On organising Afem: Lessons I learned on access and privilege, the importance of feeling uncomfortable, and of challenging things we find comfortable

On organising Afem: Lessons I learned on access and privilege, the importance of feeling uncomfortable, and of challenging things we find comfortable

“I am very sorry to have to say this, Corinne, but from your post, I think you are either incredibly politically naïve or a troll. Either way, I don’t think you are a suitable person to be moderating this list.” Gail Chester

People try to take away from Afem and its organising something positive. I think positive is not synonymous with constructive. This text is not meant to make you feel comfortable. If your involvement in anarchafeminism is about you feeling like a great person doing great things and congratulating yourself about it, this text is not for you. If your involvement with anarchafeminism is about being challenged, being made uncomfortable, reconsidering what you did or did not do, and trying to improve yourself slowly and with great humility, thinking of the way you still have to go, without great pats on the back of self gratification, welcome, friend.

After St. Imier, French organisations tried to organise an anarchafem conference, but the plan quickly fell through. I contacted T from Afed, to know whether Afed had also given up or if they were still planning something. They answered that C was looking into it, at which point I got in touch with her to know whether I could be involved, but never heard anything back from her.

The main reason I thought it was important that someone like me was involved from the start was because of the situation with the French Anarchist Federation, which I won’t detail here, see Afem’s communiqué on their exclusion as an organisation for more info. I had translated on behalf of Afed’s members a number of documents pertaining to this sordid case of harassment of anarchafeminists within anarchist organisations. When members who talked to me seemed to think things were ready to be brushed under the carpet, I constantly warned them about the French fed’s habit of fake apologies, and pretend reform, which has been their modus operandi for as long as I can ascertain.

I was not contacted before the 2013 Anarchist Bookfair, and I was not contacted afterwards. Since the St. Imier idea was to have an international conference though, the French Anarchist Federation was contacted, against all common sense or decency towards French anarchafeminists.

When I finally made it onto the organising email list thanks to friends, not only nothing was said about the French federation history of harassment, but I read that £500 were to be spent on a website, paid in half by Afed and in half by the French fed. During over 10 years as an anarchist militant, it is the first time I hear of a website costing anywhere near as much, and there were no indication of any function it would have that would legitimate the cost. This was also a proposal from members of the organisations which did not detail either what we would get for such a price, or who would get the money (with the horrible argument, well, since we are paying for it, we are deciding that, which goes against everything I believe in in matters of organising). I grew really worried as one of the main abusers in the harassment case is a rather unsuccessful computer programmer who, when he is not spamming anarchafeminists’ inboxes and blogs until they can’t use them any more, apparently designs websites. I asked details about this again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and was given the silent treatment once more. I actually still have to receive an answer about who was contracted for these £500, but no-one has bothered to alleviate or confirm my fears. This decision was actually abandoned rather than its specifics being made available to the organising committee.

The silent treatment is a technique favoured by bureaucrats of all stripes, and many people will have suffered it from managers: you ask to be treated like a human being, I will not answer your emails and prevent you from doing your job. It is psychologically devastating, despite it bringing us back nostalgically to playground tactics. Of course, for a long time, I doubted myself, thinking I was being paranoid. But a friend from Afed put my mind at ease, saying that C openly said on ACOD that she was intentionally ignoring my requests for information and that it was a jolly good thing to do because I was not a nice person (from what I gathered, I didn’t have access to ACOD, not being an Afed member). By the way, it is true, I am not a nice person, I am challenging and obstinate, I rarely give cookies when people do their job satisfactorily, and I usually point it out when they don’t, my social skills leave a lot to be desired. Whether this is a reason to exclude me from an anarchafem conference and its organising, that is debatable, see the first paragraph of this article. So I stopped being distressed about not having an answer, and started being distressed at the fact my friends and former comrades were having a great laugh about my distress (meta distress, yay!). From that point on, I cried pretty much every day until I finally “quit” the organising committee.

All was not doom and gloom though, at the same time as this was going on, I was working at making this conference — which was mainly being organised by white, middle-class, cis women — more open to other perspectives by actively engaging with anarchists I knew who were not from that demographic and talking to them, presenting them the project, trying to reassure them that it wouldn’t be exclusionary to them, and that they could get involved. Signing people up was possible thanks to a facebook friend who happened to be in charge of signing people up to the mailing list and was not inclined to use this power as a way to filter out people they didn’t like (which some might think doesn’t deserve special cookies, but given other behaviours witnessed, it really stands out). People who directly sent an email to the address provided on the public information were not as lucky, and were added after weeks or months of delay, or not at all. But, as more diverse people got involved in this, I felt like the problems we had would diminish (and they did).

Getting people who were not from Afed/Solfed involved was important to me, because, as much as I recognise the efforts that these organisations are making in being more inclusive, I also know that they are not perfect and that consequently many (most?) anarchafeminists, especially when they suffer from multiple oppressions, organise outside organisations. However, some people are unable to go beyond the long-standing antipathy between organisational anarchists vs. anarchists deemed “non-organised” (organised in smaller groups, federated in occasional open gatherings rather than yearly private conferences), and the insistence to aim the conference to “organised” anarchists clashed with attempts to address intersectionality practically.

There seemed to be very little care given about who accessed what information and through what connection. There was very little awareness of the power structures of inclusion/exclusion at all.

Dealing with this, I ventured into the world of twitter. I am no twitter fan, I have a private account that is not public and which I have almost never used. But twitter seemed a good way to reach people more fairly (that is, randomly). So I started considering tweets as space, and thought that the first thing for Afem was to establish its intent to be a platform for often silenced and marginalised people. So I followed and retweeted announcements from antifa demonstrations to anti-ableism advice. And something great happened: I saw that some people who rarely considered class struggle were retweeting stuff about the CNT strike in Spain from our account, and that some anarchist groups who rarely considered anything else than the class struggle retweeted stuff from autistic activists too. Every time this happened I felt like this Afem thing was indeed useful.

Of course, twitter comes with arguments. And this did not fail to happen. Being accessible by more people means being accessible to criticisms and call-outs (and that is kinda the point, if you ask me). When people used twitter to express their discontent with Afem’s policies or meetings, I did what I have always been told was the right thing to do: listen and reexamine yourself. How do you ‘listen’ on twitter? I thought that retweeting people who called us out was a first step to acknowledge we were listening. I also emailed their concern to the email list for the whole group to ponder. I thanked them to take the effort to help us improve ourselves and explained what was being done regarding the issue they had raised. I do not regret anything I have done on the twitter account, I think it was right, I think it did give a good image of the conference and attracted some very interesting people into the organising group, and I regret no-one had the confidence to continue when I left and the twitter account was silent, no longer a platform for anyone except a couple of announcements about Afem for Afem by Afem.

I think maybe that is enough for now, I do not feel like documenting the events and my ensuing mental breakdown in much more detail than that, apart from a few points which are of interest:

-unrealistic expectations of “safety” which involuntarily amount to silencing. Since no-one had mentioned the elephant in the room that was the harassment from the French federation, and some people genuinely had no idea. It had to be explained. Again. And again. And again. Because some people were not ready to listen. Someone on the list got triggered by the words “victim” and “perpetrator” and would refuse even for people to use them in emails clearly labelled as containing them. Those two concepts are key to a whole lot of anarchafeminism, and eventually one of them was used on the timetable of the conference itself. This was by far not the worst thing when it comes to things that made fighting the French federation and its defenders hard, but it certainly did not help. Carving out safer spaces for victims of abuse should not make the task of defending other victims of abuse harder, or something is going very wrong.

-complete ignorance of any concept of a safer space or safer proceeding by people who are actually members of groups which have safer spaces policies. When there finally was an attempt to solve the issue of the harassment of some anarchafeminists by the French fed, safety was not even considered. The format offered was “people who care can fight it off on a private discussion thing”. Perpetrators and victims alike, no moderation or anything, just a simple free for all where perpetrators could freely continue their harassment (which they had done on the organising email list). It was objected to that that the organising group did not have a SSP at that point. Of course, drafting one was a good idea, but not having one drafted does not mean things should be dealt with completely unsafely either, especially among a group which had explicitly expressed their love for SSPs. As much as it is great to have people able to draft SSPs, and without taking any merit away from them, a policy is only ever just that, and what matters in the end is what happens and is implemented, and while an explicit SSP can help, the absence of one, or the fact that it sadly does not cover a situation, should not be used as an obstacle to the defense of the safety of victims of abuse. Neither should the acceptance of a SSP be any kind of amnesty for behaviours dating back from before this acceptance.

-I do not wish to defend G, who called me a cisphobic troll which caused me to leave the organising group, but it was pretty clear from the minutes of the first organising meeting that her views were that she only wished to organise with cis women, and her transphobic views were shown, and explained at length by her at several points during the organisation of Afem. Accusing her of holding transphobic views is legitimate, accusing her of deceit seems to disregard the fact that if people were indeed “deceived” it could only be because they were ready to look the other way because she is Someone Important (with access to ressources such as a meeting place in London). Someone (me) left the organising group after being called a cisphobic troll by her, and nothing at all was done to hold her accountable for this event (as far as I know, then again, it’s a pretty weird event, since, being cis myself, it was really just a general display of cis power without any particular designated victim, but that argument was punctuated by statements like “Or do my feelings not count because I am not trans* or a sex worker?”). It is not really surprising that after this experience, she feels confident in doing what she did.

-the inability of anyone to tell C she was doing anything harmful. From the start, C was the one person in charge, Afem was her conference, and that was not going to be great in terms of democracy, effectiveness, representation of diverse views, or anything that this conference was nominally about. Her attitude was not conducive to anyone else being granted access or confidence to do anything, which would feed her feeling of being the only one who did anything, etc. That’s a pretty classic thing in anarchist groups. In my first anarchist group we had a saying: no-one is indispensable. Because it means the group falls apart if they are arrested. Because it is bad for their health. Because it gives them power whether they want it or not. C’s refusal to share info also meant she couldn’t delegate anything. She would be paranoid of anyone else getting involved as having a hidden agenda (well, apart for G, whose hidden agenda was actually pretty explicitly stated, but no-one cared). She would rather just have meetings between gender oppressed people who are in Afed and Solfed and their international sister organisations than reaching out to anyone who has been sidelined for so long by these organisations (why I am not sure as I have never met anyone in Afed or Solfed who didn’t say they were very certainly infiltrated by the police and other unsafe people). If someone called us or her out, she would immediately act defensive, as a way of not listening or discussing the matter at hand. Whether she uses her overcommitment as an excuse for acting in such a Stalinist/neoliberal managerial style or whether she is genuinely overcommitted and cannot do her job satisfactorily, I do not wish to know, and do hope it is the latter, but in any case there is only one solution: for her to take time off and leave some space for others. She has held one mandate or another for the Anarchist federation for way longer than is healthy for anyone who is concerned about informal power distribution anyway and this is causing issues within and outside the federation. No-one must be indispensable or be allowed to make themselves so. For their own good as well, although that is not what I care most about personally.

Was it worth it? Well, the French fed did not get to wash their image by “funding” an anarchafem conference (although, whether it is funding a conference when you get to decide on your own what and who your money will be spent on, that is debatable anyway), the statement which was issued after I left concerning them is mostly the one I had drafted (because no-one else wanted to do it, and it is consequently pretty harsh, which is great). I do not know whether the anarchafeminists who had been harassed by the French fed attended the conference in the end or not, or whether they felt it was safe-ish enough to do so. I did not feel it was safe-ish enough for me to go, but that was mostly because of tiredness from travel and bookfair making me very tense. When I contacted the safer spaces people about my possible attendance they were very friendly and helpful, which makes me hopeful.

In this process, I did meet a number of people who immediately understood my frustration and did not understand how I could be in a situation of fighting for months for something pretty basic. They did help me a lot for immediate care as well as for keeping hopes up about what is possible for the anarchist movement. It also allowed me better to understand power struggles, passive ways of silencing people. There were also a number of groups ready to help with a possible mediation process (from a feminist group in Germany, to the Black Rose federation in the US) so this possibility of support does exist if (when?) a similar situation arises. Was there a way to do this without the ensuing breakdown? I hope so, but I failed to find it, and I hope that next time people will be able to find this magical way, and be effective without going in for an all-out soul-destroying ordeal. But anarchafeminism is pretty sweet, even when it is an all-out soul-destroying ordeal, which is often.

Another happy post! Life Glug post

So, you know how I try to stay positive despie the past few translations about the French AF? Well, I just found out someone has already did something I had no time to do myself: a sound analysis of language in politics, and here is their blog: http://lifeglug.wordpress.com/

You know how sectarian I sound when i say ‘blablabla, austerity is a terrible word, stop using it’? Well here is an excerpt from that blog much better put:

“To use or accept the word ‘austerity’ uncritically can lead to these associated inferences being activated and legitimised. Any argument against the principles of government public spending reduction will have to battle through those tacitly accepted implications. Construal effects by no means control our understanding – these frames can be rejected and dissected. But they do help to guide the public’s perception of complex political issues when they are not openly challenged.”

Resignation from French AF

(please note I, owner of this blog, has never been in the French AF, I simply translated this text, will try to pass on the messages of solidarity received though 🙂 )

Resignation letter from the AF

15 months ago, in February 2012, I joined the group Quartier Pirate of the AF. Several reasons pushed me to join one of the groups of the AF, I think the main one was the will to act, to try and contribute to stop or, at least, annoy this rotten system. I wished to meet people for whom some issues were obvious and with whom I wouldn’t have constantly to explain and justify my ideas endlessly, because these would already be shared by these people. I could have worked with such people to move towards anarchy ? I could have organised, shared and fought alongside my comrades, no longer alone against a wall of hostility, but as a group, to finally break it. After 15 months, I draw conclusions from this choice, and I realise I was wrong.

I arrived in the AF just a few weeks before March 8, when Quartier Pirate was organising the libertarian bloc for the demo on that day of feminist struggle. Very young in the group, I was only observing. I was telling myself that it was a good choice to have joined the AF, that what many female friends had told me was not true, including that I would have joined an organisation in which issues of sexism are summarily treated and, most importantly, an absolutely not feminist organisation… Actually, where were the women of the AF ? Oh, yeah, I was also discovering there weren’t many. Why ? I couldn’t tell, I didn’t want to believe gossip.

On the day of the demo, I give out leaflets for the women-only night march in the AF bloc. People look at me with contempt, many women, next to their male partners, to whom I handed the leaflet, also looked me with contempt, and tell me that non-mixed events are shit, and that they wouldn’t attend without their partners. They wouldn’t even take the leaflet !

A bit disappointed, I stopped leafletting and joined our bloc. Why does no women from the AF want to attend the non-mixed demo ? I was wondering. It is strange that anarchafeminists (because I thought these women would be feminists, even if I didn’t know them yet) don’t want to attend a non-mixed night demo, refuse the practice of non-mixed events, and claim that their partner should be allowed to attend… This was only the first of many stories which made me realise that antisexism in the AF was only a facade, and most importantly that the AF is not a feminist organisation, but an organisation which tolerates, as long as they shut up, feminists.

How many meetings I attendedwhere there were almost no women, or where the few women around served coffee to the men, or, if they spoke, it was because they were taking the names of people who wanted to speak ? It was only one instance, it was not always that way in the AF. Certainly.

Let’s move on to other details from this year sent in the AF. Curiously, these past few months, a word has become taboo : « hysteria ». Everything started when the Quartier Pirate group proposed a poster and a leaflet for the 8 March demo. The poster read : « Hysterical, for as long as necessary ! » and the leaflet explained why March 8 was a day of feminist struggle. We benefitted from lessons of so-called psychologists who explained to us the word « hysteria », we were attacked because we had proposed a problematic poster because « the AF has issues passing as an antisexist organisation and this poster could not have been understood », I wonder who did not understand the poster ? So were there issues of sexism in the AF ? Of course not, but, well, there have been… So we are not going to put up problematic posters !

As for the pamphlets, it could not work, because, you see, not only it was only about women (let me remind you, that was for March 8), but it didn’t mention class struggle ! It was of course inadmissible not to mention class struggle in a feminist leaflet. This was clearly highlighting how sexism and feminism are secondary issues for the people of the AF. Our poster and leaflet were binned discretely and without a need for consensus, a new poster and a new leaflet became the official ones for the Paris region AF for March 8. The official leaflet not only was lying about March 8, but it was also antifeminist by calling for proletarian women to rise up… against bourgeois women. Divide to rule, an old custom.

As a feminist, having put my group in this position of complete isolation, I felt guilty and responsible towards my comrades who had supported me, despite the pretty emails we were receiving on the Paris region list which attacked and denigrated our work. This feeling of guilt vis-a-vis my group drove me to make a decision : never again would I engage in issues of sexism in the AF, my feminist struggles, I would lead them somewhere else, with comrades from other organisations.

This was already a huge dent in my resolve to stay in the AF. That said, the Quartier Pirate group is made of comrades who I esteem and respect to the point of deciding to remain in an organisation only to work with the on other issues. I informed them of my decision no longer to take part in any action around antisexism and my will to remain in the AF as long as my group will remain in it.

Today, I think I shouldn’t have imposed myself this choice. It would have avoided me seeing what happened over the next months. But at this point I thought I could ignore, or pretend to ignore, latent sexism of many people from the AF.

Then, Dadoun’s article happened, and the emails on the federal list attacking a feminist woman because she had made public her indignation and anger at an aticle which made an apology for rape. I had decided no longer to intervene on these issues in the AF. I had told my comrades I would not bring them into issues of antisexism again. So I shut up. I regret this. I regret having left a comrade alone, only because I had just received painful attacks, I would have liked it so much if I had been less isolated over the past few months and now I was leaving a comrade alone because I was afraid in my turn to be abandoned by my group, exposed to the anger (because, for men, it is only anger) of the AF people. To pass once again for hysterical, to have to listen to morality lessons from the older militants who know all about the AF and who, of course, were feminists before I was born (although they seem they had forgotten the meaning of the term), to feel alone and guilty because I did not want to be subjected to very heavy attacks on a personal level. I left a comrade alone. That is the only regret which I have about those past few months, because I only know too well what it feels like to live this silence and this isolation.

However, the importance that this Dadoun article took left me confused. Not because we talked about a men’s rights’ article (that would have been good!) but because the article and its contents were completely secondary compared to the grave sin committed by a brave woman from the AF : to publish a counter-article on Indymedia critiquing Dadoun’s article and questioning the God-given antisexism of the militants of the libertarian milieu.

The fact that a highly-problematic article by an Emeritus uni professor who hangs around the anarchist milieu, because let’s say it, it’s so cool to be an anarchist professor or at least pretend to be, was published by the AF’s newspaper, that was not the issue ; the fact that a cis straight white man claim that rape was an access of « hysteria », that was not an issue either ; the fact that the rape perpetrated by a cis white straight man in power on a black, powerless woman is narrated as the « chance meeting of two bodies » and an act of fate (no luck, woman, you entered a room when the man was naked and wanted it) it was not an issue, it was a depiction of facts. But what was a problem was that a woman spoke up to denounce the fat that yes, it is unbelievable that it is an article published in the newspaêr of my organisation which is supposed to represent me.

What I witnessed then was not a questionning on the article, but a personal attack against the woman who had spoken out to denounce that fact. What mattered was not that rape appeared like an inevitabe incident of a chance meeting, what mattered was that a woman dare publicly denounce this article. What a crime ! Attentat ! Terrorist ! Let’s all take up arms against her !

With disgust, I was following the emails who attacked this brave woman, who hinted at intimate trauma which could explain her hysteria, preaching like good old paternalists, who wlaimed that rapes affected mainly men. I realised with the same disgust that she was left all alone, isolated. The AF is a feminist organisation who still attacks its feminists so that they shut up.

Finally, the Quartier Pirate group published a communiqué in which we distanced ourselves from Dadoun’s article, and we linked to the article by this brave woman on Indymedia. What a scandal ! My comrades first received personal phone-calls telling them to take off the communiqué from the blog (I wonder why I didn’t have this honour!). Then we received an email from the female general secretary, ordering us to take off the communiqué from the blog right away. Er, what organisation had I joined again ? The AF ? Orders ? We had a good laugh ! We didn’t take off the communiqué and I thank comrades to have kept going and not given in to pressures from influential people of the AF.

Today, after a year observing the AF ecosystem, I realise there are informal but deeply-rooted powers ; that the word of some matters more than others ; that any project aiming at transforming, or at least changing in the tiniest way the organisation or anything inherent to the organisation was constantly blocked ; that an organisation which claims itself to be anarchist is trapped in eternal and petty quarrels on its email lists ; that evil intent is never far away and that the freedom and autonomy of the groups only exists as long as we follow the party line which the informal leaders drafts in secret. I observe that for my word to matter, I would have to have been a better militant for longer han others, but that anyway I will always miss something vital for them – balls – to be allowed to express myself without being suspected of only speaking because of intimate trauma, in other words, my hysteria.

I observe that the AF fights systems of oppression, but not all of them, because to stop sexist jokes would be a bit like not enjoying a good steak. I observe that to stay in the AF would mean to accept a domination that I want to destroy.

I realise that I am now weaker than a year ago, because having to fight and defend myself all the time against people who should have been my comrades has destroyed my vitaliy and my resolve. I observe that I no longer want to do anything because all the projects we have proposed with my group have been blocked by people who had power within the AF, when we opposed this. I observe that I ended up fighting against people who I first thought I would be fighting alongside with. I observe that to go on within the AF would mean to be subjected to a way of organising that is not anarchist but is made up of threats, orders, pressures and hierarchies. I observe that to stay in the AF would mean to renounce to fight against sexism and accept to be feminist within the limits which are tolerable to men, also known as as long as their priviledges are preserved.

I now resign from the AF and I go back to being a lone wolf, but with other anarchafeminist comrades by my side.

The AF wins once more : another feminist resigns.

I know that I renounce a fight, but I do’t want to fight pointlessly, and to fight to make the AF a feminist organisation seems a delusion to me.

I resign from the AF because I never want to receive orders again, be pressured into things or receive morality lessons. I resign from the AF because I no longer want to witness collective attacks on isolated women. I resign from the AF because I won’t take part in the perpetuation of anarcho-patriarchy. I resign from the AF because it was only a tool, but this tool I discovered is rotten.

I resign from the AF because if one day anarchy is realised, it would be a shame if it looked like the French Anarchist Federation.

A Review of Anarchism and Its Aspirations, by Cindy Milstein

A Review of Anarchism and Its Aspirations, by Cindy Milstein

Few books gave me more hope than Cindy Milstein’s Anarchism and Its Aspirations. It kept me going through the past few translations, which had to do with some serious failings of anarchist organisations, and so I decided to recognise its merits here, if only to have something positive to say for once.

I am pretty cynical, and Milstein’s book is very much on the hippyish side, but the second thing I noticed is that it is refreshingly not anti-intellectual. She does not reduce everything to a dry list of mass movements (as geographically varied as possible) : she brings in Buber, Marx, Adorno, Arendt in a simple and unpretentious way when and where relevant.

Gustav Landauer is given a place of choice, which I think is a first for an introductory guide to anarchism, and she does not fall in the pitfalls of caricaturing the sides of so-called important issues within the anarchist movement, something which makes most introductions to anarchism make anarchism look like a collection of irrelevant strawmen. It portrays it much more organically and accurately.

It also develops the late twentieth early twenty-first century developments in anarchism, which is garanteed to give you a few Proust’s madeleines. Mine was when I read the acronym APPO, which I can’t remember having read since around 2007. Even though I have been loosely keeping in touch with more recent news from Oaxaca, I had completely forgotten what APPO meant to us, the so-called CPE generation (or at least to me). The example that the ideas I cherished could work, now, on a much larger scale than I would have dreamt (on a much larger scale than was ever actually the case in Oaxaca very probably, as internet news and rushed, enthusiastic translations were not always the most reliable).

I could not judge of its value as an introduction, but it was a much needed breath of hope.

Why two anarchafeminists resign from the French AF

TW: Depiction of bullying, threats of violence, harrassment.

Why two anarchafeminists resign from the French Anarchist Federation

On May 18-20, 2013 the AF Congress was held.

We decided to go, us, two anarchafeminist women, in order to read out our resignation letters.

For my part, because, following my response article about Roger Dadoun I had published on Indymedia, I have been subjected to collective harrassment on the federal email list, which shed the light once more on antifeminism within this organisation.

For my part, because I could not accept to be complicit with the bullying of a female member of the organisation just because she had spoken out, outside the closed email list, and because the pressures, orders and morality lessons which we were receiving showed that the organisation was anarchist in name only.

For our part, because we no longer could be part of heteropatriarchy, of power struggles, of hierarchies, and internal bureaucracy.

This congress was very difficult, since we were identified as the feminists who had criticized the AF from outside. Conversations stopped when we walked through, some people refused to talk to us, some people talked about us in front of us as if we didn’t exist.

The plenary debate on feminism and antisexism, something unheard of in an AF congress, had the objective to reign us in, women who had talked too much, outside the rules laid out by the organisation. It was organised by women, who call themselves anarchafeminists but can also be against the feminisation of texts, who took part in the bullying mob on the federal list and refuse to see patriarchy within the AF, which has blatanty been around for many years.

During this discussion, we read out both our resignation letters. We were wearing pink t-shirts : ‘Hysterical for as long as necessary’ and had a banner ‘Hysterica-feminists for as long as necessary’, held by two male comrades, who also left the AF in solidarity.

For some people, our resignation is a failure, but to us it’s a victory. Because for once the men in attendance have had to remain seated for half an hour while women were standing up, mic in hand, to tell them what it is to be a woman within the Anarchist Federation.

We left the room after our resignation. Several people, men and women, also left the room in solidarity. Others remained to intervene in our favour. Out of a hundred people, it wasn’t many, but we hadn’t hoped for even that.

Later, a woman told us we were cowards, while we needed incredible bravery to dare come and read out these words.

We were publicly threatened with violence, we were told to fuck off, that we had no dignity, that we had soiled them. All these threats and sentences, they were pronounced by men who didn’t talk to us, but talked to the two male comrades who supported us. Some people refused to eat the evening meal prepared by the collective canteen because we were there, invited by the organisers.

Back home, our email inboxes had been hacked. One of the male comrades who supported us received phone calls, telling him he better « switch sidewalk » and that « that was a threat ».

We thank the people who supported us, who came to see us, who invited us to stay and who continue to show support. These people know they don’t have to be named individually, because they know who they are. These people also know who are the sexists, men’s rights’ activists and informal leaders of the AF against whom our texts are directed.

Because if one day anarchy exists, it would be a shame if it looked like the French Anarchist Federation.


Resignation of an anarchafeminist from the French AF (2013)

I joined the Anarchist Federation wth little illusion. I never believed in this great anarchist federation which would allow us to shape, intervene on or initiate struggles. I mainly saw it as a way to get propaganda material like posters, leaflets, stickers etc. I only went to a few meetings and I rarely read Le Monde Libertaire because I did not find this newspaper very interesting as a woman and as a feminist, I didn’t find it concerned me as it was all about class struggle and trade unions. But, after two years, I resign more than disappointed and disgusted. Everything I learnt about anarchafeminism, I never learnt it from the Anarchist Federation, but outside of it, with other groups, collectives, other people. All that the federation taught me was the opposite of this.
The greatest absence of reflexion about feminism in an anarchist organisation, I found it n the AF. The dirtiest most disgusting texts and pictures about women or homosexuality, I saw them on the federal list or in the newspapers of the AF. I found an organisation which has more books about Proudhon or Léo Férré (French misogynistic popular singer) than on anarchafeminism. An organisation which treated women’s struggles only through portraits of dead feminists or through the class struggle. I discovered an organisation which bans the means of feminist struggle like non mixed meetings and gender neutral texts. I found an organisation which used ad-sexism : who used women on their posters and stickers but had no poster or sticker about women. Yes, since the homophobes started marching against gay marriage, the organisation thought it good to publish a very radcal sticker: « Against Sexism and to Homophobia ». Good that they were there to push the lines of AF propaganda…
I discovered how an organisation could not tarnish its pretty feminist label, yet allow and defend sexist texts, ensure them a constant space in their ranks and repress any anarchafeminist initiative, lynch and try to throw out the feminists who wanted to change things. Patriarchy in the AF is imbricated in a centralised and bureaucratic mode of functioning.
The entire functioning of the organisation is supposed to repose on the yearly congress with people who attend. Everyone goes there, votes on motions, and goes back home to wait for next year. In between, there are no local union, no federal union no regional union to allow the militants and groups to see one another and talk, share, think collectively or start struggles. Everything is centralised in Paris (newspapers radio, bookshop, publishing house, propaganda material). One group in reality holds the monopoly of functioning but this group has no name. It is not defined, it is informal. The people in it are the oldest, they have been there the longest, they write most,they filled the most mandates, they react most on internal lists, they have the best networks and make the most spectacle. They are a network within the network which follows unspoken rules. A path already chosen measured which has to be followed.
To accept this way of functioning allows you to have a quiet assured space and at best to go up the informal hierarchy Within the network, you can make some criticisms, as long as they remain within the organisation. Dirty laundry must be washed within the family and never publicly. What matters is that nothing move, that the appearances be kept and that no structure be shaken. You can join the network by obeying the rules already established in the network. This is called anarchist bureaucracy. But this informal hierarchy also has another power it ceaselessly reproduces: patriarchy. Because this informal leadership is made of white, cis, straight and cisgender males. They are doubly dominating. They have powers that they absolutely refuse to question or challenge. On the contrary they spell out rules of functioning and thinking. They already have power in society, and they reproduce it within their organisation. They reproduce analyses and ways to organise only depending on their status as dominating men. All the organisation’s propaganda reflects their uniform patriarchal way of thinking.
There are women with them, they are their girlfriends, long-time friends, those who function like them. They are few but tolerated, accepted, because they follow the path already traced. They shout, but against institutionalised patriarchy of the state, the right, cops, bosses, judges, homophobes, priests. Never against anarchopatriarchy.
The others, who try to challenge the role of the dominant and their privileges within the organisation are quickly put back in their place and if they are too noisy, they are pushed out or forced out, as was the case during the whole history of the AF. Every attempt to make things progress, even simply putting “e” at the end of words is not without risks. Although it should be a necessary and unavoidable reflex, every little thing becomes a struggle and demands considerable efforts. And every effort is so strongly denounced, criticised, attacked, censored and disapproved of, that it seems impossible. All the anarchafeminist energy spent becomes so important that it morally, intellectually and psychologically drains you. Because what a feminist does is never considered as political work but as a will to shake an already existing patriarchal structure deeply rooted, and reduced to an attempt at feminist manipulation. If there are no people of colour, women, fags, dykes or trans people in the AF, it is because there is no place for them, their ideas, their ways of organising. No space is made available and no action, speech or act can be liberated. When, in March 2013, I read in the supplement to Le Monde Libertaire the article by Roger Dadoun justifying the rape by Strauss Kahn on ND and accusing the so called feminisation of society, I recalled the times I let a homophobic picture pass, every time I had let non-feminised texts pass, the times I renounced asking for posters and stickers about women’s struggles. I thought back on every time I closed my eyes. By cowardice, fear, solitude. I wrote an article which voluntarily attacked Roger Dadoun and his masculinist discourse but also the AF for letting it be published. Because it was not an error but the result of years and years of anti-feminist work.

Because Roger Dadoun was not a first-time offender, and had already justified the rape by Roman Polanski on Samantha Gailey, and the one by DSK on ND several times, in the Monde Libertaire.

Because Men’s Rights or sexist articles don’t only find an echo within the AF, but they are given an important space in an organisation which calls itself anarchist. Because every time it destroys a feminist initiative, it opens the door wider to Men’s Rights Activism. And because, as an anarchafeminist, I had closed my eyes on way too many « mistakes » which broke everything that feminist struggle had won.

My article would never find any place within the AF and had a wider range, so I published it on Indymedia, and it was picked up by other sites. There. That’s done. A woman, a feminist, had taken the unbelievable liberty not only to have a feminist critique of an article published by Le Monde Libertaire, but also to accuse the AF of a blatant access of anarchopatriarchy.

Because this article is the first Men’s Rights Activist text published in an anarchist newspapers. Thanks to the AF for innovating with this type of discourse.

Reactions on the federal email list quickly started. While every smallest precedent feminist effort was punished, trying to move a mountain led to collective harrassment.

From the moment when I published my text on Roger Dadoun I was afraid every time I opened my email box. It’s silly to be afraid of an email box. But I knew that to publish my text on Indymedia was like planting a bomb. I didn’t know how much damage it was going to make, I only knew that it was necessary to denounce rape apologism and men’s rights activism.

I was worried about it, but it is only now, after dropping that bomb, that I realise that the only thing it destroyed was myself. Because every mail received on the federal list was to receive more shrapnel which damaged me even more.

Because I was the only one reading these shitty mails, these mails which did not say that an anarchafeminist had written a text against a mens rights activist attack, but that a woman had not respected the limits imposed by the organisation. It was the fact that it was an act outside the organisation that mattered, not patriarchy, or sexism, or machismo, or masculinisation, or men’s rights activism.

There were these emails which said that I should apologise, or write a more pedagogical text.

These texts that said that when we don’t understand something, we shouldn’t comment on it.

These emails which said that I was making the militants’ jobs harder and more complicated by publicly criticising my organisation, that it was not easy for them, that because of me people attacked the AF and that I had provoked them with my article.

These mails said that the only problem with the text by Roger Dadoun was that it was unclear and unreadable, but not its content.

These mails said that there was nothing wrong with Roger Dadoun’s article, that it was a constatation of men’s weaknesses, of men’s cowardice, that it was a good joke, that it didn’t matter, that the masculinisation of hysteria was the strong point of his argumentation.

Which said that I had wild ideas about rape apologism, that it was a most peculiar accusation.

Which said that they, the real anarchafeminists of the AF, were disappointed and worried by my behaviour, that they thought I was antifederal, that I had written with bias, that Le Monde Libertaire had made a mistake in publishing the article, but that I had made an even bigger mistake.

But they, the real anarchafeminists of the AF, have been supported and approved, because they were following the party line, that they were brandishing the anarchafeminist label, but emptied of any feminist process. Because they walked the line, because they isolated this incident and made it a sparkle of dust, because they did not support a woman who was being attacked because she had dared react.

These emails which called me a Stalinist, which said that my article was based on feelings, prejudice, dishonest process, that it was manipulative, disgusting and perverse.

Which said that, no, I was just young, passionate, angry, that maybe intimate trauma could explain my reaction.

That, okay, Roger Dadoun’s text was neither good nor in good taste, but that we now needed to look at it dispassionately and psychologically.

And in the end I had done a bad bad thing, that there would always be many readings of a text and that’s all.

And then, this email on April Fools’ Day saying there will be an AF liaison on feminism…

Because the Women’s Caucus did not react, not on the email list, nor publicly, and it never expressed solidarity to a woman who was being lynched within the organisation.

Because people prefered to criticize and humiliate an anarchafeminist and preserve their organisation at all cost.

Because a single woman expressed her complete solidarity and she was an immense support.

As an anarchist, what I’m interested in is to think about power relations in order to build a society or at least some spaces which would be free, self-managed, supportive, feminist, egalitarian and empowering.

As a feminist, what I’m interested in is to think about the power relations generated by the heteropatriarchy. It is one of the most revolutionary struggles, because it does not only demand to go and demonstrate and wave some black flags and gesticulate during meetings, but also to deconstruct gender and oppressive relations in all spaces and time, public and private, of our own lives.

As an antispeciesist, what I am interested in is to think about oppressions, exploitations and murders perpetrated by humans on animals, in the name of culture, habit, gluttony, gastronomy or under the pretense of diference. But none of this is possible within the AF, since this organisation is nor a federation, nor anarchist. The AF has a single purpose : to be the AF and be self-sufficient, to keep up appearances and a shopfront, by exploiting an anarchist history which would be ashamed of it.

Don’t want to be an anarchist just for the time of a demonstration.

I don’t want a label devoid of meaning.

I want anarchy to be a transformation of society and of ourselves, in order to abolish oppressions that I am subjected to and from which I benefit.

Because when we choose to stay in an organisation which is in reality authoritarian, bureaucratic, antifederal, antifeminist, homophobic, sexist and speciesist, we are not making things progress, we are complicit in oppression.

I do not want to caution and be complicit of an organisation which perpetuates anarchopatriarchy. I resign from the AF because if one day anarchy exists, it would be a shame if t looked like the French Anarchist Federation.

Je vous emmerde et vive l’anarchie !

Malatesta and Violence

If, to win, we have to set up the gallows in the public square, I would prefer to lose.

Errico Malatesta, “Revolutionary Terror”, October 1924.

Discussing Malatesta’s views on violence can be interesting because of the privileged perspective he had, writing in the 1920s in Italy, during the advent of Fascism. However, it can lead to some misunderstandings. Even if everyone works on the same text, “Anarchy & Violence” (September 1924) they can get quotes which range from its opening line “Anarchy means non-violence” to “anarchist violence is the only violence that can be justified”. So it seems necessary to look at this text a bit closer, as a whole rather than as a set of independent quotes, as Malatesta’s taste for short, efficient sentences can mask the complexity of his thought. He is not using style to build some artificial unity between opposites, as his text is precisely against what he calls “illogicality or hypocrisy”.

Firstly, we need to note that the use of the term “non-violence” can be misleading since, as far as we can ascertain, it does not refer to the doctrine of non-violence, as we can see not only from the fact that it is used conjointly with “non-domination” and “non-imposition”, but also from the words Malatesta does use when he refers to what we usual call non-violence: he writes, describing issues alive in the anarchist movement: “There are the partisans of non-resistance or passive resistance, who shrink from violence even where it serves to repel violence, and there are those who admit to the necessity for violence but who are in turn divided as to the nature, scope and boundaries of legitimate violence”.

The text opens, as often, with a definition of anarchism. A negative one at first: it is non-violence, it does not tolerate any system of domination, and it is neither Fascism nor democracy (“non-imposition by force of will of one or more over others”). Anarchism’s only distinctive characteristic, compared with other doctrines which claim to fight systems of dominations, is its relationship to violence: “what distinguishes the anarchists from all the others is precisely the horror of violence, the desire and the proposal to eliminate violence”.

The word “non-violence” no longer appears and Malatesta goes on to explain this shift by talking about being “forced to resist with all possible means”, which he illustrates with his first practical example. This example is chiefly interesting because it is truly a terrible one. I speak here as someone with little experience of violence, and I expect a large part of the people reading this today not to be regular street fighters or guerrilla strategists either. Personally, I read his example as if he were the DM of a role-playing game: “You come into conflict with some Dumini-type gangster and he is armed and you are unarmed; he is surrounded by a big gang and you are alone or with just a few companions; he is confident of going unpunished and you fear the eruption on the scene of the carabinieri, who will arrest and maltreat you and throw you into jail for an indefinite time…” As a player, those are all clear hints that you should look for a way out of this situation which does not involve fighting, or it will immediately result in the tragic death (or, at best, imprisonment) of your character. Malatesta, however, happily concludes “Then tell me if you could escape from your predicament by persuading the Dumini-type with good arguments to be just, good and gentle!” Well, I wouldn’t normally count on pity from a Fascist assassin, but it seems almost sensible when the alternative is to attack him, his mates and their guns, alone with my bare hands, knowing that even if the commotion attracts the police I’m screwed all the same. Even in Assassin’s Creed this does not sound like a wise move.

We can therefore assume that this example is not an illustration of when it could be necessary to use violence. It is an illustration of why, despite their best wishes and their horror of violence, anarchists must take into consideration that they live in a society where some people want to and can kill them with relative ease and impunity. Therefore, we can imagine Malatesta is advocating, or excusing, carrying weapons (which were common, legal or at least widely tolerated in the early 20th century), acting in groups and cop watching: all these things which give anarchists the appearance of a violent organization, as a way to protect themselves from violent situations. He also realizes that this will create the opportunity of unjustifiable acts of violence on the part of anarchists as we will see later.

To Malatesta, the discourse on violence is profoundly hypocritical, even if it comes from the oppressed. For him, “there is no cause to draw distinctions between sides” (“arrogant bullying, injustices, ferocious oppression on one hand, rebellion on the other”) “while finding it necessary and right to use force to defend their own liberty, their own interests, their own class, their own country, every faction has, in the name of their own particular code of values, gone on to condemn violence when this is turned against them by others, who seek to defend their freedom, their interests, their class and their country.” How does such an accusation of hypocrisy then directly leads to “Yet anarchist violence is the only violence that can be justified, the only violence that is not criminal”?

Once again, the definition is mostly negative: anarchist violence is not violence perpetrated by anarchists in reaction to the insufferable. Although Malatesta seems quite resigned that it should keep happening (as anarchists are persecuted and armed), he does not try to justify it. The violence he deems justifiable on the other hand is a type of violence which has “anarchist characteristics”:

  1. It is limited in time and is reactive: it “ceases where the need for defense and liberation ceases”.
  2. It is limited in whom it targets: “It is tempered by the awareness that individuals, taken in isolation, are hardly, if at all, responsible for the positions which heredity or environment have bestowed on them”.
  3. It is sacred. “It is inspired not by hatred but love, and it is sacred because its goal is the liberation of all and not the substitution of one form of domination with another.”

He then proceeds to explain the importance to keep the possibility of violence as a means of action: to fight the rise of fascism. This also can explain the term “sacred” as it denotes the idea that violence can be a duty. He also hints here at who can carry out these acts of violence when he talks about “the mass of the people”, something which will be highlighted further in Emma Goldman’s writings on violence in the Spanish Revolution.

In this text, Malatesta tries to stir a course which is neither absolute non-violence, nor a comfortable justification of violence. Above all, he seems concerned with the tendency of violence to become institutionalized, and that is why he does not spell out precise circumstances which could be used to judge the actions of everyone, but rather gives some moral cautionary tales against our baser tendencies and presents anarchist violence as insurmountably ambiguous, a violence “inspired not by hatred, but love”, which is both a horror and a duty.