Monday, 13 March 2017

The Ascent of Ancient to Modern African Trade Routes


Looted art: an incredibly delicate and lifelike Ife portrait.

At a fascinating talk on the meaning of the decolonisation of knowledge, delivered by Prof Kwesi Kwaa Prah of the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society at the Academy of Science of South Africa's Humanities Book Award last Thursday (he stressed that culture not colour was the determining factor in recouperating Africa's intellectual heritage), I was reminded of this piece I wrote, an extract of the article From Wagadu to Guangzhou published in the pan-African journal Ogojiii, Issue No.2, 2015. My books Drinking With Ghosts and A Taste of Bitter Almonds were long-listed for the prize, which was deservedly won by Prof Keith Breckenridge for his decade-in-the-making book Biometric State: The Global Politics of Identification and Surveillance in South Africa, 1850 to the Present.

by Michael Schmidt

In plying her trade in technology solutions to countries such as Ghana, South African mobile commerce entrepreneur Thabiso Moerane is retracing – in cyberspace – some of the most ancient African trade routes that usually conjure romantic images of camel caravans crossing the Sahara. Today, as countries such as Mauritius and Kenya position themselves as hyper-tech service and creative hubs, intra-African trade and the continent’s trade abroad has moved rapidly to embrace Fifth-Wave innovation.

The most ancient trade routes were those that hugged the Mediterranean coast or followed the course of Africa’s great waterways, in particular the Great Lakes and the Nile, Congo, Niger, Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. It is commonly held that it was the Amazigh, the Berbers who are a Maghreb people of mixed Arab, African, Phoenician and Gothic descent, were the first to take camel trains across the wastes of the Sahara south to trade with West African miners for their much-prized gold, copper and salt – though the ancient Egyptians and Nubians probably secured these materials via a more southerly route, abandoned by the 9th Century CE, that ran from Kharga to the west of the Nile to Takedda (today Azelik in Niger, an important uranium-mining centre) to what is today Gao on the Niger River, and beyond.

Arab sea-traders in their dhows did not venture past the Moroccan coast, but an intrepid Libyan named Hanno the Navigator – after whom a lunar crater is named – was the first to map the west coast of Africa on a remarkable 5th or 6th Century BCE sea voyage with a fleet of 60 ships in pursuit of Carthaginian attempts to control the “Guinean” gold trade that certainly took him as far as Senegal. According to some modern historians this might have been much further, to within sight of the volcano of Mount Cameroon (Hanno likely fudged the details to protect his route from Greek and Roman competitors).

In the ancient souks and oases, barter was dominant and remained so well into the Medieval period. Exchange currency was gradually introduced, from the cowrie shells that remained legal tender into the 19th Century in kingdoms as diverse as Mali and Kongo, through the X-shaped copper “Katanga cross” currency of Kongo, to the wearable manila bronze and copper bracelet money of West Africa, and finally the minted gold coins of the Axumite Empire which once controlled both coasts of the Red Sea, its currency circulating as far afield as Asia and Europe from 270 CE until the empire’s decline in the 7th Century CE.

Axum traded spices, ivory, ebony and animal shells with Egypt, Greece, Rome and as far away as Persia and India, and imported textiles, precious metal objects, wine and olive oil, while far to the south, the Karanga of Great Zimbabwe, who were traders, sailors and builders of granite cities in the period 1000 to 1600, traded the gold they fashioned for glass and porcelain from as far away as China.

The smelting of iron – which not only provided superior Iron Age tools but which formed the basis of the later rise of Medieval African kingdoms using iron and later steel weaponry – may date to as early as 3000 BCE in Central Africa, which if true, puts it centuries ahead of iron-working anywhere else in the world. In addition, north-western Tanzania boasts a site that shows one of the first examples of carbon steel smelting, dating back 2000 years, while the Xhosa of the Eastern Cape were smelting iron at least a century before the Japanese.

Medieval trading empires


Trans-Saharan trade routes between the 9th and 17th Centuries

The rise over their stone and bronze-armed neighbours of kingdoms whose soldiers, both standing armies and levies, were armed with iron and steel enabled the control and taxation of Medieval camel trains, not only bearing gold and salt, but increasingly also ivory, incense, kola nuts, indigo dye, kente cloth and a smorgasbord of African products, and the counter-trade in Asian silk (from which kente cloth was made), glass, ceramics, precious stones and spices. Today, that great cycle continues, driven by the likes of businessman Perious Mundia whose Zambian company designs smartphones which are built and sold in China.

The Empire of Wagadu (Ghana, 300 CE - 1100) established control over the gold and salt trade by the use of iron arms, while the rise of its successor Empire of Mali can be dated to the Battle of Kirina in 1235 at which the forces of Mandinka warrior chief Sundiata defeated the Kaniaga tyrant Samanguru whose rule had been an inefficient combination of heavy taxes on the Mandinka and an inability to control the lucrative trade routes through the Sahel.

Both might and trade made Sundiata’s grandson King Musa I (c. 1280 – c. 1337) the wealthiest man in history (his inflation-adjusted net worth was about US$400-billion compared to John D. Rockefeller’s US$340-billion) and his empire expanded to include vital trade hubs and centres of learning such as Timbuktu just north of the Niger River. Trade also transmitted ideas, ideologies and customs, so just as the Amazigh brought the Arabic language, Islamic religion and shariah law to West Africa, so the Axumites brought Christianity and its cultural and legal values inland into Ethiopia.

Pliny the Elder claimed that Hanno had made it all the way around the Cape to Arabia, but this is dubious. When Henry the Navigator of Portugal died in 1460, his fleets had only reached as far as the Canary Islands, and 28 years later, Bartolomeu Dias proved it was possible to round the Cape – yet the oldest proven chart of the entire African coastline is to be found on a Chinese Ming dynasty map produced in about 1390. The Chinese circumnavigation of the world a century before Magellan brought elephants, ostriches, leopards, giraffe and parrots to China.

When the Portuguese traded with the Empire of Benin in the 12th to 15th Centuries, they acknowledged a sophisticated African polity that was the equal of any in Europe, with a university, a standing army, a dedicated and literate bureaucracy, defensive ramparts that in their 16,000km extent were four times longer than the Great Wall of China using a hundred times the material of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, and great art such as the Yoruba works called the “Ife Sculptures” of c. 1300 that were unsurpassed globally in their skill. 

But trade turned brutal with the dawn of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade of the 16th to 19th Centuries that saw European ships trading weapons, ammunition, alcohol, and textiles in exchange for captives taken in inter-kingdom wars or inter-tribal raids. Finally, the terrible advent from 1885 of the Maafa (“Disaster” in Kiswahili), the scramble for Africa, saw the last of the African empires, all but Ethiopia, destroyed, with a British task force burning and looting Benin City of its artworks in 1897. The colonial era did see the building of African railroads, but as their footprint today more than a century later makes plain, they were primarily designed to strip the continent of its raw produce and minerals and ship them straight out of the ports to Europe.

King Musa I of Mali, depicted here in a Catalan atlas

[ENDS]

Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Heart of a Gun


A review of Ann Hansen, Direct Action: Memoirs of an Urban Guerrilla

By Michael Schmidt

If I was to start talking to you about the Canadian anarchist guerrilla movement, you’d go “The what?” because in the modern era, outside of the separatist actions of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) over 1963-1970, and the armed Mohawk resistance over 1989-1990, Canada has not proven to be fertile ground for guerrilla movements.
But, like the Swedish anarchist guerrilla woman I interviewed a few years back, such a movement, however marginal and forgotten, did once exist, and in this day of increasing anarchist militancy in the North Atlantic world – even if a Black Bloc is a poor shadow of the armed struggle underway in the Rojava Revolution – is becoming relevant again, especially for the political and ethical lessons it provides.
Ann Hansen’s detailed memoirs of her migration from a nature-loving farm-girl to an armed urban guerrilla completely at home with automatic weaponry, who was finally given life imprisonment for her pains, makes for intriguing reading.
The heart of this heavily dialogue-driven book is the ethical conundrums facing militant anarchists in the developed West where conditions have seldom been conducive to guerrilla actions. Frustrated by a “democratic” government that built mega hydroelectric projects, collaborated on guidance systems for US cruise missiles, and allowed the public sale of violent misogynous pornography, with its ears completely deaf to the reasonable pleas of the affected communities, Hansen and a small group of friends formed a guerrilla cell called Direct Action in 1982.
Enervated by a year-long trip to Germany in which she had made friends among the outer support rings of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), and inspired by the then-current insurgency of the Sandanista rebels in Nicaragua, Hansen and her partner Brent Taylor were clearly the intellectual leaders of the cell, which also included former punk bassist Gerry Hannah of The Subhumans, his 20-year-old girlfriend Julie Belmas, and an anarchist loner, Doug Stewart. 
Much of Hansen’s book is dedicated to the complex interpersonal relations of the group and a heartfelt yet unflinching self-interrogation of the stresses and contradictions imposed on their friendships and politics by having to live clandestinely, shoplifting food to survive, and stealing vehicles and identities to stay undetected, and gear, dynamite and weapons for their actions.
For example, after two years of living underground, and having already bombed the turbines of a hydroelectric line and the Litton cruise missile works in Toronto – which mistakenly resulted in several severe injuries to staff – and firebombing a chain of video porn stores, she writes: “The side-effects of our unhealthy social isolation were beginning to surface. There weren’t enough social outlets for our emotions, and we didn’t have other friends who could act as sounding boards for our ideas and behaviour. If I had doubts about what we were doing, I could only share them with the converted – us. This situation of not being accountable or responsible to anyone was leading to questionable political decisions.”
This is the crux of the matter when it comes to anarcho-insurrectionism: can it truly act as a raiser of popular consciousness and a catalyst of combined action by the masses, or is it self-isolating and ultimately socially unsanctioned and so politically irresponsible behaviour? 
While I recognise insurrectionism as an important minority strain within the anarchist movement with much historical legitimacy depending on the objective circumstances within which groups operated, there are vast differences between full-scale anarchist armies like the 110,000-strong Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine (RPAU) defending a free zone of some 2-million people and yet submitting itself to the decisions of plenaries of peasants, workers and insurgents (in much the same way as today’s Zapatistas submit their guerrilla forces to civilian oversight), and the precipitate action of a tiny isolated group. 
A far more fair comparison, however, would be between Direct Action and the militant actions of a similarly small group, like the Algerian section of the Mouvement Libertaire du Nord Africain (MLNA) over 1954-1957; but the MLNA was fighting in a liberation war against a French ultra-right colonial regime, whereas nowhere near similarly threatening conditions obtained in Canada in the early 1980s.
In some respects, Direct Action were nevertheless a child of their time, forming at the tail end of a series of anarchist armed groups in the shadow of the late Cold War that distinguished themselves from the RAF and other Marxist-Leninist guerrilla movements of the time: Resistencia Libertaria of Argentina, the Angry Brigade of Britain, the Komando Autonomo Antikapitalistak (KAA) of Basque Country, early Action Directe (AD) of France, the pan-European tendency fighting the Spanish dictatorship that culminated in the Groups of International Revolutionary Action (GARI), and Organización Popular Revolucionaria - 33 Orientales (OPR-33) of Uruguay.
Hansen is hard on herself for her decisions, especially those that resulted in the injuring of 10 people in the Litton bombing – and the negative impact on the youngest of the cell, Julie Belmas. Belmas conducted her own defence, diverged from their unified political line during her trial (this is not mentioned by Hansen), was sentenced to 20 years, and is reported to be busy writing her own biography. Hansen has adequately soul-searched and performed her mea culpa where necessary – but also in the book and in subsequent talks, she has maintained the necessity for militant direct action.
Though over-long, Hansen’s testimony is remarkable for its believable reconstruction of long-past dialogue and emotion, including those of the police on the guerrillas’ tail: at least the latter chapters of conversation obviously derives from transcripts of the bugs police planted in the cell’s homes. 
It is a valuable exposition of the transformation of anarchist youth in a formally “democratic” yet actually unyielding and uncaring political environment, a trajectory that so many of my own generation started out on so long ago, from late Cold War punk rockers to serious anarchist revolutionaries – with the difference that she went on to engage in armed struggle. 
It was not a step taken lightly, and she paid a heavy price (she wound up spending eight years in prison) for relatively small political gains. I respect both her honesty and her actions because armed struggle – preferably in defence of a mass movement of the oppressed classes – remains a necessary anarchist option against the callous anti-societies of neo-liberalism and neo-fascism. 
As former GARI guerrilla Ariane Gransac Sedori told me a few years ago while cooking up a delicious dinner in her kitchen, “The only thing I love more than armed struggle is this!” and she punched her index finger forward in the air, indicating how she would switch off the unreal and false world offered by capitalist television.

* A CBC documentary on Direct Action is here.

[ENDS]

Saturday, 18 February 2017

“What rough beast, its hour come round at last”: the Populist Penetration of the Self-described Anarchist Movement


NOTE: This is not a review of Paulo Gerbaudo's The Mask and The Flag: Populism, Citizenship and Global Protest, which is on my to-read list and which, as I understand it, takes a positive view of contemporary anarchist engagements with popular sentiment (which is not necessarily the same thing as the "anarcho-populism" I describe below). No, this essay is the short version of a longer work-in-progress in which I am debating these ideas with anarchist militants in places such as Catalonia. I will incorporate a debate on Gerbaudo's arguments into the longer version after I have read it; for the moment, I am cheekily using his cover to illustrate my theme.

“What rough beast, its hour come round at last”: the Populist Penetration of the Self-described Anarchist Movement

Michael Schmidt

Against the backdrop of a global surge of crude populism that has overturned the hope of change announced by the Arab Spring of only six years ago with a dizzyingly swift rightwards rush that sees several brands of a neo-fascist “rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching towards Bethlehem to be born,” in the words of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, a strange phenomenon has emerged: “anarcho-populism”.
Actually, this monstrosity seeking an unnatural birth is merely the latest petty front opened in the perennial political contest between a majority of militants and organisations who have the audacity to attempt to create functional direct democracies as in Rojava today – and their pouting immature opponents, those for whom personal desires are deemed superior to what working and poor people decide they actually need.
Against a far-sighted, modernist tradition steeped in the gritty realities of an implacable resistance to class rule and its derived depredations of empire, racism and patriarchy, a tradition that emerged among the mass trade unions of the First International fifteen decades ago and engaged in numerous attempts at constructing proletarian counter-power since, these know-nuttin’s raise a pastiche of self-fulfilment, ephemeral bravado and counter-revolutionary esoterica.
Today these dilettantes are weekend keyboard warriors, armed only with the middle-class luxuries of too much time to spend trolling on (anti-)social media, chasing political unicorns and indulging in a continually-shifting smorgasbord of boutique social causes – but with a visceral contempt for the oppressed classes that is deeply disguised by their pretensions to unearned legitimacy.

A shameful, shady history

We saw them in Italy in the 1880s in a self-described “anarcho-communist” tendency that talked insurrection but and eschewed workers’ struggles, and did little but produce incendiary newspapers, delaying the construction of an organised Italian movement until the 1891 founding of the Rivoluzionario Partito Socialista Anarchico (PSAR), a tendency that within fifteen years established the 80,000-strong anarcho-syndicalist Unione Sindicale Italiana (USI).
We saw them in France in the early 1900s, in opportunists like the “Apaches,” criminals of a childish, inchoate radical posturing – their name stolen from the armed resistors of an actual imperialist genocide – that achieved nothing and lead nowhere, their appropriations a bowdlerisation of nihilism that did little to impress the true nihilist revolutionaries of Russia, Japan, Cuba and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the anarcho-syndicalist Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) achieved 203,000 dues-paying members by 1906.
We saw them during the Russian Revolution when the “anarchist Jesuit” Apollon Karelin – the man who inducted Voline, who would go on to found synthesism, into his weird vision of anarcho-mysticism – first retreated from the class struggle to found an Gnostic sect that was a mishmash of pseudo anarchism and theosophy, and then, as a “soviet anarchist” found himself on the side of the Bolsheviks during the suppression of the Petrograd Anarchist Communist Federation, Moscow Anarchist Federation, and the 80,000-strong Russian anarcho-syndicalist movement.
We saw them during the Ukrainian Revolution in 1919, in the “tourists” like Nabat journalist Mark Mratchnyi who spent a mere week in Makhnovist-liberated territory before leaving and declaring with scant knowledge and zero understanding that the Black Army with its 110,000-strong force in September 1919 and its submission of its defence of the Revolution to mass plenary Congresses of Peasants, Workers and Insurgents was a mere “rebellion” without theory or constructive practices, and that there was no anarchist revolution under way.
We saw them in the Spanish Revolution in self-anointed “personalities” like the magazine journalist Federica Montseny who represented no organisation and no-one, yet who illegitimately inserted herself as a leader of the masses – where the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in Catalonia alone represented 350,000 workers by December 1936. She and her cohorts undermined the Revolution more successfully than any fascist fifth-columnists by capitulating the hard-won power of the streets to bourgeois / communist / nationalist reconstruction of the exploitative capitalist Generalitat, and inevitably, of the national state.
We saw them in the "synthesists" of the Fédération Anarchiste Française (FAF) who demurred to assist their fellow anarchists of the Mouvement Libertaire Nord-Africain (MLNA) of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia in fighting against French colonialism in the Algerian Liberation War – while those of the Fédération Communiste Libertaire (FCL) threw themselves into supporting the MLNA in smuggling in arms and uniforms, and acting as couriers for other liberation forces over 1954-1957 before the MLNA was destroyed in a vise between French ultra-right colonial and Algerian Islamic extremist forces.
We saw them in the “communitarians” who opted out of class struggle, as with those who joined literature teacher Luce Fabbri in leaving the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU) in 1963 to set up the inconsequential Comunidad del Sur during the critical phase of the defence of the insurgent Uruguayan workers and poor against a rising tide of neo-fascism and death-squad activity under the CIA-backed Operation Condor. For its part, the FAU went on to build the syndicalist Convención Nacional Trabajadores (CNT) which had 400,000 members, a Resistencia Obrero Estudiantil (ROE) front with 10,000 members, and its own 100-strong guerrilla force, OPR-33, by the outbreak of the Bordaberry Coup in 1972. We saw them in those who in the same breath condemned the FAU for supporting the Cuban Revolution, then condemned the Cuban anarchists who fled Castro’s repression against the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) on the island.
We have seen them repeatedly in those who, facing decisive battles, skulked away from a proletarian revolutionary anarchist praxis, and who, facing defeat, avoided a rigorous analysis of that defeat as a means of attempting to ensure future victory for the oppressed classes. Instead, like pious monks, they hid away in relative comfort in musty monasteries that they termed communes – which were, without exception, swift failures – constructed a fetishistic cult around their own weak and anodyne bastardisation of anarchism and wagged their fingers at the masses whom they presumed to lead without being on the favela barricades, in the trade unions, in the peasant soviets, in the barrio assembleas, in the townships.

“Anarchism” as snake-oil religion

Slippery as eels, for they do not wish to actually confront concrete class conditions with constructive proposals for a free world, their carpetbagger philosophy – if it deserves the lable – is a noxious admixture of snake-oil religion, cossetted liberalism and duplicitous populism. 
I have written about their religious sentiments before, in my 2011 book Cartographie de l’anarchisme revolutionnaire [link] in which I decry their impoverished pseudo-history of an “anarchism” that is “largely a martyrology and a museum-piece, a quasi-religious tragedy recited like an anarchist rosary… reducing the broad anarchist tradition to an honourable, yet failed, minority tradition of romantically doomed resistance.”
I argue that “This convention must be replaced with a far more internationalist, historically balanced and true narrative of the movement’s triumphs and tragedies, one that demonstrates its universal adaptability and its global reach, its overwhelming dominance in the organised labour movements of many countries in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, especially in the global ‘South’, its numerous revolts against capital and the state, its breakthroughs in fighting for labour rights, gender equality and against racism and imperialism, its several successful revolutionary experiments in building large-scale new societies in the shells of the old, its complexities, challenges and numerous arguments over tactics and strategies, and its multi-generational lines of ideological and organisational descent, as well as its current relevance.”

“Anarchism” as cossetted liberalism 

The liberalism of these pseudo-anarchists is more than adequately eviscerated by Nestor Makhno and his fellow veterans of the Ukrainian Revolution in their 1926 Organizatsionnaia Platforma Vseobshchego Soiuza Anarkhistov: Proekt online in English here: “In every country the anarchist movement is represented by local organisations with contradictory theory and tactics with no forward planning or continuity in their work. They usually fold after a time, leaving little or no trace. Such a condition in revolutionary anarchism, if we take it as a whole, can only be described as chronic general disorganisation. This disease of disorganisation has invaded the organisation of the anarchist movement like yellow fever and has plagued it for decades. There can be no doubt, however, that this disorganisation has its roots in a number of defects of theory, notably in the distorted interpretation of the principle of individuality in anarchism, that principle being too often mistaken for the absence of all accountability.”
The text then explores the liberal roots of this rot: “Those enamoured of self-expression with an eye to personal pleasure cling stubbornly to the chaotic condition of the anarchist movement… [yet] Dispersion spells ruination; cohesion guarantees life and development. This law of social struggle is equally applicable to classes and parties. Anarchism is no beautiful fantasy, no abstract notion of philosophy, but a social movement of the working masses; for that reason alone it must gather its forces into one organisation, constantly agitating, as demanded by the reality and strategy of the social class struggle.”

“Anarchism” as duplicitous populism

Which leads us to the populism of these poseurs. Populism is a notable tendency globally at the moment, whether in South Africa with the Economic Freedom Fighters, in the USA with the Tea Party faction within the Republicans, in Venezuela under the “Bolivarian” heirs of Hugo Chávez, or the UK Independence Party’s influence on Brexit, or in Italy with the Five Star Movement. But it is hard to define, as this incomplete list makes clear: populism can either position itself as right-wing, or left-wing, but is in most cases a very sneaky and deceptive mixture of both. Neither fish nor fowl, its anti-oligarchic, anti-hegemonic, anti-elitist stance has appealed to the jaded and excluded – which is where the opportunistic opening towards anarchism occurs.
The real horror for many self-described “anarchists” today is not that right-populist tendencies such as that tiny, weird hybrid that calls itself “national-anarchism” misappropriated key aspects of true traditional anarchism such as decentralism and anti-statism – but rather that “national-anarchism” borrowed from “post-anarchist” / “small-a anarchist” tendencies their own much fetisished notions of subcultural semiotic rebellion instead of mass-cultural pragmatic revolution, and of ephemeral Temporary Autonomous Zone / Occupy “autonomy” from capital – a petit-bourgeois palliative illusion – in place of pragmatic, durable, working class autogestive counter-power.
In the final analysis, pseudo-anarchists are pissed off at “national-anarchism” for daring to steal their street-style black wardrobe! It is only *because* current pseudo-anarchists are so non-class-conscious – if not virulently anti-class – that the populist right is able to challenge the meaning of their iconography and in fact be entryist into their milieu. Is this a real threat? Sure – but not to the de facto “big-A anarchist” movement which, sorry David Graeber, embraces syndicalist unions with in some cases thousands even tens of thousands of members and which is thus inherently resistant to non-class pleadings. No, the real threat is to hard-pressed people within the oppressed classes themselves – and to a negligible extent to the street cred of pseudo-anarchists, who as outlined in repentant fascist Ingo Hasselbach’s book Führer Ex, have for decades been almost indistinguishable as street thugs from their neo-Nazi opponents.

Occupiers of Nothing

I visited Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and was unimpressed, not only at the lack of any actual occupation of anything other than an already publicly-owned park, but at its murky populist politics of confused outrage aimed at the “1%” (as if significant class layers of the 99% remainder are not beneficiaries, if not enforcers, of one-percentile rule). I might want to make the point that the Western so-called Occupy movement, which is the exact opposite of the Arab Spring in that it *occupies nothing* except already-public spaces such as parks (there was no attempt to actually occupy capitalist offices on Wall Street) and which as a result *moves nothing*, takes as its myth their membership of the 99%, a pseudo-anarchist and pseudo-class position which firstly ignores the state & capitalist overseer role performed by the middle classes from which most of their membership is drawn, and then secondly individualises the problem of state and capital to a tiny 1% enclave of super-wealthy parasites: this is not a systemic class critique, but it is instead the exact same middle-class complaint against a narrow speculative sector of capitalism that was so widely voiced in Germany in the 1920s and which gave so much fuel to the Nazi fire.
Occupy, with its ineffectual, pale liberal imitations as in Johannesburg – so different from the powerful street displays in cities such as Barcelona, Tunis and Cairo – showed how quickly the chants against the 1%, could easily segue into chants against “Jewish monopoly capital,” and so one found “American” nativist neo-fascism comfortably gaining ground in the Wall Street crowds. Then late last year, the detritus of those confused crowds transmuted into an electorate that shocked the liberal oligarchs and consonant anarcho-pundits by backing Trump.  
I used to quip that the distance between Stalinism and Thatcherism, as the vulture flies, was very short. But now I could equally say that the distance between “anarcho-populism” and triumphalist Trumpism is similarly brief. This is not to say that “American” self-described anarchists are Trump supporters, which would be nonsense; just that they are unaware that their own lack of a clearly – and definitively anarchist, not identity – politics makes them ideal points of entry for the populist ultra-right. 

So, is there an “anarcho-populism”?

I have already sketched in outline the damaging history of the marginal individualist / lifestylist tendency on the fringes of the mass anarchist movement, and this tendency’s uncomfortable familiarity with the themes of right-wing populism. This tradition continues today and possesses the following elements that are either compatible with – or even derived from – the populist milieu:
a) A post-modernist anti-class ideology that denies the lived experiences of the working class, peasantry and poor, and which is entirely at odds with the true anarchist movement’s analysis of class as the spinal articulator of all other oppressions – and its substitution by an identity politics that atomises social struggle, while not only giving equal importance to vital and silly life experiences, but also essentialising social constructs such as race, a key formulation of the racist right;
b) An anti-organisationist position that denies the necessity for mass organisations and all of the hard work and responsibility that implies towards the communities within which such organisations are built, in favour of a “tyranny of structurelessness” run by ineffectual, irresponsible groupuscles that have the ability to evaporate and make good their escape after doing damage to host communities who sheltered them but to whom they owe no social allegiance;
c) The substitution for a very clearly-defined transnational, pragmatic, proletarian revolutionary praxis by a vague anything-goes radicalism, with all the “ultra” posturing that entails, the result of which is a fetishising of subcultural semiotic rebellion and of ephemeral experiments in playing at being free of capital and the state instead of attempting to build durable working class autogestive counter-power;
d) An anti-intellectual anti-rationalism that poses as anti-elitist yet which actually retreats ever deeper into a thicket of impenetrable words and arcane, exclusionary subcultural practices in order to try and put themselves beyond the reach of the organic intellectuals of oppressed classes which have a century-old tradition of rationalist education and intelligent analysis and debate in the fields, in the tenements, on the factory floor;
e) A shrill, sub-Stalinist means of manipulating debate by disallowing uncomfortable questions – especially those directed at their vague positions and lack of mandate – in favour of a witch-hunting style that disempowers all but their own inquisitors on the most spurious of grounds, establishing a lynch-mob mentality that shouts the loudest in public spaces where transient emotion is held to be superior to detailed knowledge, where thin skin and ersatz outrage is the currency of their avoidance of engagement; and
f) A romantic, countermodernist sentiment that harks back either to an imaginary mediaeval Hashashin’s paradise or to the Garden of Eden itself, a primitivism that denies the positive side of the advances of science, rationality and technology in alleviating harm and suffering and advancing human rights and equality, and which in its most extremist version openly advocates for “voluntary human extinction” – a totalitarian genocidal impulse that would horrify even open neo-fascists. 
If any of these things appear virulently – or surreptitiously – to assert themselves as somehow “legitimate” within the anarchist movement, then, friends, we have identified the same plague that Makhno did: there is a Trojan horse in our midst.

Against the “mere anarchy” of the Svobodniki

The Russian revolutionary anarchists called themselves Burevestniki, literally “announcers of the storm,” Stormy Petrels, free-flying seabirds that rode the storms of the revolution, a term which was later adopted by the revolutionaries in Spain – in opposition to those who Nestor Makhno called “startled crows” and who the Spaniards called “woodpeckers” but who termed themselves Svobodniki, a medieval rank meaning “Lancers,” those drawn from the lower nobility who had greater freedoms than the common people – including the right to own land and serfs. In other words, the Burevestniki positioned themselves as those who engaged directly in the revolutionary struggle of the day, with a weather-eye on the future, while the Svobodniki, in the manner of modern populists, instead harked back to an idealised lost world of privilege, a “freedom” that actually had been based on the exclusion of others. These self-descriptions are incredibly revealing, but given my list above, I wonder if it is better just to call the latter and their “neo-anarchist” imitators the “antis”: know-nuttin’s representing no-one but themselves, who build nothing except their pretensions to personal freedoms, at the exclusion or even expense of the oppressed classes.
The signature phrase of Yeats’ potent anti-war verse, The Second Coming, “Things fall apart,” was adopted as the title of Nigerian author Chinua Achebe’s seminal 1959 work about the difficult (after)birth of postcolonial African society – and the terrible denouement of masculinist and imperialist dominance on African culture. However, both Yeats’ and Achebe’s visions of unchained chaos were predicated on the old bourgeois negative notion of the meaning of anarchy: “the centre cannot hold / mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”. 
In the fantasies of the work-shy pseudo-anarchists who oppose real, constructive, lateral, federative freedom, and a real direct democracy built, maintained and defended by the oppressed classes, Yeats’ negative “anarchy” is turned on its head as a positive virtue – but only to endorse unrestrained self-indulgence. What these “anarchists” appear incapable of seeing or unwilling to admit is that their adoption of this vacant conception of “anarchy” has allowed their politics to be defined by our class enemy, the parasitic elites: “The bourgeoisie say with horror that we are chaotic – so hurrah, we are chaotic!” Not only is this conception sterile and shallow, with no roots in the historical anarchist movement that challenged bourgeois power en masse across much of the world a century ago, but it perfectly coincides with the populist and neo-fascist practice of blurring and obscuring ideas to enable the confounding of the masses. 
In the final analysis, yes “anarcho-populists” exist – though many call themselves “neo-anarchists,” “post-anarchists” or “national-anarchists” – and they are on the same side of history as the right-populists and neo-fascists, that “rough beast” that expects a supposed “clash of civilisations” in the Middle East to be its cradle. Standing against this “blank and pitiless” idiotic vision so terribly expressed by the Islamic State are many positive forces, especially the Kurdish People’s Party (PKK) and its International Freedom Battalion which includes anarchist fighters in its ranks, and in no small measure my own mass-organised revolutionary anarchist tendency in whose vision “mere anarchism” is in fact the bulwark against Yeats’ “blood-dimmed tide” and the defender to the death, in Rojava not least, of his “ceremony of innocence.”

[ENDS]

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Anarchist Anti-Fascist Partisan Units

Anarchist railway worker turned anti-Fascist partisan fighter Giuseppe Pinelli (1928-1969) served in the GAP and went on to become secretary of the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) in Italy. He was murdered in police custody in 1969, having been arrested for the Piazza Fontana bombing actually committed by neo-Fascists. His murder was the subject of the play Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Nobel Literature laureate Dario Fo. In 2002, I founded the 64th ABC chapter in the world, the ABC-Southern Africa (ABC-SA).

During the closing phases of World War II, anarchists were key to creating the anti-Fascist National Liberation Committee (CLN) in many areas: the Verona CLN was founded by Giovanni Domaschi (arrested and tortured by the SS, he was deported to a concentration camp in Germany and perished there); the Lucca and Garfagnana CLN was founded by Federico “Pippo” Peccianti; while the Piombino CLN was founded by Adriano Vanni; meanwhile in regions like Arezzo, Pisa and Livorno, the anarchists were represented on the CLN. In some regions, anarchists joined communist Garibaldi, socialist Matteotti, and republican Justice and Liberty resistance formations, such as the Garibaldi-Friuli Division in Fruili, the Justice and Liberty – Garibaldi unit in Brescia, the Garibaldi Brigades of Asti and Cuneo, the Di Vitis Division in Turin, the 78th Garibaldi Brigade in Ravenna, diverse partisan units in Marche, and the Vincenzo Baldazzi unit in Rome commanded by a republican by that name who was an old friend of Malatesta. But in provinces with the greatest anarchist strength, in particular Tuscany in the centre and Emilio-Romagna in the north, they formed their own partisan formations. Here is an incomplete list from my work-in-progress, Wildfire:

- Anarchist partisans [mil]: Emilia-Romagna: Emilio Canzi Divisions (22 brigades)
                                           Bianconcini Unit
                                           Fratelli Bandeira                                                      
                                           7th Patriotic Action Group (7⁰ GAP)
                                           1st Malatesta Brigade 
                                           2nd Malatesta Brigade
                                           Bruzzi Brigade
- Anarchist partisans [mil]: Liguria: Pisacane Brigade
                                                       Malatesta Formation
                                                       Patriotic Action Squad - FCL (SAP-FCL)
                                                       Sestri Ponente SAP-FCL
                                                       Arenzano Anarchist Action Commands 
- Anarchist partisans [mil]: Piedmont: Pietro Ferrero SAP 33 Battalion
- Anarchist partisans [mil]: Tuscany: Gino Lucetti Battalion 
                                                          Lucetti Bis Unit
                                                          Michelle Schirru Battalion 
                                                          Garibaldi Lunense Unit
                                                          Elio Unit
                                                          “Pippo” Dicheschi Unit
                                                          Patriotic Action Groups (GAPs)
                                                          Silvano Fedi Unit

[ENDS]

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

AU in a pickle over Western Sahara

The African Union (AU) has gotten itself into a pickle with a majority of members voting this week to admit Morocco in defiance of the presence of AU founding member Western Sahara, which Morocco considers integral to its territory - but which the latter's liberation movement considers to be a colonised territory. This piece was written on 17 January 2017, two weeks before the fatal AU decision.

Michael Schmidt

A battle royale is looming in the African Union, primarily between its Francophone and Anglophone blocs, over the bid by prodigal son Morocco to join the Union in defiance of the presence of founder member the Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic (SADR) which South Africa and half the member states view as the continent’s last colony.
The matter will come to a head at the AU’s Heads of State and Government Summit at the end of January, though it seems Morocco has a straight majority backing its application: at the previous summit in Kigali last July, AU Assembly Chair Idriss Déby received a motion signed by 28 out of 54 member states in favour of Morocco’s bid – but also stating they would move to immediately to suspend SADR because it did not represent a true state.
SADR’s claimed state, Western Sahara, tops the United Nations’ list as the world’s largest non-self-governing territory. But in a letter to Déby in Kigali, Moroccan King Mohammed VI declared SADR to be a “phantom” state. In recent years, as Moroccan business has spread ever further south, and with new embassies opening in Benin, Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Mauritius, the king has embarked on a charm offensive across the continent – and it seems to be working.
Morocco’s claim is mostly backed by French-speaking AU members, especially those in West Africa who are under the sway of key Rabat ally Paris, which views Morocco as a vital moderate Muslim bulwark against terrorism – but is resisted by traditional opponent Algeria plus most of English-speaking Africa, notably Nigeria and South Africa, the latter’s ANC government viewing SADR’s Polisario Front as a sister liberation movement.
On 6 January, President Jacob Zuma officially received SADR President Brahim Ghali, an old Polisario fighter. Ghali said afterwards that the “Sahrawi people are struggling to recover the total sovereignty of their state and of all their national territory,” and Zuma responded that "it is unfathomable that Western Sahara... still remains colonised… We remain committed to continue to support the people of Western Sahara until you are free to live in your own land and able to decide your own future.”
Veteran journalist Jean-Jacques Cornish, who interviewed Ghali during his visit, said Morocco’s bid was as if apartheid South Africa had attempted to rejoin the Commonwealth while downplaying its own occupation of Namibia. Cornish conceded Morocco might win the vote on entry, but said it would immediately be faced with a dramatically divisive battle over any subsequent attempt to expel SADR. 
Rabat’s former Chargé d’Affaires to Pretoria, Rachid Agassim, would not be drawn on any Moroccan plans to expel SADR, however, stating only: “We are not going back for a clash; we are going back to strengthen African countries for the development of the continent. Morocco has been for the last few years the second-largest African investor in Africa…”
Rabat withdrew its ambassador to South Africa in 2004 when Pretoria formally recognised SADR – but, Agassim said, the kingdom had applied in June last year to upgrade its representation again to full ambassadorial status. 
“We are not colonising anybody. You know the history of colonialism in Africa is quite clear and Morocco’s experience was among the harshest; we were colonised by two different countries… This is a question of the territorial integrity of the Kingdom. With the AU, it is better to solve questions from inside than from outside.” He said that it was Algeria that had unaccountably refused to allow the UN to conduct a census of Sahrawi camps on its territory, thus blocking a plebiscite on Western Sahara’s future.
Morocco stormed out of the Organisation of African Unity 32 years ago over its admission of SADR as a full member. Former colonial power Spain had relinquished control of Western Sahara in 1975 to a joint administration of Morocco and Mauritania, but this precipitated a war with Polisario, backed by Algeria. Today, Morocco controls two-thirds of the territory, with Polisario restricted to the desert hinterland. 
Yet next Tuesday [24 January], Pretoria is scheduled to accredit new SADR Ambassador Rachid Radhi, who is upbeat over the decision by the European Union Court on 21 December that two politico-economic deals, giving access to Moroccan agricultural produce in exchange for European fishing rights in Moroccan waters and financial aid, did not include Western Sahara, which the court did not recognise as a part of the kingdom as its people had not consented to the deals.
Radhi said Morocco, in its AU bid, was trying to ignore the colonial issue, “but they cannot; it’s a stumbling block in front of them and under the Constitutional Act, no country can be admitted into the AU without respecting the borders at the time of independence.” 
He said that with its ocean resources, Africa’s largest phosphate fields, and new gold finds in the desert, an independent SADR would probably model itself on a similar desert economy like that of Namibia. Both Radhi and Agassim dangled carrots of potential South African investments in the disputed territory.
Although the Moroccan application sits on the desk of outgoing AU Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, her spokesperson Jacob Enoh Eben said “Decisions to admit members are taken by member states, so the chair’s role is to facilitate the administrative process and the transmission of requests.” The vote on Morocco is expected to take place on either 30 or 31 January.
Clayson Monyela, Deputy Director General of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) said that Morocco’s request as a colonial power was “without precedent”: “it would seem essential to obtain from the Moroccan Government an explicit and unequivocal statement of its commitment… to: the sanctity of colonial borders; recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of all African Union Member States; the peaceful resolution of conflicts among Member States of the AU; and the non-acquisition of a territory by force, which requires an immediate end to the illegal military occupation by the Kingdom of Morocco of most of the territory of Western Sahara.”

[ENDS]

Monday, 30 January 2017

Revising the Russian & Ukrainian Revolutions

While I am doing the rewrite on the Russian and Ukrainian Revolutions for Wildfire, I am struck that few records capture the excitement of those times as well as US communist journalist John Reed, collected in his seminal book Ten Days That Shook The World. Here he is, riding to Petrograd in a truck loaded with Red Guards and driven by a grizzled worker, recalling dawn breaking on the morning of the October Revolution, when anarchists and Bolsheviks had stormed the Winter Palace:

"The road was crowded with the proletarian army going home, and new reserves were pouring out to take their places… Across the horizon spread the glittering lights of the capital, immeasurably more splendid by night than by day, like a dike of jewels on the barren plain. The old workman who drove held the wheel in one hand, while with the other he swept the far-gleaming capital in an exultant gesture. ‘Mine!’ he cried, his face all alight. ‘All mine now! My Petrograd!’"


The above sketched map represents Petrograd during the October Revolution. The Vyborg District was the working-class and factory district where the anarchists had their greatest strength (though they also dominated the railways, two stations of which can be seen here), while the Kronstadt naval base on the horizon is where they had a strong presence within the revolutionary fleet.

Unfortunately, the crushing of the revolution by the Bolsheviks themselves has disjointed the anarchist narrative of organisational lineages. For instance, the Petrograd Anarchist Federation (PAF) was founded there in 1906 and survived Tsarist repression until, after having many of its militants give their lives on the front in defence of the Revolution from White reactionary forces, they were suppressed by the Bolsheviks in mid 1918. A similar fate awaited the Petrograd Anarchist Communist Federation (PACF), and Union of Anarcho-Syndicalist Propaganda (UASP). 

Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks upheld Russia's colonial exploitation of the Ukraine by not only betraying the Makhnovists and Black Guards who had repulsed the White Armies' attempts to march on Moscow, but also the Union of Black Sea Sailors (SCM), founded in 1906, and the South Russian Anarcho-Syndicalist Group (JUGAS), founded in 1905: both were suppressed in 1918/1919. There was a new sheriff in town - and he was a deceitful and murderous sonofabitch!

[ENDS]

Friday, 27 January 2017

International Holocaust Remembrance Day


The article below was published in a pan-African journal in September 2016. I republish it here in honour of International Holocaust Remembrance Day today, 27 January 2017, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex in Poland by the Red Army in 1945. The picture above is of the liberation of the Mauthausen death camp in Austria by the US 11th Division. Some 7,000 Spanish Republican militia - most of them anarchists - were murdered in Mauthausen by the Nazis. But some Spanish anarchists had their revenge: the anarchists of the 9th Armoured Company which were the very first Allied troops to liberate Paris on 24 August 1944 (see victory parade below), accepting the surrender of General Dietrich von Choltitz and his 17,000-strong Nazi garrison. "El Nueve," The 9th, then fought its way across Europe, campaigning in Alsace-Lorraine, helping to liberate cities such as Strasbourg and numerous towns, fighting in Germany, passing through the Dachau concentration camp just after it had been liberated by the US Army and concluding its campaign only when it seized Hitler's “Eagle’s Nest” mountain retreat at Berchtesgarten in Bavaria.


Reassessing Genocide in Africa
Michael Schmidt

“There are no devils left in Hell. They are all in Rwanda.” - a Roman Catholic priest reported in Time magazine on 16 April 1994, ten days after the Genocide began.

The Common Nature of Genocide 

They came in their droves, each one in turn lighting their own tiny candle. There was the skinny young man in the brown leather jacket and cloth cap, the curvy woman in her silver-patina skirt and white blouse, the petite bald man with his severe black suit and tailored shirt, the young woman with the gold earrings matching her heels and her braids piled high on her head. Each one had lost someone in the Rwandan "Hundred Nights" Genocide of 1994 and they gathered in Johannesburg on 21 April to pay their respects to their dead – and to watch a film on the treacherous themes of forgiveness and reconciliation in atrocity-fractured societies.
The event was hosted by Constitution Hill plus the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, the South African History Archives, and the High Commission of Rwanda. The film screening commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the initiation of the Hundred Nights by génocidaires, and the 20th anniversary of the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearing into the atrocities of the apartheid era, on 15 April 1996. 
I had covered the TRC when it sat in Durban, especially the amnesty hearing of former Vlakplaas death-squad commander Dirk Coetzee, and had covered the 10th anniversary of the Hundred Nights in Kigali and Butare in 2004, so I had been invited to attend. We had an overflowing venue with perhaps 200 people, including many Rwandan Genocide and some Jewish Holocaust survivors in the audience. 
Before the memorial candles were lit, Rwandan High Commissioner Vincent Karenga warned about the attempt by Rwandan génocidaires – some of them sheltered by countries that had given them asylum – to reach out to "genocidal forces" abroad in the world, seeking justification for their crimes, stating that the slogan "Never Again!" would be irrelevant if education on the causes of the genocidal impulse were not vigorously pursued. 
Genocide is a complex phenomenon, marred by perpetrator denialism and revisionism, but is defined by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
Genocide is sadly nowhere near as rare as we’d hope – because mass scale or success are not defining factors under the Convention. It usually emerges within broader conditions of social collapse, such as during the implosion of failed states and the rise of the primitive accumulation of organised banditry such as in ex-Somalia, during civil war by predator states such that waged in Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko; it is often entangled with ethnicised struggles over resources that result in pogroms as in Darfur, and sometimes with revolutionary class war in much more developed countries such as Libya during the Arab Spring.
In Africa, while sub-state actors also engage in genocide – as with the Muslim Séléka versus Christian Anti-Balaka militia in the Central Africa Republic at the moment – the privateer state is more often the perpetrator: a privateer state consists of a narrow-based consortium of hard-nosed business entrepreneurs, ethnic factional leaders adept at populist politics, a tiny bureaucratic class, and the better-trained sections of the military, usually the paratroopers (where such exist), armoured infantry and the presidential guard. The privateer state usually survives not only by extorting its citizenry, but by extending its extortionist operations into neighbouring states and often ethnicises its conflict in order to express a coherent mobilising propaganda that appeals to a distinct supranational ethnic constituency.

Is Reconciliation Desirable?

Karenga’s warnings about the viability of genocidal currents in Africa today was followed by a brief set of filmed interviews with Rwandan Genocide survivors (at least two of whom I later spotted in the audience). Their stories of what happened to their families defied imagination: the one woman spoke of her mother being turned over to the Interahamwe militia by Catholic nuns who had promised to shelter her; the génocidaires came and cut her legs off, then finding her still alive the next day, cut off her breasts, then the following day, returning to find her dying, executed her. 
The documentary itself, A Snake Gives Birth to A Snake, takes its name from the chilling response of an Inkatha Freedom Party member when asked by the TRC why he had hacked a nine-month-old girl to death with a panga during the 1992 Boipatong Massacre in which 45 people were slaughtered south of Johannesburg. The film follows an ethnically diverse South African acting troupe as they recreate the roles of the most crucial interlocutors of the TRC process – that of the translators themselves – around twelve of whom are gathered together by director Michael Lessac. 
With iconic musician Hugh Masekela devising songs based directly on TRC testimony ("They cut off my husband’s hands..." etc), the play not only recreated the clash of competing truths at the TRC, but as the doccie shows, pitted the actors' own sense of their place in our shattered history against each other’s, as they increasingly come under the strain of the burden of our political history while touring the play in Rwanda, then Northern Ireland, then ex-Yugoslavia, with veteran journalist Max du Preez documenting the process.
After each performance, the troupe gathered together audience members from all of the competing sides in the host country and held a round-table discussion on the themes raised in the play – with an especial focus on the meaning of forgiveness and whether it was desirable or possible. It was a rougher journey than either actors or film-makers had expected: in Rwanda, the point was made by one audience member that among young Rwandan school kids, the parents of half of them were murdered, and the others were in jail for genocide; in Northern Ireland, even the Catholic and Protestant dead are buried separately and one Irish National Liberation Army veteran stated that if Ireland had a TRC it would benefit the victims' families not at all because he felt no guilt for the killings he had committed; while in ex-Yugoslavia, the troupe continually ran into problems of trying to bridge the ethnic divide as it was almost impossible to secure mixed audiences, or to even screen Albanian and Serbian text translations of the play alongside each other.
At one point du Preez asked a circle of young Rwandans for advice on how to deal with the fact that with his pale skin and Afrikaans surname, he will always be presumed to be an apartheid perpetrator (in fact he was convicted of "terrorism" for his journalism), and the one young Tutsi girl responded that there were Hutus in her class and she "loved them dearly" because they allowed her to express herself from time to time in bitter outbursts against the Hutus for having initiated the Genocide; so, she said, the solution was not to run away and hide one’s guilt, but to go and live among one’s former victims and show them one’s human face so that one day one’s humanity and contrition will be accepted by them.
The film gave me serious pause for thought on my own career as a journalist: even with 26 years behind me, much of them spent working in poor black areas, I felt that I was still only part-way down a long journey of reconciliation, and the current debate on decolonisation and the entrenched nature of cultural and structural racism underscores that many wounds are unhealed in the post-apartheid era. After the screening, I spoke informally to United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa: "Looking back at that time [Boipatong], I can't believe we made it," he said to me; "Sadly we still have much unfinished business," I replied, thinking of the 2008 Pogroms in which 62 people were slaughtered and 100,000 displaced in what was partly a genocide as defined by the Genocide Convention, and the 2012 Marikana Massacre by police of 34 striking platinum miners in what was a clear case of class war; "Yes we do," he responded.

The Tension Between Truth and Justice

Rolling forward to 11 July and the closing event of the commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide, the Holocaust and Genocide Centre screened the Beate Arnestad documentary Telling Truths in Arusha, which follows the genocide trial in Arusha, Tanzania, before the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) of Catholic priest Father Hormisdas who presided over a church and college where mass killings took place in 1994. Throughout the trial, Hormisdas sat calmly, his eyes shielded behind his spectacles, displaying no outrage at the charges, no sense of horror at the scale of the Genocide; in fact, Arnestad’s camera caught him speaking privately to his defence attorney, dismissing the 800,000 death toll as nonsense. 
Following the film, representing The Ulu Club for Southern African Conflict Journalists – an outfit that holds events to allow the public to interrogate journalistic ethics in covering societies in conflict – I lead a discussion on the difficult themes it raised. I stated that it perhaps helped to distinguish between veracité (fact) and verité (truth) – as the film demonstrated that fact and truth are not necessarily the same thing, neither for the survivor, nor the journalist, nor the perpetrator, nor the judicial officer presiding at Arusha, and that the search for a fact-based and fundamentally true justice is perhaps hardest of all. 
It was with bitterness that I had to report, however, that the genocidal impulse was far from dead in Africa. As we met that night, forensic and eyewitness evidence was being painstakingly compiled of year-old mass graves in Angola where MPLA government forces massacred perhaps 3,000 people at Mt Sumi in April 2015, and of fresh mass graves in Mozambique as a result of the return to civil war between RENAMO and FRELIMO there. 
Other recent cases of mass slaughter in Africa abound: for example, back in 2007-2008, pogroms in Kenya left perhaps 1,500 dead and perhaps 600,000 displaced. The crisis was rooted in political unrest following the contested election of President Mwai Kibaki, but opposition supporters of went on the warpath, killing members of Kibaki’s’ ethnic group, the Kikuyu, which immediately ethnicised the conflict, with Kikuyu striking back at the Luo and Kalejin ethnic groups. 
Another example occurred in 2009 in Conakry, Guinea, when troops loyal to junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara opened fire on a rally of pro-democracy activists, killing an estimated 157 people: this was merely the latest massacre by Camara’s putschists who had killed 60 and 23 people respectively in general strikes held in January and February 2007, establishing martial law; the massacres reinforced the established pattern whereby Guinean privateer regimes use massacre to prop up their shaky authority against the anger of the popular classes.
The roots of the Rwandan Genocide are far more complex, but long simmering since the Belgians instituted “ethnic” classification cards in the 1950s for groups identified as Tutsis, Hutus, and Twa. But these were essentially fake ethnicities: of the 18 clans in Rwanda, all except arguably the royal clan were ethnic mixes of Nilotics, Bantu and Pygmies who had intermarried over a millennium; but those classified Tutsi had to own more than 10 cattle, and it helped if they were tall; this was a class designation that had spurious racial elements appended. The result of such faux ethnicisation was 100,000 slaughtered in 1959 and 800,000 in 1994.

Structural Enablers of Hatred

One eyewitness to the Rwandan Genocide, US journalist Scott Peterson in his book Me Against My Brother (2000), came up with one of the earliest and still to my mind most viable analyses. Peterson had trawled through the looted ruins of the mansion of President Juvénal Habyarimana – the 6 April 1994 shooting down of his jet sparked the Genocide – and found there a proudly framed photograph of Tutsi homes burning during the so-called “Apocalypse Revolution” in 1959 in which 100,000 Tutsi were slaughtered, plus a book dedicated to Habyarimana by President François Mitterand, and a private Catholic chapel. These items inspired him to speculate on three structural enablers of the Genocide.
● Firstly, the deliberate cultivation of Hutu supremacist ideology, driven by Habyarimana’s wife Agathe’s Akazu inner circle and its extremist Zero Network of politicians and public servants, dating especially from the 1990 publication of the genocidal Hutu 10 Commandments by the extremist newspaper Kangura! (Awake!), then the formation by Habyarimana of the ruling MRND party’s Interahamwe militia, and the state’s Coalition por la Défense de la République (CDR) and its Impuzamugambe militia, and then – and this is often forgotten – the “trial runs” of massacre that had already left around 2,000 people dead in the two years before the Genocide began.
● Secondly, the unblanching support by France for the MRND regime, regardless of its growing extremism – including the uninterrupted supply of weapons shipments even during the height of the Genocide when the extent of the killings was obvious. The French flew Agathe Habyarimana and select Akazu members to safety in Paris just after the Genocide began, and Mitterand officially welcomed at the Quay d’Orsay at the end of April 1994 – during the Genocide – Hutu extremist Foreign Minister Jérôme Bicamumpaka (acquitted by the Arusha Tribunal in 2011) and CDR commander and hate radio head Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza (later convicted of genocide; died in 2010).
● Lastly (and this touched on the theme of the film), the acquiescence of the Catholic Church as the preparations for genocide became irreversible, especially because since Belgian missionaries had supported the 1959 Genocide, following independence in 1962, the Church had become so integrated into the Hutu regime that the Archbishops of Kigali, including the incumbent during the Genocide, Vincent Nsengiyumva (who was killed as a perpetrator by the RPF), were invariably high MRND leaders as well, and in some cases such as at the Ste Famille Cathedral in Kigali, during the Genocide, priests such as Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka openly wore pistols, expressed Hutu supremacist views and allowed the death-squads to select from among those seeking sanctuary there for killing (he was later convicted of genocide at Arusha but continues to live freely in France).

Widening Circles of Ethnicised Conflict

At the commemoration event, I introduced Hamilton Wende, a South African journalist who worked as the sound-man on a BBC crew that went to Rwanda during the Genocide with the almost impossible mission objective of trying to explain why the Genocide was happening. In his book True North (1995), as with Peterson, Wende also spoke of the impact of Belgian ethnic classification in the 1950s and Belgian support for the 1959 Genocide, but unlike Peterson’s work which had the benefit of six years of hindsight, Tony’s work is marked by the immediacy of being plunged deep into the moral twilight zone of the Genocide as it was unfolding.
He used some resonant phrases such as “spiral of madness” to describe what he was seeing – but the one that may assist us here is “Republic of Dementia,” and he described his journey into what he called an “incoherence of darkness,” “half-drowning in a spiritual Interzone, grasping at the flimsy edges of our own rationality,” as both a physical and metaphysical journey. 
And as Karenga warned, the perpetrators’ revisionism was already attempting to establish its legitimacy: back in 1994 we see Wende interview the mayor of the nearest town in the Nyarubuye Parish where some 4,000 people were slaughtered by the génocidaires: the interview takes place in the UN’s Bonacco refugee camp, full of tens of thousands of perpetrators, and as Hutu extremist radio pushes out a revisionist line over the airwaves of the refugee camp, claiming it is the Tutsi “invading cockroaches” who are committing genocide, the mayor, who is accused of organising the Nyarubuye massacre, reveals his true self by evoking nasty anti-Tutsi sentiments.
The Rwandan nightmare, in which the génocidaires hacked their names into our hearts with spiked clubs and machetes, is properly condemned – but its memory has also been used by the post-Genocide regime to prop up its despotic authority, and to justify punitive raids into neighbouring countries, transforming contemporary Rwanda into a privateer state and generating ever widening circles of instability, ethnic and ethnicised conflict in the Great Lakes region. Rwanda is not the last we have seen of genocide.

Preventing Pogroms

But I want to end on a more hopeful note – because genocide is not inevitable. Ideally, the preconditions for genocide should be recognised by adequate early-warning systems that monitor génocidaire revisionist activities and that can motivate the international community to prevent or curtail the construction of institutional systems that facilitate mass killings. Community resistance is also vital as demonstrated during the 2008 Pogroms in South Africa: comparing Alexandra Section 2, east of Johannesburg, known as “Beirut” and Section 5, known as “Setswala,” Jean-Pierre Misago of Wits University’s Forced Migration Studies Programme, co-author of a the report for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on the Pogroms, said Beirut had succumbed to the killings while Setswala had fended off attempts by the pogromists to spark killings in their neighbourhood. 
“The Section 5 community comrades met the Section 2 pogromists at the border of Section and told them ‘no, you can’t come in here; we will sort out our own foreigners, because you don’t know who they are’.” You can bet the Setswala reception committee was armed to the teeth, to back up their ploy, but it worked, keeping the killers at bay while Setswala’s foreigners were helped to leave town quickly, their vigilant neighbours keeping watch over their homes to ensure no-one looted them. Critical to their success was that there was no institutional support for the killings as there had been in Rwanda, but the lesson was clear: when communities stood together, they managed to prevent the pogroms from spreading. 
However, I argued in the wake of the Pogroms that community defence must go beyond mere moral encouragement: it must firstly be strongly armed, with legal firearms not just knives and clubs, to meet force with force; secondly it must prepare in advance safe zones that operated like Setswala in Alexandra, where those in danger are sheltered and where pogromists fear to tread; and thirdly, it must establish local networks like the street committees of the anti-apartheid struggle to gather intelligence and co-ordinate actions. Today I would add that such networks must act as bellwethers for the likes of Amnesty International but also for new continental organisations such as the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN) to enable a vigorous multilateral intervention that compels authorities in the afflicted state to suppress the genocidal impulse, dismantle its operational organs, and actively undermine the viability of the virus of the genocidal idea by combating hate speech and revisionism at all levels of society.

[ENDS]