Assault on Villa Amalia – report by an AF comrade in Greece, 20 December 2012
(Followed by further reports from Athens by the Liberatarian Communist Group and the Squatters, 22 Deceember 2012)
The squatter's movement arrived in Greece during the early and mid-nineties, and has since established itself as a popular form of peaceful, all-inclusive form of activism bringing together anarchists and autonomists from all over the world. Based on the principle of repatriating public and private space to the hands of local community use, squatting spaces aim to replace commercial and state functions with an environment of direct democracy, mutual labour and an oasis for alternative socio-political and cultural expression.
Located in the centre of Athens, the Villa Amalia squat is one of the oldest of its kind in the city – boasting twenty-two years of existence. Like many other forms of occupation, it has had a traditionally strenuous relationship with authorities, which have attempted to infiltrate, sabotage and literarily starve it of supplies and access from its first days. It’s not the first time we’ve heard about it on the news, but a surprise police raid on the premises at approximately 07:00 am has sent events spiralling into action. Eight squatters, six Greek and two of possible German nationality, were arrested on sight and remain detained in the police headquarters nearby, as activists from several anarchist, autonomist and squatting groups gathered across the street where the raid was being carried out in solidarity of the detained. In their announcement, comrades stated that they will remain in the vicinity and are increasing in number.
The police intervention, hailed on statist, right wing and Golden Dawn-sympathetic blogs as a heroic purge of what they interpret to be brothels of chaos and disorder, continued throughout the day as they conducted a search of the premises. Police forces were accompanied by a comrade who witnessed the procedures.
Squats, in contrast to their portrayal as centres of terrorism, drug abuse and alcoholism, play an active community role in protecting the neighbourhoods from fascists, human trafficking and the illegal sex and drug trade. There are many voices in society who, despite not identifying with left-libertarian principles, have risen to defend their right of existence based on the premise that they have given local communities the power to determine the face and running of their daily lives. Squats in Athens have also begun to shoulder a new role as centres of anti-fascist organisation in the face of the state-facilitated rise of the Golden Dawn. More updates on events on their way.
Solidarity with the squatters of Villa Amalia!
Support statement by the Libertarian Communist Group (Athens)
Villa Amalias statement: we are, and we shall remain here.
Today, on December 20th, 2012, the police raided Villa Amalias. Under the pretext of a complaint for drug dealing, they searched the building in the presence of a district attorney. Their findings are ludicrous. Nevertheless, according to Dendias [translators' note: the minister of public order] these prove that Villa was an “epicentre for lawlessness” for 22 years and that the law, thanks to the “brave political will of [PM] Samaras” was finally restored.
What logical leap may brand empty beer bottles as “materials for the construction of molotovs?” Is it strange to have a large number of empty beer bottles in a place that hosts a concert [gig] space and a café? What comprises a “flammable material”? May they be referring to the cleaning liquids for the printing press that operates in the squat?
Should we talk about the gas masks that should be carried by every demonstrator that respects their health? Should we talk about the elementary means of self-defense (the mock flash bangs, slingshots etc) in a space that has repeatedly been attacked by para-statist gangs (arsons, stabbings, beatings) with the apogee reached in 2008, when the then minister of public order Markogiannakis visited the “residents” of Agios Panteleimonas and a few minutes after he left, we were attacked…
Under the pretext of the search, then, they materialise a long-standing wet dream of theirs: their raid into a space that is one of the spatial symbols of all those who stand in hostility against anything that represents sovereignty, imposition, sterilization, indifference, surrender, subjection. In this they are right. That’s who we are. Us and the thousands of demonstrators, the people in struggle, squatters, strikers, people fighting in the streets. We are the homeless, the punks and the rebels, the vegetarians and the feminists, the nocturnal ones and the workers, poor and the aggrieved, the victims of racism and the avengers of injustice. The minister called us an epicentre of lawlessness…
And now we should talk seriously. Villa Amalias is an organising proposition which had to be dealt with at the time of the cannibalism of the memoranda. The onslaught of capital against the world of labour presupposes the destruction of all of its structures: the depreciation of everything that trade unions had gained, whatever structures of solidarity and dissent, the self-organised incentives: everything is targeted. The far-right agenda that has prevailed since the outbreak of the crisis commenced with the statement concerning a [supposed] hygiene bomb by Loverdos [trans. note - Loverdos was minister of health at the time and claimed that the 300 migrant hunger strikers comprised a “hygiene bomb” in the centre of Athens] against the hunger strikers of Ypatia. It continued with the targeting of migrants (at the Evros border wall, concentration camps and the Xenios Zeus [anti-migrant] operation), the pillorying of addicted seropositive women, aided by the far-right violence against migrants, homosexuals and street traders. The torturing of anti-fascists at the police HQ after the anti-fascist motorcycle demo, the attacks against squats and the harsh repression against any labour or social demand, leave little doubt for the fact that the enemy has put together a solid block; a block against which we must now resist.
For the past 22 years we have been in a building that was abandoned for decades. We maintain it and breathe life into it. We are a squat that always has its doors open to groups, individuals and incentives that promote the anti-commercial culture, human dignity, social, anti-fascist and class struggles. Villa Amalias is giving a fierce fight –– not in order to protect a dozen pillars, but in order to protect our desires, our dreams and our hopes for a more free life for everyone.
We call everyone who identifies part of themselves in the years-long operation of the squat to partake in this crucial struggle with us.
This is the windmill that the executors-don quixote’s have attacked, even though it is ideas that they are after. These are what are lawless and illegal for them. Their witch-hunt will bring them nightmares in response.
IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF THE VILLA AMALIAS SQUATTERS
From those who have been arrested:
STATEMENT BY THE VILLA AMALIAS SQUATTERS IN THE POLICE HEADQUARTERS IN ATHENS
The Villa Amalias squat has been an open political, cultural and social space, as well as a housing collective, for the past 23 years. In all these years there have been plenty of active groups in the squat including groups on theatre, concerts, musical studio, stained glass, kids’ space, dancing, foreign languages, computing, printing press, screenings, lending library, vinyl exchange – while the squat has also hosted plenty of political and cultural events by other groups. Apart from these activities inside its building, Villa Amalias has also contributed to the resolution of neighbourhood issues by participating in the residents’ assembly of Victoria square and by organising open, outward looking activities in the area – including open mic interventions, free markets, collective kitchens and kids’ events at the square.
In all these 23 years, the Villa Amalias squat has formed multiform qualities that reflected the equally multiform composition of the subjects and groups comprising it – and which in turn derive from the wider squat movement, from the Anarchist and Anti-authoritarian space and from the movement for class and labour antagonism. These qualities have materialised through the co-organising and participation in demonstrations, interventions and mobilisations concerning labour, antifascist and antiracist struggles; solidarity to persecuted squats, to migrants and persecuted comrades, to university and high school student struggles as well as the to struggles for the reclaiming of open, public spaces.
The squat’s building was abandoned since 1973 and it had been in a horrendous state. Since 1990, which is when it was occupied, it has stayed alive and maintained thanks to the financial contribution and personal work of the squatters themselves as well as all the comrades in solidarity.
The apparent owners of the building ( the municipality of athens, which has has some enormous property wealth and the school buildings’ organisation) are both renown for cases of expropriation of private property and illegal declassification [of listed buildings]. The most extravagant case of such was the enormous Haragioni building at the junction of 3d September and Ioulianou street, which turned overnight from a plot designated for the construction of a school building into a shopping mall.
In contrast to them, who see buildings and spaces as yet another arena for profit, the Villa Amalias squat and its activity is a concrete example of its premise for the creation of free social spaces that oppose financial exploitation of any kind; that are set upon anti-hierarchical, self-organised, solidarity and horizontal structures; that respect humans and support those at the bottom end of the calss pyramid, to which we also belong.
This is why the maintenance of the building, as mentioned above, is undertaken by the squatters and those in solidarity with them – in the last 4 years in particular, after the two murderous arson attacks that the squat received from para-statists, whether waged or not. These particular attacks caused gross material damage which nevertheless did not form an obstacle in Villa continuing its action. To the contrary, they boosted the morale of the people that comprise it. With the aid of all comrades, the facade of the building on the side of Cheiden Str was renovated while the restoration and further improvement of the building have commenced with the aid of architects and civil engineers.
The continued attacks are not the only ones that the project has been subject to in all these years. Due to its location but also due to its ideological values and political characteristics, Villa has oftentimes found itself targeted by the state and parastate alike. In all these attacks we always responded with our words, publicizing the events and propagandizing our positions and our beliefs through open social interventions.
On 20/12/12, at 7.00 am, men of the state security raided our Squat under the pretext of an investigation concerning “drugs” and “explosives”, following a supposed anonymous complaint. They arrested 8 people who were inside the Squat at the time, of which three were guests. They confiscated objects from the squat which the state security then used as evidence for the fabrication of charges including felonies and misdemeanors - charges that we reject. Especially when our felony acts are based on some empty beer bottles and on a tiny amount of petrol that was discovered next to the heater.
For us, this move is an explicit political choice by the state. At a time of financial and systemic crisis, the state launches an attack in all directions, degrading the life of those from below and trying to wipe out any cell of resistance and of creation of negation: this may translate in the botching of labour rights, in the promotion of racist ideals that contribute to a fascist turn of society, in the creation of conditions of insecurity aimed at us accepting the constant surveillance of our lives, or in the persecution and slandering of political spaces and subjects that rise against all the above.
WE DENY ALL CHARGES
OUR WORDS ARE OUR WEAPONS
WE SAID IT BEFORE AND WE’LL SAY IT AGAIN:
“WE’VE BEEN GAME ALL THESE YEARS AND THE END IS STILL NO-WHERE IN SIGHT”
SOLIDARITY TO ALL SQUATS (AND TO OURS)
The arrested of Villa Amalias.
A video of the resisted eviction of Gremlin Alley Social Centre has been posted following over a month of excellent activity in Cardiff. Take a look!
The following is a report send to the Anarchist Federation and other from our comrades in the the Libertarian Communist Group (LCG, Athens) about the events of last week in Greece. Members of the LCG took part in strike action and the popular protests seen this week in Athens. During the last few days another package of austerity measures was passed through the parliament at the behest of the Troika(EU-IMF-ECB). As with the previous austerity measures there was a popular backlash with strikes throughtout and week and a 48hr General strike on the days the measures were voted leading to protests and clashes with the police. With the measures passed the Greek state is now awaiting the decision of EU meetings in the coming days which will determine if the Greek bailout programme is to continue.
The new measures package
On Wednesday 7th of November the Greek parliament voted for the new austerity measures package. It is almost impossible to describe in detail all these measures and their impact on Greek people 's life even in broad outline but generally speaking we could say that by including a lot of redundancies, further decrease of salaries, pensions and benefits, they bring down whatever remains standing after three years of austerity.
The age of retirement raises by 2 years which means that the majority of the workers will go into retirement at 67 years old even those who are ready to be retired next year. They cut down all pensions by between 5% and 15% and they cut out the Christmas and Easter bonus for all pensioners and public servants too. Depending on the case, the working sector and conditions, they either cut down or even stop welfare state benefits, such as unemployment, poverty, family/child care and even handicap benefits.
They also introduce a retrospective change in the national agreement of labour which has been called anti-constitutional by a specialist committee of the parliament itself but that seems not to bother the government. According to this change the minimum wage will be frozen and from now on will be regulated by the minister of labour itself, there will be no increase for anyone to the scale of payments, the employers will have the right to give shorter notice before discharge, lower redundancy pay, lower contribution to the pension and health funds and the working hours also will depend on their will. Finally the employers are not obliged to follow the national agreement if they do not want to sign it!
There are also further increases in indirect taxes, measures against the income of farmers, redundancies in the publicsector and total flexibility of the public servants. The package contains further privatization of the public sector, enforcing also further privatization of hospital treatment which includes a price for hospital admission (a patient who will need to be admitted to a hospital will have to pay 25 Euro just to start with). This, for a country with more than 30% unemployment, means that thousands of people will not be able to afford medical treatment.
Greece, November 6th and 7th: General strike
A 48-hours general strike was called in Greece by the general confederation of the Greek unions for 6th and 7th of November.
On Tuesday 6th of November, first day of the general strike, a few thousand people gathered in the morning at the strike demonstration gathering point at the national museum near to the Polytechnic school. It seems that the strikes in the transportation sector and the continuous general strikes during the last period prevented people from attending. Despite the presence of a lot of riot police squads, undercover policemen and motorcycle police units in most streets and side-streets leading to Syntagma square, demonstrators marched toward the square and they filled it until 1 o' clock when they started to leave the place. It was a quiet and quite disappointing day of strike!
On the second day things seem to be different. There were several calls for gathering outside of the parliament in the afternoon when the measures package will be voted. Plenty of strikers have been detained by the police as its units attacked and blocked demonstrators who were trying to go to the gathering point. Additionally metro stations in the center of Athens were ordered closed by the police and policemen on several occasions made preemptive detentions, in order to prevent demonstrators from reaching syntagma square.
Despite the police mobilization at least 100.000 demonstrators managed to gathered at 18:30 in front of or next to the Greek parliament. At 19:00 demonstrators started pushing the metal fence and the barriers which protected the parliament and as soon as they managed to destroy a small part of it riot police units attacked people. Molotov Cocktails (petrol bombs) were thrown by the demonstrators in order to defend themselves from police attacks. Huge amounts of teargas and stun grenades were used by riot police squads in order to force demonstrators to abandon the square. But people wanted to stay in the square and they regrouped again every time they were forced to disperse by the teargas. The pressing from demonstrators was so intense that police officers decided to use water canons for the first time against people during a strike.
There were clashes outside the parliament and around syntagma square for hours until the rain started. It was amazing to see that people did not want to leave the area! But the combination of the teargases with the rain turned the whole area into an unbearable field for the majority of the demonstrators. Most of them started to leave under the continuous attacks by the riot police squads. As the blocks of strikers were leaving the area, police units attacked, causing a lot of people to be wounded. There were reported at least 40 injuries, some of them helped by striking doctors and nurses in a kind of DIY health clinic inside a hotel in the area.
After a final attempt to re-take syntagma square, riot police units finally cleared the area from the strikers under heavy rain around 10:00. There were reported to be 103 detentions, 5 arrests, at least 40 injured demonstrators and 7 injured policemen.
The package of severe austerity measures has passed through the parliament after a midnight vote.
COMMENT ON 48-HOURS GENERAL STRIKE
Cops with APCs, with chemicals, with guns, with motorcycles. At the same time that inside, Parliament voted for the slashing of wages and pensions, for the dismissal of thousands of people and many other shameful things (in a shameless manner), outside another giant police operation of repression unfolded against the demonstrators. Even in the rain, the cops choked Syntagma Square in tear gas to disperse the protesters who had remained. For all that, the state certainly has money. It has money to enforce a police state in the streets. It has money to purchase tons of chemicals and APCs. It has money to armor like lobsters the special units of repression.
As long as people are not willing to lose even one day's wages, to risk two or three most basic things, then their misery, physical and moral, is certain. This whole system of suppression, the spraying with tear gas, the cordoning of the streets around the Constitution by riot police lined like laces, is aimed at nothing more than to force us to stoop our heads and shut up. Its aims are that we empty the streets, stay at home immersed in depression, or head to the mountains, or
board a plane and emigrate. But this place does not belong to them. The struggle for this land and its freedom is a struggle that we have been fighting for years now. No matter how many cops they put up, this struggle is not going to stop.
No matter how many measures they take, how many electoral backstops they have in parliament, nothing is finished, and nothing will end the way they want it.
We have nothing else to do than to give a way to rage, as a recent anarchist slogan goes in an Athenian street ...
Aims and definitions
The purpose of this paper is to outline a class struggle anarchist analysis of Privilege Theory. Many of us feel “privilege” is a useful term for discussing oppressions that go beyond economic class. It can help us to understand how these oppressions affect our social relations and the intersections of our struggles within the economic working class. It is written by members of the women’s caucus of the Anarchist Federation. It does not represent all our views and is part of an ongoing discussion within the federation.
What do we mean – and what do we not mean – by privilege? Privilege implies that wherever there is a system of oppression (such as capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity) there is an oppressed group and also a privileged group, who benefit from the oppressions that this system puts in place1. The privileged group do not have to be active supporters of the system of oppression, or even aware of it, in order to benefit from it. They benefit from being viewed as the norm, and providing for their needs being seen as what is naturally done, while the oppressed group is considered the “other”, and their needs are “special considerations”. Sometimes the privileged group benefits from the system in obvious, material ways, such as when women are expected to do most or all of the housework, and male partners benefit from their unpaid labour. At other times the benefits are more subtle and invisible, and involve certain pressures being taken off a privileged group and focused on others, for example black and Asian youths being 28% more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white youths2. The point here is not that police harassment doesn’t happen to white youths, or that being working class or a white European immigrant doesn’t also mean you’re more likely to face harassment; the point is that a disproportionate number of black and Asian people are targeted in comparison to white people, and the result of this is that, if you are carrying drugs, and you are white, then all other things being equal you are much more likely to get away with it than if you were black. In the UK, white people are also less likely to be arrested or jailed, or to be the victim of a personal crime3. Black people currently face even greater unemployment in the UK than they do in the USA4. The point of quoting this is not to suggest we want a society in which people of all races and ethnicities face equal disadvantage – we want to create a society in which nobody faces these disadvantages. But part of getting there is acknowledging how systems of oppression work, which means recognising that, if black and ethnic minority groups are more likely to face these disadvantages, then by simple maths white people are less likely to face them, and that means they have an advantage, a privilege, including the privilege of not needing to be aware of the extent of the problem.
A privileged group may also, in some ways, be oppressed by the expectations of the system that privileges them, for example men under patriarchy are expected to not show weakness or emotion, and are mistrusted as carers. However, men are not oppressed by patriarchy for being men, they are oppressed in these ways because it is necessary in order to maintain women’s oppression. For women to see themselves as weak, irrational and suited only to caring roles, they must believe that men are stronger, less emotional and incapable of caring for those who need it; for these reasons, men showing weakness, emotion and a capacity for caring labour are punished by patriarchy for letting the side down and giving women the opportunity to challenge their oppression.
It makes sense that where there is an oppressed group, there is a privileged group, because systems of oppression wouldn’t last long if nobody benefited from them. It is crucial to understand that members of the privileged group of any of these systems may also be oppressed by any of the others, and this is what allows struggles to be divided and revolutionary activity crushed. We are divided, socially and politically, by a lack of awareness of our privileges, and how they are used to set our interests against each other and break our solidarity.
The term “privilege” has a complex relationship with class struggle, and to understand why, we need to look at some of the differences and confusions between economic and social class. Social class describes the cultural identities of working class, middle class and upper class. These identities, much like those built on gender or race, are socially constructed, created by a society based on its prejudices and expectations of people in those categories. Economic class is different. It describes the economic working and ruling classes, as defined by Marx. It functions through capitalism, and is based on the ownership of material resources, regardless of your personal identity or social status. This is why a wealthy, knighted capitalist like Alan Sugar can describe himself as a “working class boy made good”. He is clearly not working class if we look at it economically, but he clings to that social identity in the belief that it in some way justifies or excuses the exploitation within his business empire. He confuses social and economic class in order to identify himself with an oppressed group (the social working class) and so deny his own significant privilege (as part of the economic ruling class). Being part of the ruling class of capitalism makes it impossible to support struggles against that system. This is because, unlike any other privileged group, the ruling class are directly responsible for the very exploitation they would be claiming to oppose.
This doesn't make economic class a "primary" oppression, or the others "secondary", but it does mean that resistance in economic class struggle takes different forms and has slightly different aims to struggles based on cultural identities. For example, we aim to end capitalism through a revolution in which the working class seize the means of production from the ruling class, and create an anarchist communist society in which there is no ruling class. For the other struggles mentioned, this doesn't quite work the same way - we can't force men to give up their maleness, or white people to give up their whiteness, or send them all to the guillotine and reclaim their power and privilege as if it were a resource that they were hoarding. Instead we need to take apart and understand the systems that tend to concentrate power and resources in the hands of the culturally privileged and question the very concepts of gender, sexuality, race etc. that are used to build the identities that divide us.
A large part of the resentment of the term "privilege" within class struggle movements comes from trying to make a direct comparison with ruling class privilege, when this doesn't quite work. Somebody born into a family who owns a chain of supermarkets or factories can, when they inherit their fortune, forgo it. They can collectivise their empire and give it to the workers, go and work in it themselves for the same share of the profits as everybody else. Capitalists can, if they choose, give up their privilege. This makes it OK for us to think of them as bad people if they don't, and justified in taking it from them by force in a revolutionary situation. Men, white people, straight people, cisgendered people etc., can't give up their privilege - no matter how much they may want to. It is forced on them by a system they cannot opt out of, or choose to stop benefiting from. This comparison with ruling class privilege makes many feel as if they're being accused of hoarding something they're not entitled to, and that they're being blamed for this, or asked to feel guilty or undergo some kind of endless penance to be given absolution for their privilege. This is not the case. Guilt isn't useful; awareness and thoughtful action are. If you take nothing else away from this document, take this: You are not responsible for the system that gives you your privilege, only for how you respond to it. The privileged (apart from the ruling class) have a vital role to play in the struggle against the systems that privilege them - it's just not a leadership role.
Answering objections to privilege
So if they didn’t choose it and there’s nothing they can do about it, why describe people as “Privileged”? Isn’t it enough to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia etc. without having to call white, male and straight people something that offends them? If it’s just the terminology you object to, be aware that radical black activists, feminists, queer activists and disabled activists widely use the term privilege. Oppressed groups need to lead the struggles to end their oppressions, and that means these oppressed groups get to define the struggle and the terms we use to talk about it. It is, on one level, simply not up to class struggle groups made up of a majority of white males to tell people of colour and women what words are useful in the struggles against white supremacy and patriarchy. If you dislike the term but agree with the concept, then it would show practical solidarity to leave your personal discomfort out of the argument, accept that the terminology has been chosen, and start using the same term as those at the forefront of these struggles.
Another common objection to the concept of privilege is that it makes a cultural status out of the lack of an oppression. You could say that not facing systematic prejudice for your skin colour isn’t a privilege, it’s how things should be for everyone. To face racism is the aberration. To not face it should be the default experience. The problem is, if not experiencing oppression is the default experience, then experiencing the oppression puts you outside the default experience, in a special category, which in turn makes a lot of the oppression invisible. To talk about privilege reveals what is normal to those without the oppression, yet cannot be taken for granted by those with it. To talk about homophobia alone may reveal the existence of prejudices – stereotypes about how gay men and lesbian women behave, perhaps, or violence targeted against people for their sexuality. It’s unusual to find an anarchist who won’t condemn these things. To talk about straight privilege, however, shows the other side of the system, the invisible side: what behaviour is considered “typical” for straight people? There isn’t one – straight isn’t treated like a sexual category, it is treated like the absence of “gay”. You don’t have to worry about whether you come across as “too straight” when you’re going to a job interview, or whether your straight friends will think you’re denying your straightness if you don’t dress or talk straight enough, or whether your gay friends will be uncomfortable if you take them to a straight club, or if they’ll embarrass you by saying something ignorant about getting hit on by somebody of the opposite sex. This analysis goes beyond worries about discrimination or prejudice to the very heart of what we consider normal and neutral, what we consider different and other, what needs explaining, what’s taken as read – the prejudices in favour of being straight aren’t recognisable as prejudices, because they’re built into our very perceptions of what is the default way to be.
It’s useful to see this, because when we look at oppressions in isolation, we tend to attribute them to personal or societal prejudice, a homophobic law that can be repealed, a racial discrimination that can be legislated against. Alone, terms like “racism”, “sexism”, “ablism” don’t describe how oppression is woven into the fabric of a society and a normal part of life rather than an easily isolated stain on society that can be removed without trace, leaving the fabric intact.5
Privilege theory is systematic. It explains why removing prejudice and discrimination isn’t enough to remove oppression. It shows how society itself needs to be ordered differently. When people talk about being “colour-blind” in relation to race, they think it means they’re not racist, but it usually means that they think they can safely ignore differences of background and life experience due to race, and expect that the priorities and world views of everybody should be the same as those of white people, which they consider to be “normal”. It means they think they don’t have to listen to people who are trying to explain why a situation is different for them. They want difference to go away, so that everybody can be equal, yet by trying to ignore difference they are reinforcing it. Recognising privilege means recognising that differences of experience exist which we may not be aware of. It means being willing to listen when people tell us about how their experience differs from ours. It means trying to conceive of a new “normal” that we can bring about through a differently structured society, instead of erasing experiences that don’t fit into our privileged concept of “normal”.
Intersectionality and Kyriarchy
Kyriarchy is the concept of combined systems of oppression, the idea that capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, theocracy and other systems that we don’t necessarily have names for, are all connected, influencing and supporting each other. The word “kyriarchy” is also a handy verbal shortcut that saves having to list all the systems of oppression every time you want to explain this concept. It means everybody who’s fighting oppression of any kind is fighting the same war, we just fight it on a myriad of different fronts.
Intersectionality is the idea that we are all privileged by some of these systems and oppressed by others, and that, because those systems affect one another, our oppressions and privileges intersect. This means that we each experience oppression in ways specific to our particular combinations of class, gender, race, sexuality, disability, age etc. 6 7
Class struggle analyses tend to mark out capitalism as separate from the other systems in kyriarchy. As explained above, capitalism operates differently from systems of oppression based on identity or culture, but it would be too simplistic to dismiss these oppressions as secondary or as mere aspects of capitalism. Patriarchy, in particular, existed long before modern industrial capitalism and, there’s evidence to suggest, before the invention of money itself8, and it’s not difficult to imagine a post-capitalist society in which oppressive gender roles still hold true9. As anarchists are opposed to all systems of oppression, we recognise that fighting capitalism alone is not enough, and that other oppressions won’t melt away “after the revolution”. If we want a post-revolutionary society free of all oppression, we need all the oppressed to have an equal role in creating it, and that means listening to experiences of oppression that we don’t share and working to understand how each system operates: in isolation, in relation to capitalism and other systems of oppression and as part of kyriarchy.10
We're used to talking about sexism or racism as divisive of the working class. Kyriarchy allows us to get away from the primacy of class while keeping it very much in the picture. Just as sexism and racism divide class struggle, capitalism and racism divide gender struggles, and sexism and capitalism divide race struggles. All systems of oppression divide the struggles against all the other systems that they intersect with. This is because we find our loyalties divided by our own particular combinations of privilege and oppression, and we prioritise the struggles we see as primary to the detriment of others, and to the detriment of solidarity. This is why the Anarchist Federation's 3rd Aim & Principle11 cautions against cross-class alliances, but we should be avoiding campaigns that forward the cause of any oppressed group against the interests of any other - not just class. That doesn't mean that every campaign has to forward the cause of every single struggle equally, but it does mean that we need to be aware of how our privileges can blind us to the oppressions we could be ignorantly walking all over in our campaigns. We have to consider a whole lot more than class struggle when we think about whether a campaign is moving us forwards or backwards as anarchists. Being able to analyse and point out how systems of oppression intersect is vital, as hitting these systems of oppression at their intersections can be our most effective way of uniting struggles and building solidarity across a number of ideological fronts.
In the early 1800s, there were several strikes of male textile workers against women being employed at their factories because their poorer pay allowed them to undercut male workers12. The intersection of capitalism and patriarchy meant that women were oppressed by capitalists as both workers and women (being exploited for lower pay than men), and by men as both women and workers (kept in the domestic sphere, doing even lower paid work). When changing conditions (mechanisation) made it too difficult to restrict women to their traditional work roles, unions finally saw reason and campaigned across the intersection, allowing women to join the unions and campaigning for their pay to be raised.
From the 70s to the present day, certain strands of radical feminism have refused to accept the validity of trans* struggles, keeping trans women out of women’s spaces (see the controversies over Radfem 2012 and some of the workshops at Women Up North 2012 over their “women born women” policies). The outcome of this is as above: the most oppressed get the shitty end of both sticks (in this case cisnormativity and patriarchy), with feminism, the movement that is supposed to be at the forefront of fighting the oppression that affects both parties (patriarchy) failing at one of its sharpest intersections. This also led to the fracturing of the feminist movement and stagnation of theory through failure to communicate with trans* activists, whose priorities and struggles have such a massive crossover with feminism. One positive that’s come out of these recent examples is the joining together of feminist and trans* activist groups to challenge the entry policy of Radfem 2012. This is leading to more communication, solidarity and the possibility of joint actions between these groups.
The above examples mean that thinking about our privileges and oppressions is essential for organising together, for recognising where other struggles intersect with our own and what our role should be in those situations, where our experiences will be useful and where they will be disruptive, where we should be listening carefully and where we can contribute constructively. Acknowledging privilege in this situation means acknowledging that it’s not just the responsibility of the oppressed group to challenge the system that oppresses them, it’s everybody’s responsibility, because being part of a privileged group doesn’t make you neutral, it means you’re facing an advantage. That said, when we join the struggle against our own advantages we need to remember that it isn’t about duty or guilt or altruism, because all our struggles are all connected. The more we can make alliances over the oppressions that have been used to divide us, the more we can unite against the forces that exploit us all. None of us can do it alone.
The myth of the “Oppression Olympics”
The parallels that are drawn between the Black and women's movements can always turn into an 11-plus: who is more exploited? Our purpose here is not parallels. We are seeking to describe that complex interweaving of forces which is the working class; we are seeking to break down the power relations among us on which is based the hierarchical rule of international capital. For no man can represent us as women any more than whites can speak about and themselves end the Black experience. Nor do we seek to convince men of our feminism. Ultimately they will be "convinced" by our power. We offer them what we offer the most privileged women: power over their enemies. The price is an end to their privilege over us.13
To say that somebody has white privilege isn’t to suggest that they can’t also have a whole host of other oppressions. To say that somebody suffers oppression by patriarchy doesn’t mean they can’t also have a lot of other privileges. There is no points system for working out how privileged or oppressed you are in relation to somebody else, and no point in trying to do so. The only way that privilege or oppression makes your contributions to a struggle more or less valid is through that struggle's relevance to your lived experience.
A black, disabled working class lesbian may not necessarily have had a harder life than a white, able-bodied working class straight cis-man, but she will have a much greater understanding of the intersections between class, race, disability, gender and sexuality. The point isn’t that, as the most oppressed in the room, she should lead the discussion, it’s that her experience gives her insights he won’t have on the relevant points of struggle, the demands that will be most effective, the bosses who represent the biggest problem, the best places and times to hold meetings or how to phrase a callout for a mass meeting so that it will appeal to a wider range of people, ways of dealing with issues that will very probably not occur to anybody whose oppression is along fewer intersections. He should be listening to her, not because she is more oppressed than him (though she may well be), but because it is vital to the struggle that she is heard, and because the prejudices that society has conditioned into us, and that still affect the most socially aware of us, continue to make it more difficult for her to be heard, for us to hear her.
Some would argue that governments, public bodies and corporations have been known to use arguments like these to put forward or promote particular people into positions of power or responsibility, either as a well-meaning attempt to ensure that oppressed groups are represented or as a cynical exercise in tokenism to improve their public image. This serves the state and capital by encouraging people to believe that they are represented, and that their most effective opportunities for change will come through supporting or petitioning these representatives. This is what we mean by cross-class alliances in the 3rd A&P, and obviously we oppose the idea that, for instance, a woman Prime Minister, will be likely to do anything more for working class women than a male Prime Minister will do for working class men. It should be remembered that privilege theory is not a movement in itself but an analysis used by a diverse range of movements, liberal and radical, reformist and revolutionary. By the same token, the rhetoric of solidarity and class unity is used by leftists to gain power for themselves, even as we use those same concepts to fight the power structures they use. The fact that some people will use the idea of privilege to promote themselves as community leaders and reformist electoral candidates doesn't mean that that's the core reasoning or inevitable outcome of privilege theory. For us, as class struggle anarchists, the identities imposed on us by kyriarchy and the politics that go with them are about uniting in struggle against all oppression, not entrenching social constructs, congratulating ourselves on how aware we are, claiming special rights according to our background or biology, and certainly not creating ranked hierarchies of the most oppressed to put forward for tokenistic positions of power.
In the AF, we already acknowledge in our Aims and Principles the necessity of autonomous struggle for people in oppressed groups; but rather than analyse why this is necessary, we only warn against cross-class alliances within their struggles. The unspoken reason why it is necessary for them to organise independently is privilege. Any reason you can think of why it might be necessary, is down to privilege: the possible presence of abusers, the potential of experiences of oppression being misunderstood, mistrusted, dismissed, or requiring a huge amount of explanation before they are accepted and the meeting can move onto actions around them, even internalised feelings of inferiority are triggered by our own awareness of the presence of members of the privileged group. This may not be their fault, but it is due to the existence of systems that privilege them. The reason we need to organise autonomously is that we need to be free of the presence of privilege to speak freely. After speaking freely, we can identify and work to change the conditions that prevented us from doing so before – breaking down the influence of those systems on ourselves and lessening the privilege of others in their relations with us – but the speaking freely has to come first.
To equate talk of “privilege” with liberalism, electoralism and cross-class struggles is to deny oppressed groups the space and the language to identify their experiences of oppression and so effectively organise against the systems that oppress them. If we acknowledge that these organising spaces are necessary, and that it is possible for them to function without engaging in liberalism and cross-class struggles, then we must acknowledge that privilege theory does not, of necessity, lead to liberalism and cross-class struggles. It may do so when it is used by liberals and reformists, but not when used by revolutionary class struggle anarchists. Privilege theory doesn't come with compulsory liberalism any more than the idea of class struggle comes with compulsory Leninism.
The class struggle analysis of privilege
This may all seem, at first, to make class struggle just one struggle among many, but the unique way in which ruling class privilege operates provides an overarching context for all the other systems. While any system can be used as a “context” for any other, depending on which intersections we’re looking at, capitalism is particularly important because those privileged within it have overt control over resources rather than just a default cultural status of normalcy. They are necessarily active oppressors, and cannot be passive or unwilling recipients of the benefits of others’ oppression. The ruling class and the working class have opposing interests, while the privileged and oppressed groups of other systems only have differing interests, which differ less as the influence of those systems is reduced.
This doesn’t make economic class a primary oppression, or the others secondary, because our oppressions and privileges intersect. If women’s issues were considered secondary to class issues, this would imply that working class men's issues were more important than those of working class women. Economic class is not so much the primary struggle as the all-encompassing struggle. Issues that only face queer people in the ruling class (such as a member of an aristocratic family having to remain in the closet and marry for the sake of the family line) are not secondary to our concerns, but completely irrelevant, because they are among the few oppressions that truly will melt away after the revolution, when there is no ruling class to enforce them on itself. We may condemn racism, sexism, homophobia and general snobbery shown by members of the ruling class to one another, but we don’t have common cause in struggle with those suffering these, even those with whom we share a cultural identity, because they remain our direct and active oppressors.
When we try to apply this across other intersections than economic class, we don’t see concerns that are irrelevant to all but the privileged group, but we do find that the limited perspective of privileged activists gives campaigns an overly narrow focus. For instance, overwhelmingly white, middle class feminist organisations of the 60s and 70s have been criticised by women of colour and disabled women for focusing solely on the legalisation of abortion at a time when Puerto-Rican women and disabled women faced forced sterilisation, and many women lacked access to essential services during pregnancy and childbirth. Although the availability of abortion certainly wasn’t irrelevant to these women, the campaigns failed to also consider the affordability of abortion, and completely ignored the concerns of women being denied the right to have a child. Most feminist groups now tend to talk about “reproductive rights” rather than “abortion rights”, and demand free or affordable family planning services that include abortion, contraception, sexual health screening, antenatal and post-natal care, issues relevant to women of all backgrounds.14
We have to challenge ourselves to look out for campaigns that, due to the privilege of those who initiate them, lack awareness of how an issue differs across intersections. We need to broaden out our own campaigns to include the perspectives of all those affected by the issues we cover. This will allow us to bring more issues together, gather greater solidarity, fight more oppressions and build a movement that can challenge the whole of kyriarchy, which is the only way to ever defeat any part of it, including capitalism.
1 “A common form of blindness to privilege is that women and people of color are often described as being treated unequally, but men and whites are not. This…is logically impossible. Unequal simply means ‘not equal,’ which describes both those who receive less than their fair share and those who receive more. But there can’t be a short end of the stick without a long end, because it’s the longness of the long end that makes the short end short. To pretend otherwise makes privilege and those who receive it invisible.” Allan G. Johnson, Privilege, Power and Difference (2006).
2 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16552489, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jun/12/police-stop-and-search-black-people (statistics not available for Scotland)
5 “While it is important that individuals work to transform their consciousness, striving to be anti-racist, it is important for us to remember that the struggle to end white supremacy is a struggle to change a system, a structure…For our efforts to end white supremacy to be truly effective, individual struggle to change consciousness must be fundamentally linked to collective effort to transform those structures that reinforce and perpetuate white supremacy.” bell hooks, Killing Rage: Ending Racism, 1995
7 Intersectionality as a term and an idea has been developed by, among others: Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, Leslie McCall, if you are interested in further reading.
8 Graeber’s ‘Debt: The First 5,000 Years’ suggests that young women were used in some pre-money societies as an early form of currency or debt tally.
9 See the chapter with all the beautiful and sexually available house-keeping-cleaning-serving women in William Morris’ utopia News from Nowhere.
10 One anarchist analysis of intersectionality: http://libcom.org/library/refusing-waitanarchism- intersectionality.
11 “We believe that fighting systems of oppression that divide the working class, such as racism and sexism, is essential to class struggle. Anarchist-Communism cannot be achieved while these inequalities still exist. In order to be effective in our various struggles against oppression, both within society and within the working class, we at times need to organise independently as people who are oppressed according to gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability. We do this as working class people, as cross-class movements hide real class differences and achieve little for us. Full emancipation cannot be achieved without the abolition of capitalism.” http://www.afed.org.uk/organisation/aims-and-principles.html
12 See Chapter 7 of The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class by Anna Clark.
13 Selma James, ‘Sex, Race and Class’ 1975
14 Links to these examples are on these posts at the Angry Black Woman blog: http://theangryblackwoman.com/2010/02/26/reproductive-justice-linkspam-a-starting-point/, http://theangryblackwoman.com/2008/04/14/poc-and-the-politics-of-medical-research/
Call for solidarity with imprisoned comrades from Belarus - all welcome.
Read statement below, agreed at the IFA Congress in St. Imier, Switzerland, August 2012.
Update: London demonstration at Embassy Of Belarus organised for 23rd September 2012 (election day) at 1:00pm.
See also, demos in Paris and Rome on 22nd Sept: http://www.afed.org.uk/component/content/article/323.html
One of the previous solidarity demonstrations for Belarus prisoners, 13th December 2010, Sofia, Bulgaria.
It has been a long time since the last call for solidarity with the Belarusian anarchists appeared. Today we have to admit that the new wave of solidarity is needed urgently to help them out from the prison. That’s why we call you to participate in days of action in solidarity with Belarusian political prisoners on 22nd-23rd of September (parliament election day is 23rd) .
The activists Ihar Alinevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Artsiom Prakapenka, Pavel Syramolatau, Aliaksandr Frantskievich, Jauhen Vas’kovich that were detained in autumn 2010 and winter 2011 and then sentenced to 3 to 8 years of prison in May 2011 for a series of attacks on state and capital symbols are finishing their second year in jail. During this time their comrades and relatives did their best to help them feel comfortable in custody and set them free. In October 2011 they were acknowledged political prisoners by right-watch organizations. This fact gave them bigger chances to be freed as soon as possible, because at the moment the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, faces pressure from the European Union with the demands to set free all the political prisoners and decriminalize them. From August 2011 he has already pardoned more than 30 of them, but none of our comrades was granted freedom. Lukashenko said publicly, that he will pardon only those, who will write the petition for pardon, thus admitting their guilt and asking him personally for mercy. All the rest will remain in prison, he stated. In fact all imprisoned anarchists were many times asked if they want to sign such petition. Five of them refused to do it. Artsiom Prakapenka signed it under pressure but he is still in prison. Now there are 15 political prisoners left in Belarus, among them are 5 our comrades and 1 more, imprisoned for the action of solidarity with them. All the prisoners are experiencing different kinds of pressure from the administration of the prisons they are held in*, because Lukashenko wants to be a winner in this situation and make it as if it is not the EU that forces him to set free the political prisoners in fear of more political and economic sanctions, but as if it is his good will to pardon them, again only if they ask for it. We strongly oppose the fact that our comrades are now traded for benefits form the EU and condemn the pressure that they experience*. We call everybody to protest against these tortures and demand the immediate liberation of the political prisoners of Belarus, including anarchists.
We welcome solidarity actions of ANY kind starting from now on to accumulate amount of it on days of solidarity, we also ask you to make solidarity actions at least once a month if you find it possible even after the days of solidarity. We need constant pressure on the regime and the EU politicians in this situation.
The International of Anarchist Federations, August 2012.
- Anarchists Detained by Counter-Terrorist Police on Return from Swiss Conference [plus French, Spanish, German, Italian translations]
- Public statement from IFA Congress Saint-Imier 2012, 9-12th August to other exploited and oppressed people of the World.[plus links to translations, videos and local press]
- IFA statement about miners' march to Madrid from Asturias, León, and Aragón - July 2012
- Noise Demo. HMP Brixton. 5th June. 3pm
- AFed statement on kneecapping of nuclear executive by Informal Anarchist Federation
Page 6 of 19