The colour brown: de-colonising anarchism and challenging white hegemony

A French translation of this article here, thanks for Dyhia Tadmut

The appearance of the Egyptian Black Bloc in Cairo’s streets in January 2013 triggered gullible excitement in Western anarchist circles. Little thought was given to the Egyptian Black Bloc’s political vision – or lack thereof – tactics, or social and economic positions. For most Western anarchists, it was enough that they looked and dressed like anarchists to warrant uncritical admiration. Facebook pages of Israeli anarchists were swamped with pictures of Egyptian Black Bloc activists; skimming through the US anarchist blogosphere during that period would have given one the impression that the Black Bloc was Egypt’s first-ever encounter with anarchism and anti-authoritarianism. But as American writer Joshua Stephens notes, the jubilant reaction many Western anarchists have towards the Black Bloc raises unflattering questions concerning their obsession with form and representation, rather than content and actions. And in this regard, these anarchists are not different from the Islamists who were quick to denounce the Black Bloc as blasphemous and infidel merely because they looked like Westerners. Further, many Western anarchist reactions to the Black Bloc unmask an entrenched orientalist tendency. Their disregard of Egypt and the Middle East’s rich history of anarchism is one manifestation of this. As Egyptian anarchist, Yasser Abdullah illustrates, anarchism in Egypt dates back to the 1870’s in response to the inauguration of the Suez Canal; Italian anarchists in Alexandria took part in the First International, published an anarchist journal in 1877, and took part in the Orabi revolution of 1881; Greek and Italian anarchists also organised strikes and protests with Egyptian workers. Yet these struggles are nonchalantly shunned by those who act today as if the Black Bloc is the first truly radical group to grace Egyptian soil.

This article argues that the shallow reception of the Black Bloc is but one example of how “white anarchism” has yet to break away from orientalist prejudices that plague the Western left more generally. I will demonstrate here that this failure can be attributed to the fact that anarchism has not gone through the complete process of decolonisation. I begin by showing that colonial attitudes made the Republicans of the Spanish Revolution neglect Spanish colonialism in North Africa, leading them to focus solely on fighting fascism at home. That the Spanish Revolution continues to serve as an important reference for today’s anarchist movements, it is not surprising that similar colonial attitudes lead today’s movements to write-off centuries of anti-authoritarian struggle in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Such an incomplete process of decolonisation also means that many Western anarchist movements and the dominant anarchist discourse remain overwhelmingly white and exclude people of colour. I will also show that, not only does “white anarchism” tend to ostracise people of colour, its emphasis on image and style leads to the marginalisation of people with disabilities and those who do not necessarily self-identify as anarchists despite being vehemently anti-authoritarian. Lastly, the article takes “Anarchists Against the Wall” as a specific example of the various flaws inflicting white anarchism, namely, exclusivity, elitism and the failure to challenge white-colonial privileges adequately.

A Look back at the Spanish revolution

Despite its eventual defeat, anarchists consider the Spanish revolution as an inspiring model for anarcho-syndicalism and non-hierarchal self-governance against all odds; it was a vastly asymmetrical war against a massive military machine that was supported and armed to the teeth by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Nonetheless, no anarchist model, figure, or landmark is sacred relative to criticism (a virtue distinguishing anarchism from much of the traditional Left). While it is an inspiring model, the Spanish revolution was far from a utopia, afflicted by many flaws and shortcomings. Although it is necessary to recognise these flaws – including the gross human rights violations committed by the Republicans, the forced alliance with the bourgeoisie and the Stalinists, the futile infightings, and other tactical mistakes – to do so here is beyond the scope of this article. Revolutionaries often do not have the luxury of choosing their allies. Left with no other choice, they are many times forced to accept the support of powers they ideologically oppose. But while recognising that one cannot expect a revolution to be entirely pure, it by no means condones mass executions and the clamp-down on religious freedoms. The one strategic and moral “mistake” that I wish to focus on here is how the issue of Spanish colonialism in Morocco and Western Sahara went completely and utterly swept under the blazing flames of revolution back home.

Exceedingly Immersed in their fight against fascism and tyranny in Spain, the revolutionaries ignored Spain’s colonialism, fascism and tyranny across the Mediterranean. The level of dehumanisation toward the “Other” was so high that, according to most pro-revolution narratives, the only role colonised Moroccans were given to play was one of mercenaries brought in by General Franco to crush the Popular Front. Much pro-revolution sentiment would go as far as referring to Moroccans in a racist manner. While it is difficult to argue that mutual solidarity between Spanish revolutionaries and colonised Moroccans could have changed the outcome of the War, it is also difficult to know whether this kind of solidarity was ever feasible in the first place. As the late American historian Howard Zinn puts it: “In the short run (and so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims, themselves desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on other victims.” On the other hand, anarchism, in its essence, means rejecting and fighting against any form of authority and subjugation, including colonialism and occupation. To be truly anti-authoritarian, therefore, any struggle against fascism and dictatorship at home should be internationalist and cannot be separated from the struggle against fascism and tyranny abroad, in its role as a colonial power.

Returning to the Spanish revolution is fitting as we mark its 77th anniversary, because it seems that many anarchists have yet to internalise one of its key lessons. Exceptions notwithstanding, Western anarchist movements continue to be overwhelmingly white, unwittingly (or perhaps knowingly) orientalist, West-centric, even elitist, and unwelcoming of people who do not look like them. Thus, anti-authoritarian struggles in the Middle East, Africa and Asia are usually glossed over. It should be made clear, however, that anarchists of colour undoubtedly bear a large chunk of the responsibility for their relative lack of documentation. Maia Ramnath’s excellent book Decolonizing Anarchism: An Antiauthoritarian History of India’s Liberation Struggle and Ilham Khury Makdissi’s The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914, are among few attempts to offer an alternative history of anti-authoritarianism in regions that get little attention.

Not a label

These books provide evidence that anti-authoritarian struggles in developing countries have existed long before the Black Bloc took to the streets of Egypt. Anarchism is not a label, a brand or a trademark, and turning it into a fashion statement does, perhaps, unrivalled damage to the movement. Anarchism is the unshakable belief, as Alexander Berkman writes, that “you should be free; that no one should enslave you, boss you, rob you, or impose upon you. It means you should be free to do the things you want to do; and that you should not be compelled to do what you do not want to do.” However, the white intellectual obsession with “-isms” and the tendency to over-conceptualise and place people under static categories translates into the exclusion of many anarchists simply because they do not label themselves as such or they do not “look” anarchist.

The Un-labeled

rouyaThis is perfectly embodied by the women I met in the July 15 protest in Beer es-Sab‘. The protest was part of the Palestinian national strike against the Prawer ethnic cleansing plan, a bill proposed by the Israeli Knesset that is set to displace 30,000-40,000 Palestinian-Bedouin natives in the Naqab desert; confiscate 800,000 dunnams of their land; and demolish 35 so-called “unrecognised” Palestinian villages under the guise of “development.” Local women led the protest with their chants, blocked the road, and heroically stood their ground against Israeli occupation cops and Special Unit Police, who beat them and attacked them with batons. Fifteen year-old Rouya Hzayel smiled with great dignity when she was arrested in an iconic image that captured the defiance of Palestinian women. Following the initial attack by Israeli occupation police against the protest, demonstrators regrouped and resumed chanting militant slogans under female leadership. Patriarchal political “leaders” with masculine energy, those who typically dictate all protests in occupied Palestine, tried to disperse the protest to avoid further clashes with the Israeli police. But again, it was the Palestinian-Bedouin women who refused to go home or be silenced, shouting that the protest must go on until all detainees are released. Towards the end of the protest, which was rather small albeit crackling with feminist energy, an elderly Palestinian woman from Al-Araqib, a Palestinian-Bedouin village demolished 53 times in the last three years by the Israeli occupation, said: “When they demolish our homes, we turn the village’s graveyard into a home. They threaten to destroy it as well. Even if they do, we will dig graves in our own hands and live in them. We’ll protect our dead and they’ll protect us.”

In that one protest, the women of the occupied Naqab defied the colonial authority of the occupying State and the local patriarchal hegemony. They made a mockery of the orientalist stereotypes that deem Bedouin women voiceless and lacking agency. They insisted that they were free and not compelled to do what they did not want to do. Most of these women may have never heard of Emma Goldman or read Peter Kropotkin’s pamphlets; some of them can’t speak English. Yet they personified all that anti-authoritarianism essentially stands for. Nonetheless, these women and many more like them, will be excluded from the dominant Western anarchist discourse because they do not fit within the narrow and complex definitions, labels, and lifestyle.

Where are the disabled?

Another group typically marginalised in many anarchist circles are persons with disabilities. Persons with a physical disability may not be able to throw Molotov cocktails or form Black Blocs. They may not be able to lead an “anarchist” lifestyle or discard civilisation because their functioning lives heavily rely on modern technology. That does not mean they cannot be anti-authoritarian like any other able-bodied person. It means that they have particular circumstances and needs that must be respected and integrated within the movement. They can organise direct actions, participate in sit-ins, lead civil disobedience, and turn their disability into an attribute and an advantage for the entire group. They should not be patronised or marginalised. Instead of telling them to go home or remain at the back, their comrades should put forth an effort to make the protest space accessible for them when possible. People with physical disabilities are usually excluded from anarchist movements or don’t feel welcome and embraced. But for anarchism to be truly inclusive and heterogeneous, it must integrate and embrace all: people of colour, people with disability, the poor, the unaffiliated rebels, and those who do not necessarily fit within the readily-accepted Western definitions of anarchism, as we learned with the example in the Naqab above.

Anarchists against the wall

Widely praised and acclaimed as the most radical and revolutionary Israeli leftist group, Anarchists Against the Wall (AATW) perfectly exemplifies many of the aforementioned failures and shortcomings of “white anarchism.” We may stand on the same side politically, since members of AATW oppose Zionism, support the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and believe in one democratic country in Historic Palestine. However, most of them have not critically come to terms with the reality of their white colonial privileges. This critique does not aim to evaluate or underestimate the group’s work rate or commitment, nor does it question their moral courage and stamina. Rather, it aims to shed light on failures and shortcomings shared by most radical leftist white groups. This critique of AATW is twofold: (1) on an institutional level and (2) in questioning the group’s participation in protests in the occupied West Bank.

Anarchists Against the Wall is a group strongly dominated by white, bourgeois, educated, and privileged Ashkinazi Israelis from the Tel Aviv bubble. It is a closed VIP club that does not apply direct democracy. Several activists who worked closely with the group complained that decisions are taken by a select few veteran members. They always emphasise that they “check their privileges” but they do not recognise that their privileges permeate their daily lives, allowing for them broader choices from how to move to where they live. For instance, taking the apartheid, settler-only 433 Road from Tel Aviv en route to a protest in the West Bank is neither revolutionary, nor does it defy the Israeli privilege. Going back from Ramallah to Jerusalem through the Hizmeh checkpoint, a special checkpoint for people with Israeli citizenship, is not revolutionary either. Travelling to protests in the West Bank to soothe their white saviour complex does not quite mix with “checking your privilege.” Going every Friday to the “cool” and liberal protests of Nabi Saleh and spending most of the day chatting in Hebrew near the gas station under clouds of tear gas seems counter-productive.

Israeli anarchists believe that their very presence is charitable to the villages and benefits the protest, as if their white skins and Israeli IDs are crowning attributes in and of themselves. But even this is not really true. The village with the largest protest turnout in the West Bank is Kafr Qaddoum, and barely five Israeli activists attend its weekly protests. The claim that the presence of Israeli anarchists protects local Palestinian demonstrators is also preposterous as Palestinians are the ones who are always on the front lines, and the presence of Israeli activists does not make Israeli occupation forces any less violent. Thanks to their citizenship, Israeli anarchists are privileged over Palestinians by law, even when arrested or when injured which means that the whole “co-resistance” mantra is a farce. At the end of the day, and after dodging few bullets, smelling tear-gas and skunk spray and taking some dramatic pictures, Israeli anarchists go back to the colony of Tel Aviv, at times through Jewish-only roads, they get to spend a good night out in a bar. Meanwhile, Palestinian villagers with whom they “co-resist” every Friday are always under the looming threat of night raids and retaliation by Israeli occupation soldiers.

Israeli anarchists need to understand that taking part in protests in the West Bank in their current form does not threaten the system. Truly rejecting their privileges would entail subjecting themselves to the life and death of the colonised. That is, it would entail actions on their part that would make the coloniser incapable of differentiating between them and Palestinian villagers with whom they “co-resist.”

Moreover, it would also entail dismantling their privilege within their own communities. Even before attending any protest in the West Bank, they should first recognise and work to dismantle the system of privilege where they live; strive to make change in their own communities; fight the long and invisible battles that do not get filmed on YouTube; and get rid of their White Man’s Burden. Palestinians are better off without it. Until then, they will remain part and parcel of the system that oppresses, colonises and suffocates Palestinians. The will remain so because their lives as they live them continue to depend on that very system.

51 thoughts on “The colour brown: de-colonising anarchism and challenging white hegemony

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. It was excellent. I’ve been thinking a lot about the eurocentrism and whiteness of the ever so popular “no god no masters”. I look forward to reading more of your blog.
    Cáitlín
    An irish anarchist in turtle island

  2. وضع صديقي هذه المقالة بالفيسبوك وقدرتها كثيرا، شكرا لك! أدرس العربية ودراسات الشرق الاوسط بالجامعة في الولايات لكن لم أسمع شيءا ابدا من التاريخ الاناركي المصري. ملت خاصة الى حوارك عن عدم تقدير التعابير المتنوعة للاناركية والاسلطوية في غير المغرب. ارجو ان تشيرني الى مواد اخرى تغطى هذا الموضوع

    My friend posted this article to facebook and I really appreciated it, thank you! I study Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies at school in the U.S., and I’ve never heard a single thing about Egyptian anarchist history. I especially liked your discussion of the lack of appreciation for the manifold expressions of anarchy and anti-authoritarianism that exist and have existed outside the west. Could you point me to other resources that cover this subject?

  3. This is the first time I read your blog and I think your ideas and writing are beautiful up until when you start talking about privilege.
    The problem is not that some people can go to bars, drive on roads, and live normal lives – the problem is that others can’t; and the former doesn’t necessarily result in the latter. The struggle should not be exclusive -that would be strategically unwise and also wrong in principal.
    Your claim that “Israeli anarchists need to understand that taking part in protests in the West Bank in their current form does not threaten the system” is first of all arrogant but also wrong. Colonizers are never touched by solidarity with the “life and death of the colonised”, revolution is not an aesthetic, they are forced to get the fuck out when they can no longer continue – for that you need some degree of relevant power.
    Just like the promise of neoliberalism has captured the imagination of millions in the third-world and no corporate psychopath will ever say “no, you cannot drink coca cola because you are poor”, then you should not say “no, you cannot protest the prawer plan because you don’t live in a tent”. No one has ever won a war with ideals. And while many in the left derive satisfaction from protesting for the sake of protest, others protest for the sake of change. I’m not saying we should compromise our demands, I’m saying we should do everything we can to achieve our goals.

    1. Dear Jasminfifalastin,

      first of all, privilege is one of the most important points that people who belong to colonial nation must acknowledge, and should continues to remember where he stand, and this position he stand on was granted to him because he was born to a certain race or ethnicity!
      The struggle is not exclusive, but lets face it, there is no way to compare someone go to protest every now and then to someone who live under constant oppression! and to express real solidarity is by moving to suffer the same oppression reflected on the oppressed, otherwise u act on their own community!

      the power that kicks colonial powers out, comes only from the oppressed themselves, not from the solidarity activist, regardless to their background!!

  4. Some remarks about the text on Anarchists against the wall

    “… believe in one democratic country in Historic Palestine” is not a position of the AATW.
    As the AATW is not a formal anarchist group but an initiative with some anarchist and non anarchist activists. There is no group position on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle other than support for joint struggle with Palestinian popular initiatives against the separation fence/wall and occupation in both the 1967 and the 1948 borders.

    The “one democratic country” – the older PLO position and others of this day are still calling for a (democratic) state – no anarchist can support.

    “… “However, most of them have not critically come to terms with the reality of their white colonial privileges.”

    Well I have not encounter any anti-Zionist activist in Israel – both in the AATW or less radical who are not aware of our white colonial privileges… including the less than white of them like Israeli Palestinians and eastern origin Jews, who are not aware of our privileges (and more so these involved with the support to Asrican refugees).

    “…Anarchists Against the Wall is a group strongly dominated by white, bourgeois, educated, and privileged Ashkinazi Israelis from the Tel Aviv bubble. It is a closed VIP club that does not apply direct democracy. Several activists who worked closely with the group complained that decisions are taken by a select few veteran members.”

    As the AATW is a loose initiative and not an anarchist collective, it has the problem of “the tyranny of structurelessness”. “The club is NOT a closed VIP” but one that any one who invest times and efforts can join it.

    “… For instance, taking the apartheid, settler-only 433 Road from Tel Aviv en route to a protest in the West Bank is neither revolutionary, nor does it defy the Israeli privilege.”

    I wonder how activists that come on Fridays and some times other days to join the struggle can use other roads… Years ago we had to use field dirt roads to go around the road blocks on 433 and less famous roads defying Israeli state forces, but nothing to brag about it.

    “… “Going back from Ramallah to Jerusalem through the Hizmeh checkpoint, a special checkpoint for people with Israeli citizenship, is not revolutionary either”.

    Participation in the joint struggle and social struggles is not revolutionary either… just what anarchists are supposed to do in such circumstanses.

    “… Going every Friday to the “cool” and liberal protests of Nabi Saleh and spending most of the day chatting in Hebrew near the gas station under clouds of tear gas seems counter-productive…”

    The worth of joining the struggle as the anti Zionist Israeli activists of the AATW do and its contribution to the psychological well being of the participants is for other places to discuss. However, me, B.D.S. and some Palestinians activists think it is productive… and so do some anarkismo.net editors who distribute my weekly reports and translate it to other languages.

    “… Israeli anarchists believe that their very presence is charitable to the villages and benefits the protest, as if their white skins and Israeli IDs are crowning attributes in and of themselves.”

    We are aware that our main contribution is the forced change of shooting regulation of the Israeli state forces (following a huge scandal in Israel on 2003 after one of the initiative was shot with live ammunition and smaller ones later) and the involving of the Israeli and international media.
    (The “Bil’in Habibti”, and “5 Broken Cameras” were just the more obvious ones.)

    “….Israeli anarchists need to understand that taking part in protests in the West Bank in their current form does not threaten the system”.

    We are aware indeed that protests of anti Zionist Jews within Israel have a limited contribution to the struggle. However, the efforts of the Israeli state to combat the effects of the struggle of some few dozens of Israeli Jewish activists along the last 46 years show that the Israeli state do not share the same opinions of Budour Hassan.

  5. I just want to say that not all the Israelis that join Friday demonstrations are from anarchists against the wall. Some, like me and many others, come in the same cars with them but have nothing to do with that organization.
    Mainly because allot of people feel unwanted by some individuals that high jacked the group only in the last recent 3 years more or less.

    Not only that “Anarchists Against the Wall is a group strongly dominated by white, bourgeois, educated, and privileged Ashkinazi Israelis from the Tel Aviv bubble.” That small group made a habit to marginalize men and women from oriental background that worked with them or beside them.

    I was born in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and I believe that I am aware of all my privileges as a Jewish man from the upper middle class. but I moved to Mitzpe Ramon to a projects neighborhood housed mainly by unprivileged Jews.
    There are Jews in Mitzpe Ramon who are also victims of zionism. Even they themselves support zionism. these people or their parents were brought here in the early 50’s without their consent. They are there because they have no other option.

    I know that the worst case scenario for me at Kufr Qaddum is the Palestinian wettest dream. And that a REAL struggle against the occupation by my behalf will be when I’ll throw away my Israeli citizenship.

  6. Why happiness from the emergence of a black bloc has to be about “whiteness”? This is just bringing a “race issue” where there is none. Also it does nowhere near imply the ignorance of previous anarchist movements.

    The article tries to mischaracterize anarchism as being an #european white” movement when actually marxism was written as such. How can it dsimultaneusly mention about the rich experiences of anarchism in the arab world and at the same time say they are nonexistent? This looks far more like liberal drivel.

    On one side it criticizes:
    “I begin by showing that colonial attitudes made the Republicans of the Spanish Revolution neglect Spanish colonialism in North Africa, leading them to focus solely on fighting fascism at home. ”

    But by the end it concludes:
    “Moreover, it would also entail dismantling their privilege within their own communities. Even before attending any protest in the West Bank, they should first recognise and work to dismantle the system of privilege where they live; strive to make change in their own communities”
    Which is exactly what it attacked before!

    It seems that to the sensibilities of the author anything that anarchists do, be what he reccomends or the opposite, will be wrong by definition.

  7. Nemo, I don’t think it’s about whiteness per se, it’s about orientalism. Like others in western society, anarchists do succumb to the impulse to look at our human brothers and sisters in other parts of the world as “other,” and specifically with respect to the Far & Near East, South Asia, and Africa, as backwards, exotic, and disconnected from the intellectual & political traditions of the rest of the world. Turn on any news station covering the Middle East and it’s obvious this trend hasn’t gone away. What does this have to do with anarchists? There’s nothing wrong with being excited about black blocs popping up, but there can be an implied message that non-western/non-white communities’ resistance isn’t truly radical until they don a certain look, start marching in the streets, and confronting cops, because that’s what we recognize as radical in my/our communities. It’s worth pointing out that while there are definitely racial undertones to the article, the main point according to my reading is one of cultural difference. For example, the anti-capitalist movements of Latin & South America, and to some extent the East Asian “communist” states, are more closely tied to the “Western” libertarian/leftist political tradition than those in the Middle East and Africa.

  8. This smells of politics of resentment. “White anarchists,” if we accept that this is a meaningful category, certainly are not perfect, but I don’t see why we should be angry with them for not knowing the details of the history of Egyptian anarchism in the 1870s. It also seems unfair to say that all Israelis who protest in the West Bank aren’t humbling themselves enough. I’ve also never heard “white anarchists” tell disabled people to go home – isn’t this really the product of imagination? The whole thing sounds like a list of petty complaints. I have “white anarchist” comrades in prison, are they just obsessed with form and fashion?

    An obsession with finding fault with “white anarchists” (not sure Latins in the 1930s could meaningfully be called “white”) leads to some historical fabrication. Spanish anarchists did try to gain the revolutionary independence of Morocco. The Moroccan leaders who might have achieved such a thing refused to begin an insurrection, they wanted legalistic guarantees from the Spanish government, which ended up refusing, mainly because of France’s attitude. It was not a decision for the anarchists to make, although they did make efforts to make it happen.

    Usually a simplistic attitude of “whites bad, colonized good” does not really fit reality, which is more complex.

  9. I think this a much needed critique and believe that most the praises of black bloc in egypt came from more image based assessments and lacked context. what I will say is that it is my opinion that the anarcha-femenist aspect of the first notable Blocs in egypt were what were most notable about the BB in Egypt. and I will also say that while the anarchist milieu needs to have a lot of decolonizing done all forms of protests are inaccessible to some people. The first incarnation of black bloc I saw come out of Egypt include Niqab like face covering and was mostly women who wanted to show they were not afraid of fighting off attackers.

  10. Also, while I do feel people with privilege should make space for people who don’t share the same privilege a lot of the protest actions your praising are completely inaccessible to some people, I honestly think that the anarchist milieu is one of the only milieus not solely focused on disabled people that has discussions about shit like this.
    My disabled friend once told me, “Don’t not do things cause I can’t do them right along side you, but if you want to be my friend don’t leave me in the dust either.”

    But yeah excellent article I especially like the critique on AATW I think that’s really important to talk about and also the Spanish Civil War bit/

  11. Also calling it “white anarchism” erases a lot of struggles of people of color with in the western anarchist milieu. While it is true that most Black Blocs are mostly white saying that it is all “white” erases the people of colour that fetishize the same images.

  12. In the USA, 80% of people are white, so it would really be quite surprising if most anarchists weren’t white. It’s a tiny movement that draws from the middle class mostly – so what? There are many anarchists in Latin America today, some in Indonesia, Japan . . . who is the one defining anarchism by its “whiteness”?

    Nowadays, Arabs aren’t considered white. But not so long ago, as recently as the 18th century, they were. Spaniards are the result of all kinds of ethnic mixes, including Arabs, since at one point Spain was colonized by Arabs! Should this lead us to be suspicious of Arabs? Of course not. The whole idea that racial groups should be judged innocent or guilty en bloc is absurd. It’s terrible that Morocco was colonized, but that hardly excuses the Moroccans who fought for fascism.

  13. Actually if you want to get down to it, countries like Egypt are only Arab now because they were colonized by Arabs. But we don’t hold it against the Arab race, or demand that Arab anarchists decolonize themselves, whatever the hell that would mean. The thing to do is looks at concrete power structures and how they function, not divide people up according to race as though it were a competition to see whose race has behaved the worst in history.

  14. This can sound resentful of “white anarchists” from tel aviv who we think are either too liberal; they’re not radical enough for us. actually it reminded me of some of the arguments made against normalisation with Israelis who are sincerely concerned for the welfare of the Palestinians in the WB and who want to be able to in their own limited way help the Palestinians however their intentions are rejected because they are not radical enough. How can we say that Palestinians are better wihtout the Israelis joining their protests?

    You know there’s a hadith in Islam that says you get more thawab when you walk to a further masjid. Here, Bodour asks the Israelis to do the same thing. To experience what it’s like to be a Palestinian having to travel from one isolated canton to another. But Israelis are not only full time anarchists. They have other commitments, they have military service too. Life is full of contradictions.

  15. hm, very thought-provoking article. i think you’re casting a light on a very important issue here!

    i think, however, that some of the denotations your are using are not precise. it may be true that black blocs in the us mainly comprise anarchists and that the according dresscode distinguishes anarchists from other lefties – in other countries, however, that is not the case! in germany for example there are many anarchists who would not join in with the black bloc.

    this is also because, as i feel it, there not as many insurrectionist or primitivist anarchists in germany as for example in the us or, say, italy. and this is another point: the characterisatio. you give of anarchists, amongst other things as those who throw the molotov cocktails, is one of the insurrectionist or, when you talk about discrimination against disabled people, of primitivist anarchist. (in the manifesto “the coming insurrection” interestingly enough those two currents seem to come together.)
    it is not accurate, for example, to accuse anarcho-syndicalists of not being aware of disabled people issues. on the contrary, they have a long history in backing up precisely those people.

    also, at least in the german discourse anarchists have quite keenly followed anarchist activity in egypt labour struggles over the last two decades or so.

    that doesn’t mean, of course, that there isn’t a problem with “white anarchism” but from my point of view it is much more prevalent amongst insurrectionist anarchists, which have many other not very sound stances, too. the issue should be raced within anarchist thought, nevertheless. many anarchists still conside for example woodcocks “anarchism” as a good introduction, which is homophobic at the least.

  16. I like a lot of the points of this article, especially the critiques of Israeli Anarchists Against the Wall. But there are also a lot of generalizations that I disagree with.
    –The overwhelming majority of Western anarchists are white– Have you taken a survey? It some places this is true, in other places it is not. The constant repetition of this mantra (and it should be noted the media have also started using this trope) is unfair to anarchists of color and prevents the current reality from changing.
    –Anarchists are exclusive to physically disabled people– In what scene? I’m sure it’s true in a lot of places, but among the anarchists I respect there are quite a few comrades with physical disabilities and I don’t think this reflects their opinion.
    –Anarchists only recognized the revolt in Egypt after the Black Bloc appeared there– This is totally false, and reveals a big problem with basing your generalizations about an entire, heterogeneous movement on facebook pages and the blogosphere. First of all, most intelligent anarchists don’t have facebook pages (I know, a generalization, I’m sorry, but they shouldn’t have facebook pages, and facebook is an awful way to poll for anarchist opinions). Second of all, are you kidding? Anarchist websites and presses were full of news, interviews, articles about the Arab Spring before the news of the Cairo black bloc ever broke. Most of us were extremely interested in the uprising, often without knowing there were active anarchists in Egypt. Most anarchists I know have also been extremely attentive and solidaristic to the struggle in Palestine. Many anarchist social centers held Skype talks with participants in the Tahrir Square occupation, independent of any concern with the black bloc phenomenon (in my city, that talk happened before we knew of any Egyptian black bloc).
    –I can give a much more direct example, many anarchists have built direct solidarity with the Mapuche struggle, and taken a huge amount of inspiration from it, despite the Mapuche struggle not being explicitly anarchist.
    –And finally, at least among my friends, there has been a huge interest in non-Western anarchisms (in fact a pamphlet of that same name was widely circulated) and the relatively rare books or other materials about, for example, anarchism in China, the Philippines, Chile, get snatched up.

    So while I agree with many of your criticisms, I don’t think the way you apply them so broadly, and often on the basis of faulty evidence, doesn’t really help, it just plays more into liberal guilt-mongering. Was it silly that some anarchists got all excited about an Egyptian black bloc? Yes. But the ones who had not paid attention to Egypt before that and then who started blabbering all about it on their facebook pages are probably not experienced anarchists so much as stereotypical teenage boys who talk a good game but have not yet demonstrated a real commitment. Not the best group to base generalizations about anarchism on.

    Finally, as far as the Spanish Civil War goes, yes and no. The Republican position was not the same as the anarchist position, many anarchists were entirely clueless and apathetic about colonialism, on the other hand Barcelona anarchists launched an insurrection in 1909 in response to the colonial Spanish war in North Africa. Additionally, the Moroccan troops under Franco, who I’m pretty sure were not mercenaries, were hardly victims without agency in that situation. They were actually known to be among the most dedicated fighters on the fascist side. They were extremely anti-revolutionary, particularly because the Republican side contained many atheists, burned lots of churches, and shot lots of priests. If you know of sources that contradict this, I’d be really interested, but everything I have seen indicates that they were the most willing, committed soldiers on the fascist side, particularly for religious regions and affinity with the fascist ideology. But yes, the Republican posters against them were totally racist.

    1. Yes, it was Joshua Stephens who first floated the absurd idea that Western anarchists didn’t notice the Egyptian revolution – the most nonsensical claim ever. He doesn’t have any anarchist friends so he spends his time dreaming up a ridiculous stereotype of anarchists as dumb, juvenile testosterone-filled white boys. The same stereotype media liberals love to eat up. It’s highly offensive to all the women of color anarchists, and all the anarchists who have made serious sacrifices for the struggle, who Stephens would know if he ever got involved in real activism instead of writing tripe for the internet.

    1. person of color: a non-white person
      white: a member of a group or race characterized by light pigmentation of the skin

      what do you mean?

      1. So the world is divided into two groups, white and otherwise, based on the color of their skin? And the former group unilaterally oppressed the other? This kind of thinking is too simplistic for words. I’ll take a white anarchist who fights the Palestinian occupation over an Arab bourgeois any day.

  17. Hi Budour! Great article, I agree with everything here… except one little bit. At the end when you say the Israeli activists should undertake “actions on their part that would make the coloniser incapable of differentiating between them and Palestinian villagers with whom they “co-resist”” I’m a bit confused. I don’t think they can shed their privilege in this way, even apart from the question of whether they really want to (I imagine that most don’t – they’re quite comfortable with having Tel Aviv to return to). They are, and will be, recognised by the coloniser as white whether they throw away their passports, or live in the West Bank, or endeavour in other ways to ‘dismantle their privilege’. As individuals they are privileged, and permanently so, regardless of their attitude towards it. This is why I disagree with Noel Ignatiev and those at ‘Race Traitor’ (an otherwise excellent webzine) when they say we (white residents of the global North) have to stop identifying as ‘white’ and work against our own privilege. It’s too easy – I will be recognised as white by the state and other power structures whatever I do, so it’s cheap of me to try to say “I reject whiteness and refuse to play into the system of privileges afforded to me”. I am deluding myself – the state sees me as white in any case, so I should accept that privilege and then be as useful as possible to POC activists and those who do not share my privilege.

    So, I don’t know if you’re suggesting that AATW need to firstly ‘get rid of their White Man’s Burden’, but I don’t think that they can, and if they think they’re able to, they’re not being honest with themselves. In conclusion, it cannot truly ever be a ‘joint struggle’ while white privilege exists, and it will continue to exist until many other power structures worldwide are destroyed. I’m not sure what that suggests for AATW and other white anarchist activists, though I think your prescriptions sound very sensible. Anyway, that was my only quibble, but then possibly I misunderstood what you were suggesting at the end?

    PS: I was chatting to you a little while back about an analysis of the first intifada as anarchist ‘praxis’, if you have a chance could you email me any thoughts on that? Or comment here or whatever. Thanks for writing this!

    1. The best thing we the privileged anarchists against the wall do with our privileges is to use them for the joint struggle. We succeeded to prevent massive massacre of non armed Palestinian activists. We help with prison logistics. We help with world media, We supply a kind of virtually shield to the Shabab and well known activists. We supply a refutation for theation presenting of the popular struggle as antisemic. We help with the education of the international volunteers, we organize/initiate involvement of the wider less radical Israelis – both the white and the less white ones – lot of things that few dozen activist can do.

  18. You all might be interested in this:
    http://sfbay-anarchists.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Ciccariello-Maher-An-Anarchism-that-Is-Not-Anarchism-Notes-Toward-a-Critique-of-Anarchist-Imperialism.pdf

    I can’t find the article right now, but apparently some anarchists from the USA went to Venezuela where they met some Venezuelan anarchists who said bad things about Chávez (obviously not an anarchist) which the USAns repeated back in the USA, and some other people said they should shut up because after all they were ‘White’. (Some people may know more about this non-incident.) The dispute gave rise to yet more utterances and disputes.

  19. Hello, I am a bit late here, came across this while I was looking for something else. I will assume you have the best intentions, that you are not a marxist or leftist looking to trash anarchists.

    This article is full of sweeping generalizations, assumptions about peoples actions and the casting of a wide net of aspersion. Anarchists don’t look for ideological purity in order to be in solidarity with other anarchists. That is what academic leftists do.

    Anyhow, when people were expressing their solidarity with Egyptian Anarchists, it went like this. And I think, if you did some research for this it might have been a bit more clear.

    1. There were multiple videos made by actual anarchists in Egypt, those already identifying as such in Alexandria announcing intention.
    2. There were Egyptian Anarchists expressing their wish that folks act in solidarity with them and once events were announced real life Egyptian Anarchists were thanking the folks who were doing them.
    3. The state, in its quest for dominance announced a crackdown on ANYTHING anarchist. This means people who were not just “black bloc” would be clearly targeted.

    For anarchists, and well anyone I hope this is enough for solidarity. Did the black bloc generalize for a moment? Of course it did. Are we going to stop our events because non anarchists picked up an anarchist tactic? Hell no!

    Your accusation of orientalism seems to me, like a call out for anarchists to not support others who are not ideologically pure. It’s hard for me to believe this is coming from an honest place but maybe I could get a response to understand a bit more.

  20. Hello,
    While being often very pissed off by some eurocentric tendencies amongst some self-labelled “anarchists”, i think this article sadly wrongly generalizes its critics based on a post-modernist approach of the anarchist movement and its history.
    I have to acknowledge that it may have been led to this approach by the actual amount of bullshit published around the internet, who fail to show a true image of the anarchist movement, which by the way is not a scene but a working class, revolutionnary socialist movement started in 1st international.
    Black block is merely a tactic far from representing the reality of the anarchist movement method or strategy (as it take roots in the german marxist autonomist movement). As such, most of the genuine anarchist movement (working class, socialist, class struggle), not only did acknowledge non european/non american anarchist movement long before this “appearance” of a Black Block in Egypt (there was some support to our LSM comrades -and the former group before LSM was created since the beginning of the uprising), but also tried to have organic links with comrades in the middle east and north africa a long time before that. There has been for example some support organised for the gafsa miners strike in Tunisia a few year before it developped into the revolutionnary process.
    For a non eurocentric history of anarchism, i think Black Flame, the revolutionnary class politic of anarchism and syndicalism is one of the best piece of work. It also adresses the anti-imperialist issues. While being personnaly differing with some of its argument on the matter, i think this show a record much less dramatic than the one of this article, while excluding so-called self defined “anarchist” -in reality radical liberals from the anarchist history.

  21. 1. Your understanding of the Spanish Civil War and the role of Morroco is just factually incorrect. Like straight up, it doesn’t jive with pretty easily accessible history.

    2. Both yourself and Joshua Stephens have been corrected over and over regarding at least most of the excitement regarding the Egyptian Black Bloc. The fact that you keep repeating the same false shit is just bizarre.

    The video people got excited about, the first one put out has black flags, circle a flags and anti-authoritarian messaging. Nobody in their right mind would suggest not showing solidarity with that and I question anyone that does. What is the strategic point of demanding some sort of a program from people who are waving circle a flags and calling themselves a black bloc while writing anti-authoritarian messages? That sounds like some white leftism to me if anything. Are you arguing that since the black bloc generalized we should therefore not support it? Come on.

    I am sure there will be no correction regarding Spanish history, the Egyptian Black Bloc support or even a response to this.

    Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8IyRkEKywY

  22. This story of the Spanish Revolution here is completely without citations (no surprise) and leaves out the truth that does not fit its identity-politics narrative. The anarchists proposed rescuing Abd El-Krim from Reunion and returning him with weapons to Morocco to split Franco’s forces (see Abel Paz, “Durruti: the people armed”). The syndicalists international IWA/ AIT/ IAA argued for independence for Morocco. The CNT and FAI met the exiled Moroccan nationalists and signed a provisional deal for independence — but this was nixed by the Popular Front (see Abel Paz, “La cuestión de Marruecos y la República española”. Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo, 2000). Moroccans and Algerians, like Sail Mohamed, fought in the anarchist brigades. In the 1910s and 1920s, Spanish anarchists organised armed revolts against the colonial wars in Morocco. But who needs facts?

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