawyers’ fees in the next months.

Anarchist Black Cross St.Petersburg


  • PayPal: ABC Moscow
    In case you want to support a particular prisoner, add a note about that. In case you want to donate to St. Petersburg and Penza case, write a note For “St. Petersburg and Penza”. We recommend to send euros or dollars, as other currencies are automatically converted to euro according to PayPal rates.
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If you need another way to transfer money/make a donation please contact Anarchist Black Cross Moscow:

All materials compiled on these cases can be found below:
Case of anti-fascists of St. Petersburg and Penza

Posted in Anarchists, Repression | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Ramsey Orta, imprisoned copwatcher who filmed Eric Garner’s death, moved to solitary

Ramsey Orta, the copwatcher who filmed the police killing of his friend Eric Garner, went on to become the only person present at that scene to go to prison, after he pled guilty to drug and weapon charges following a concerted revenge campaign of harrassment from the NYPD. While inside, he’s faced further abuse and harrassment from prison guards, and now his support network report that he’s been sent to solitary confinement for 60 days.

According to his support network:

“A call was made to the prison several days ago and we were informed that Ramsey was in the SHU after receiving multiple “tickets” by more than one corrections officer. At one point, Ramsey received two in one day.

One of his supporters received a letter on January 23 that said the following.
“How is everything? I hope all is well. As for me, I’m hanging in there. Still dealing with police fucking with me. I might be going to the box soon. I keep getting bullshit tickets. I just caught 3 in one week. . .”

Someone else in Ramsey’s support network visited him and said he looked really pale and was in a bad space. He saying he being continually harassed and violated.

Ramsey’s legal support are doing their best, but this abuse is taking a toll on Ramsey, and he needs our support more than ever.

We are asking folks to share this post
We are asking folks to write Ramsey and let him know he is not alone.
Inmate Mailing Address:
Ramsey Orta, 16A4200
112 Scotch Settlement Rd,
Gouverneur, NY 13642

He can get books magazines, regular mail, and money orders.

You can also donate directly to Ramsey using his Paypal”

Posted in Repression | Tagged , | 1 Comment