Saturday, February 22, 2014
Asheville Fm radio, based in western North Carolina, aired a fascinating interview with an anarcho-syndicalist named Denys, from the Autonomous Worker’s Union in Ukraine. In the interview, Denys debunks many of the myths surrounding the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, and explains motives behind the stories and propaganda being circulated around the protests.
Why is the Free Association Agreement with the EU (which would mostly benefit the ultra-rich oligarchs of Ukraine) deliberately being construed as actual integration? Ukrainian leaders backed off from signing it at the last minute. Meanwhile, Russia is trying to pull Ukraine into her Customs Union by offering Kyiv a deal for promised purchases of billions of euro of Ukrainian products, and a 30 percent discount on Russian Natural Gas.
Denys explains that when the protests broke, the political class of Ukraine was taken by surprise. However, the opposition, a coalition leaning towards far-right (with fascist Svoboda being the most visible of them all) quickly regrouped and turned the street into their PR machine. The opposition had massive demonstrations in their plans, as fascist Svobodas leader declared in an interview in March 2013. Evidence emerged of the opposition leaders plans to overthrow the current government with the financial and political support of Germany’s conservative Angela Merkel, the EU leaders from Brussels, and with visible support of the United States, whose envoy, conservative John McCain was the guest star of the Euromaidan.
Two months after they started, Euromaidan protests started to wane, despite being forcefully encouraged by the conservative political elites and governments of Europe and the United States. These protests have been controlled by the politicians who took over the Kyiv City Hall, and in this video, we can see a neo-nazi white pride Christian cross, proudly displayed by the opposition in their “Revolutionary HQs,” the City Hall of Kyiv which they occupied earlier in December.
It’s hard to say who is more desperate – the government or the opposition, but the latter announced they would focus on the upcoming presidential elections, due in 18 months, though it’s not quite clear what candidate they’ll support. Fatherland sided with the ruling Party of Regions of the current president Viktor Yanukovych in backstabbing Vitali Klitschko, most likely to make room either for their man, Arseniy Yatseniuk, or for the leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok (or maybe for Tymoshenko for whose release from prison, the West makes huge pressures).
Klitschko, already promoted by the conservative leaders of Europe as their favourite, announced he would run in the March 2015 presidential elections, a month before the Euromaidan.
However, Svoboda’s leader exposed their plans to take over Kyiv in a March 2013 interview which a month later was followed by street protests which failed to call for early elections for the mayor of Kiev, which would have led to the ousting of one of the allies of President Viktor Yanukovich from a powerful post.
7 months later, the opposition used the street protests against the government to gain power in Ukraine. The results have been very fruitful for the Svoboda party. On January 1st, the Svoboda party led a march of over 15,000 nationalists to celebrate the birthday of long dead nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.
Klitschko attempted to disassociate Euromaidan from the Bandera march, but this lacks meaning as he has allied with Tyagnybok and demonstrated his willingness to collaborate with the Svoboda party. Many participants in Euromaidan have expressed their disapproval of the Bandera march, yet many of the same people have expressed their desire to not split the protests, meaning they will still willingly collaborate with nazis. This has essentially allowed Svoboda to establish hegemony among Euromaidan attendees as well as the capital.
In this interview, Denys explains what are the real facts and how are they reflected in a labyrinth of deformed mirrors, which one must remove from their way to understand the reality of life in Ukraine, a country where “people are ill because the State is a Ministry, Court, Oligarch, Scoundrel and non-accountable Parliament all at once, with all the same personalities over and over again.”
The transcript of the interview with Denys has been slightly edited from the spoken language into the written one, for more clarity. The edited parts are in brackets. You may also listen to it here.
Denys: You must distinguish between the two Euromaidans. (In) the first one which (took place) on November 21st, middle class people (participated), who mostly wanted the signing of that European Union agreement. However, today (our note – two months later), most of the people who are on the streets are concerned with rather more practical issues, such as police brutality, which was shown on the night of December 1st, and generally they are not happy with the government and the president. So the European integration remains a wider issue, but today it’s kind of the second place.
(As far as) the pro-government protests (are concerned): the people (who participated in them) were taken by the government on busses and (brought) to Kyiv for the weekend. (These) protests were not honest. Many people who work for the government, like teachers, doctors and so on, were told by their bosses that they have to do it. So, it was like mandatory for them. I would not say this (was) a real protest. But (regarding) the people who support the Union with Russia and Belarus and Kazahstan, yes, there is such an opinion and, as a whole, the country is divided more or less 50-50 regarding the integration into the European Union or the Customs Union.
The problem is that the second position is just not very represented in mass media which lean towards the other direction (pro-EU). And generally those people (who support the Customs Union) do not have the habit of protesting. They live in smaller towns and therefore they are not (represented in the media as much as those who live in the capital).
Also (the supporters of the Customs Union) have very stupid political leaders, for instance the main political force, which had organised those protests (in favor of) the Customs Union, (had) as their main point of anti-EU propaganda (the claim) that the European Union will bring about the same-sex marriage, and non traditional things which supposedly would not be welcomed by the Ukraian population. They even invented the term “Euro-sodom,” like (in) Sodom and Gomorrah.
And the other political force which supports the Customs Union is the Communist Party of Ukraine, which for many years has had nothing to do with communism, its political programme and agenda (can be) rather described as conservative, just like a regular social conservative party. If you compared (them) with Marie Le Pen, you would not find much difference between them.”
Asheville Fm radio: Is in their wording and imagery a sort of call back towards the Soviet era and rejoining with other Eastern European countries?
Denys: “Yes, of course they speculate about it, because the bonds between regular people are still very strong. You know many people have relatives (in Russia), (not to mention things) like the common mass-culture. Many people watch the Russian TV channels, so that is much more common in the regular lives of people in central, eastern, and southern regions.
People in the Central and Southern region have many things in common with the Russians, in their lifestyle, and they don’t feel they are the same as the European people.
But at the same time, a large part of the (Ukrainian) population is now currently living abroad, in the European Union, especially in Spain, Italy, Poland and Czech Republic and Portugal. Mostly these are people from Western regions, but not exclusively.
Asheville Fm radio: With the supporters versus the detractors of the EU inclusion, I can see a dividing up according to social norms, as you mentioned, so people who are maybe more social liberal (are) maybe leaning towards the West with its more progressive laws and same sex marriages, and then on the right side you have more conservative, more orthodox leaning – it will be a different orthodox church than the Russian orthodox – I’m sure that, depending on where you are in the country or what industry you’re in, you’re going do more business generally with the East or the West. But would you say that both the positions are basically more towards liberalizing the economy and weakening workers’s rights within Ukraine, or is it sort of a false bind for workers in Ukraine?
Denys: First of all you talked about the prevailing social liberalism among the pro-EU (Ukrainians). I would not really agree with that. There is such an impression because the pro-EU protests are headed by the educated middle class people who do have a (sort) of more social liberal agenda.
But still it’s more like cultural right versus cultural right.
So, for example, regularly, people at the Euromaidan pray publicly like together, all together. Then again, (regarding) the same sex marriages (issue): most people who stand for the EU integration would never accept it.
(Indeed) the social issues regarding the workers’ rights are not on the agenda at all. The working class, as a class, does not take part in these events at all. The workers naturally do take sides, but they are not organized in class-like organisations, in unions, as such they just don’t participate in these events. And they have good reasons for this, because both sides just talk about the cultural, political issues, which don’t have any direct connection to needs of an average worker.
The protesters who support the EU have the utterly false impression about Europe as some paradise where everything is all right, everything is much better than in Ukraine or anywhere else. It’s useless to tell them about the protests within the EU, about the austerity programs. They just don’t listen and they would say, “Ah, so you would better join Russia, wouldn’t you!”
So this false choice is just overwhelming and I think the same could be said about the opposite side. The leftist agenda, the workers’ rights agenda, is just not present at any of these squares (where people protest).
Asheville Fm radio: That must be a rather a frustrating position. All right, I guess, as an anarchist, it might open all sorts of possibilities and questions, (when they say) “Well, you must be pro-Russia if you’re against this”, (could you say) “Well, actually there’s another way.” Do you find that opens up a lot of conversations for you?
Denys: “No. The people are very hyped-up, they are very nervous. Today and maybe all the other days of last weeks, you could be in real physical danger, if you start saying something like this because you’d be immediately considered a provocateur from the ruling party. Actually, there were a couple of such incidents at the Euromaidan, when people from different leftist groups were trying to do exactly what you’re saying, and some of them were beaten quite harshly, others were just pushed out. (This is) because regular people do show some interest sometimes, but the other problem is that the whole situation in the rank and file in the euromaidan, the security and the local managers (organisers of the protests), who do stuff, they are heavily infiltrated by the far right groups that actually have their own things to say to the left. And they have the trust of the normal, the political people, so if some new Nazi whom we know says, “Oh my god, look, these are communists, these are like provocateurs, I think they just support Yanukovych,” nobody would listen to you anymore. You’d be like pushed away.
This is the mass hysteria in which I do not think it is possible to do much agitation, although I think during the next year we’ll have much more possibilities, because given the awful state of Ukraine’s state finances, I think during the next couple of months, the protests could be transformed into something (closer to a) more of a social economical agenda.”
Asheville Fm radio: Let’s hope so.
Can you talk a bit more about the Ukrainian political system, and what the spectrum looks like? What kind of parties should our listeners know about to get a basic understanding about the dynamics, and what the stances are on the Ukraine joining the EU or the Custom’s Union?
Denys: “The Ukrainian parliamentary politics basically consists of two large (political) parties – these two parties have pretty identical social, political and economical agendas. They both can be described as centrist-right populists. One party is the Party of Region, which is the ruling party, president Yanukovych is their chief, and the government consists of the Party of Regions’ members. The opposition consists of a bloc of three parliamentary opposition parties, which are basically the same, the only difference is that they speak Ukrainian. (These opposition parties) have their electoral base in the Central and Western Ukraine, while the Party of Regions (people rather) speak Russian, and they speculate on these cultural differences, since their voters live in the South and in the East. These are the parties which gather perhaps 60 percent of all votes. Also there is the “Communist” party of Ukraine, which I already told you about. And one of this so-called National Democratic Opposition is the Svoboda (party), which is translated as “freedom”, but actually is a far-right party, identical to the other far-right populists from the European countries actually. Most of the political parties which I described do support the integration into the European Union, including most of the businessmen who support the Party of Regions (the ruling paty of president Yanukovych).
Actually, during this year, there emerged an opposition, based on pro-Russian conservative grounds, inside the Party of Regions, but it was very severely suppressed. The would-be leader of that opposition, a member of the parliament, was expelled from the Parliament, on grounds that he rigged the elections in his constituency.
Up until the end of November everything said that Ukraine would sign that Association Agreement (with the EU) because everybody is interested in it.
Then things changed rapidly, as far as can be understood, when the president and the prime-minister looked at the figures and they just realized that they can’t do it because the trade was with Russia and because (of the situation of) the State’s finances – we don’t have money and the budget is just empty and we can’t afford the losses which would be brought about by that association Agreement. Obviously nobody read that agreement at all (until at that moment), because (until the moment they backed off), the prime-minister and the president were the main euro-optimists in the country.
Overnight then they became the main euro-skeptics.”
Asheville Fm radio: Was the International Monetary Fund’s restructuring plan a part of getting into the European Union, or was that a separate thing that suddenly came up about the same time for the Yanukovych’s party?
Denys: “These are two separate things, which are united by the fact that the Ukrainian government badly needs money. So they’ve decided to press the European Union in order for them to help Ukraine negotiate for better conditions of (getting) a credit fund from the IMF.
This is because the IMF demands (the same measures) as they usually do for many countries. (They impose) very harsh conditions, such as rising the gas price for the population, and the devaluation of the national currency. And the government refused to do that that over the past years, and it would be certainly political suicide for any politician who would try to do that now, when there is one year left before the presidential elections.”
Asheville Fm radio: From what I understand the IMF demands a 40 percent increase of the price of natural gas in a country that is quite cold, right?
Asheville Fm radio: That seems like political suicide. I can see that for sure.
Denys: “The main political force in the far right scene in Ukraine today is undeniably the Svoboda party, if I would have to seek some comparison I would compare them to other eastern european far-right parties such as Hungarian Jobbik party (more on Jobbik: documetary, news report, and article) which I think American listeners may be aware of. There was a huge scandal when they got lots of votes a couple of years ago in Hungary. Svoboda (is) pretty much the same thing, it’s a political party which has its own project of a so-called “national constitution” (which would bring about) many awful things, such as the death penalty for the so-called “anti-Ukrainian activities,” without further comment. Basically anything contrary to that parties spirit could be considered “anti-Ukrainian.”
Today in the Euromaidan they are calling for a political strike, but actually what most people just don’t realize is that, in the Svoboda’s project of (a new) Constitution, the political strike is a criminal offense.”
Asheville Fm radio: It’s a state of exception for them, I’m sure.
Denys: “Yeah. The paradox is that they’ve become extremely popular among the educated liberal middle class in urban areas, especially in Kyiv. So today Kyiv votes for Svoboda, as the Western regions of Ukraine do, because they just say, “Well, I don’t know what is their program like. I did not read anything (about it), but they look so harsh, they are such cool guys, and I’m sure that at least they would break the necks of those corrupt people who are now in the party (holding) power.”
This is, of course, very much reminiscent of the historical situations in other countries in 21st century.
I don’t want to sound too much in panic, but there are some similar traits, because regular bourgeois people from the middle class just don’t see anything wrong with it. And, to some extent, they are right, because, if the far-right wins over the country, these people would not feel any major difficulties (in their life). The main difficulties would be directed towards the far left, towards all the left parties and movements, and towards the ethnic minorities and racial minorities.
But normal people would not feel anything for some time (at least), and that’s the problem.
Also another interesting fact about (the Svoboda) party: they (went through) a rebranding, and now (they) call (themselves) “freedom”. This is a generic word for the European right, but up until 2005 or 2004, they called themselves the Socialist Nationalist Party of Ukraine.” (our note: Actually the current Svoboda leader said at one point that every Ukrainian must become a Socialist-Nationalist.)
Asheville Fm radio: Do you have anything to say about the Ukraine National Assembly party?
Denys: “They’re not very influential now. They used to be a very powerful far-right party (back) in the `90s, when they really had their own para-military soldiers, and even a semi-army, and their fighters (participated in) the war in Chechnya, and in other Caucasus wars and in Transnistria, and, yeah, they were very scary. But today they are just mostly a club for the nazis who don’t like Svoboda.
Asheville Fm radio: I came across the website of Dimitrov Kutchinsky, that guy is crazy. There are also references to national-anarchism.
Denys: “Are you familiar with that concept at all?”
Asheville Fm radio: Yeah there are some idiots claiming to be that in the United States. In San Francisco, and New York and Chicago. Are they much of a thing in the Ukraine?
Denys: “Yes, actually yes. Because unfortunately this is a very popular trend – to mix with the leftist things, like (in adopting an) anticapitalism (narrative). The anarchist (position) is very trendy, cool and gives you some points immediately, but people mix it with national things, which also look very trendy and cool with the youth, mainly with teenagers who just don’t see any problem in trying to combine these things. And it’s especially funny in Ukraine because we have a very big myth about Makhno.
Today he’s an integral part of the national myth, he’s considered a nationalist, actually, because, well, he fought the Bolsheviks, therefore he must be for Ukraine, for independent Ukraine, and for the rule of the nation and so on. Obviously this is total bullshit, but this mythology is very popular and it adds to the popularity of that left-right synthesis, the third position actually, like Terza Posizione, (which is) the Italian fascist tradition.”
Asheville Fm radio: Yeah that’s the same phrasing that they use in the United States: third positionists. There’s also a lot of overlap of nationalism and regional bio-centric ecology, so that they seem to make invasions into Green Anarchism before they start to make it into the mainstream or before a lot of people became aware of who they were and what they were doing.
Denys: “I understand that, but here in Ukraine, apart from the New Age things, they are also very fascinated by the proper fascists, such as Mussolini, for example. They somehow are trying to mix it with anarchism.
Also you may be aware of the split in the Russian anarchist movement recently?
Asheville Fm radio: No, I’m not actually.
Denys: “Well there was a big split and that is repeated in Ukraine too.
It’s the split between the anarchists who support the minority rights, the feminist struggle, they pay attention to general issues, to the minority rights to the ethnical minorities, and the other macho-anarchists who don’t like all this ‘feminist b….t.’ They say, ‘We are cool guys, we do lots of sports and we are the proper anarchists, we don’t want anything to do with those pussies.’
Unfortunately, this manarchism is also gaining a lot of popularity lately.”
Asheville Fm radio: Is that a phrase you use in Ukraine, manarchism?
Denys: “Oh, we know that it’s originated in the United States, but for the lack of better word, yeah.”
Asheville Fm radio: It was quite surprising to hear it, I mean your English is very good but also the colloquial, the subcultural terms that you’ve pulled, they’re quite good. It seems in the United States that that’s always been a trend, that’s a possibility and that’s happened over and over again where people split off and say, “Oh, we need to have action now, no, these other ideas will happen after the revolution, we can wait to talk about race or sexism after the revolution and we’re gonna make the revolution right now so that we’d get on to those conversations,” and it seemed to a lot of people, starting about 10 years ago maybe in the United States among insurrectional currents of anarchism that that was a thing that people were tending towards, but I don’t think that there was actually a split in the United States, thankfully, I think there are people who have that perspective but usually they get put in their place by other people pretty fast.
They get called manarchists, and then internet videos are made about them and they are made fun of in public and then they don’t want to be that person anymore, hopefully.
Denys: “The difference is you don’t have such developed fascists, do you?”
Asheville Fm radio: No.
I mean we have a lot of far-right leaning groupings in the United States, some of which are para-military such as militias, or the KKK, though they’re not very big anymore, there are large pockets of neo-nazi subcurrents, but for the most part these groupings are at the political fringes, and the mainstream of America would not listen to them, although there have been large upsurges in anti-immigrant perspectives over the last 10 years that have led to armed groups on the border with Mexico for instance that have been deputized in certain states. In a way that kind of reflects from what I understand the Kozaks as an armed civilian militia that’s trained and armed by the state in Russia?
But, yeah, the integration of rasist and fascist elements, as (openly) fascists is not really a thing although people make the argument that the United States is a fascist State it’s definitely not Mussolini’s Italy and definitely not Hitler’s Germany.
Denys: “We have an additional pressure from the right and more people just tend to confuse these things. You know, all these things are against the power, against the government and, yeah, (they are like), “I’m too lazy to read anything about it yeah, so I should go into the street, and not even go into the street, but merely go into the gym.” There is a (Denys told Revolution News that this is a true story) joke, (about) the Kyiv manarchist (and it goes), “The day before yesterday they’ve issued a call of unity among the Kyiv left in the face of the Euromaidan like “We should be united and go together and do something social to raise some social issues and so on, but that call for unity contained one note: that if we see people with a black violet flag they would be considered provocateurs and all the necessary measures will be upon them.”
Asheville Fm radio: And black and violet being the color spectrum from the anarcha-feminist?
Denys: Yeah, right.
Asheville Fm radio: To bring you back to the protests initially as it is the Euromaidan began November 21st with 2000 people gathered in occupying Kyiv’s Maidan, it is the Independence’s square, right?
Asheville Fm radio: And Maidan means square?
Asheville Fm radio: Can you talk briefly about the Orange revolution and the comparisons that have been made between the protests that are going on right now and the scale of these protests and maybe the lack of scale in the demands of the people on the streets?
And compare that to the Orange revolution?
Denys: “Well, one thing which was prominent in the Orange revolution events was (the focus) on one person.
Everybody was shouting, “Yushchenko” the name of the candidate for the presidential position and at that time all the left were criticizing the Orange revolution for this, (because) they did not pay any attention to other vital problems, they just shouted “Yushchenko” and they thought that he was the Messiah who’d get things done.
But today they don’t have even this and still they don’t pay any attention to the bread and butter issues. Large masses of people just have the illusion about the fairytale of Europe, which they want to join, like personally. And nobody says anything about the actual content of that (EU) Association Agreement.
Yes, now the mobilization of what I understand is already larger than in 2004 events, so potentially the opposition holds a vast resource, but the problem is they don’t really know how to use it.
We can read in the interviews of their politicians who took part in the Orange revolution, at that time, (how) the politicians controlled the crowd much more tightly.
For example, one politician recently gave an interview, and he said, “Do you know why at that time the euromaidan was entirely orange and now they have different flags of different colors? Well, that’s not a coincidence. It’s just because everyday (back in 2004) we brought there 300 fresh orange flags.”
They’ve controlled the crowd, they were giving them the flags and doing their organisational work more efficiently than now. Today the parliamentary opposition was just responding to a spontaneous mobilization, they did not order it and then they just did not know what to do, in the first few days. In this situation, then, again, the most prepared party turned out to be the Svoboda. Which is the only party that has its own rank and file activists, who can do things in the field. So they get the most benefit as for today, as it looks now.
Asheville Fm radio: How has the media in Ukraine dealt with, interacted with the Euromaidan movement and what is the ownership structure like with the media in Ukraine. What sort of influences do different stations have?
Denys: Oh it’s a very interesting story because in 2004, during the Orange revolution, all the media were heavily censored in that regard and all the people were watching Channel 5. (This) was the only TV channel (broadcasting) all these events, because its owner was Petro Poroshenko, an opposition politician. Today the ownership structure is not any better for the opposition, but still all the main TV channels and generally all the main mass media are covering the story very closely. When it was that bloody crackdown all the main channels belonging to the richest oligarchs covered it almost live, showing these riot police beating up people and saying how awful this is and so on and so on.
This shows that the owners of the media are really not happy themselves with the current president, and this was a big news for most Ukrainians as well. Because there is a popular (belief) that all the oligarchs are behind the (current) president, but, as we can see now, recently, the business advisers of the Ukrainian President Yanukovych have really irritated the media moguls, who are the owners of large portions of the Ukrainian GDP. They are not really happy about the president’s family doing things they should not do with their business.”
Asheville Fm radio: Talk about the group that you’re with, or the organisation.
Denys: “It was founded two years ago, and it’s still not super big. But I would say that we really have had some development in quality as well as in quantity, because today we have two local (branches), one in Kyiv and one in Harkov – (this is) the second largest industrial city in Ukraine.
We have about 20-25 people in Kyiv and maybe like 15 people in Harkov.
These are not astronomical figures, but they are larger than they have been initially and I think we are growing. We see ourselves not as a political propaganda group, more as a class union.
We are guided by the revolutionary syndicalism principles, although lately our group is becoming more and more just anarcho-syndicalist. Earlier we had some trotskysts and some marxists but now I think that most of them are already anarchists.
But unfortunately we still don’t have any workplace organisations, because, according to the Ukrainian law, you must have at least 3 people at every local workplace. We have people from different areas who often don’t work anywhere officially at all, like seasonal workers or construction workers and so on.
That’s the problem and today we function in actuality more like a propaganda group, although we want to be an actual union more like IWW, that’s the model we look up to.”
Asheville Fm radio: For any listeners who are not familiar with anarcho-syndicalism, would you lay that down, briefly, and how it compares and differs from revolutionary syndicalism?
Denys: “Syndicalism as a method (stands for the) negation of parties and parliamentary politics, as an instrument of reaching any political goals. The main accent is laid on direct action instruments, such as strikes, demonstrations, occupations and so on.
The main issue of syndicalism per se is the strategy, which lies in connecting the political and economical struggle in the struggle of syndicates, of unions.
So, unlike trade unionism, the labor movement, or laborism like in Britain, syndicalists believe that unions should pursue political goals together with the economical goals, they should fight, for example, for high wages and together they should keep in their mind that they are fighting eventually for communism, for the downfall of capitalism. In the syndicalist theory, this is called revolutionary gymnastics.”
Asheville Fm radio: I’ve never heard that phrase before.
Denys: “The revolutionary gymnastics is everyday struggle for similar reformist things which at the same time develops the muscles of the working class. After these struggles, the workers come out of them more organized and higher level of class conscience.
During strikes and demonstrations, the working class consolidates and sort of trains itself for class battles, and for more important and more vital political battles which will come.
The revolutionary syndicalism unites basically any left anti-capitalist, while anarcho-syndicalism also implies that all the members of the movement share anarchist views.
Personally, I don’t think that anarcho-syndicalism is contradictory in any way to other forms of social anarchism.
Anarcho-synthesism is a school of thought which combines anarcho-communism as an ideal, anarcho-syndicalism as a method of reaching that ideal and anarcho-individualism as a base from which you evaluate your actions.”
Asheville Fm radio: Criticism that people might come up with is that it’s difficult to keep doing reformist work in the short-term even though it can get you better working conditions or less repression from the state, and keeping an eye towards conducting a revolution or not, just buying into the system you have to make better.
Is that the criticism that you hear?
Denys: “Well, our answer today is putting forward unrealistic demands. For example, one of our program’s points is to demand the lowering of the retirement age for men and women equally to 50 years, making longer the yearly vacations (pensions), and shortening the working hours to 35 hours a week.
These demands are postulated in the social context in which the government tries to raise the pension age and (increase) the working hours.
But still it does not look as utopian to most people because they can sympathise with this – everybody wants to have longer vacation. This helps us to get in a situation, into a zone where our demands are not considered some lunacy while at the same time obviously if our government would try to make them real any government would collapse.
Another example is our current campaign for free communal transport in Kyiv.
It was a response to the Kyiv government’s decision to raise the price of metro and buses (fares) (by) 50 percent. Nobody is willing to protest, the left groups who want to capitalize on this they just say, you know, the regular stuff, “We are against the raising of the tarifs, we don’t see it as a necessary step.”
I think our tactic was better because we put forward the offensive demands, not the defensive ones. We said, “Actually, we want free transit.” And here is the budget of the Kyiv government and we can see that here and here are the money which can be redirected and spent so that it can grant all the inhabitants of this city free transit.
Of course, this demand is still “unrealistic” in terms of real politics.
But it creates some space where you can be revolutionary and reformist at the same time.”
Asheville Fm radio: Your explanations have reminded me of the IWW’s push for the 4 hour work day, which they’ve played with for a long time. It’s like you say that to someone and they say, “That’s totally unrealistic, it’s not going to happen.” But then you break down the numbers and if everyone was actually working and profit would be redistributed in a certain way then that could work and that begs the question of what’s wrong with the system that makes us have to work so much.
How can anyone of the listeners outside of Ukraine support the work of the Autonomous Workers’ Union and support the people struggling against the EU and the Ukrainian government and Russian intersession.
Denys: “I think the most useful thing would be to actually do what you’re doing now – to try to dispel the myths about our current situation because as far as I can understand most of the anarchists in the Western countries are just super optimistic about the protests, they see it as the right path to the EU and (they think) we shall overcome. But, as I’ve tried to explain, the situation is not that simple, so I think first and foremost everybody should try to learn as much they can about every other struggle in the world. This is what I’ve tried to do and of course it’s not an original answer but the international solidarity can help. We know from our own experience that when some groups from other country stage solidarity protests however small it can be and it is very helpful. Our group has also staged lots of actions, demonstrations in solidarity with Greek comrades, Polish comrades and not only it raised up spirits, but it is a useful thing for building up networks and organisational cooperation. There is a thing called Red and Black coordination, I think it only unites Western Europeans in libertarian movements, but still it is potentially very useful and our union I think it’s going to join, by the way.
It would be good just to start communicating with each other directly and seeing the needs of each other.
Asheville Fm radio: You yourself just got back from a solidarity protest. Can you talk about that cause I was not aware of this massacre either.
Denys: Two years ago, in 2011, all workers in several oilfields in Kazakhstan staged a strike. Their first demands were just higher wages and better working conditions. But after they were totally ignored by the government and by the employer, they were radicalized by the local trots and they’ve started organizing a national network of militant collectives, demanding the nationalization of the whole oil industry and the workers’ control, and putting forward some political demands as well. Anyway they were still largely ignored until August after their strike has lasted for half a year, the government started repressing them. First they’ve beaten up some activists, they’ve locked up behind bars the woman who had given them legal advice, but still they were holding on the main square of Zhanaozen, which is a small workers’ town, in the West of Kazakhstan. But on december 16th there was a huge celebration of Kazakhstan’s independence day. And exactly on that day the strikers were attacked by a group of thugs obviously financed by the governor of that region who opened fire on the crowd. And 17 people were dead, several dozens were injured. That’s the perfect example of the unity of the capital and the state. If an anarchist wanted to talk about how the capitalists and the state support each other there can be no greater example in the recent history.
Especially since it was the main state holiday, Independence day.
After that the government started closing even the liberal media and repressing even the established bourgeois opposition. (more on the massacre)
Also this massacre was just the starting point for the Kazakhstan’s regime to turn into something much more brutal than it was before that. Also in the sphere of workers’ rights just recently the Kazakh government has come up with new proposals. They want to ban all the independent trade unions, so if you have a union cell in a factory, this cell should be controlled and governed by the National Federation of Trade Unions, the relic from the Soviet state, which is obviously heavily controlled by the government. If you don’t have any relations to that federation, your union is just illegal.
The other “great” initiative is that they want to raise the pension age again for women to make it 63 years, and to put a legal ceiling on the wages – not of top managers, but on the wages of relatively well off working people in such sectors such as oil and gas, where the wages are on average higher than in other sectors.
And the funny thing, but of course nobody cares in the West about it, no capitalist democracy can be bothered by this at all, the Kazakh state owns companies that are listed (at the western stock exchanges, like the London SE).
and they have huge success on the stock markets, then again it shows that there’s no big difference between the capitalism in the West and the capitalism in the former second world, because this point is often made by liberal experts here in Ukraine. They say something like, “You have a wild capitalism in Ukraine, but somewhere in the realms of Western paradise there is a true humanist capitalism.”
As you can see this is all the global unified system.”
Asheville Fm radio: If people want to learn more about you what website should we send them to?
Denys: It’s avtonomia.net.
More reading: Euromaidan: The solution to Putin, or another fascist political coup?
Other earlier interesting interview of Dennys:
For those interested in listening to archived episodes from Asheville Fm radio, check them
out at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org. You can contact them with
content suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, February 17, 2014
For years the U.S. government allowed racist white lynch mobs to murder Black men, women and children for practically nothing. The lynchings were so absurd one could argue that Black people’s lives were little to no value at all. In fact, between 1882 and 1930 in just the 10 southern U.S. states of Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina, 2,500 black people were lynched. That is an average of nearly one hanging every week.
Below are 10 unbelievable reasons Black people were lynched in American history, according to Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati. Some of them are so startling they are similar to the modern-day killings of Black children by white men, like in the recent cases of Trayvon Martin, wearing his hooded sweatshirt, Jordan Davis, playing loud music at a gas station, or Oscar Grant, simply hanging out at the train station on New Year’s Eve.
Some black people were lynched for throwing stones. Skipping a rock across a lake could lead to death.
There are cases on record that lynch mobs hung some Blacks because they were unpopular in the community.
Some Black people who were homeless and didn’t hold regular employment or made an income were lynched.
Injuring or Killing Livestock
In many cases Blacks were murdered for injuring or killing livestock. One could only assume that the animals’ lives were seen as more valuable.
Trying to Vote or Voting for the Wrong Party
Although Black men were allowed to vote in most states after 1870, many were killed when they were caught trying to participate. If they did vote and didn’t vote to others’ liking, mobs of white men would kill them.
Acting or Looking Suspicious
Some Blacks were killed by mobs because they were accused of acting or looking suspicious around whites.
In several cases, Blacks were lynched because they demanded to be treated with respect.
Voodoo is a form of spirituality that came to America with Blacks from West Africa. Many Black men, women, and children were murdered when they were caught practicing voodoo.
Many Blacks were hung for being too loud in public or being deemed as disorderly.
Black people that were caught gambling during this time were lynched.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
This is the transcript of a public lecture by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben delivered to a packed auditorium in Athens on November 16, 2013 and recently published by Chronos e-magazine.
A reflection on the destiny of democracy today here in Athens is in some way disturbing, because it obliges us to think the end of democracy in the very place where it was born. As a matter of fact, the hypothesis I would like to suggest is that the prevailing governmental paradigm in Europe today is not only non-democratic, but that it cannot either be considered as political. I will try therefore to show that European society today is no longer a political society; it is something entirely new, for which we lack a proper terminology and we have therefore to invent a new strategy.
Let me begin with a concept which seems, starting from September 2001, to have replaced any other political notion: security. As you know, the formula “for security reasons” functions today in any domain, from everyday life to international conflicts, as a codeword in order to impose measures that the people have no reason to accept. I will try to show that the real purpose of the security measures is not, as it is currently assumed, to prevent dangers, troubles or even catastrophes. I will be consequently obliged to make a short genealogy of the concept of “security”.
A Permanent State of Exception
One possible way to sketch such a genealogy would be to inscribe its origin and history in the paradigm of the state of exception. In this perspective, we could trace it back to the Roman principle Salus publica suprema lex – public safety is the highest law — and connect it with Roman dictatorship, with the canonistic principle that necessity does not acknowledge any law, with the comités de salut publique during French revolution and finally with article 48 of the Weimar republic, which was the juridical ground for the Nazi regime. Such a genealogy is certainly correct, but I do not think that it could really explain the functioning of the security apparatuses and measures which are familiar to us.
While the state of exception was originally conceived as a provisional measure, which was meant to cope with an immediate danger in order to restore the normal situation, the security reasons constitute today a permanent technology of government. When in 2003 I published a book in which I tried to show precisely how the state of exception was becoming in Western democracies a normal system of government, I could not imagine that my diagnosis would prove so accurate. The only clear precedent was the Nazi regime. When Hitler took power in February 1933, he immediately proclaimed a decree suspending the articles of the Weimar constitution concerning personal liberties. The decree was never revoked, so that the entire Third Reich can be considered as a state of exception which lasted twelve years.
What is happening today is still different. A formal state of exception is not declared and we see instead that vague non-juridical notions –like the security reasons — are used to install a stable state of creeping and fictitious emergency without any clearly identifiable danger. An example of such non-juridical notions which are used as emergency producing factors is the concept of crisis. Besides the juridical meaning of judgment in a trial, two semantic traditions converge in the history of this term which, as is evident for you, comes from the greek verb crino; a medical and a theological one. In the medical tradition, crisis means the moment in which the doctor has to judge, to decide if the patient will die or survive. The day or the days in which this decision is taken are called crisimoi, the decisive days. In theology, crisis is the Last Judgment pronounced by Christ in the end of times.
As you can see, what is essential in both traditions is the connection with a certain moment in time. In the present usage of the term, it is precisely this connection which is abolished. The crisis, the judgement, is split from its temporal index and coincides now with the chronological course of time, so that — not only in economics and politics — but in every aspect of social life, the crisis coincides with normality and becomes, in this way, just a tool of government. Consequently, the capability to decide once for all disappears and the continuous decision-making process decides nothing. To state it in paradoxical terms, we could say that, having to face a continuous state of exception, the government tends to take the form of a perpetual coup d’état. By the way, this paradox would be an accurate description of what happens here in Greece as well as in Italy, where to govern means to make a continuous series of small coups d’état.
Governing the Effects
This is why I think that, in order to understand the peculiar governmentality under which we live, the paradigm of the state of exception is not entirely adequate. I will therefore follow Michel Foucault’s suggestion and investigate the origin of the concept of security in the beginning of modern economy, by François Quesnais and the Physiocrates, whose influence on modern governmentality could not be overestimated. Starting with Westphalia treaty, the great absolutist European states begin to introduce in their political discourse the idea that the sovereign has to take care of its subjects’ security. But Quesnay is the first to establish security (sureté) as the central notion in the theory of government — and this in a very peculiar way.
One of the main problems governments had to cope with at the time was the problem of famines. Before Quesnay, the usual methodology was trying to prevent famines through the creation of public granaries and forbidding the exportation of cereals. Both these measures had negative effects on the production. Quesnay’s idea was to reverse the process: instead of trying to prevent famines, he decided to let them happen and to be able to govern them once they occurred, liberalizing both internal and foreign exchanges. “To govern” retains here its etymological cybernetic meaning: a good kybernes, a good pilot can’t avoid tempests, but if a tempest occures he must be able to govern his boat, using the force of waves and winds for navigation. This is the meaning of the famous motto laisser faire, laissez passer: it is not only the catchword of economic liberalism; it is a paradigm of government, which conceives of security (sureté, in Quesnay’s words) not as the prevention of troubles, but rather as the ability to govern and guide them in the good direction once they take place.
We should not neglect the philosophical implications of this reversal. It means an epochal transformation in the very idea of government, which overturns the traditional hierarchical relation between causes and effects. Since governing the causes is difficult and expensive, it is safer and more useful to try to govern the effects. I would suggest that this theorem by Quesnay is the axiom of modern governmentality. The ancien regime aimed to rule the causes; modernity pretends to control the effects. And this axiom applies to every domain, from economy to ecology, from foreign and military politics to the internal measures of police. We must realize that European governments today gave up any attempt to rule the causes, they only want to govern the effects. And Quesnay’s theorem makes also understandable a fact which seems otherwise inexplicable: I mean the paradoxical convergence today of an absolutely liberal paradigm in the economy with an unprecedented and equally absolute paradigm of state and police control. If government aims for the effects and not the causes, it will be obliged to extend and multiply control. Causes demand to be known, while effects can only be checked and controlled.
One important sphere in which the axiom is operative is that of biometrical security apparatuses, which increasingly pervade every aspect of social life. When biometrical technologies first appeared in 18th century in France with Alphonse Bertillon and in England with Francis Galton, the inventor of finger prints, they were obviously not meant to prevent crimes but only to recognize recidivist delinquents. Only once a second crime has occurred, you can use the biometrical data to identify the offender. Biometrical technologies, which had been invented for recividist criminals, remained for a long time their exclusive privilege. In 1943, US Congress still refused the Citizen Identification Act, which was meant to introduce for every citizen an Identity Card with finger prints. But according to a sort of fatality or unwritten law of modernity, the technologies which have been invented for animals, for criminals, strangers or Jews, will finally be extended to all human beings. Therefore, in the course of 20th century, biometric technologies have been applied to all citizens, and Bertillon’s identification photographs and Galton’s fingerprints are currently in use everywhere for ID cards.
The De-politicization of Citizenship
But the extreme step has been taken only in our days and it is still in the process of full realization. The development of new digital technologies, with optical scanners which can easily record not only finger prints but also the retina or the eye’s iris structure, biometrical apparatuses tend to move beyond the police stations and immigration offices and spread into everyday life. In many countries, the access to student’s restaurants or even to schools is controlled by a biometric apparatus on which the student just puts his or her hand. The European industries in this field, which are quickly growing, recommend that citizens get used to this kind of control from their early youth. The phenomenon is really disturbing, because the European Commissions for the development of security (like the ESPR, European Security Research Program) include among their permanent members the representatives of the big industries in the field, which are just the old armaments producers like Thales, Finmeccanica, EADS et BAE System, that have converted to the security business.
It is easy to imagine the dangers represented by a power that could have at its disposal the unlimited biometric and genetic information of all its citizens. With such a power at hand, the extermination of the Jews, which was undertaken on the basis of incomparably less efficient documentation, would have been total and incredibly swift. But I will not dwell on this important aspect of the security problem. The reflections I would like to share with you concern rather the transformation of political identity and of political relationships that are involved in security technologies. This transformation is so extreme that we can legitimately ask not only if the society in which we live is still a democratic one, but also if this society can still be considered political.
Christian Meier has shown how in the 5th century a transformation of the conceptualization of the political took place in Athens, which was grounded on what he calls a “politicization” (politisierung) of citizenship. While until that moment the fact of belonging to the polis was defined by a number of conditions and social statuses of different kind — for instance belonging to nobility or to a certain cultural community, to be a peasant or merchant, a member of a certain family, etc. — from now on citizenship became the main criterion of social identity.
“The result was a specifically Greek conception of citizenship, in which the fact that men had to behave as citizens found an institutional form. The belonging to economic or religious communities was removed to a secondary rank. The citizens of a democracy considered themselves as members of the polis only in so far as they devoted themselves to a political life. Polis and politeia, city and citizenship, constituted and defined one another. Citizenship became in that way a form of life, by means of which the polis constituted itself in a domain clearly distinct from the oikos, the house. Politics became therefore a free public space as such opposed to the private space, which was the reign of necessity.” According to Meier, this specifically Greek process of politicization was transmitted to Western politics, where citizenship remained the decisive element.
The hypothesis I would like to propose to you is that this fundamental political factor has entered an irrevocable process that we can only define as a process of increasing de-politicization. What was in the beginning a way of living, an essentially and irreducibly active condition, has now become a purely passive juridical status, in which action and inaction, the private and the public are progressively blurred and become indistinguishable. This process of the de-politicization of citizenship is so evident that I will not dwell on it.
Rise of the State of Control
I will rather try to show how the paradigm of security and the security apparatuses have played a decisive role in this process. The growing extension to citizens of technologies which were conceived for criminals inevitably has consequences for the political identity of the citizen. For the first time in the history of humanity, identity is no longer a function of the social personality and its recognition by others, but rather a function of biological data, which cannot bear any relation to it, like the arabesques of the fingerprints or the disposition of the genes in the double helix of DNA. The most neutral and private thing becomes the decisive factor of social identity, which loses therefore its public character.
If my identity is now determined by biological facts that in no way depend on my will and over which I have no control, then the construction of something like a political and ethical identity becomes problematic. What relationship can I establish with my fingerprints or my genetic code? The new identity is an identity without the person, as it were, in which the space of politics and ethics loses its sense and must be thought again from the ground up. While the classical Greek citizen was defined through the opposition between the private and the public, the oikos , which is the place of reproductive life, and the polis, place of political action, the modern citizen seems rather to move in a zone of indifference between the private and the public, or, to quote Hobbes’ terms, the physical and the political body.
The materialization in space of this zone of indifference is the video surveillance of the streets and the squares of our cities. Here again an apparatus that had been conceived for the prisons has been extended to public places. But it is evident that a video-recorded place is no more an agora and becomes a hybrid of public and private; a zone of indifference between the prison and the forum. This transformation of the political space is certainly a complex phenomenon that involves a multiplicity of causes, and among them the birth of biopower holds a special place. The primacy of the biological identity over the political identity is certainly linked to the politicization of bare life in modern states.
But one should never forget that the leveling of social identity on body identity begun with the attempt to identify the recidivist criminals. We should not be astonished if today the normal relationship between the state and its citizens is defined by suspicion, police filing and control. The unspoken principle which rules our society can be stated like this: every citizen is a potential terrorist. But what is a state ruled by such a principle? Can we still define it as democratic state? Can we even consider it as something political? In what kind of state do we live today?
You will probably know that Michel Foucault, in his book Surveiller et Punir and in his courses at the Collège de France, sketched a typological classification of modern states. He shows how the state of the Ancien Regime, which he calls the territorial or sovereign state and whose motto was faire mourir et laisser vivre, evolves progressively into a population state and into a disciplinary state, whose motto reverses now into faire vivre et laisser mourir, as it will take care of the citizen’s life in order to produce healthy, well-ordered and manageable bodies.
The state in which we live now is no more a disciplinary state. Gilles Deleuze suggested to call it the État de contrôle, or control state, because what it wants is not to order and to impose discipline but rather to manage and to control. Deleuze’s definition is correct, because management and control do not necessarily coincide with order and discipline. No one has told it so clearly as the Italian police officer, who, after the Genoa riots in July 2001 declared that the government did not want for the police to maintain order but for it to manage disorder.
From Politics to Policing
American political scientists who have tried to analyze the constitutional transformation involved in the Patriot Act and in the other laws which followed September 2001 prefer to speak of a security state. But what does security here mean? It is during the French Revolution that the notion of security – sureté, as they used to say — is linked to the definition of police. The laws of March 16, 1791 and August 11, 1792 introduced thus into French legislation the notion of police de sureté (security police), which was doomed to have a long history in modernity. If you read the debates which preceded the vote on these laws you will see that police and security define one another, but no one among the speakers (Brissot, Heraut de Séchelle, Gensonné) is able to define police or security by themselves.
The debates focused on the situation of the police with respect to justice and judicial power. Gensonné maintains that they are “two separate and distinct powers,” yet, while the function of the judicial power is clear, it is impossible to define the role of the police. An analysis of the debate shows that the place and function of the police is undecidable and must remain undecidable, because, if it were really absorbed in the judicial power, the police could no more exist. This is the discretionary power which still today defines the actions of police officer, who, in a concrete situation of danger for the public security act, so to speak, as a sovereign. But, even when he exerts this discretionary power, the policeman does not really take a decision, nor prepares, as is usually stated, the judge’s decision. Every decision concerns the causes, while the police acts on effects, which are by definition undecidable.
The name of this undecidable element is no more today, like it was in 17th century, raison d’État, or state reason. It is rather “security reasons”. The security state is a police state, but, again, in the juridical theory, the police is a kind of black hole. All we can say is that when the so called “science of the police” first appears in the 18th century, the “police” is brought back to its etymology from the Greek politeia and opposed as such to “politics”. But it is surprising to see that “police” coincides now with the true political function, while the term politics is reserved for foreign policy. Thus Von Justi, in his treatise on Policey-Wissenschaft, calls Politik the relationship of a state with other states, while he calls Polizei the relationship of a state with itself. It is worthwhile to reflect upon this definition: “Police is the relationship of a state with itself.”
The hypothesis I would like to suggest here is that, placing itself under the sign of security, the modern state has left the domain of politics to enter a no man’s land, whose geography and whose borders are still unknown. The security state, whose name seems to refer to an absence of cares (securus from sine cura) should, on the contrary, make us worry about the dangers it involves for democracy, because in it political life has become impossible, while democracy means precisely the possibility of a political life.
Rediscovering a Form-of-Life
But I would like to conclude — or better to simply stop my lecture (in philosophy, like in art, no conclusion is possible, you can only abandon your work) — with something which, as far as I can see now, is perhaps the most urgent political problem. If the state we have in front of us is the security state I described, we have to think anew the traditional strategies of political conflicts. What shall we do, what strategy shall we follow?
The security paradigm implies that each form of dissent, each more or less violent attempt to overthrow the order, becomes an opportunity to govern these actions into a profitable direction. This is evident in the dialectics that tightly bind together terrorism and state in an endless vicious spiral. Starting with French Revolution, the political tradition of modernity has conceived of radical changes in the form of a revolutionary process that acts as the pouvoir constituant, the “constituent power”, of a new institutional order. I think that we have to abandon this paradigm and try to think something as a puissance destituante, a purely “destituent power”, that cannot be captured in the spiral of security.
It is a destituent power of this sort that Benjamin has in mind in his essay On the Critique of Violence, when he tries to define a pure violence which could “break the false dialectics of lawmaking violence and law-preserving violence,” an example of which is Sorel’s proletarian general strike. “On the breaking of this cycle,” he writes at the end of the essay “maintained by mythic forms of law, on the destitution of law with all the forces on which it depends, finally therefore on the abolition of state power, a new historical epoch is founded.” While a constituent power destroys law only to recreate it in a new form, destituent power — insofar as it deposes once for all the law — can open a really new historical epoch.
To think such a purely destituent power is not an easy task. Benjamin wrote once that nothing is so anarchical as the bourgeois order. In the same sense, Pasolini in his last movie has one of the four Salò masters saying to their slaves: “true anarchy is the anarchy of power.” It is precisely because power constitutes itself through the inclusion and the capture of anarchy and anomy that it is so difficult to have an immediate access to these dimensions; it is so hard to think today of something as a true anarchy or a true anomy. I think that a praxis which would succeed in exposing clearly the anarchy and the anomy captured in the governmental security technologies could act as a purely destituent power. A really new political dimension becomes possible only when we grasp and depose the anarchy and the anomy of power. But this is not only a theoretical task: it means first of all the rediscovery of a form-of-life, the access to a new figure of that political life whose memory the security state tries at any price to cancel.
Giorgio Agamben is a leading continental philosopher best known for his work on the concepts of the state of exception, form-of-life and homo sacer.