Tag Archives: BAAM

Last Wednesday’s talk

5 Feb

Just wanted to say thanks to the folks who came to my talk last week at the Center for Marxist Education. It was good time, and for the last bulk of the evening we had a great conversation about our experiences during the Occupy Boston encampment, the relationships of our political organizations, unions, and other pre-existing groups to the (then) new Occupy Boston general assemblies and working groups. That the participants came from a variety places on the Boston left and were open to comradely dialogue made for a really interesting and enlightening discussion. Unfortunately we didn’t film it, but hopefully we’ll continue this conversation,



“The Peasants’ Revenge” – Painting, Oil on Canvas, Oct 2013. For the Ocassion of N. Makhno’s 125 Birthday

26 Oct

A new painting! I’ve been working on this one for over a year, and finished it just in time for Nestor Makhno’s 125th birthday (today). Here are two articles from the BAAM Newsletter, reedited for my book, about Nestor Makhno and the Ukrainian Peasant anarchists (the subject matter of my painting). I hope to get a better photo of this, anyone out there with a good camera and some time?

Click here to check out details of the painting!

Happy Birthday Nestor Makhno: You are not Forgotten
The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 3 – October 2007

Nestor Ivonavich Makhno, peasant leader of the 1917-1921 Ukrainian anarchist revolution, was born on October 26, 1888, 119 years ago this month. Makhno was, as Alexander Berkman wrote in his essay, Nestor Makhno, the Man who Saved the Bolsheviki, a “[t]rue child of a revolutionary epoch…it is more than probable that but for him and his insurgent army of Ukrainian peasants Soviet Russia might now be only a memory.”

Born to a poor peasant family in 1888, Makhno joined the anarchists early and at the age of seventeen, he found himself condemned to death for revolutionary activities. Because of his youth, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment at a notorious Moscow prison. There he stayed, reading and fighting off tuberculosis, until the February Revolution freed him. Makhno immediately returned to his hometown of Guylia-Pole and raised a peasant army to resist a Prussian invasion of the Ukraine. His enthusiasm and dedication quickly gained him mass support. His devilish military cunning helped rid the Ukraine of the Prussians, and the peasants and workers launched an anarchist social revolution. As Berkman writes, “He had organized communes…and a large part of the Ukraine, covering hundreds of miles, with millions of population, live a free life and refuse to submit to the domination of any political party.”

In 1918, Makhno’s 25,000-strong insurgent army joined with the Bolshevik Red Army and succeeded in routing the reactionary White Army. The insurgents even saved Moscow from a White Army offensive in 1919. Immediately after this victory, Leon Trotsky—general of the Red Army—and the Bolsheviks capitalized on a widespread disease that had put Makhno in a coma and infected much of the insurgent army. When Makhno awoke some weeks later, the Red Army had occupied much of the Ukraine, outlawed Makhno, destroyed the soviets (workers’ councils) for not submitting to Bolshevik authority, and arrested and executed many insurgents.

Makhno jumped from his sick bed and hastened to rebuild his forces to take the fight to both the Reds and the Whites. He rode into battle, as Berkman describes, “Invariably at the head of his light cavalry…[h]e was reputed never to have lost a battle and never to have been wounded, though his favorite method was hand-to-hand combat with a sword or sabor.” In very little time, using creativity and the element of surprise, as well as convincing whole units of the enemy’s armies to join the insurgents, Makhno’s Black Army had succeeded in liberating Guylia-Pole and a large portion of the Ukraine.

In the absence of the insurgent army to resist them, the White Army had fought back to Moscow’s doorstep. Trotsky again begged Makhno for aid, and the anarchists agreed on the condition that anarchist prisoners be freed and the Ukraine granted autonomy. The Makhnovtchina again saved the Bolsheviki from certain defeat, and Trotsky invited the anarchist leaders to a celebration. It was a trap: Makhno was shot off his horse upon arrival and many of the anarchists were arrested or killed. When Makhno and a few others made it back to the Ukraine, they found it occupied by 150,000 Red Army soldiers who were no longer worried about the defeated Whites. The Ukrainian anarchists fought every day for almost a year, constantly surrounded on all sides and vastly outnumbered. Makhno realized his cause was lost and that the fighting was only destroying the Ukraine. He fled in 1921 and finally settled in Paris in 1925.

Makhno lived on, heartbroken and forgotten, hated by many of his comrades who believed the Bolshevik myths about the Ukrainian Revolution. He died in 1934 from tuberculosis. The Bolsheviks tried to eradicate the memory of Makhno and the anarchist social revolution, but they have failed. He will live on and inspire revolutions to come, and encourage rebel leaders to lead by example, from the front of the charge, as he did.

Walking, We Make the Road: An Account of the Crossroads of Ukraine and Spain’s Anarchist Revolutions
The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 2 – September 2007

In Paris, in August 1927, while Sacco and Vanzetti were waiting to die here in Boston, Buenaventura Durruti and Francisco Ascaso—Spanish rebels who would later play a vital role in Spain’s anarchist revolution (1936)—met with Nester Makhno, the exiled leader of the failed anarchist revolution of the Ukraine (1918). Durruti and Ascaso were on the run, wanted by the governments of Spain, Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, and several other Latin American countries for stealing from the rich to fund revolutionary workers’ unions, papers, and schools. Still in their early thirties, Durruti and Ascaso were men of action, full of energy and life. They stood on the threshold of a revolution they had spent the previous decade agitating for.

Makhno, though only thirty-eight, was by then already a ghost of his former self. He was battered and burnt out from his years of leading from the frontline through the Ukrainian Revolution and Russian Civil War. In 1918, he helped build an army of 25,000 anarchist peasants and workers. Makhno soon proved to be a brilliant, daring, and creative military leader, as well as a visionary. While successfully fending off German invaders, Ukrainian nationalists, and White Army reactionaries, the anarchists inspired a vast social revolution based around communes and soviets (the Russian word for workers’ councils). The people claimed the land of the rich and the bosses, facilitated free exchange and solidarity between rural peasants and city workers, and worked to implement anarchist communism.
These Ukranian worker and peasant soviets differed from the Bolshevik soviets. They were not ruled by the Bolshevik Party, nor any other party. Instead, they were organized through democratic assemblies.
The Bolsheviks couldn’t stomach this example of soviets based on freedom and equality. Lenin and Trotsky, breaking a pact of alliance with the Makhnovtchina, sent 150,000 red soldiers to assert their control over the Ukrainian soviets. Makhno and his comrades were forced to fight both the Red and White armies simultaneously. The anarchist peasants proved themselves formidable warriors in this endeavor, but once the White Army was thoroughly defeated, the Kremlin was able to commit the bulk of the Red Army to crush the Ukrainian anarchists.

In 1921, the anarchists were finally overwhelmed. Makhno decided to flee rather than continue a futile war that was ravaging his country. He ended up in Paris in 1925, where he lived a tormented existence plagued by tuberculosis and battle wounds.

Makhno was undoubtedly relieved to find kindred spirits in Durruti and Ascaso, and honored when they told him of the Ukrainian Revolution’s influence on the Spanish anarchist movement. Standing on the other side of the revolutionary experience, Makhno gave Durruti and Ascaso invaluable advice for their own struggle. Even today, we should consider his words.

According to an account of this meeting in Abel Paz’s Durruti in the Spanish Revolution, Makhno told the Spaniards, “You have a sense of organization in Spain that our movement lacked; Organization is the foundation of the revolution….But,” he warned, “You have to work hard to preserve that sense of organization, and don’t let those who think anarchism is a theory closed to life destroy it. Anarchism is neither sectarian nor dogmatic. It is a theory of action. It doesn’t have a predetermined world-view….It’s a force in the march of history itself: the force that pushes it forward.”

Makhno, Ascaso, and Durruti believed in an anarchism of action, but they were not exclusively insurrectionaries. They understood that the ideas, needs, and efforts of the people must genuinely be the moving force behind the revolution. Fighting is but only one part. Makhno told the Spaniards that in the Ukrainian communes, it was “the revolutionary participation and enthusiasm of everyone, which made sure that a new bureaucracy didn’t emerge. We were all fighters and workers at the same time. In the communes, the assembly was the body that resolved problems and, in military affairs, it was the war committee, in which all the units were represented. What was most important to us was that everyone shared in the collective work: that was the way to stop a ruling caste from monopolizing power. That’s how we united theory and practice.”

Durruti and Ascaso, like Makhno, were toilers by trade. All three desired and fought for what amounted in both cases to a short attainment of successful and practical anarchist communism involving millions of people. However, they were successful because they first participated in the organizations of the masses, be they the peasant organizations of the Ukraine, or the syndicalist unions of Spain. They participated in these not to demand ideological purity of the masses, but to empower the millions of working and oppressed people to raise their voices and ideas, and to struggle for their collective liberation. Without these efforts, the anarchists never would have succeeded in building the popular movements that gave birth to two great anarchist revolutions that still inspire us.
The same applies today, eighty years later. We anarchists hold many different ideas, but anarchism is not the realization of one idea held by a political minority: it is the collection of the ideas and actions of a whole people, striving to solve the problems of society. So let’s join together, put aside sectarian infighting, and get to work within the existing social organizations of the people, as did Makhno, Durruti, and Ascaso. Let’s not let those for whom anarchism is a dead theory, a collection of old books, or a single, decided ideology, derail our efforts for a united popular movement for the liberation of all, with the theoretical input by all. Through our work within popular struggles, we anarchists can help bring cohesion through solidarity, and prove the worth of our ideas by our efforts. As Francisco Ascaso used to say, “Walking, we make the road.”

Paz, Able. Durruti in the Spanish Revolution. AK P, 2007.
Skirda, Alexandre. Nestor Makhno: Anarchy’s Cossak, the Struggle for Free Soviets in the Ukraine, 1917-1921. AK P, 2004.

History of May Day

1 May

Hey friends,

  Below is an essay that appeared in my book, Nine Years of Anarchist Agitation: The History of BAAM, and Other Essays. We ran various versions of this article in the old BAAM Newsletter, updating it each May. Enjoy, and hope to see you in the streets today!

       -Jake Carman


How Migrant Workers Won the Eight-hour Day: A History of May Day

The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 33 – May, 2010



In the United States in the late 1800s, workers in general and migrant workers in particular faced abysmal conditions on the job. Workers, including children, could suffer sixteen or more hours a day under dangerous, stifling, sweatshop conditions to earn starvation wages and live in cramped quarters. Like today, workers poured in from all over the world to pursue the American Dream through their own honest labor. Workers came from Ireland, Italy, Germany, China, Russia, Japan, Spain, Mexico, Norway, Syria, Slovakia, Poland, and elsewhere in search of better lives. When they arrived, however, they faced blatant racism and hate, just like migrant workers do today. Eking out hard livings in tight-knit ethnic communities, most were considered second-class citizens, regarded as diseased criminals, untrustworthy scoundrels, and, more importantly, a cheap and dispensable source of labor.

Comparing their tortured conditions to the lives of luxury and leisure that their labor provided to the factory owners and bosses, these workers became determined to do more than exist as slaves; they would organize and win for themselves lives worthy of humans. Many immigrants brought with them the radical traditions of their native countries. Anarchists, socialists, and other revolutionaries found eager ears among their fellow workers, foreign and native-born alike. Recognizing the injustices of the United States, they dreamt of a world where workers control the products of their labor, where all people have access to food and housing, and where communities, not politicians and bosses, make the decisions.

A movement for the eight-hour day started gaining momentum across the country. This struggle, undertaken by reformers and radicals alike, demanded eight hours for work, eight for sleep, and eight for leisure. Chicago’s strong labor movement pressed for, and was rewarded with, eight-hour legislation in 1867, to be enacted May 1. However, when that day came, the bosses refused to respect it and the government didn’t force them to. Chicago’s militant, organized workers went on strike to protest, but the police brutally crushed their resistance within a week and the despondent workers returned to their jobs. The only thing that changed for Chicago’s toilers is that they lost confidence that change could be achieved through legislation.

This rejection of reformism remained in the collective memory of Chicago’s workers and by 1886, another, more radical eight-hour movement sprang up. Led by migrant and other workers of the anarchist International Working People’s Association (IWPA), a general strike was planned for May 1 to proclaim the power and strength of Chicago’s determined workers. On May 1, 1886, 400,000 went on strike in Chicago, with another 350,000 joining them across the nation. Eighty thousand people marched through Chicago’s streets on May Day, defying the artificial boundaries the rulers used to divide them—race, sex, nationality, and trade—and their demonstration of unity terrified the upper class. Determined not to concede anything and to hoard all of the wealth they had robbed from the poor, the rich set out to crush the movement with violence.


Labor Crucified

The workers’ momentum continued with strikes and demonstrations. On May 3, the striking “lumber shovers” union held a public meeting of 6,000 near the McCormick plant. The police, loyally serving and protecting the interests of wealthy capitalists, attacked the meeting with guns and batons, killing one worker and wounding more. Outraged, anarchists posted a call in their daily German-language paper, the Arbeiter-Zeitung (“Workers’ Newspaper”) for a May 4 protest meeting at Haymarket Square.

On May 4, thousands gathered at Haymarket to denounce police violence. The crowd listened to speeches by migrant anarchist workers, such as August Spies and Samuel Fielden. Even the mayor of Chicago, who attended the beginning half of the rally, said, “nothing looked likely to happen to require police interference,” and he advised police captain Bonfield to send his forces home. Bonfield didn’t. Around 10 P.M., after the mayor and many attendees left, and as Fielden was calling the meeting to a close, Bonfield’s force of two-hundred officers marched on the rally, threatening violence and demanding it break up. Just then, someone threw a bomb at the police, killing one instantly and injuring many. In the chaos, police fired indiscriminately, killing seven of their own officers and numerous demonstrators, though they never counted how many workers they slaughtered.

A reign of terror followed while the state prosecutor publicly advised the police to target anarchists: “make the raids first and look up the law afterwards.” Police arrested all known anarchists and raided meeting halls, printing offices, and homes. Eight prominent anarchists, newspaper editors, and unionists were charged with the Haymarket bombing. They were August Spies, Sam Fielden, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg, and Oscar Neebe. Of the eight men, seven were immigrants, and only three were at Haymarket that night. The state prosecutor handpicked a biased jury, and presented no evidence connecting the accused to the bomb. As the prosecution argued in court, “Anarchy is on trial. These men have been selected, picked out by the Grand Jury, and indicted because they were leaders. They are no more guilty than the thousands who follow them. Gentlemen of the jury; convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and you save our institutions, our society.” So they did.

A massive international campaign for their freedom emerged, led by Lucy Parsons, wife of Albert and a skilled labor organizer in her own right. In response, the state commuted the sentences of Schwab and Fielden to life imprisonment, and Neebe got fifteen years. The gallows awaited the rest. The fiery young German carpenter, Louis Lingg, cheated the hangman. He committed suicide in his cell the day before his execution. On November 11, 1887, Parsons, Engel, Spies, and Fischer were hanged. Six hundred thousand people attended their funeral.

The state murdered those five anarchist organizers. At the time it was seen as a setback for the eight-hour movement, but the event radicalized many more, like Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, who later became influential anarchists. Their radical careers were inspired by the anarchists of Chicago.

The American Federation of Labor and the anarchist IWPA took the streets again on May Day, 1890, and the movement for the eight-hour day pressed on. Carrying on the legacy of the Haymarket Martyrs, organized labor began to make headway. The United Mine Workers achieved the eight-hour day in 1898, as did the Building Trades Council of San Francisco in 1900, printing trades across the U.S. in 1905, and Ford Motor workers in 1914. In 1916, threatening a nationwide general strike, U.S. railroad workers forced the government to pass the Adamson Act, which won them an eight-hour day, with additional pay for overtime.

Finally in 1938, massive militant movements of workers and the unemployed forced the Roosevelt government to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act, establishing for many the eight-hour day with extra overtime pay, as well as a national minimum wage, and the abolition of “oppressive child labor.”


Repression: The Decline of Labor

Frightened by the gains of the U.S. labor movement and by the revolution in Russia, the U.S. ruling class utilized their government to undermine labor’s achievements and used violence, racism, nationalism, and red baiting to splinter the movement. On May Day 1919, police and citizens bitten by the bug of blind patriotism attacked workers’ parades. Hundreds of workers were arrested, hundreds more were badly beaten, and many workers’ headquarters were ransacked. In Roxbury, MA, police and nationalists assaulted parading workers, beating them with clubs, trampling them with horses, and shooting at them. In the ensuing battle, two workers and two officers were shot, and a police chief died of a heart attack.

Beyond the violence of the police club, the government also passed a slew of laws to make the deportation of immigrant activists easier, and to keep foreign radicals out. In 1903, a new law excluded anarchists and other revolutionaries from entering the United States and enabled the government to deport radicals who had lived here for three years or less. It was broadened in 1917 to make immigrants deportable for up to five years, with no time limit for those who advocated anarchism or revolution. In 1918, a new law allowed the deportation of “aliens who are members of, or affiliated with, any organization…that writes, circulates, distributes, prints, publishes or displays, or causes to be written…or has in its possession…any written or printed matter” of an anarchist or revolutionary nature. From 1919 until 1921, U.S. Attorney General Palmer used these laws in a wave of arrests and deportations, targeting Italian anarchists and other radicals. Radicals who were not deported either fled overseas or went underground. The Palmer Raids decimated the workers’ movement. During this time, Massachusetts framed and executed immigrant workers Sacco and Vanzetti based on their Italian heritage and anarchist beliefs in what is recognized worldwide as one of the worst miscarriages of justice in history.

From the Palmer Raids to the Red Scare, the government used fear of radicals and hatred of foreigners to divide the labor movement. These divisions still cut through the working class. As a direct result, organized labor is a depressing shadow of what it once was. Most unions are too weak and corrupt to effectively combat the dominance of the capitalists. With help from the U.S. government and pro-capitalist unions, workers have even forgotten their holiday! Although International Workers’ Day is celebrated throughout the world, until 2006 only a small handful of U.S. radicals commemorated May Day.


We Struggle On: May Day Today

In May 2006, it was again the migrant workers who led the struggle for the rights of workers worldwide. Reviving the tradition of International Workers’ Day with El Gran Paro Estadounidense (the Great American Strike), migrant workers organized a one-day strike of work and school and a boycott of commerce. Millions participated in the demonstrations, especially in Los Angeles and also Chicago, the birthplace of International Workers’ Day. Tens of thousands marched in Boston and Everett, MA. Everywhere, workers and student allies joined the immigrants, and the demonstrations helped to stop H.R. 4437, a bill that would have made felons of all undocumented immigrants. In Boston, as across the country, workers again marched for migrants’ rights on May Day 2007 and 2008.

In 2009, we march on May Day once more. Bosses and politicians, aware of the economic depression their system has caused, look for scapegoats. Fearing a renewed movement of united workers that might force them to share the wealth and power, the rich spread racism and nationalism. They hope to turn U.S.-born workers against their migrant sisters and brothers. We will not let this happen.

The state terrorizes migrant worker communities with raids and tears families apart with deportations. They beg U.S.-born workers to separate themselves from the “foreigners,” and celebrate not May Day, but “Loyalty Day” on May 1st. To this we reply: we U.S.-born workers are loyal. We are loyal to our class, loyal to our communities, and loyal to the workers of the world! No human is illegal, and all workers deserve the same rights and freedoms. Just like the Haymarket Martyrs, we will march onward until the day when workers are no longer divided, exploited, or terrorized. We will work together to free ourselves from the bosses and politicians who have dominated our lives with fear and violence for so long.

Until that day, we remember the Haymarket Martyrs, and all of the other nameless workers who have fallen in the struggle for justice, for freedom, and for the workers’ revolution.

No Borders! No Deportations! No Bosses! No Nations!

Interviewed on “What’s Left” 2/1/13

14 Apr


Jake Carman is interviewed on “What’s Left” about his first book, “Nine Years of Anarchist Agitation: The History of the Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement, and other Essays.” 2/1/13, Cambridge, MA

3 Parts. 26 minutes total.

Radio Interview on Youtube

Hope to see you tomorrow

18 Jan

In Providence! I’ll be speaking at Providence’s amazing Libertalia social center, presenting my book and discussing the lessons in anarchist organization and social struggle. Hope you can make it.

Click here for details

Here for the facebook event

Pictures from the release party!

27 Dec

Thanks so much to all who came out to the release party on December 21st, and especially to the Lucy Parsons Center for hosting. It was a lot of fun. Stay tuned for upcoming book talks. I’ll be in Providence next month, and hopefully elsewhere around New England this winter and spring. Email me if you’d like to host an event in your town! Trenchesfullofpoets (at) riseup.net.

Here’s some photos (thanks to my mom for taking them!)

ImageDave W. introduces me.


ImageMe speaking.

The History of BAAM (Chapter 2) The Death of the BAAM Coalition; the Birth of BAAM!

19 Dec

By the end of 2001, BAAM’s position as a respected and important part of the movement against the War on Terror had begun to unravel. As the anti-war movement grew in size, the liberal coalitions pushed anarchists to the margins and denied BAAM the place it previously had to speak at rallies. While anarchist resistance to the war grew in other cities, it began to whither in Boston. BAAM  meetings became smaller and smaller, dampening the spirits of those who remained. Nato recalls feeling “a disillusionment and sense of futility in regard to involvement with the liberal anti-war movement. To be blunt, they made us sick. Peace is patriotic? Shit. As my friend Dan says in his song, ‘If peace if patriotic, I’m starting a fight.’ We all knew that the Bush administration was not interested in the moral appeals of the people, however large [their demonstration was]. Look at the anti-Vietnam movement. It was largely crushed and scattered to the winds by 1972, after years of huge involvement and struggle, and the Vietnam war didn’t end until 1975.” Furthermore, NEFAC members were busy with their own organization’s work, and perhaps due to the shift in direction within BAAM, eventually stopped participating. According to Vertigo, “I will say, without any negative feelings toward NEFAC or its members, that many NEFAC members began disappearing from BAAM, and right or wrong…people in BAAM felt slighted, and our dwindling numbers…hurt morale.”

Vertigo remembers attending a last meeting in late December 2001 with just three people, the other two being Frank Little and Elly Guilette. “But I do recall that we felt that something really solid came out of BAAM,” he continues, “in that lots of Boston people were activated! People were very motivated by BAAM, and we felt we should somehow try to keep the momentum growing in our own city.”

The lull in anarchist participation in anti-war movements, differences of opinions on the structure, politics, and purpose of BAAM, and, in the opinions of Frank Little and Matt Carroll, the controlling nature of the Barricada Collective, may have led to the destruction of the original BAAM coalition. Even though NEFAC members, including future Barricada members, were present and participating in these transitionary stages, Frank Little remembers, “After NEFAC declared an end to BAAM, I called for people to meet again anyway and we, the leftovers, met the next week to try to figure out what to do. Unfortunately…folks fell into arguments about political platform points and what the political positions of a new organization would be. (The irony of them, excluded by virtue of being non-Platformist, arguing about this was apparently lost on them.)” After a few weeks of arguing, Frank Little found himself as the only person at two consecutive BAAM meetings. However, Little said, “I just refused to let it die. It struck me as ridiculous that anti-authoritarians had to agree on every detail of some post-Revolution utopia in order to work together.” While platformists, like Nato, disagree with Little’s definition, arguing “Platformism is an organizing principle,” not the blueprints of “some post-Revolution utopia,” this is of little relevance to the point. Frank Little continued calling for meetings of a synthesist BAAM throughout January 2002.

Little’s persistence paid off. He continues: “Within a few weeks, I was joined by Mike A and Elly Guilette…In addition, the members of Sophia Perovskaya (NEFAC)…were great allies to us at the beginning.” The new members decided to create an open organization, a General Union of Anarchists, for anyone who considered themselves anti-authoritarian, and that the group would be run by consensus (instead of simple majority vote). Meetings also rotated locations around the city in an attempt to make it easier for more folks to get involved. As Guilette said, “We wanted to…meet other anarchists that may have been put off by the other groups in town that would not let you join unless you had lived in town a long time and knew someone who would say you were not a cop.” Additionally, the General Union of Anarchists aimed to serve as a place where environmentally-focused “green” anarchists could participate. Guilette remembers, “There was a very anti-green anarchist thing going on in Boston at the time so we wanted a place for those folks to hang out.” Again, Nato and other NEFAC members would interject here. Nato says, “NEFAC isn’t anti-green. A bunch of us identified as green (or green and red) anarchists,” and the only anti-authoritarians they wouldn’t work with were “primitivists and individualists.”

Unable to come up with a new name, at Nato’s suggestion they decided to stick with BAAM. The acronym, however, and in particular the “Against Militarism” part, according to Frank Little, “was too narrowly focused and didn’t fit the broad-based group we were after.” Little suggested Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement. Though that was rejected by the group, it was a name which years later was independently accepted.

At the time failing to come up with an acronym, the new group settled on keeping the word as an onomatopoeia – a word that imitates the sound it is meant to represent – adding an exclamation point to the end: BAAM! The name would come to stand for “The pleasant sound of authoritarianism being smashed.” “I always liked that,” adds Vertigo, “just enough anarcho-absurdity to make it worth-while.”

According to Matt Carroll, BAAM! became very active in planning activities, including constant skill shares, actions, and other creative, public events, most of which centered around the Lucy Parsons Center radical bookstore in the South End, or the house on Lopez street in Cambridgeport were Frank Little, Elly Guilette, and other BAAM! members lived. BAAM! held frequent skill shares on topics including labor songs, folk science, street tactics, silkscreening, and flag making. “It was extremely important for us to have an anarchist group in Boston that performed actions and activities,” said Guilette. “We wanted to share skills, add to the community at large through strike support, protests, etc….We started doing lots of self-defense work and protest prep work.”

According to Tania Vamonte, who joined later in the Summer of 2002, “I was drawn to BAAM because it was someplace I could meet like-minded people and talk politics and maybe get involved in something. Who could I have talked to otherwise? I didn’t know anyone yet!” Indeed, BAAM! focused heavily on recruiting new people and helping them to get involved in the struggle, a goal BAAM! would maintain for the rest of its existence as a general union of Boston anarchists.

While the formation of BAAM! as a new and separate entity resulted in tension between some of the organizers in BAAM! and NEFAC, the two groups still coexisted in a comradely fashion. According to Vertigo, while Boston anarchists began to collect around two separate ideas about organizing, “the anarchist scene felt it was big enough in Boston to…have more than one main group… So right or wrong, imaginary or real, there was a perceived split in Boston with BAAM! and NEFAC.” Real or not, some of the members of the new group nevertheless felt unwelcome. Elly Guilette, for one, remembers: “We did joint ventures with lots of groups in Boston but it was a bumpy beginning because many groups thought we were not needed and should not exist.”

There was overlap between the organizations, and not everyone participated in the sectarian arguments. “Some people felt this was okay, NEFAC would organize for specific long term struggles and BAAM! was much more decentralized and more about self-educating and organizing for present actions and struggles with immediate results. It seemed like a very good mix,” Vertigo continues. “This split, it was really political at first. I mean, both NEFAC and BAAM! had the same demographics. Each had newcomers and old guard, university students and folks who never attended college, people who did not grow up in Boston and Bostonians. Both groups had rich kids and working class folk. So it was not really any social tension that got under anyone’s skin.” While both organizations had a few loud, aggressive, and stubborn individuals who got on the nerves of their counterparts in the other group, BAAM! and NEFAC not only communicated, shared members, and occasionally worked together, they would attend the same social events, such as the informal Black Flag Tavern home brew nights. When the World Economic Forum met in New York City from January 31 to February 4, 2002, BAAM! organized rides and housing for people from Boston who wanted to attend the protests, and NEFAC members rode down with them.

Nato agrees that the NEFAC/BAAM! split was overblown, saying “When BAAM participants exclaimed that they were continuing in their work, my collective (Sophia Perovskaya Collective of NEFAC) immediately responded with material support in helping to get the group going, something we were happy to do and proud of. We were excited for them. This casts doubt on the notion of a NEFAC/BAAM! rift. The rift was more personalities and purpose than anything else.”

Indeed, the breaking point in inter-group relationships didn’t come until the week-long festival in May 2002 called Festival del Pueblo (FDP). Festival del Pueblo was an attempt at a five-day festival of punk, folk, and hip-hop music centered around May First (called May Day or International Workers Day the world over). According to Matt Carroll, “FDP was well intentioned, but a lot of undemocratic shit went down amongst the organizers, and there was a huge amount of bad blood, which took I think at least five years to die down.” Nato agrees: “FDP was fucking horrible.” By all accounts, the festival was a disaster that devolved into loud and even physical confrontations among the organizers. The shows also failed to raise enough money to cover the costs of the venues. Carroll even claims that Barricada members were, “picking fights with the radical cheerleaders and food not bombs,” over their political differences.

After Festival del Pueblo, sharp interpersonal hatred rapidly divided the anarchist community. According to Vertigo, “Part of me thinks that because there were so many young people and students involved, that the movement was part of their social lives (as opposed to being separate; you have political allies and you have your friends, they need not be the same, they both have separate function in life). And so this is how political differences turned personal, political slights became personal slights, and personal slights became politics.” That summer, while the invasion of Afghanistan continued, the FBI terrorized Muslim communities around Boston, and the United States drove steadily down the path toward a decade of non-stop war, much of the energy of active Boston anarchists was wasted on infighting.

Eventually, despite of the drama of Festival del Pueblo, communication and collaboration resumed between anarchist organizations in Boston. By November of 2003, Vamonte remembers, “Food Not Bombs, NEFAC, and BAAM were co-moderating a listserv (The BostonAnarchists email list) and keeping up on each other.” The BAAM!/NEFAC spat was centered firmly around certain individuals in both organizations, but as the organizations themselves shifted, changed, and grew, the relations between groups stabilized. “At the end of the day,” says Vertigo, “it is nearly ten years later and…the fact that NEFAC and BAAM! are still going strong, show that those political differences were really just personal issues, and that the two organizing structures are much bigger than the few problems certain individuals may have had with each other.” For a time, however, BAAM! and NEFAC were both politically weakened, and wasted their time infighting instead of building an anarchist movement, all as a result of chronic interpersonal drama. And by the time the infighting died down, no serious connection remained tying the two groups together. Obviously, there were serious political differences, as NEFAC was an anarchist-communist specific organization strategically participating in long-term grassroots struggles, while BAAM! was a synthesist organization focused on skill sharing and fun, public events to spread the ideas of anarchism, bring in new people, and participate in short-term struggles. Having shared a common history and even some members, had the differences only been political, collaboration could have proved incredibly beneficial to both groups and to the building of a Boston anarchist movement.

Looking at the past ten years, BAAM! and Boston NEFAC have served separate functions, successfully reaching and politicizing different people, and participating in separate struggles, but have always maintained communication and occasionally worked together when the times have called for it. After the split, BAAM! continued to pursue its goals: to organize fun, public, and accessible events that taught people about anarchism and other revolutionary ideas and skills, to bring people to the movement, and to tackle small-scale issues. The skill share remained a primary function of BAAM!, occurring around twice a month. As Vamonte said, “I always liked the skill shares, you got to have fun and learn some thing practical, but it wasn’t anything serious and long-term, like you had to come back and work on it every week, not like the Democratic National Convention…”

The American Dream and the Anarchist Dream

11 Dec

The American Dream and the Anarchist Dream
The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 20 – April 2009

Throughout the years, much has been written about the American Dream. We learn from our schools, our families, the churches, and the media that to achieve this dream—namely to own a home, to gain material wealth and the freedom to buy, to have both leisure and convenience —is to achieve happiness. In a word, the American Dream is to prosper, to carve out a life of prosperity for you and yours in a highly competitive society.
For millions of Americans, this dream is slipping away. The American Dream is being replaced by the stark reality of American Life: a constant struggle to survive capitalism, to have food on the table and a roof to sleep under. People are increasingly realizing that the American Dream is unattainable. This realization comes from the recent and obvious failure of the capitalist system, represented by the global economic collapse, and ensuing depression that grips us all by the stomach and the throat.
Except for a small minority of people, the American Dream has never been and could never be more than a dream. Most people will never achieve the American Dream because it’s nothing more than climbing to the top of the capitalist system; and not everyone can climb to the top of a pile of climbers. To maintain the American Dream is to condemn the vast majority of people to a lifetime of thankless toil, to produce for the privileged few their celebrated spoils of leisure and convenience. Without the sweat of the working class, there is no American Dream. Thus, the American Dream is not only a false dream for all but the privileged few, it is also a selfish dream, because its realization for anyone dooms the rest of human society to economic slavery.
The myth of the attainability of the American Dream is perpetuated by those who have achieved it, to keep the rest of us working hard to produce the wealth, leisure, and convenience they enjoy.
So let us, then, explore another dream: the Anarchist Dream. Springing forth from the very nature of humanity, a vision of society as old as society itself, it was given a name (Anarchism) late in the process of departmentalization and segregation of civilization into a system of classes, castes, and nation-states. The assignation of a name marked the birth of a movement against the slavery and bondage to which the majority of us are subjected. Our masters consider the Anarchist Dream a dangerous dream indeed. These masters, those leeches who enjoy the benefits of the American Dream by sustaining our nightmare, call it dangerous, foolish, and unattainable. In a way, these condemnations are true.
The Anarchist Dream is dangerous—to the rich parasites that live lavishly off of our grief! The Anarchist Dream is a vision for a new, free world, a society where all humans live in equality, where the things we build and grow, and the things that Mother Earth provides her children, are not to be hoarded by the selfish and violent few—bosses, governments, corporations—but to be shared by all. In such a free world, nations and governments will be replaced by the free associations of communities, villages, and neighborhoods, to organize and self-govern as they see fit. The bosses that hold our time and our stomachs hostage will be replaced, but only by us, the workers, organized together in non-hierarchal collectives, unions, and associations as we see fit. So that we may share the products of our labor among ourselves and with our communities. So that we may create that which we, as human societies, need, instead of just that which will make our bosses the most profit. So that we may create on the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” So that we may eliminate the useless jobs, the banks, insurance agencies, and greedy corporations who got us into this mess of poverty in the first place, and re-organize the vital jobs in an egalitarian manner. So that we can carry out our labor without carelessly destroying the earth, without which humanity, like all other living things, is doomed to a dull and lonely existence on the road to extinction.
The Anarchist Dream is dangerous—for the rich—because in this beautiful dream there are no rich. There are no rich, and there are no poor to make the rich the rich. There are no poor, there are no homeless, and there are no hungry. For where there are people with hands, brains, skills, and talents, we can create. And where humans can create, we can produce, gather, and distribute vast quantities of all the necessities, more than enough for us to all live good lives. And when we are free, there’s no reason not to share. Just look at the things we’ve already created! Vast cities of skyscrapers, incredible laborsaving technology, and inspiring environmentally sustainable methods of producing energy, food, and everything else. All of these and more are the accomplishments of an enslaved humanity. Imagine what we can do together once we are free, once we are inventing, not for the profit of corporate bosses, not for the dominance of this government or that military, but to dream up, invent, produce, and create for a life of enjoyment for our communities.
The Anarchist Dream is dangerous for the rich because the rich cannot control workers infected by it. They cannot dominate societies that fill their cups to the brim and boil over with the revolutionary spirit. They cannot divide and conquer a people who recognize each other as siblings, siblings for whom life, liberty, health, and fate are infinitely intertwined and interconnected. Siblings, without each other we are nothing, but together, we are unstoppable.
The Anarchist Dream is foolish and unattainable—according to the leeches and parasites—because it can never happen. Except it has happened: in short breaths of life in Greece in December of 2008; in Oaxaca, Mexico in the summer and fall of 2006; in the neighborhoods, factories, hotels, restaurants, and other recovered workplaces in Argentina, 2001-2002; rising from the Kabylie region and spreading across Algeria throughout 2001; in much of Spain from 1936-1939; in southern Ukraine from 1918-1922; in the countless revolts and revolutions of peasants and workers throughout the middle ages; and for all of human history before the class of parasites was able to establish its dominance over free societies by hoarding food and land with violence and treachery.
The Anarchist Dream, rather, is foolish and unattainable—according to our masters—because if or when we try it, they will throw all of their resources at us—their guns, their armies, their bombs, their tanks, their jets, their missiles—as they have every other time we’ve tried it, and they will destroy us. They will destroy us to kill the ideas in our hearts, to kill the examples of a new world we build by our being, acting, creating, and organizing. They will do everything they can to wipe us clean out of existence so that our bad example—bad for them—cannot spread to others, to be planted like the seeds of hardy weeds, or the particles of an infectious virus, to engulf all of society like a forest fire and make life unbearable for the parasites, to burn them out! But they cannot kill us all. Oh, how they’ve tried! Each time, the Idea, the Dream escapes their slippery, sweaty fingers and resurfaces again. They will never kill the Idea, the Dream, nor the rebellious nature of the hardy weeds, constantly trampled underfoot, but always refusing to stay down. They cannot win forever, and we will never stop trying, stop fighting, stop rising up. Our day, our Idea, our Dream will come in time. It will pour out of the earth like a vibrant forest; but just like a forest this growth will take time, and right now we’re just hardy weeds with powerful dreams germinating the soils.
We, foolish dreamers and romantics who profess the Anarchist Dream, will never give up, for we know another thing they wish we’d forget: while their dream, the American Dream, is obtainable only by they, the privileged few, our dream includes everybody—even them, if they’re willing to abdicate their thrones and toss their paper crowns aside. Anarchism, by name, nature, idea, and practice, promises freedom and equality to everybody. This is a far cry from the misplaced dream of the toiling, slaving millions, dreaming only to stand in the place of their oppressors: to be their own masters.
So give up the American Dream, for it can never be yours. Even if it is yours already, it comes at the expense of the rest of humanity, that strong and rebellious breed who will shun you and fight you for freedom until the last breath and the final ounce of blood. Embrace, instead, the Anarchist Dream, the beautiful vision of an liberated humanity, where we are all free to dream, and where the collective creativity of emancipated thought and labor will turn the brightest of dreams into vivid realities. Defect, siblings, to the revolution, that righteous insurrection of dreamers.