During the early part of the 10-day Mediterranean anarchist “Three Bridges” gathering in Athens (October 9 to 18), a comrade from a revolutionary anarchist group in Turkey sat next to me to get English-language translation too. I know there’s nothing one can say that feels adequate or right in the face of death, especially when the death is murder at the hands of state terror, yet I also know that one must say something. We must remind each other of our humanity, which begins with our empathy.
I couldn’t think of anything original to say, so told him simply: “I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend and mentor in Ankara,” and put my arm around his shoulders. You could see the battle on his face — the depth of political seriousness and commitment way beyond his young years, an unflinching stoicism as if he won’t be broken, anger in his jaw, and the slight hint, almost invisible, of water welling up in the saddest of eyes. “Yes, it’s very hard. We’re burying him tomorrow.”
“We’re burying him tomorrow” — even though he won’t be part of the “we” in person. From the little I’ve had a chance to speak to him about politics so far, it’s apparent that “we” has a far greater intensity and dedication; his group not only looks to Rojave and Kobane for inspiration but is also in struggle with Kurds and others, across “borders” created by statism, militarism, and racism. Instead of being at home to bury his friend, he’ll soldier on with these Three Bridges conversations about how anarchists can better self-organize together across in this region in a time of great peril and courageous potential.
I heard the following anecdote after our workshop had ended. Soon after the news of the bombing, at a late-night party hosted at a 20-year-old squatted space that’s been burned down five times by fascists here in Athens, and rebuilt five times to assert antifascist turf, our new comrade from Turkey sat flipping through photos on a smart phone. Looking for his dead.
There is a world of pain in this region, falling backward. For some of the anarchists I’ve spoken with, that backward is far distant, and they use words like “the dark ages.” For others, the specter of fascism and authoritarianism, displacement, war, and extermination, still so fresh in memory, is quickly becoming embodied, all too real and close at hand. All too personal. It is not hyperbole when the Three Bridges conveners proclaim, “It’s either libertarian socialism or barbarism.”
Here in Athens, I feel most of my words are inadequate to add to the conversations here about the great question that plagues revolutionaries, libertarian and not: “What is to be done?” Or maybe to put it more anarchistically, “Strategically and ethically, what should we try to join in with others, side by side, in hopes of spreading the beauty of freedom, even if only in pockets of autonomous zones and caring communities?”
I’m at a loss, because I feel almost embarrassed at the lack of longevity and multigenerational militantly antihierarchical organizing, forward-thinking around aims and strategies/tactics, seriousness, and revolutionary solidarity that anarchists and other anticapitalists for that matter in the United States seem capable of. Perhaps the recent lived experiences, still ongoing and/or reappearing, in this Mediterranean region of suffering and death under world wars, fascism, communism, and military dictators forces a lifelong resolve to fight for social transformation — a resolve shared across generations of rebels who fight together on multiple, diverse, yet formally or informally interdependent fronts.
Both Greek and Spanish comrades here have commented to me how they think in military terms, and how they understand that as a good thing — for our side. They aspire to strategic assaults — such as placing anarchist spaces in various neighborhoods, as if on a chessboard, so as to connect them to other, already-existing radical strongholds, in the war here against fascist strongholds — and strategic forms of organization — such as striving for the decentralization of politics through local spaces that meet people’s needs in this age of austerity and neighborhood assemblies as ground for us as humans to take our lives into our own hands. Much of this Three Bridges effort is to “confederate” these chess games and come up with better “plays” in order to get on the offensive.
Good efforts and sparks of possibility in the United States notwithstanding, I feel the inadequacy of what “we” (too often, more of an “I”) antiauthoritarians of all stripes contribute to what is clearly, or what clearly needs to be, a confederated struggle of tangible solidarity and smart maneuvers and experiments among us, across borders, based on the lived reality of what’s happening on the ground.
The wars and murders and fascistic elements may wear different clothes in different regions, and have different histories, cultures, and language, but most of humanity is intimately conjoined on the same basic, increasingly blood-soaked battlefield: It’s either life or barbarism.
What side will we be on in the United States, past slogans and theoretical debates, past social media fights and the ever-more parodic identity politics and call-out culture that’s tearing us to shreds, past our “safety” and “comfort” zones, or our posturings and countercultures? And what does that choice of side mean to us, beyond and between moments of uprising in the streets, in terms of how we might strive and stumble toward anarchist organizing?
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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, art of resistance on walls of Athens, Greece, in “anarchist neighborhood” of Exarchia, October 2015; top: wheat-pasted posters for Three Bridges events in Athens; bottom: Antifa stencil.)