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Cradle of Liberty Issue #2

10 Jun

Cradle of Liberty Issue #2

Check out Issue # 2 of The Cradle of Liberty, an every-other-month Boston-area workers’ newsletter that I helped found and write for.

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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 Republic Workers Remind Us That Direct Action Gets the Goods

17 Dec

The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 16 – December 2008

 

 

At a time when big business is begging the government for big-money bail-outs and getting them, while workers get laid off and tenants and home owners get evicted, the employees of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago have taken matters into their own hands. And they have won. On December 5, 2008, following the announcement that the factory, which employs 300 people, would close in three days, 250 workers began a sit-down strike that may serve as a catalyst for a renaissance of working-class resistance throughout the United States. Republic CEO Rich Gillman informed the workers that although Bank of America recently received a $25 billion bailout, they were pulling their loan from the factory. As a result, Gillman gave his employees three days notice of the closure of Republic—well short of the 60 days notice required by federal law.

Facing the grim prospect of joining millions of others on the unemployment line, the workers, members of the United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 1110, refused to leave. They conducted a sit-down strike and took over the factory. The occupation lasted five days, and quickly won attention from the media, politicians, and others, and shamed Bank of America back to the bargaining table.

Well-known activist Reverend Jesse Jackson brought food to the workers and said, “These workers are to this struggle perhaps what Rosa Parks was to social justice 50 years ago… This, in many ways, is the beginning of a larger movement for mass action to resist economic violence.”

President-elect Barack Obama also offered his support. “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago” he said, “with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right . . . what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”

On December 9, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich came out with a statement that his state’s government would boycott Bank of America until the loan to Republic was reinstated. The next morning, however, the FBI arrested the Governor for alleged corruption. As a result, the media that had gathered at the Republic factory left to cover the Governor’s arrest. All the cars on the street outside of the factory were towed. Workers inside issued a call in fear of a raid on their plant. The raid, however, never came.

The politicians and corporate media were not the only ones paying attention. According to Giuseppe, an eyewitness to the occupation, “there is definitely an increased sense of class consciousness…other workers have been inspired.” He also said that mainstream unions, which had previously shunned the UE, have pledged to use similar tactics. Republic workers have vowed to offer the same kind of solidarity and support they received to others struggling in the future.

After only five days of the occupation, the media attention, and the resulting public outcry, Bank of America agreed to reinstate some of its loan, along with $400,000 from JP Morgan Chase. According to Chicago Independent Media Center, “late Wednesday night…more than 200 workers and members of UE Local 1110 voted unanimously to accept a $1.75 million settlement that includes eight weeks of back pay, two months of continued health coverage, and compensation for unused vacation time.” “We fought to make them pay what they owe us, and we won,” said Local 1110 representatives.

Republic has stated that it will not reopen the plant, and neither will the landlord, the Mars Candy Corporation. According to Giuseppe, the union “has created the Windows of Opportunities Fund to raise money to buy the factory, which would make it essentially worker-managed. There hasn’t been discussion about what that would look like.”

As embattled Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner said in an interview, “The workers in Chicago are showing us the way…We see them stand up and say `If them, why not us.’ That’s the nature of evolutionary/revolutionary change.” Just like the Chicago workers who led the 1880s movement that won us the eight-hour day, the workers of the Republic Windows and Doors factory are an example to the rest of us. The government is willing to use our tax dollars to help the richest CEOs keep their companies, but when it comes to defending what is ours–our jobs, our homes, our communities, and our futures–the only way to win is to band together and fight back.

Introduction to the History of the Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement

15 Dec

*The History of BAAM (2001-2010)*

Autumn, 2011

 

 

Introduction

 

 

In every period of its existence, BAAM served as a vessel through which anarchists from a variety of sub-groupings and currents found common ground, and together presented ideas, critiques, and practices to the public. Over the course of the decade, BAAM exposed hundreds of people to anarchist ideas, helping dozens find the confidence and learn the skills to fight for social change. We always thought of BAAM as an opening. Countless people moved through it like a gateway to the radical movement. The vast majority of BAAM members and supporters moved on to other projects or other cities. In this way, BAAM’s biggest service was to educate and empower organizers and activists, who in turn are giving birth and lending help to continuing generations of subversive groups and struggles.

In August 2010, BAAM members decided to close the general union of Boston anarchists then called the Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement. Many former members now work in organizations and struggles across the United States, while others back in Boston continue to meet on the first Tuesday of the month at the Lucy Parsons Center bookstore—as is BAAM tradition—regrouping, and bringing new faces into the discussion of the future of Boston anarchism.

The following is a history of BAAM through the first decade of the new century, from its inception as an anti-war coalition in September 2001, to its disintegration into a monthly anarchist assembly and potluck in August of 2010.

 

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.

An article a day!

9 Dec

Hey all,

I’m going to publish on this blog one article from my new book a day for the next 12 days, as a countdown to the release party. Sign up to follow my blog to get the articles emailed to you!   Follow

To start it off, and as a late celebration of December 6th, the anniversary of the 2008 Greek Insurrection, here’s an interview I did with Athens members of the Greek Anti-Authoritarian Movement.

Violence is a Small River, To be with Society is an Ocean: An Interview with Athens Anti-Authoritarian Movement Comrades, August 2010, in Exarcheia, Greece.
The Defenestrator, Issue # 50 – December 2010

This August I interviewed three comrades from the Athens section of the Anti-Authoritarian Movement of Greece (Alpha Kappa/AK in the Greek acronym). The folks I interviewed live in Exarcheia, a neighborhood with a largely anarchist population in central Athens where the December 2008 Greek Uprising began, and around which two hundred police maintain a permanent security perimeter. AK, the largest anarchist organization in the country, is based around only three points of unity. These minimum core values are:

-The anti-authoritarian character of its scope and frame.

-The direct democracy in the way of decision-making.

-The denial of occupation of any form of power.

Vaggelis Nanos is in his early thirties. He helped found Nosotros, the first and largest social center in Exarcheia. He also works on Babylonia, AK’s monthly publication which is distributed in kiosks across the country. Sofia is also in her early thirties, and is a member of the AK working group for the creation of an anti-authoritarian economy. Epaminontas “Nontas” Skiftoulis joined the movement when it first began its struggle against the Military Junta in the early 1970s. He is quite influential for his ideas and articulateness. Police also accused him of being a member of an early anarchist guerrilla group.

What have anarchists in Greece done well that United States anarchists might learn from?

Vaggelis, as a proud founding member of Nosotros, insisted that Social Centers are an integral part of successful modern anarchist movements. His argument, which included tours of some spectacular spaces, was quite convincing. “In 2005,” Vaggelis began, “we started Nosotros. It was the first time we thought about social centers. What remains from the December 2008 uprising is that we have many social centers, which are some of the best things anarchists have made here. Some of these are occupied, some are rented. Some are for winter, some for summer, like the self-organized park Navarinou.” Nosotros, like the other social centers we saw, is a large building with classrooms, computer rooms, libraries, offices, child-care centers, film and music spaces, and invariably an indoor bar for winter and an outdoor bar for summer. Navarinou in Exarcheia is a rare place: a park in the concrete landscape of Athens. Once a parking lot, the people of the neighborhood tore up the pavement, put in soil, built a playground, planted trees and bushes, and built a stage with some seats for discussions, music, and film screenings. Thus they created an autonomous park in a city sorely lacking in parks.

Vaggelis described the essential part that Greece’s social centers play in the struggle: “Firstly, they are spaces for meetings. Secondly, the free spaces are run by assemblies. So it’s an experiment to see if we can run spaces completely with no leaders. So far, it’s working. At Nosotros, we have lessons for immigrants and students, lessons in instruments, and more. If you know something, here you can teach it to others. The social centers are also the point from which we start to organize resistance to everything. When there is a problem in the neighborhood, we go there.”

What mistakes have the Greek anarchists made that we in the U.S. may learn from?

Sofia told of an act that happened as the Greek Parliament was voting for the IMF bail-out: “On the 5th of May, 2010, there was a huge manifestation. People said they hadn’t seen one so big since the first years of the dictatorship. During the manifestation, some people burnt down a bank. Three people who were trapped inside were killed. It hasn’t been proven that those who torched the banks were anarchists, but most likely they call themselves anarchists. That morning, society had welcomed anarchist ideas. Afterward, we had to apologize for an incident committed by about three people whom we feel acted against all those who participated in the demonstration. Maybe somewhere it’s written that anarchists should burn banks, but we have to think about what’s good in a certain situation.”

“Similarly,” she continued, “after December 2008, the movement was still going on, but a guerrilla anarchist group shot at policemen in Exarcheia. Three hundred police were hurt during December, and people were fighting alongside us almost every day in the streets. But one shot against one cop turned the people against the movement again. We took a step backwards.”

“There are many big mistakes, so what?” Vaggelis said. “But the idea that we know the truth is our biggest mistake. Most anarchists believe we know the truth and the people don’t, so the people must follow us. For example, there was a park called the Self-Organized Park of Cyprus and Paticion. The people occupied the park and self-organized. Anarchists went there and said, “this isn’t anarchist enough. We can’t sell beer. We can’t have this concert because the singer isn’t anarchist.” So in two month’s time, the only people who went there were anarchists. Many times we prefer pure anarchy than to have a relationship with society. This is a mistake. Like Marxism and Stalinism, if you believe completely in it and don’t allow criticism, we are no better than them. We go straight to one closed system.”

When Nicholas Stylopoulos (also from AK and Babylonia)came through Boston to speak, he explained that Greek anarchists had the power on the streets, and that “If we had two hundred thousand people, we’d overthrow the government, but then what? That’s the problem…we don’t have a message. People on the street want a plan.”

“Yes, we are very good fighters,” Vaggelis said, “but we don’t have the ways to run society. We have no structure to offer. The truth is, if we want to have these structures we must build them with society, which knows how to produce, how to distribute the things she needs. Together we must plan the society we all want. We can’t isolate ourselves. After December, many of us can see this problem. Maybe lectures are something society needs, but how are we going to take the products of the countryside to the city? We haven’t found out yet how things will be after the revolution. How will we decide what kind and how much energy to use—gas, sun, solar, nuclear?”

“The point is, we need to build more movements. If we have a big Eco movement, and another one of people from neighborhoods, the two together can decide what energy to use. If we have a strong farmers’ movement, we can build horizontal farms to produce and share with cities. Some of these farms exist, and sell to Nosotros and other social spaces, but we don’t know how to do this on a larger scale. There are four million people in Athens, three million between the three other big cities, and only three million in the countryside. Only one thousand are farmers, and only one hundred are anarchist farmers. So how do we feed the cities?”

“We’ve thought of problems we’ll have after the revolution, but we can’t predict what will happen. Marx said Russia can’t have a revolution, it’s only farmers. He said only Germany can. Germany had the Nazis, and Russia had the revolution! How will we run schools, and technology? Do we need these or not? Revolution is full of problems. But from the other side, this is nice about revolution: together we figure this out.”

“First, we need experiments. Alternative schools, farms that have direct relationships with the city. If these work, then more people will do it that way. One day the revolution will come, and we won’t even notice it. We must get to the point where both sides have no other choice. We are far from this.”

Responding to my question about whether the solutions of classical anarchists have been useful, Vaggelis said, “Authority nowadays is more complicated than it used to be. We have to win many more fights, be equal with women, gays, the environment. In 1900, Kropotkin said, “The machines will save us.” Today we say, “The machines will pollute too much,” so we can’t just trust these dead guys. They’re too old. I love them, but we can’t trust them. For instance, nobody today says “I’m a worker.” We have one hundred hobbies. We can’t say, “We’ll go to a union and have a revolution.” We don’t all care about our jobs. Work is important. We spend more than eight hours a day there. But there’s more, too.”

How are Greek anarchists addressing these obstacles?

Sofia suggested, “Greek anarchists must overcome ideology, to learn to be with society and live within it, not outside it. That’s what we’ve tried to do here in Exarcheia. After December 2008, people, not only anarchists, occupied public spaces and tried to manage these places using direct democracy. Also, here there are many anarchists who are open minded and try to build structures, and there are others who are not. I can’t speak of anarchists as a unified thing.”

As for Alpha Kappa, Sofia continued, “At the May conference we concluded that we want to work on a project of an anti-authoritarian economy, exploring the values and the key issues and the applications it can have. That’s why a new work group has been formed. It meets once per month. So far we’ve agreed on some main principles that such an economical system should be based on: justice, autonomy, ecological harmony, diversity. We have studied several alternative economical systems proposed by Albert, Fotopoulos, and Latouche (degrowth), in order to identify their proposals according to some main issues such as property, labour, and decision making inside such an economic system. We agreed to present every month the progress of the meeting in an article published in Babylonia and in an open discussion at Nosotros.” At AK’s Festival of Direct Democracy, held in Thessaloniki in September, the entire second day, called “Exodus from Capitalism,” will focus on the anti-authoritarian economy. As Sofia said, the research process “will last at least one year and hopefully we will have some fruitful results.”

Vaggelis added, “I think now we are starting to try to build these structures, both in Alpha Kappa and in other organizations, but we are at the beginning. We have bookstores, bars, restaurants that work collectively, but too few. We must do this much more to see if this experiment will work.”

How can United States anarchists help the Greek anarchist movement?

Nontas, sitting outside one such anarchist bar, said, “You are helpful in many ways, but you don’t know it yet. At this moment, in order for Greek society to operate again, we need an alternative solution. Because of the rotting state, which can’t give society solutions, the economy doesn’t work anymore. Society’s institutions have been destroyed, like families, education, etc. We are living without meaning, living for ourselves and not a community.”

“We need a solution that’s not ideological, not theological, not messianic, but a direct, logical, rational solution….That’s why we study and invite to our festivals American intellectual radicals. For example, we have used Michael Albert’s book Parecon in our analysis of farmers, small cooperatives, and buyers, as against the middle man. Another example, we used (David) Graeber’s suggestion of substituting the language of anarchism with direct democracy when speaking with society. So when the prisoners revolt we don’t impose our ideas about imprisonment, but instead hold assemblies and together discuss the demands such a movement can pose.

“You in the US can further help us with protests outside travel agencies and by sending us reports about solidarity actions. You can do a lot for Greece. Now is the right time because the Greek people are waiting to hear from other countries.”

As for the present, Vaggelis says, “what we can do for each other is to have actions. When in December you did actions for us we felt we are not alone, so we must go on! The same we can do for you. This is a nice thing.” Money from the resource-rich United States, Vaggelis said, is not necessary nor desired from Greek comrades. “When we had a little social center, we couldn’t pay the rent. Then we said ‘we’ll rent this bigger building, $2000 Euros a month plus $1500 to fix it.’ We found the money in one month, because we believed in that project. We don’t need anything else. We don’t want your bloody dollars,” he laughed.

How might Greek Anarchists help U.S. Anarchists?

Vaggelis began by suggesting (jokingly?) that Greek anarchists pay for social centers in the United States. Then Vaggelis, who is by no means a pacifist and frequently delighted in showing us Youtube videos of Greek anarchists fighting police, said, “We only do bad things for anarchists elsewhere. People in the United States are starting to believe that fighting is more important than ideas and organizing. Fighting is important, but really the ideas are more important. To have the streets is important, but to do that you must glue the streets with posters, to give the people your papers, and to explain to them what you believe. The last step is fighting the cops. You need all of that—the ideas, the effort, the organizing—to win the streets, not just the stones. It’s psychologically easy to fight the cops. You just throw stones, then run away. It’s easy to be a macho guy, but you can beat the baby, or you can teach it.”

“We must sometimes have violence, but our purpose is not just to have the fight. In ’95, the Polytechnic school was occupied for three days, so we were fighting the cops. Five hundred people were arrested. After that it took many years to have a demonstration with a lot of people. Fights can do some things, but they can just as easily undo things. As we say, its like an umbrella: if it’s raining, you take it. If not, you leave it at home!”

Nontas spoke similarly: “Here in Greece, the purity of action and activism, the romanticism of the action prevents the reflection and digestion of what we have done until now. Our youngest anarchists have already thrown one billion stones, built one hundred bombs, and fought the police. Today we have thirty anarchists in prison. There are thousands who have gone to prison. We don’t only need people to throw stones, we need people to talk to society so they can understand and accept what we propose. We need to be specific about what we propose or else they say ‘Bullshit!’ to us. When you can relate to society, you have escaped the activism plague.”

“Everything is starting with the thought. Violence is a small river, to be with society is an ocean. Anarchy is a great, open road. We can’t close it. We must discover it little by little by working.”

Sofia concluded, “What we need to do is to use our imagination and overcome what is posed to us by the status quo and build structures that are based on principles other than those that are imposed on us. For instance, instead of capital being the major purpose, human dignity and nature should be taken into account.”

“So whether we manage to build such structures or you do, it will help all the others because in doing so we will have discovered the path. So what we all have to do is to try to build the structures not only globally, but try to apply these principles locally like an experiment. I think these experiments can occur even now inside capitalism, and if they prove to be successful, then we can apply them on a larger scale.”