Prisoner Sent to Solitary for Having “Copious Amounts of Anarchist Publications”

Via Will Potter:

Anarchist Political Prisoner, Mark “Migs” NeiweemAn inmate in Illinois has been in solitary confinement since July for possessing “copious amounts of Anarchist publications” and “handwritten Anarchist related essays,” according to prison documents.

Mark “Migs” Neiweem is a prisoner at the maximum security Pontiac Correctional Center who, in addition to the publications and his writings about the prison industrial complex, was also found in possession of anarchist symbols including a “Circle A” and “Circle E” (the latter, which stands for equality, is described in prison reports as representing “class warfare, the 99%”).

“I’ve been doing this work since 1979 and I can’t think of another case where someone has gotten a disciplinary report for something so obviously political as this,” said Alan Mills, who is Neiweem’s lawyer and a professor at Northwestern University.

Neiweem also had documents in his cell from the Anarchist Black Cross, which the Illinois Department of Correction says is “a political organization and openly supports those who have committed illegal activity in furtherance of revolutionary aims.” That’s a menacing way of saying that the group writes letters to prisoners and solicits donations so they can buy food from the prison commissary.

Prison officials spent months investigating Neiweem, combed through his cell, and even used a confidential informant to obtain more information on his anarchist views. According to a disciplinary report dated August 8, 2013, Neiweem was identified by the Intelligence Unit as an anarchist, and the confidential informant reported that he was attempting to recruit other prisoners to “be part of a collective.”

At a disciplinary hearing, at which Neiweem was not allowed to have an attorney present, he was found in violation of two departmental rules: possessing gang symbols, and possessing “written material that presents a serious threat to the safety and security of persons or the facility.”

Neiweem isn’t accused of plotting to harm guards or other prisoners, though; his political beliefs alone are described as a threat.


Read the rest of the article here.

In Defense of Leaderless Revolutions

(by Peter Gelderloos via CounterPunch/

Cihan Tugal (“The End of the “Leaderless” Revolution” July 10, 2013) effectively picks apart the populist and premature claims of a successful revolution in Egypt. Yet he goes further to use the evident flaws in the leaderless revolutions that have been a hallmark of the early 21st century to discredit the very concept of leaderless revolution. In doing so, he opens the way for an amnesiac backslide to the much more flawed authoritarian revolutions of the 20th century, in the process committing some of the same errors that must be criticized in the ongoing revolts.

In order to build up a continuity of critique that benefits from awareness of all our past failures—a rich history indeed—we need to compare the failings of the leaderless revolutions with the much greater failings of the authoritarian revolutions of the past, rather than cover up those failings with the facile neologism of “leaderful” revolutions.

Ajamu Baraka, in “Requiem for a Revolution That Never Was” (July 18, 2013), is correct in challenging the pretensions of the Egyptian revolt to being a revolution. He sets the bar necessarily higher, stating: “A revolutionary process is a process by which structures of power are created by a broad mass of people that allow them to eventually transform every aspect of their society — from the structure and role of the State and the organization of the economy to inter-personal relations — all with a view to eliminating all forms of oppression.”

I would differ sharply with the idea that simply changing the structure and the role of the State is compatible with eliminating oppression, as every State in history has advanced the exclusive interests of the ruling class it unfailingly creates, necessarily blocking the full freedom of action and self-organization of its subjects. In fact no one has advanced a convincing argument about how a State could possibly do anything else, and the proponents of such apologia have most often been the ones to actively disprove the proposition of a benign State.

Nonetheless, we can take this as a starting point: a revolution seeks to profoundly transform social organization and eliminate oppression. If we acknowledge that populists were premature in declaring a revolutionary victory in Egypt, we should also accept that Tugal is premature in declaring a failure.

What revolution that ran its course was not preceded by insurrections that were crushed? In Russia there was the failed 1905 revolution. In China there was the Autumn Harvest Uprising, and in Spain the insurrections at Casas Viejas in 1933 and Asturias in 1934. The Cuban Revolution was preceded by the attack on the Moncada barracks. And the American Revolution owes much more to the thwarted Conspiracy of 1741 in New York than most historians are willing to acknowledge (given that the eventual leaders of that revolution were looking to avoid, rather than realize, the dreams of early insurgents).

Revolutions are not an event, but a process, and a major part of that process involves learning from our failures, developing more adequate theories and analysis, and building up the capacity to defend the spaces we seize and the germinal social relations we create.

In Egypt, the forces that obstructed this learning process were the revolt’s would-be leaders, populists hoping to mobilize the masses with empty slogans. These leaders were unwittingly complemented by direct democracy activists who thought it was enough for people to take to the streets and participate in assemblies. They were happy to have created a vessel, no matter how superficial the content that filled it, no matter how undeveloped their new structure’s capacity for self-defense.

In the plaza occupation movement in Spain, directly influenced by the Arab Spring, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets chanting, “the revolution begins here.” Most of them were sincere, but they also held a media-corrupted view of what revolution actually means. The experience with a leaderless revolution forced many of them to question their assumptions and deepen their analysis.

Behind the façade of popular unity that the many commentators helped to create, these movements contained important conflicts. In Spain as elsewhere, there were the authoritarians and the movement politicians who parroted horizontal, anti-party rhetoric so as not to scare away their potential constituency. And there were the activists who believed in an ideology of horizontality and direct democracy in and of themselves. Both of these groups coincided in their desire to hide and suppress the internal divisions in the movement. They spoke of unity and hoped that everyone would rally around lowest common denominator positions. But there were also the marginalized, who were not content with any movement that would sate itself with mere reform. Many of them kept coming back to the streets because of what they found there, a spontaneous, self-organizing collectivity that promised a future community based on everything that is lacking under capitalism. And among the marginalized were the radicals, who specifically and unceasingly criticized the false unity, the democratic populism, and the at best superficial analysis of capitalism.

The movement politicians tried their best to ignore these radicals. The media suggested they were outside provocateurs, even though they were there from the beginning. But an increasing number of people began to listen to them, and collectively the movement as a whole deepened its analysis and sharpened its practice. This is why the largely middle-class, populist “indignados” of the spring of 2011 gave way to the anticapitalist, diverse, and numerically superior strikers and rioters of the general strike one year later.

In Egypt as well, anarchists and other radicals were in the heart of the recent uprising, opposing the Morsi government as well as a military government, and spreading critiques of the power structures that underpin both. For now, the military has prevailed, but this gives people in Egypt a chance to learn lessons and strengthen their practice. A population that has been subdued by military dictatorship for decades has little chance to develop the analysis and the tools of self-defense they need to overcome one of the most heavily funded militaries in the world in just two years, but in such a short time, they have come a very long way.

The leaderless revolution must overcome centuries of conditioning that teaches us that we need to be ruled. This is its central conflict. Setbacks in Egypt and elsewhere should underscore this conflict, not justify running away from the greatest struggle we will ever take up.

What becomes clear with experience is that it is not enough to take to the streets and protest, no matter how many figureheads we topple, because power runs deeper than that. It is not enough to implement democratic debate, because the right answers have already been precluded by the very way our lives have been structured.

Tugal is dead wrong when he writes about “the fallacy that the people can take power without an agenda, an alternative platform, an ideology, and leaders.” That someone can still talk about taking power as a liberatory proposition without getting laughed off stage, in the face of so many historical examples that show what taking power actually means, shows how deep our collective amnesia runs.

It is no surprise, however, that some people keep sounding the call for unifying behind leaders and a platform in order to take power. In an authoritarian revolution, academics and other intellectual and cultural producers often move from their middling rung in the capitalist hierarchy to the top tier. It is in their class interest to advocate for authoritarian revolution. The rest of us just need to learn to tune them out.

The idea that we can address the economic alienation of capitalism without addressing the political alienation of the State is absurd. It is no coincidence that all the authoritarian revolutions that billed themselves as “anticapitalist” proved to be nothing more than shortcuts back to capitalism. The greatest promise of the leaderless revolutions is their ability to create a synthesis between economic and political liberation, but only if they also reject the democratic populism that Tugal and many others have criticized. But an analysis critical of both capitalism and populism already exists in the heart of the Egyptian revolt, as it also did in the Spanish plaza occupation movement and even Occupy.

These leaderless revolts do not need to be rejected. We just need to cut through the veil of unity, hollow discourses like that of the “99%” or “people power”, acknowledge the conflicts that exist within these movements, and take sides. Not to advance the correct platform, the correct agenda, and the correct set of leaders, inevitably setting off a carnival of sectarianism, but in a spirit of pluralistic debate.

Bowing down to the need for leaders, “an” (read, one) ideology, and a common platform would obstruct the most important line of growth for these revolutions, which is self-organization. A prerequisite for self-organization is that the outcomes cannot be predetermined as they are when we all have to toe a party line. Once most people know how to take the initiative in their own lives and put their plans into action, once the practice of self-organization intensifies to move beyond making abstract decisions, people will be able to create new social relations and collectively organize the material aspects of their lives—how to feed, clothe, house, heal, and generally provide for themselves. If this happens, leaders will be obsolete and we can begin to earnestly talk about revolution.

The worst problem with authoritarian revolutions is not that they produce “a cult of the leader,” the only glitch Tugal finds to criticize, but that their existence requires them to obstruct the self-organization of the people by any means necessary, a dynamic that Voline documented in the Russian Revolution and that has proven to be the case in every authoritarian revolution since.

The revolts in Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, and elsewhere are an important start. But wherever we participate in leaderless movements we need to argue passionately against reformism, for a radical critique of capitalism, and for a committed rejection of leaders. Eschewing leadership provisionally, rejecting only the current leaders, will only lead to a takeover by populists, opportunists, or seemingly neutral structures like the military, as happened in Egypt. But if the rejection of leadership solidifies, Tamarod or any other group will not be able to rally people behind a leadership that appears to be neutral, or convince them to stuff their dreams into a ballot box.

If these revolutionary movements grow and successfully resist co-optation, they will come into greater conflict with the State. Leaderless insurrections in recent years in Egypt, Brazil, and Greece quickly overcame the ability of the police to contain them, raising the specter of a clash with the military. How can a leaderless revolt adapt to such a conflict? Fortunately we have historical precedents.

The most important historical lesson warns against the militarization of the conflict. Many revolutionary movements have had to overcome the military force of the State, but they ended up defeating themselves when they subordinated social questions to matters of military organization. In combat, large groups of people often need to arrive at unified decisions in the shortest time possible, meaning that assemblies don’t cut it. The forms of organization and leadership that develop in the sphere of martial conflict must therefore never take precedence over the social character of the ongoing revolution.

In recent times, the Zapatistas have taken great pains to avoid a militarization of the conflict or subordinate their social activities to the military leadership. The results of their efforts remain to be seen.

In the Spanish Civil War, anarchist and some socialist militias organized with elected and recallable officers, and these militias had no authority in socio-economic matters. The revolution was lost when it was subordinated to the military question (“win the war first, then make the revolution later”) and the militias were forced to join the regular armies.

In the Russian Revolution, the anarchist Makhno led a highly effective partisan detachment comprised entirely of peasant volunteers that wreaked havoc on the authoritarian White and Red Armies. For his part, Makhno refused leadership in the revolutionary assemblies that were established in the liberated territory. He stuck to military matters, and told workers or peasants looking for guidance to organize themselves.

Kim Jwa-Jin was a similar figure in the Chinese Civil War: leader of the Shinmin Commune’s army, he left all political decisions to the federation and the local assemblies, where an anti-authoritarian spirit were the order of the day.

Nanny led the maroons in Jamaica in the battle against slavery. And in their victorious wars against Spanish attempts at colonization, the Mapuche of South America chose tokis to lead them in battle. But Nanny and the tokis had no power on the community or household levels, beyond their own household and their own community, nor were they integrated into any power structure that governed those other social levels, as are military leaders in a compartmentalized state structure.

For most of us, the eventuality of military conflict is still a long way off. Even in Egypt, where a civil war is an imminent possibility, the movement still has so much work to do to get to a point where it could hope to survive such a conflict. Ultimately, we will cross that bridge when we get there. But it is good to know that we won’t be the first ones to carry the dream of an egalitarian revolution and a world without hierarchy or oppression.

We have no need to listen to those who sound the call to retreat, back to the hopelessly flawed model of authoritarian revolution that marred the 20th century. The leaderless revolution is an ongoing experiment, an endeavor that challenges us to abandon our authoritarian baggage, to convince those who are new to struggle that a simple reform is not enough, to spread an understanding of how power actually functions and to see the connection between every form of oppression.

The widespread mistrust of leaders is one of the few things we have gained from our long history of revolutionary failure. Let’s not give that up just because our struggles are not immediately successful. Rather, we need to turn that mistrust into a principled position. A hundred years ago, millions of people cried out, “The liberation of the workers is a task for the workers themselves.” This is true of everyone who is exploited and oppressed, whether their oppression plays out on lines of class, race, gender, sexuality, or ethnicity. They will know better than anyone else how to liberate themselves.

Peter Gelderloos is the author of several books, including Anarchy Works and the newly published The Failure of Nonviolence: from the Arab Spring to Occupy. He lives in Barcelona.

“Anarchy’s mayhem is wholly conjectural; the state’s mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.”

“Anarchists did not try to carry out genocide against the Armenians in Turkey; they did not deliberately starve millions of Ukrainians; they did not create a system of death camps to kill Jews, gypsies, and Slavs in Europe; they did not fire-bomb scores of large German and Japanese cities and drop nuclear bombs on two of them; they did not carry out a ‘Great Leap Forward’ that killed scores of millions of Chinese; they did not attempt to kill everybody with any appreciable education in Cambodia; they did not launch one aggressive war after another; they did not implement trade sanctions that killed perhaps 500,000 Iraqi children.

In debates between anarchists and statists, the burden of proof clearly should rest on those who place their trust in the state. Anarchy’s mayhem is wholly conjectural; the state’s mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.”

–Robert Higgs

On this day in history (December 21, 1919): Mass deportation of leftist radicals from United States

Following a year of massive strikes and political unrest at the end of World War I, the U.S. government deports 249 anarchists (including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman), communists, anti-war activists, and “labor agitators.”
Emma Goldman -- deportation photo(Photo: Emma Goldman’s deportation photo, 1919)
Here are is an excerpt from Emma Goldman’s “My Disillusionment with Russia” (1923):
“The STATE IDEA, the authoritarian principle, has been proven bankrupt by the experience of the Russian Revolution. If I were to sum up my whole argument in one sentence I should say: The inherent tendency of the State is to concentrate, to narrow, and monopolize all social activities; the nature of revolution is, on the contrary, to grow, to broaden, and disseminate itself in ever-wider circles. In other words, the State is institutional and static; revolution is fluent, dynamic. These two tendencies are incompatible and mutually destructive. The State idea killed the Russian Revolution and it must have the same result in all other revolutions, unless the libertarian idea prevail.

The dominant, almost general, idea of revolution — particularly the Socialist idea — is that revolution is a violent change of social conditions through which one social class, the working class, becomes dominant over another class, the capitalist class. It is the conception of a purely physical change, and as such it involves only political scene shifting and institutional rearrangements. Bourgeois dictatorship is replaced by the “dictatorship of the proletariat” — or by that of its “advance guard,” the Communist Party. Lenin takes the seat of the Romanovs, the Imperial Cabinet is rechristened Soviet of People’s Commissars, Trotsky is appointed Minister of War, and a labourer becomes the Military Governor General of Moscow. That is, in essence, the Bolshevik conception of revolution, as translated into actual practice.

Revolution is indeed a violent process. But if it is to result only in a change of dictatorship, in a shifting of names and political personalities, then it is hardly worth while. It is surely not worth all the struggle and sacrifice, the stupendous loss in human life and cultural values that result from every revolution. If such a revolution were even to bring greater social well being (which has not been the case in Russia) then it would also not be worth the terrific price paid: mere improvement can be brought about without bloody revolution.

Our institutions and conditions rest upon deep-seated ideas. To change those conditions and at the same time leave the underlying ideas and values intact means only a superficial transformation, one that cannot be permanent or bring real betterment. It is a change of form only, not of substance, as so tragically proven by Russia. […]

There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another, This conception is a potent menace to social regeneration. All human experience teaches that methods and means cannot be separated from the ultimate aim. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose; they influence it, modify it, and presently the aims and means become identical.

The great and inspiring aims of the Revolution became so clouded with and obscured by the methods used by the ruling political power that it was hard to distinguish what was temporary means and what final purpose. Psychologically and socially the means necessarily influence and alter the aims. The whole history of man is continuous proof of the maxim that to divest one’s methods of ethical concepts means to sink into the depths of utter demoralization. In that lies the real tragedy of the Bolshevik philosophy as applied to the Russian Revolution. May this lesson not be in vain.

No revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation unless the MEANS used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the PURPOSES to be achieved. Revolution is the negation of the existing, a violent protest against man’s inhumanity to man with all the thousand and one slaveries it involves. It is the destroyer of dominant values upon which a complex system of injustice, oppression, and wrong has been built up by ignorance and brutality. It is the herald of NEW VALUES, ushering in a transformation of the basic relations of man to man, and of man to society.

Its first ethical precept is the identity of means used and aims sought. The ultimate end of all revolutionary social change is to establish the sanctity of human life, the dignity of man, the right of every human being to liberty and wellbeing. Unless this be the essential aim of revolution, violent social changes would have no justification. For external social alterations can be, and have been, accomplished by the normal processes of evolution. Revolution, on the contrary, signifies not mere external change, but internal, basic, fundamental change. That internal change of concepts and ideas, permeating ever-larger social strata, finally culminates in the violent upheaval known as revolution.

The period of the actual revolution, the so-called transitory stage, must be the introduction, the prelude to the new social conditions. It is the threshold to the NEW LIFE, the new HOUSE OF MAN AND HUMANITY. As such it must be of the spirit of the new life, harmonious with the construction of the new edifice.

To-day is the parent of to-morrow. The present casts its shadow far into the future. That is the law of life, individual and social. Revolution that divests itself of ethical values thereby lays the foundation of injustice, deceit, and oppression for the future society. The means used to prepare the future become its cornerstone.

Witness the tragic condition of Russia. The methods of State centralization have paralysed individual initiative and effort; the tyranny of the dictatorship has cowed the people into slavish submission and all but extinguished the fires of liberty; organized terrorism has depraved and brutalized the masses and stifled every idealistic aspiration; institutionalized murder has cheapened human life, and all sense of the dignity of man and the value of life has been eliminated; coercion at every step has made effort bitter, labour a punishment, has turned the whole of existence into a scheme of mutual deceit, and has revived the lowest and most brutal instincts of man. A sorry heritage to begin a new life of freedom and brotherhood.

It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that revolution is in vain unless inspired by its ultimate ideal. Revolutionary methods must be in tune with revolutionary aims. The means used to further the revolution must harmonize with its purposes. In short, the ethical values which the revolution is to establish in the new society must be initiated with the revolutionary activities of the so-called transitional period. The latter can serve as a real and dependable bridge to the better life only if built of the same material as the life to be achieved.”
And here’s one from “Living My Life” (1931):
“America had declared war with Spain…. It did not require much political wisdom to see that America’s concern was a matter of sugar and had nothing to do with humanitarian feelings. Of course there were plenty of credulous people, not only in the country at large, but even in liberal ranks, who believed in America’s claim. I could not join them. I was sure that no one, be it individual or government, engaged in enslaving and exploiting at home, could have the integrity or the desire to free people in other lands.”

Today in history: The death of Ricardo Flores Magón

“To want bosses and at the same time to want to be free is to want the impossible. It is necessary to choose once and for all between two things: either to be free, completely free, refusing all authority, or to be enslaved perpetuating the power of man over man.”

— Ricardo Flores Magón (‘Without Bosses’, 1914)

On this day in 1922, the Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón died in Leavenworth Penitentiary, Kansas, while serving a 20 year prison sentence for publishing an anti-war editorial in his newspaper Regeneración. He was one of over 1000 people in the U.S. who were imprisoned under the Espionage Act, for the crime of opposing World War I.

Ricardo Flores Magon -- los rebeldes

Does Evolution Favor Competition or Cooperation?

Via Slate:

“Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species sparked major battles. The most famous may have been between science and religion, but there were disputes within science as well. One of the most heated was whether natural selection favored cooperative or competitive behaviors, a battle that still rages today. For almost 100 years, no single person did more to promote the study of the evolution of cooperation than Peter Kropotkin.

Peter Kropotkin, circa 1900
Peter Kropotkin, c. 1900

Kropotkin traveled the world talking about the evolution of cooperation, which he called “mutual aid,” in both animals and humans. Sometime the travel was voluntary, but often it wasn’t: He was jailed, banned, or expelled from many of the most respectable countries of his day. For he was not only the face of the science of cooperation, he was also the face of the anarchist movement. He came to believe that his politics and science were united by the law of mutual aid: that cooperation was the predominant evolutionary force driving all social life, from microbes to humans. […]

Kropotkin’s adventures during his five years in Siberia were the stuff of movies. He crisscrossed 50,000 miles of the region, often “lying full length in the sled … wrapped in fur blankets, fur inside and fur outside … when the temperature is 40 or 60 degrees below zero …” His job was to inspect the dreaded prisons of Siberia, full of not just criminals but political agitators. He did so dutifully, but with disgust. The border of Siberia, he wrote, should have a sign like that from Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.” The rest of his time was devoted to learning more about anarchist philosophy (often from anarchist leaders who had been banished to Siberia) and, most importantly, studying the natural history of animals and humans there.

Kropotkin expected to see the brutal dog-eat-dog world of Darwinian competition. He searched high and low—but nothing. “I failed to find, although I was eagerly looking for it,” Kropotkin wrote, “that bitter struggle for the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of the struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution.”

Instead he saw mutual aid—everywhere. “In all these scenes of animal life which passed before my eyes,” Kropotkin wrote, “I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species and its further evolution.” And it wasn’t just in animals. The peasants in the villages he visited were constantly helping one another in their fight against the brutal environment of Siberia. What’s more, he noted a correlation between the extent of mutual aid displayed in a peasant village and the distance of that village from the hand of government. It was just as the anarchists had suggested. “I lost in Siberia,” he wrote, “whatever faith in state discipline I had cherished before. I was prepared to become an anarchist.”

He was also prepared to challenge the biological orthodoxy that natural selection led only to competition. He was still a Darwinist, and an adamant one, but he thought the process of natural selection, especially in brutal climates like Siberia, could lead to mutual aid, not only competition. His nascent ideas on anarchism and biological evolution were beginning to merge into one.”


Read the full article here:

“Industrial militarization” – Emma Goldman

Russia was to have a militarized industrial army to fight economic disorganization, even as the Red Army had conquered on the various fronts. Such an army could be whipped into line only by rigid discipline, it was claimed. The factory collegiate system had to make place for military industrial management. […]

Many of the younger Communists agreed that the measure indicated a step to the right, but they defended the decision of their party. ‘The collegiate system has proven a failure,’ they said. ‘The workers will not work voluntarily, and our industry must be revived if we are to survive another year.’ […]

‘But what can the Government do in the face of the food shortage?’ I asked. ‘Food shortage!’ the man exclaimed; ‘look at the markets. Did you see any shortage of food there? Speculation and the new bourgeoisie, that’s what’s the matter. The one-man management is our new slave driver. First the bourgeoisie sabotaged us, and now they are again in control. But just let them try to boss us! They’ll find out. just let them try!'”

— Emma Goldman, Chapter IX “Industrial militarization” in My Disillusionment in Russia, 1923