Tag Archives: anarchism

An Anarchist Guide to Christmas

For the Yuletide this year, we decided to republish a recent classic commentary on Christmas an anarchism.  Enjoy!

By Ruth Kinna

It’s no surprise to discover that anarchist theorist Pyotr Kropotkin was interested in Christmas. In Russian culture, St. Nicholas (Николай Чудотворец) was revered as a defender of the oppressed, the weak and the disadvantaged. Kropotkin shared the sentiments.

But there was also a family link. As everyone knows, Kropotkin could trace his ancestry to the ancient Rurik dynasty that ruled Russia before the upstart Romanovs and which, from the first century CE, controlled the trade routes between Moscow and the Byzantine Empire. Nicholas’s branch of the family had been sent out to patrol the Black Sea. But Nicholas was a spiritual man and sought an escape from the piracy and brigandage for which his Russian Viking family was famed. So he settled under a new name in the southern lands of the Empire, now Greece, and decided to use the wealth that he had amassed from his life of crime to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.

Unpublished archival sources recently discovered in Moscow reveal that Kropotkin was fascinated by this family tie and the striking physical similarity between himself and the figure of Father Christmas, popularised by the publication of ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ (better known as ‘The Night Before Christmas’) in 1823.

Kropotkin was not quite so portly as Klaus, but with a cushion stuffed up his tunic, he felt he could pass. His friend Elisée Reclus advised him to drop the fur trim on the outfit. That was a good idea as it would also allow him to wear a bit more black with the red. He’d decided to follow Elisée’s advice on the reindeer, too, and to use a hand driven sleigh. Kropotkin wasn’t normally given to dressing up. But exploiting the resemblance to spread the anarchist message was excellent propaganda by the deed.

Anticipating ‘V’, Kropotkin thought that we could all pose as Santa Claus. On the edge of one page Kropotkin writes: “Infiltrate the stores, give away the toys!”

Faint remnants on the back of a postcard read:

On the night before Christmas, we’ll all be about
While the people are sleeping, we’ll realise our clout
We’ll expropriate goods from the stores, ‘cos that’s fair
And distribute them widely, to those who need care.

His project notes also reveal some valuable insights into his ideas about the anarchistic features of Christmas and his thinking about the ways in which Victorian Christmas rituals might be adapted.

“We all know”, he wrote, “that the big stores – John Lewis, Harrods and Selfridges – are beginning to exploit the sales potential of Christmas, establishing magic caves, grottos and fantastic fairylands to lure our children and pressurise us to buy gifts that we do not want and cannot afford”.

“If you are one of us”, he continued, “you will realise that the magic of Christmas depends on Father Christmas’s system of production, not the stores’ attempts to seduce you to consume useless luxuries”. Kropotkin described the sprawling workshops at the North Pole, where elves worked all year, happily because they knew that they were producing for other peoples’ pleasure. Noting that these workshops were strictly not-for profit, craft-based and run on communal lines, Kropotkin treated them as prototypes for the factories of the future (outlined in Fields, Factories and Workshops).

Some people, he felt, thought that Father Christmas’s dream to see that everyone received gifts on Christmas day, was quixotic. But it could be realised. Indeed, the extension of the workshops – which were quite expensive to run in the Arctic – would facilitate generalised production for need and the transformation of occasional gift-giving into regular sharing. “We need to tell the people”, Kropotkin wrote, “that community workshops can be set up anywhere and that we can pool our resources to make sure that everybody has their needs met”!

One of the issues that most bothered Kropotkin about Christmas was the way in which the inspirational role that Nicholas’s had played in conjuring Christmas myths had confused the ethics of Christmas. Nicholas was wrongly represented as a charitable, benevolent man: saintly because he was beneficent. Absorbed in the figure of Father Christmas, Nicholas’s motivations for giving had become further skewed by the Victorian’s fixation with children.

Kropotkin didn’t really understand the links, but felt that it reflected an attempt to moralise childhood through a concept of purity that was symbolised in the birth of Jesus. Naturally he couldn’t imagine the creation of the Big Brother Santa Claus who knows when children are asleep and awake and comes to town apparently knowing which have dared to cry or pout.

But sooner or later, he warned, this idea of purity would be used to distinguish naughty from nice children and only those in the latter group would be rewarded with presents.

Whatever the case, it was important both to recover the principle of Nicholas’ compassion from this confusing mumbo-jumbo and the folkloric origins of Santa Claus. Nicholas gave because he was pained by his awareness of other peoples’ hardship. Though he wasn’t an assassin (as far as Kropotkin knew), he shared the same ethics as Sofia Petrovskaya. And while it was obviously important to worry about the well-being of children, the anarchist principle was to take account of everyone’s suffering.

Similarly, the practice of giving was mistakenly thought to require the implementation of a centrally-directed plan, overseen by an omniscient administrator. This was quite wrong: Father Christmas came from the imagination of the people (just consider the range of local names that Nicholas had accrued – Sinterklaas, Tomte, de Kerstman). And the spreading of good cheer – through festivity – was organised from the bottom up.

Buried in Christmas, Kropotkin argued, was the solidaristic principle of mutual aid.

Kropotkin appreciated the significance of the ritual and the real value that individuals and communities attached to carnivals, acts of remembrance and commemoration. He no more wanted to abolish Christmas than he wished to see it republicanised through some wrong-headed bureaucratic re-ordering of the calendar.

It was important, nonetheless, to detach the ethic that Christmas supported from the singularity of its celebration. Having a party was just that: extending the principle of mutual aid and compassion into everyday life was something else. In capitalist society, Christmas provided a space for special good behaviours. While it might be possible to be a Christian once a year, anarchism was for life.

Kropotkin realised his propaganda would have the best chance of success if he could show how the anarchist message was also embedded in mainstream culture. His notes reveal that he looked particularly to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to find a vehicle for his ideas. The book was widely credited with cementing ideas of love, merriment and goodwill in Christmas. Kropotkin found the genius of the book in its structure. What else was the story of Scrooge’s encounter with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future than a prefigurative account of change?

By seeing his present through his past, Scrooge was given the chance to alter his miserly ways and re-shape both his future and the future of the Cratchit family. Even if it was only remembered once a year, Kropotkin thought, Dickens’s book lent anarchists a perfect vehicle to teach this lesson: by altering what we do today, by modelling our behaviours on Nicholas, we can help construct a future which is Christmas!

This article was originally published by STRIKE! magazine.

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Michael Schmidt Responds to Allegations of White Nationalism

In the last few days, those in anarchist, platformist, syndicalist, and related circles have been reeling from the accusations from AK Press that their Black Flame author, Michael Schmidt, is a closet white nationalist.  The accusations were made while they were getting ready to publish the sequel to Black Flame, Global Fire, which he would begin book tours on shortly.  As of yet the main evidence has not been made available as the author, Alexander Reid Ross, is still working on the story.  Since then many organizations have put out responses, with many asking for evidence before taking the accusations as fact.

In response, Michael Schmidt responded to the accusations directly with a lengthy statement outlining a defense to these accusations.  He states plainly and without ambiguity that the claims are untrue and a misreading of the ‘evidence.´

Two swallows don’t make a summer – Michael Schmidt’s reply to AK Press allegations, 27 September 2015

Introduction
Right up front I want to state that the hurtful allegations made against me by the AK Press Collective – that I have been masquerading as an anarchist while I am in fact a fascist – do not only have an impact on me, but directly damages more than two decades of hard work on behalf of the anarchist movement by my closest comrades. This is especially true of Prof Lucien van der Walt, my co-author of Black Flame, who has committed the past 15 years to researching and writing its as-yet unpublished sister volume, Global Fire, a huge synthesis of world anarchist organisational and ideological history. I must stress in the strongest possible terms that Lucien and others such as my comrades at the Institute for Anarchist Theory and History (IATH) in São Paulo, Brazil, https://ithanarquista.wordpress.com/ are entirely faultless in this affair and so cannot possibly be tarred with the same brush: the allegations relate solely to myself and to no-one else.
Secondly, thanks for all the messages of support from my friends and comrades around the world, including those that have taken a “let’s hear the evidence first” approach, because that’s the polite way to do things. I initially thought AK Press had gone public without contacting me first, but on trawling through my alternate email I found a message from Zach Blue – so thanks to the AK Press Collective for attempting to alert me to the pending allegations.
Researching the white ultra-right
AK Press has yet to produce its evidence against me, but I know what it consists of. The allegations arise from a lengthy interview conducted with me by the writer Alexander “Sasha” Reid-Ross over June to August 2015. Sasha told me he was researching a book on that weird and worrying new entryist tendency called “national-anarchism” for publication by AK Press under the title Against the Fascist Creep (I have a record of the entire interview if needed). I expected that he had approached me because for some reason, Wikipedia cites me as a source on “national-anarchism” because of a paragraph extracted from a very long review of two brilliant books on South Asian anarchism by Maia Ramnath in which I say that Gandhi’s thought, far from being anarchist, appears more as a precursor to “that strange hybrid of recent years,” as I called it, “national anarchism”; the full review is online here: http://www.anarkismo.net/article/23404 .
It is definitely an unusual take on Gandhi, but it is obvious that I in no way support “national-anarchism” nor find it has anything in common with genuine anarchism. Bear in mind that the article was peer-reviewed by both Lucien van der Walt and the anarkismo editorial collective before being published. In any case, I was eager to assist and Sasha is very knowledgeable and a thorough researcher. I’m now not sure if he really is planning such a book, or whether he was simply tasked by AK Press with investigating allegations that I was involved with the “National Anarchist Movement,” but that is irrelevant to the issue at hand.
The allegations have their origin with the fact that since 2005 until I shut it down recently, I maintained a profile on the white supremacist website Stormfront. Let me explain: I am an investigative journalist by profession and in 2005 was working at the Saturday Star in Johannesburg. My beat included extra-Parliamentary politics – social movements, trade unions, and political organisations from the ultra-left to the ultra-right. My editor Brendan Seery allowed me to set up a Stormfront account under which I could pose as a sympathetic fellow-traveller in order to keep an eye on what the white right-wing in South Africa was talking about: in other words, this was professionally vetted by my editor.
For the next decade I kept my finger on the pulse of the right by reading and occasionally posting on Stormfront. Most of my posts were pretty neutral in tone, though I did have to take an essentially racist stance in order to fit in and not arouse suspicion: this was distasteful, but is part and parcel of doing undercover work. I have since shut the account down, but some of the results of my work on the white right are included in the first chapter of my new book, A Taste of Bitter Almonds, which is due out in November (see Background below); these make it clear that while I attempt to understand the white right, I am no friend of theirs.
In 2009, with Black Flame published, I started researching contemporary claims to the anarchist label, including “anarcho-primitivism,” “post-anarchism” and “national-anarchism” for a section in the up-coming volume with Lucien van der Walt, Global Fire: the intent was to critique and discredit their claims to anarchist legitimacy, but I needed to get to know their materials properly first. I used my Stormfront profile to make contact with Troy Southgate, the founder of “national-anarchism”. In order to establish my bona fides with him and his circle, I established two false Facebook profiles, one of a woman, another of a man, and a blog purporting to be that of a Southern African “national-anarchist” outfit called Black Battlefront set up by the couple.
I fleshed things out by inventing back-stories on the couple, the guy as a white Namibian, and the woman as a risk analyst of Ukrainian-American descent; I also had them write two detailed pieces, one a “Creed” of Black Battlefront in order for the false organisation to sound plausible in a “national-anarchist” context, and another a critique of Jared Diamond’s great book Guns, Germs and Steel, to establish the woman as a serious thinker who would be of interest to Southgate. This positioning allowed me to talk on a personal level with Southgate and his cronies and so round out my research.
To be frank, though I readily admitted my Stormfront profile to Sasha, I lied to him about those profiles when he asked me because although I finished my research on “national-anarchism” more than a year ago, I still wanted to maintain the links to Southgate and his “National-Anarchist Movement” just in case – and the first rule of undercover work is you only tell who you absolutely need to, so I did not even tell my former comrades in the ZACF. Sorry for lying, Sasha, Lucien and the rest, but intense confidentiality is my practice as an investigative journalist; for example, in the 2000s, I never even discussed with my then-wife what I was working on until it was published (do I need to state that she’s an Indian woman and that she very kindly did the hard work of proof-reading Black Flame?). But now that my cover is blown, it makes no difference.
My life took a dramatic turn for the worse in July 2010 when I was hospitalised with meningitis – and as a parting gift, the meningitis provoked a massive seizure that broke my spine in five places. In the aftermath of that, I spent a month in hospital, mostly in a delirium caused by the virus and the medication. In the subsequent months, due to heavy pain medication and perhaps some brain damage caused by the meningitis/seizure, my memory is patchy about what I posted online under my Stormfront and Facebook aliases – Sasha questioned me in detail about this period, but, for example, I remember absolutely nothing about the entire first month out of hospital when I was apparently cared for by some friends (thanks, guys, but my mind is still a blank!). Although I initially thought my account had been hacked, because I couldn’t remember making some of the posts, I now accept that I must have posted what is there.
In any case, as a result of one of those posts in that period, in 2011 some anarchist comrades came across a Black Battlefront link to my Stormfront profile and in shock recognised my face. My ZACF comrades hauled me onto the red carpet and grilled me about this – and rightly so! I admitted to them that the Stormfront profile was mine, but explained that it had been vetted by my editor and that I still used it for research; I did not admit to the Facebook profiles because a few months before, a good friend had confessed to me that for years she had worked as an agent for the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), actually being paid to be the girlfriend of one of our comrades, to keep an eye on us; I could not risk my penetration of the “National-Anarchist Movement” becoming known in activist circles in case other NIA agents got wind of it and used the information for their own ends. Nevertheless, the ZACF accepted my explanation. What AK Press has now discovered, I believe, based on Sasha’s questions, is exactly what the ZACF discovered back in 2011; I infiltrated the far-right; it did not infiltrate me!
Background: my position on race & nationalism
I won’t detail my anarchist activism, save to say that in 1992 I joined what became the Durban Anarchist Federation (DAF) in 1993 – while apartheid was still in force and I was ducking the Military Police who were trying to force me into part-time military service – and was in Chiapas in 1996 as a DAF delegate, then switched to the anarcho-syndicalist Workers’ Solidarity Federation (WSF) in 1997, following its key comrades into the Bikisha Media Collective in 1999 when the WSF disbanded, and again into the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF) when it was founded in 2003, taking with me the Anarchist Black Cross (South Africa) which I founded in 2002. It goes without saying that all these organisations were multi-racial and anti-fascist.
After two decades of activism in black working class and poor townships, I resigned from the ZACF in 2009 to focus on my research and writing. Apart from numerous Workers’ Solidarity and Zabalaza journal and online www.anarkismo.net articles, which serve to affirm my anti-racist credentials, my published books are:
1) Anarquismo Búlgaro em Armas (Brazil, 2008). This, on the Bulgarian Anarchist Communist Federation over 1919-1948, is the first in a series looking at anarchist mass movements that defended themselves by force of arms. The next in the series will be on Uruguay in 1956-1985, and on Manchuria in 1929-1945 – which shows that not all such movements were “white”.
2) Black Flame: the Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (AK Press, USA, 2009), with Lucien van der Walt. A controversial attempt to discover the coherent heart of anarchist theory by looking at the historical record, it has been translated into German (Nautilus, Germany, 2012), and translations are pending in Spanish, French and Greek. This book remains my core statement of political belief and I have not wavered from it (note the positions in Chapter 10 in particular on the intersections of race, nationalism and class, which are profoundly anarchist). Its unpublished sister volume Global Fire stresses the practical internationalism of the anarchist movement and its practical engagement with race and national liberation particularly in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Oceania and Asia.
3) Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism (AK Press, USA, 2013), which is the English translation of the French original (Lux Éditeur, Canada, 2012). This is in some ways a pocket version of Black Flame & Global Fire together: a potted history of the international anarchist movement in five waves from 1868, it stresses the multi-ethnic, transnational nature of the movement across the decades and is unique for its non-Western scope.
4) Drinking with Ghosts: the Aftermath of Apartheid’s Dirty War (BestRed, South Africa, 2014). This looks at the continuing damage done by the legacy of apartheid transnationally in Southern Africa – it avoids most local books’ narrow nationalist perspective and is explicitly anarchist in perspective.
5) A Taste of Bitter Almonds: Perdition and Promise in the New South Africa (BestRed, South Africa, due November 2015). This takes the controversial position that the corporate entity that is “South Africa” was established on the bones of the genocide of First Nations people here, stresses the multi-ethnic and mixed-race nature of all South Africans including myself, and consists of interviews across the country with the poor and excluded, mostly black, majority from an anarchist perspective.
Conclusion
Two swallows don’t make a summer, and the fact that I maintained a Stormfront profile and some fake Facebook accounts does not make me a fascist: they need to be seen in their proper context of my exhaustive research into the international anarchist movement over the past 15 years – work that is pretty much unique in terms of the breadth and depth of its non-Western (ie: non-white) materials. In 26 years of paid journalism and 23 years of unpaid anarchist activism, I don’t believe I’ve ever written an article that had even a whiff of white supremacy, fascism or racism to it – yet I do realise I am saying this as a white South African who continues to benefit directly from centuries of institutional racism. I won’t make any claim about how many back friends I have, but the fact is that my most beloved friends and comrades hail from diverse cultures across the planet. I truly hope that this response is taken by those friends and my comrades at AK Press in a constructive spirit and that, even if we only finally manage agree to disagree over my methods of research, at least then part with no ill feelings.
Red & Black regards
Michael Schmidt

The rumors and evidence pieces are numerous at this point, but without a coherent claim we will just say that the accusations have been made by trusted sources, but we have yet to see exactly what is being accused.