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Archive for Paul seZ — Paul’s blog

Paul Z. Simons (May 3rd, 1960 – March 30, 2018)

Our friend and comrade Paul Z. Simons (El Errante) has passed away apparently from a heart attack. He is survived by his 5 children, Nina, Hannah Simons, Max Errickson, and Tristan and Jack Simons.

He was born in Utah. He liked to say he was born an illegal, to an unwed mother, Ginger, in a state where is was a crime to have a child outside of wedlock. He was adopted by Daryl and Irene Simons at birth. He has 4 siblings, Steve and Robert Simons, and James and Elizabeth Ables.

To help his family deal with the financial burden of this death https://www.youcaring.com/thefamilyofpaulsimons-1155173

Nina writes that “Paul was a complex person who was loved by his friends and family, and the dozens of communities he gave voice to through his writings and adventures as a journalist. Paul was a soul searcher to the end, a fearless adventurer, a rebel, a lover, a father to myself, Hannah, Max, Tristian, and Jack. He was a brother, a cousin, an uncle, a son. Paul’s death was very sudden and unexpected, he left very few worldly possessions behind. Because he was far from home when he died, there will be a substantial cost to bring his remains home. It will take the effort and contribution of his community to properly lay him to rest and give his friends and family the opportunity to mourn his loss.”

Paul was co-editor for the Modern Slavery journal where much of his recent journalistic writing can be found, and he contributed to Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed from the ’90s up to its move to the SF Bay Area in 2005. His essays are also on The Anarchist Library web site (https://theanarchistlibrary.org/category/author/paul-z-simons) and can be found on anarchistnews.org. He was involved in the Lower East Side scene in NYC in the ’80s. Stories and essays from that time are collected in his Black Eye zine anthology published by LBC (https://littleblackcart.com/books/anarchy/black-eye/). In the last few years Paul was intensely involved in letting the world know more about the often anarchistic and revolutionary resistance in Rojava, while also reporting on the anarchist milieu from Paris, Athens and Sao Paulo. We always looked forward to his visits here whenever he traveled through California, which will sadly be no more. The upcoming issue of Modern Slavery will include some of his yet unpublished fiction.

Paul will be missed by many, even by those who had yet to meet him, but who have been touched by his essays, stories, interviews, poetry and fiction. We are proud to have worked with him for the last few decades. It was not always easy, but together we were able to publish much important material during that time. So long, Paul.

Pure Black: An Emerging Consensus Among Some Comrades?

Paul Z. Simons

 

The term “black” anarchist has been thrown around recently in a number of international milieux and journals. Indeed during the last few years of my travels throughout North and South America and Europe I have noted repeated attempts to define, through action and theory, the ideas associated with black anarchy. Following is a brief, incomplete outline of some of the more common aspects of what black anarchists think and do. These tendencies are numbered for convenience, and not to show priority or importance.

Red Excursus: I will not discuss “red” anarchy as it seems well defined by the collectivist, syndicalist, communist variants of anarchist ideas that were developed more than a hundred years ago and still enjoy a great deal of popularity and adherents. I emphasize that I don’t see the two various strains as being mutually exclusive, opposed, or even necessarily very different at the macro level. The old sectarianism and exclusion, a gnawing symptom of Marxism and the Social Democracy, plays no role in this essay. I am attempting to describe and provide some topography to a growing, relatively new agreement among a particular group of my comrades, in doing so I support and encourage those who follow different anarchist ideas and paths. No one is wrong, no one is right. The best we can hope for is clarity, not hegemony.

1) Violence

In this context violence is defined as a tactic, whether applied to insurrection, riot, attentat, or simple refusal. There is an almost overwhelming consensus among the black anarchists that the use of violence is necessary, indeed desirable, perhaps essential. The international growth of the various FA(I)-IRF cells, the example of the Greek CCF and Revolutionary Struggle, the concomitant growth of the non-anarchist but equally engaging actions of the eco-extremists in Mexico, Chile and Brazil, and the myriad anonymous burnings, ATM destruction, and attacks that populate the current global anarchist media echo this resonance. Whether it is the Molotov arching gracefully through the night air, the flaming barricade, or the flagpole—turned truncheon—crashing into fascist bone, the black anarchist greets all with approval.

 

2) Individualist

There is a strong individualist strain in black anarchism, mostly as a function of activity and less due to long nights breathlessly reading Stirner. In essence when engaged in actions it’s easier to work in small groups, and sometimes alone rather than attempt to build large or even medium sized organizations. These small groups which I’ll call teams, a word taken from our Athenian comrades, bring into clear relief the importance of individual initiative, they decentralize decision and action, they emphasize clearly that while there is no I in team, there is an “m” and an “e.”

 

3) Nihilist

In this instance, nihilism I’ll interpret as the realpolitik of anarchism in 2017—all the various ideas, concepts and conceits of an anarchist victory via revolution or insurrection in the current context are nothing more than political heroin. Once this simple, obvious fact is accepted there are two courses, resignation and lassitude or savage attack without any real hope of success. The black anarchist chooses the latter, always.

 

4) Illegalist

A part of the black anarchist consensus is the desire to completely reject any compromise or cooperation with nation-state, Capital, and markets. Leading many in the milieu to undertake consciously political illegal activity. This varies from place to place but includes the positive activities of squatting, occupations, shoplifting, out-right store robbery, burglary and more. In terms of negative activities this new variant of illegalism includes refusal of all taxes, tolls, welfare, NGO handouts, and state-run free clinics.

 

5) Informal Organization

There is a real and healthy fear among the black anarchists of formal organization. The anti-organizational tendency is not new in the historical anarchist milieu, nor in the various anarchisms that saw first light since the 1970s in the USA, Canada, and parts of Western Europe. The open espousal of informal, temporary structures and limited adherence to organizational tenets is, however, very new. This loosening of the organizational form, the inclusionary laissez-faire stance adopted by black anarchists and their organizations may be one of the tendencies most lasting contributions. In most historical cases anarchists have constructed organizations that virtually ooze the ideas and characteristics of the dominant society. In a few short years the black anarchists have done a great deal of theoretical violence to such organizational nonsense, in the future I hope they do more.

 

This outline of black anarchism is brief, incomplete, and a piece of journalism, not conjecture. This is what I saw, what I experienced in the past several years visiting and working with anarchists on three continents. It is both memoriam and prospectus.

Dispatches from Greece Three: Notes from two months in Exarcheia

athens-graffiti El Errante

“Come and get food, Motherfuckers!”

The call, in a slight accent, echoes down the marble steps of the squat—the daily common meal is ready. In many ways this call for food encapsulates the nature of squatting in Greece. There is a complex relationship between squatters, a familiarity born of a shared life and a shared enemy. There is also a challenge, and slight but perceptible pressure to maintain relentless social contestation, always working, pushing towards the Idea. The results can take multiple forms, actions, demos, art, theater. A number of the squatters use art as a weapon. They paint, they build installations, they alter and manipulate the urban environment—joyfully. They plot, they plan actions, they look for openings in the armor of the Social Enemy to strike and cause harm. They speak of love and hatred, with no embarrassment. There is camaraderie, days spent talking, laughing, shadow-boxing, spray-painting or wheat-pasting on the walls of the squat. One of my most profound memories is hearing laughter ringing through the building as the younger squatters horse around late at night. Finally there is a fierce and abiding loyalty—made of living, working, fighting together. I knew, once accepted into the squat, that whatever happened no one there would ever deliberately let harm come to me, and my Comrades knew that I was committed to them in the same manner. This, of all things, proves the worth of living in common, in Commune. Physical, emotional, spiritual safety in the world is a joke perpetrated directly by the Social Enemy—how much better do anarchists do it! Face to face, the commitment becomes real—a material thing, not some nightmare uniformed asshole threatening prison, parole and degradation. I’ll take the threat of several black clad figures in the middle of night acting on conscience to help a Comrade over a cop loaded with laws and punishments. Some of the squatters are guests, visiting from almost every point on Earth, though during my time—primarily Europe, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the USA. Others are long-term, mostly Greek, and the occasional American.

Almost everyone takes turns prepping food, and sitting an early morning defense shift, the only two real “chores” at the squat. Everything else is pretty much left to chance, cleaning the toilets, sweeping and mopping common areas, emptying ashtrays, occasionally standing outside on the street when things in Exarcheia get tense, and making tea or sweets for the Assembly. This arrangement overburdens some folks, and it underburdens others, which is the nature of non-coercive social relations. Something to be accepted, not denied, nor decried. It’s the way things are.

The squat I found myself in is considered one of the “blackest,” meaning that most of the explicitly political squatters are either anarchist individualists or nihilists. Other squats tend to be less black, more red—meaning anarcho-communist, syndicalist or some stripe of collectivist. Some of the finer points of theory are abandoned in favor of the nature of the relationships that the different squats and squatters have developed over the years. Perhaps an overstatement, but a balance of animosity and agreement reigns between the squats. Sometimes forming alliances, occasionally coming to blows. Which is one reason that the December 6th 2016 riot was so significant—where personal and political grudges were shelved in favor of an all-out coordinated effort at defending the community from police incursion. Even the authorities registered surprise in the main stream media after the night of rioting, going so far as to authorize a few patrols near Exarcheia Square by cops in armored jeeps. This presence was quickly curtailed, the authorities realizing that the provocation was hardly worth the potential backlash. In fact only one squat bowed out from the defense of Exarcheia—and it came under criticism for what was seen as a real inability to play well with others.

“Motherfuckers! I said food!”

The reminder, this time registered with some anger by the cook, is greeted with muted derision and groaning by the residents. It’s early by squatter’s time—1pm—and those left in the building are sleeping. I drag myself out of bed, force down a coffee and make a plate of food. It’s good—potatoes, rice, salad and some kind of fried meat. Could be seafood—eel maybe.

I talked to the cook later that day and asked about the meat, she said, “Sheep cheeks and tongue…good right?”
I smiled and said, “Really good, thanks.”

Like the meal, living in commune is like that. The more you try new stuff, the better it gets.

Dispatches from Greece One: Vox, and Crossing the Rubicon

El Errante

(All material in this dispatch was approved for release by the relevant parties)

“We were in an Assembly at the Polytechnic discussing solidarity with political prisoners, and many were interested in helping with money and support. No one had any money so we squatted Vox and made it into a café to make money.”

I am sitting in the Vox cafe with Tharasis, an anarchist associated with the space and the action group Rubicon. The space is huge by my standards, airy—massive windows open out onto Exarcheai Square, multiple tables and chairs, a small bar with an espresso machine, and a fridge stuffed with beer stands to one side. A small library is also present. Tharasis continues, “So far we have made 160,000 euro to help the prisoners.”

“That’s a lot…” I mutter.

“Not really, we pay no rent, no electricity, nothing. It helps, though, prisoners in Greece get nothing. They have to buy everything, toilet paper, toothpaste, everything,” he says as he lights another cigarette.

“Who do you help, what kinds of prisoners?”exarcheia

“Mostly anarchists, nihilists, some others, we make sure that the activities they were imprisoned for were political, and that in prison they have shown solidarity. That’s it. We don’t have a test to see if they meet our standards.”

Vox also houses a small medical and dental clinic in the basement, an initiative that came from outside the Vox collective but was considered important enough to support. The space also hosts other assemblies and groups.

“And then Rubicon…” I ask.

“Well Rubicon is different, out of the people who squatted Vox and whose primary concern was solidarity with political prisoners, a new concern arose. Many of us saw the movement begin to lose motion, to freeze.”

“Like how? What gave you that impression?”

“Fewer people at demos and assemblies, less interest.”

“Okay so you formed Rubicon….”

“Yes, Rubicon. A smaller group for direct action. We formed it to keep the light on, to show the state and our comrades that anarchy still lives.”

“And the targets of your actions….”

greece1“All planned, we look for targets that will affect people, that are socially relevant. Like Le Pen’s party renting a space in Athens, or the agency responsible for privatization. And we let people know who we are, what we want, and how to contact us.” It should also be noted that Rubicon, in an action at the Greek parliament protesting prison conditions, found themselves in the uncomfortable position of finding a door into the building open and unguarded. A quick consensus was reached that maybe it wasn’t the best day to seize and destroy the state.

We also watched the video of the Le Pen offices being ransacked and he commented, laughing, “Did you see? The comrade with the hammer is using the wrong side of the head! It’s terrible.”

“What about security?”

“The people who participate are masked, and without identity the state can do little. I was arrested but the charges were dropped—the video shows masked people—not us.”

“And how many people usually participate?”

“That all depends on the action. Some require only one or two. Others, dozens. When we attacked the state agency for privatization it took many people. It’s a big building and we needed time to destroy all the office computers. Others, like the parliament action, maybe 10 or 15.”

“And,” I ask, “what of now…?”

“What’s happening now is critical, what we do as Rubicon seeks to reignite the anarchist movement.”

 

 

In a moral Universe, there are no anarchists; Hakim Bey, Robert P. Helms, and leave out the liberal

Hakim_Bey,_painted_portrait_DDC_3021El Errante

(Before you continue, know that this article is wholly my responsibility, that Hakim Bey has neither seen, read, nor is aware of its existence. I take full responsibility for its content.)

Better late than never. It’s been a little over a decade since the articles by Robert P. Helms (RPH) appeared on the internet smearing Peter Lamborn Wilson/Hakim Bey as a paedophile. When they were first made public I was, unfortunately, in no position to respond. In fact, I was in a drug treatment facility in lieu of some rather impressive legal charges centered on my addiction to speedballing heroin and cocaine and the economic activities attendant thereto. I should also note that in my researches around this event no one else in the milieu had the time, ability, or cussedness to counter the onslaught of innuendo and hinted transgression. Most folks ignored the charges, some muttered darkly, and a handful, like Laure Akai, went out of their way to up the ante and hint ominously about what they “really knew.”

First off, this article is not a defense of Hakim Bey, not because his actions and writings are indefensible, rather because no defense is required. To even begin to enumerate the various charges made by Helms is to allow him, his fellow travelers, and the accusations they made a credence that they don’t deserve. If the measurement of a critical theorist writings is assessed against the morality of bourgeois society then—among others, my comrades and me, stand arrested, tried and convicted in the dock of the dominant culture. The only plea we could rationally make is nolo contendre, and hope for the best.

But this isn’t about the charges made against Hakim, nor about the mediocre men and women who raised them and continue to propagate them. It’s about a political milieu so unsure of its own bearings, so consistent in its own inconsistency, that when charges—whose etiology is wholly associated with the Social Enemy—are leveled at one of its best thinkers and writers that the vast majority of adherents slink away in venomous silence and embarrassment.

What is at issue, and what one sees play out, occasionally, in the comments section of @news, r/anarchism and several other sites and podcasts is the reintroduction of a morality based in the discourse of the dominant society. While the anonymous commenting bottom-feeders at the various anarchist sites can perhaps be forgiven for a lack of mental acuity as they troll for fools and google words that confuse them, Helm’s can claim no such dodge. As he informs us, he is an “independent anarchist historian,” and that presumably means that he has read a few books about the history and philosophy of the politics that he claims to espouse. This presumed knowledge fails to peek through any of his essays regarding Hakim Bey. As one example, the failure to mention and discuss the romance of Severino DiGiovanni and America Scarfò, age 26 and 15 respectively, when they began their relationship shows a real lack of integrity. Further the dearth in Helm’s articles of any theoretical justification for the denunciation, no discussion of the requisite standardization and solemnization of the bourgeois bedroom, nor the family as the fundamental building block of slavery—sexual, industrial, and psychological. Rather after giving us a quick and breathless tour of some of the passages that most tweaked his liberal conscience, he states: “I will not offer any reason to be offended by the paedophile literature or the misogynist position of Hakim Bey […]. The ethical idiocy of both are self-evident, and neither is part of anything that should be considered an anarchist idea.” In other words trust Helms, it’s bad—so bad in fact that an oxymoron like self-evident applies, just like it does to the glaring truths in the Declaration of Independence.

If things had stopped there, that likely would have been it, and Helms would have returned to the circle of hell reserved for moralists posing as anarchists. But that’s not what happened. Instead, libcom.org, picked it up and ran with it. An understandable mistake, red anarchists aren’t know for their intelligence, especially libcom who seem better at recruiting police informants than real workers to their moribund cause. Going so far as to publish a web page called Beywatch and featuring exactly two articles—both authored by Helms. The rot of innuendo spread quickly and precipitously and even made it to the web page of law and order types that are dedicated to hounding folks who write or discuss children and sexuality. Which if memory serves is the basis of most Western psychology.

Meanwhile, those who knew better, those who saw through the abject moralist scam that Helms had perpetrated remained painfully silent. Likely many hoped that Helms would either just disappear, or alternately that their friendship with Hakim would remain… unmentioned, by anyone.

I will follow no such course. Hakim Bey is my friend, I have known him for thirty years. His writings have influenced thousands, mention his name in Europe, Asia, or South America and people immediately know his work. They respect him. They want to know more about him.

And Hakim is still teaching us lessons, less through his writing than by the example of his fall and rehabilitation. The moralizing liberals who pose as anarchists are the cops, bureaucrats, and corrections officers of our future. Many new folks are hoodwinked, they don’t get it, and its up to the critical theorists of today to teach, and guide them through example, through writing. To take the bag of snakes that is the dominant society and to lay the squirming reptiles out straight—so that everyone understands how denunciation pays the wage of Capital and nation-state. That the slogan, “It is forbidden to forbid,” isn’t just rhetoric. It’s a signpost on where we must be headed, and anyone who stands in the way, or obstructs that process—pays the price.

Dispatches from France Four: Nantes Manifestación 6/2/16 Postscript, A Night at the Opera

nantesopera3
El Errante

“When the National Assembly becomes a bourgeois theater, all the bourgeois theaters should be turned into national assemblies.”
Graffiti, Paris May 1968 (above the entrance of the occupied Odéon Theater)

During the impromptu manif, referenced in the previous dispatch, several people moved through the crowd handing out leaflets. I took one, as did most of the folks I was with. They said that should the crowd be dispersed — as happened shortly thereafter — that folks will regroup at 6pm at the same assembly spot that the unions had used earlier in the day. It also indicated that food would be served and that more actions might happen. The afternoon was spent at a comrade’s apartment eating, hanging out, talking about demos in other countries that people had attended, drinking coffee and the local beverage Bretagne cidre.

At around 6pm we all headed out the door to see what was on the organizer of the event’s mind. We arrived at the rendezvous to find maybe 50 folks hanging out in small groups. Many were drinking beer, and the mood was decidedly more relaxed than the initial encounter in the morning. Some of the comrades were certain it was going to be an autonomist shenanigan, but only a few were there, and they seemed as curious as the rest of us. Finally about a half hour later a guy went from group to group, spoke for a minute or two and then would move on. He approached us and said that we were going to the theater area in Nantes and show support for some of the workers there, and that after we would meet at a park for food and drink. By now there were about 75 folks total and we set off to our first destination, walking initially in the center of the tram tracks and then blocking the road as we finished the march. Loud whistles and shouts came from the group, and occasionally folks would chant or sing. Everyone felt good, as I learned on a hot August night thirty years ago, its great to riot, and nantesgraffiti2even better to do it and not get caught. As we neared the theater area in Nantes we came upon the rear of the Nantes Opera and wheeled down one of the building’s side streets, finally pouring into a central plaza. As we arrived applause and shouts from protestors already there could be heard. Finally coming into view of the plaza it took about two seconds to realize that this was no show of support, it was something very different indeed.

Arrayed in the front of the Greco-roman columned Opera, were about 100 folks dressed in casual, but expensive attire. They had tans. They wore Rolex’s. And they were really pissed off. Standing under the portico were dozens of radicals who moved in and out of the Opera building freely. Occasionally someone from the plaza would walk up the steps, negotiate a path through the malcontents, enter the building and ask a question or two of what looked like Opera employees. Inside the building a man stood on the steps that led into the theater proper, he waved a large CGT red flag. The foyer was packed with folks from the morning march;[:] autonomists, anarchists, radicals, union folks. After one look I turned to a comrade and said, “It’s an occupation.”
“Not yet. We’re not completely into the theater. But it could be,” he replied.

In one sense the modern revolutionary era was kicked off by an occupation, that of the Bastille. In fact, as the July Column (that commemorates the revolution of 1830) stands in the place of the hated Bastille to this day — one could conjecture that this specific occupation has continued for 200+ years. The other occupation the situation called to mind was the seizure of the Odeon Theater in Paris on 15 May 1968, by a revolutionary committee of artists and students. They held the theater for a little less than a month when it was finally forcefully cleared by CRS goons.

The would-be occupiers in Nantes were listening to a well dressed woman speak to them from the stairs when I pushed my way inside. She thanked them for coming, expressed hope that the Loi du Travail manifs would be successful and then asked them to leave. Of course, no one budged. There was some additional milling around by the protestors. I went in and out of the building several times, the bourgeois who stood in the plaza and watched as their evening plans were being shattered fascinated me. Their faces were alternately angry, confused and indignant. Once or twice I caught a conversation between a protestor and one of the plaza crowd. The bougeois would ask questions like, “How could you do this?” Alternating with demands that the mob move on to other engagements. Like she was speaking to a child. And protestors would fire back about the Loi du Travail, the ZAD, or just ignore the question, and the questioner, completely.
Meanwhile on the plaza, two men in suits viewed the full scene from a nantesopera3distance. I turned to a comrade pointing them out with a nod of my head and he said, “Right. Likely CRS officers, deciding what to do.”
I walked back inside to watch a brief shoving match had broken out between the Opera employees and the protestors. It was pretty low key, as these things go. In fact the crowd seemed less interested in a full occupation that in taking the protest into the enemy camp. And if that was the goal, they succeeded.

Finally, some food and beer showed up for the mob. Evidently they had decided to party in the shadow of the Opera. The folks I had come with decided to eat elsewhere. So we walked off as the protestors milled about inside and outside the theater, talked, ate food, and relaxed.
I still was confused about the almost complete absence of cops; save the two CRS supervisors and some Nantes gendarmes who rode by on scooters, we had seen no one. I asked about this and got a reply that illustrates in many ways the ongoing nature of social contestation in France. The comrade replied, “They won’t do anything as long as the protestors eat and drink and don’t destroy anything. This is a nice neighborhood, they won’t attack unless absolutely necessary.”

As we walked we came upon another plaza removed by about 200 yards from the Opera plaza. In it dozens of gendarmes in full riot gear lounged by crowd control vehicles, talked, and waited to see if they would eventually be needed. Oddly they looked as relaxed as the crowd they were supposed to be ready to mercilessly attack with teargas and truncheon. That night, however, evidently in everyone’s opinion, another riot just didn’t seem worth the bother.

Dispatches from France Three: Nantes Manifestación 6/2/16, A Fateful Resonance, Lines of Graffiti

Nantes1

“Dans la rue avec la CGT on fout le zbeul”
(“In the streets with the CGT fucking things up”)
–Graffiti 06/02/16 Nantes

El Errante

Nantes, Pays de la Loire. Another day. Another manif against the Loi du Travail. This time, Nantes. I had wanted to see Nantes; it is near the ZAD and had been the scene of some of the more furious riots over the past months. Some of the video of the action shows the torching of a Porsche, black bloc versus CRS clubfests, and the arrest of dozens of protestors. Indeed, of those protestors held on house arrest as of 06/02/16 nationwide, the vast majority were residents from the area in and around Nantes. There are a number of reasons for this, the city saw a unique upswing in student revolutionary activity in the late sixties of sufficient size to warrant a trip to the city by Vaneigem to see what, in fact, was happening. The Nantes unions had declared for a Commune which lasted from 23 May to 12 June 1968 during this time the town hall was occupied by a joint strike committee of workers and peasants. This insurrectionary activity has continued to the present and the resonance between the ZAD, and the nearest large city, Nantes, is clear.

I arrived in Nantes on the Sunday prior to the event and had been told about the progress of the planning for the manif. It was pointed out to me that the folks involved in logistics had a very hard in time in Nantes estimating how many folks will attend any given demo. As an example at one of the pro-ZAD manifs in 2013, the expected 5,000 attendees was vastly underestimated, and most observers put the final census at a whopping 20,000 protestors. Planning therefore, and flexibility, are important. The date was set for June second at 10am, all the unions would attend, as would other interested parties — and basically any radical anywhere close to Nantes, who heard the call-out, marked their calendar. I went to the demo with a number of local anarchists and a member of the Federation Anarchiste from Paris. The turn out proved to be less than huge, perhaps 2 to 3,000 — tops. Yet there was a nantesdamagesignificant number of black bloc folks there, and also a good turnout of the local anarchist community. Who were missing were the police, CRS, and the assorted forces of law and disorder. They were nowhere to be seen, which I counted as odd. The march began with the union folks starting off followed by the black bloc and radicals who quickly moved to the front. The first turn was to lead to the local prefecture, essentially the executive of the large county-like structures that functions as a middling level in the hyper-centralized French state, and the police prefecture, no explanation needed and finally into the heart of Nantes. We were supposed to walk across a bridge that spans the Erdre river, a small tributary of the Loire, but it was blocked by hordes of cops, riot vehicles, all standing behind an impressive mesh steel fence reaching to the bridges upper structure. The black bloc went to work throwing bottles filled with paint and some irregular objects. But with the steel fence blocking projectiles there was little that the black bloc could do so the tactical decision to continue and ignore this first technical victory by the police was taken. By now the unions, led by the reformist CGT, had passed around the black bloc and continued to march to — God knows where. The stated goals of the march, the prefecture, the prefecture of police, the town hall and the Nantesgraffiti3train station now seemed out of reach. Undeterred the black bloc regrouped, a graffiti bombardment began (more on this later), and quickly sought to regain the lead position in the march. I stood in the back and watched as a virtual horde of black clad warriors moved quickly past the unionists by sticking to the sidewalk. It looked like a march of black ants climbing a non-descript multi-colored tree or wall. As they attained the front there was a brief halt as CGT marshals tried to get the black to bloc to turn around. They said if they tried to move into the town center, which was the general direction they were headed, that they would all get their asses kicked. The black bloc was not impressed and after some debate and a moment’s hesitation moved off. As I walked in the black bloc the FA comrade beside me looked back and said, “Good, the CGT is following.”

One thing the black bloc had brought to the march was new to me, a sound system, a good, loud, fucking sound system. Which they used to blast alternating dubstep, détourned revolutionary songs, French classics and pop. As we marched we saw a number of cops running in our direction from a side street, as they did the sound system blasted the last minute or so of MIA’s Paper Planes, which includes the chorus of, “All I want to do is (four loud gunshots) and take your money.” The song stopped the bloc and most turned and faced the advancing police as they mimed the gunshots by pointing their fingers at the cops and imitating the motion of firing a pistol and then loudly sang the final line. The faces of the police as a few hundred finger pistols shot at nantesgraffiti1them was classic; a mix of horror, anger, and something else…fear maybe, or vengeance. The song ended, and the march continued. It was pure political street theater, and a scene I’ll likely not forget.

We moved past the town hall, an ugly office like affair, which suffered greatly in smashed windows and loads of graffiti. Moving past the building brought the black bloc into a small open square, which revealed a line of CRS facing their right flank. Barely had I made the open square when the sound of dull thuds sounded and multiple canisters of CS gas poured down on us. The handkerchief came out and I wrapped it around my face. There was little to do but move fast past the spreading shadow of the NiklaBacteargas. The black bloc decided not to stand and fight in the tight streets and moved quickly down and onto the central plaza, and the final destination — the train station.

There was an impromptu march by the assorted radicals after the termination of the original march. We followed this march for about a mile. It was gassed twice and the CRS finally moved in to disperse it along with the most fearsome element of French law enforcement, the BAC (Brigade Anti-Criminalité). The BAC are units of physically fit lunatics whose job is to move in and arrest demonstrators, when there are no manifs to harass, they turn on drug dealers — and in Marseilles at least, steal their drugs and sell them or use them. The Marseilles BAC was fired to a man in a massive vandalismcorruption case that included drug seizure, sales, intimidation, etc. In the black bloc the BAC are loathed and everyone seems to have their own favorite BAC story of abuse and degradation. The folks I attended the manif with decided that the march was ending and so we moved off. At the same moment there was a sound of tear gas being fired and the entire remnant of the demonstrators turned the corner that we had left them at, and came running straight for us. As it happened the FA comrade smiled and said, “ The hardest thing is leaving a manif. Sometimes it follows you….”

The next day I retraced the route of the march to get some photos of the graffiti that had gone up. It varied greatly, alternately ironic, chiding, demanding, and funny. It’s only common characteristic was a knife-edge of provocation and subversion. I include some of the standouts with translations and explanations where necessary.

Dans la rue avec la CGT on fout le zbeul

In the streets with the CGT fucking things up

[A double meaning. 1) The black bloc chiding the CGT as reformist and pacific and 2) An invitation to the CGT to join the bloc to make thigs better. Note also the extreme slang of “fucking things up” (on fout le zbeul)]

2017: les urnes en miettes

2017: ballot boxes in pieces

(2017 is the next national election in France)

Nik la BAC

Fuck the BAC

l’action est le soeur du reve

action is the sister of dream

laragelaswag

Le Rage et le swag

The Rage and the swagger Nantesmayor

l’emuete embellit ma ville—Johanna Rolland

riot embellishes my city—Johanna Rolland

( Rolland is the mayor of Nantes)

Nantes, l’emeute au naturel

Nantes, all natural (organic?) riotimaginationpourvuir

L’imagination a pourvoir

The imagination fulfilled

(a twist on the May ’68 Situationist slogan, “All Power to the Imagination”)

Vive le Vandalisme

Long Live Vandalism

(in the original, Vandalism is misspelled…deliberately?)

 

Dispatches from France Two: Manifestación 5/27/16, Who’s on First, Losing a Friend in a Riot, and Black Bloc Logistics

manif2
El Errante

(Paris, Ile de France, 28/05/16) The scene is becoming clearer and it doesn’t look good. On one side of the street a line of CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité) stands in a wall, unmoving, silent, ready. And opposite them by about 100 meters is another solid row of CRS, hard rubber matraques held ready. I look down at Loni, whose view is obscured by the mob, and tell her to get ready, they may use gas. She and I both fish around in our backpacks for the red and black handkerchiefs that the Federation Anarchiste (FA) folks had given us. Movement is impossible in the crush, and I find myself less worried about being pummeled about the head and shoulders by CRS goons than the likelihood of being smothered or trampled should the crowd move or run suddenly. Two or three dull explosive thuds resound in the sunshine and a cloud of teargas, wafted by a slight breeze, moves ghostlike over the crowd. The sound of choking erupts immediately as the protestors begin to move away from grayish blue gas…

Earlier — I am walking with Leon, Loni, and a bunch of folks that we had met at the FA infoshop prior to the demonstration. As we walk I notice that we are headed to the front of the march, and that most of the anarchists and autonomists including the black bloc are positioning themselves there. I ask, “Are you always at the front of the march?”
“No,” Leon responds, “but with the way things are, we take the front and the unions let us. They don’t like diversity of tactics, but in this case they recognize that we are having an impact. Before this we were barely tolerated, now we lead.” And so it was. The manifestacións manif5(manifs) sparked by the Loi du Travail have had a fundamental impact on street-based social contestation in France. The unions failed to respond quickly to the legislation, and initially tried to distance themselves from the autonomist and anarchist challenge. In the ensuing days of confrontation and riot someone, somewhere decided that the unions had better support what the radicals had started — and so the placement of the black bloc (and others) at the head of the march had become, for now at least, standard.

The march was huge, the unions put the number at 50,000, though the initial police estimate was 19,000. The largest reformist union — the CGT — its flags, posters, vehicles and t-shirts were everywhere. Stark, working-class reds glowed in the early afternoon shade. Other unions, professional organizations, and left political parties were out as well — the Force Ouvrier, French Communist Party, Trotskyite groupuscules, etc. As we waited for the march to begin I had time to ask Leon some more questions…

“So what is the bottom-line? What do the unions want out of all this?”

“The ideal would be for the law to be repealed, not amended, not have the debate restarted. Just, deleted.”

“And what is the likelihood of that? Has anything like this ever happened before?”

“It’s possible. Some unpopular legislation has been dropped at the last minute, but this is already law. To retract it now would be committing political suicide. Especially as it comes from a Socialist administration.”

“I still can’t believe that we’re at the front of the march.”

“Well, it’s still about control. CGT has a whole squad of security that march right behind us. If the cops really attacked the anarchists or autonomists, I think the union security squads would back us up.”

The march began to move slowly; the FA folks handed out copies of their new magazine and pasted up circle-A stamps on lamp posts and manif1bus shelters as we walked along. A few “characters” moved through the crowd, one dressed as a clown seemed pretty well known and he would stop and talk to various libertarian groups. As we strolled down the Rue Diderot several explosions sounded up ahead — the black bloc had managed to lay hands on some impressive fireworks, likely M-60s or M-80s and were evidently tossing a few in the direction of CRS lines established to prevent people from splitting off from the main march.

The march then took an odd turn onto Rue Chaligny — we advanced perhaps fifty meters and then in an instant the people at the front of the march stopped, turned and began walking fast towards the back. Their faces immediately told the story — a line of CRS blocking the road up ahead. It’s a trap. Loni and I turned just in time to watch another row of CRS draw up, effectively blocking the street on both ends. She grabbed my hand and pulled me up onto the sidewalk, but that didn’t help matters, it was more crowded than the street and the cops had it blocked as well. I kept wondering what the hell do they want? They’ve blocked off the street, we’re trapped like rats — usually when cops pull this kind of shit they at least leave an outlet somewhere. The people around us began to mask up against the gas, and Loni and I did the same; then the thud of canisters being launched and the (almost beautiful) dispersion of teargas from multiple containers. I had never seen it this close before and just before my eyes began streaming tears I recall thinking, Wow, it’s like Fourth of July fireworks.

The crowd around us surged and I could feel Loni’s small hand slip from mine, and by the time I turned around she was gone — lost in the crowd, gas and fear. The CRS then backed off from the Rue Diderot side and allowed the crowd to return to the main thoroughfare. I met Leon and the rest of the anarchists under their red and black flag. They had brought water ampoules and after dousing my eyes and face my vision finally blurred back into sight. Evidently Loni had made it out safe, but had left the manif and was likely headed back to her hotel. I, on the other hand, wanted to see how it ended.

As I walked ahead of the FA group a commotion on my right caught my attention, it was the black bloc attacking the storefront of a Škoda dealership. The assault was spirited but the windows were proving to be pretty tough to get through. In fact with between 5 and 10 folks working on it took ten minutes to reduce the plate glass to whitish sand. As I watched the progress two things struck me, first there was a significant amount of communication between the attackers and folks standing next to me. This interaction took the form of both hand signals and yelling. Also the folks standing next to me were conspicuous in that one held a small red flag stapled to a dowel and the other occasionally held aloft a book that I recognized immediately, manif3The Coming Insurrection. I also noted that they were constantly looking up and down the street, possibly for police, or more likely for warnings from other lookouts who were placed further away from the action, so as to increase the likelihood of escape if the cops intervened. Which they didn’t. I also noted the complete support of the crowd. As the glass began to give way applause and shouts of encouragement came from all sides. I reflected back on demos in the US where spray painting a Nike store would always draw some liberal out of the crowd to castigate the destruction of property — or the time honored refrain supporting cops — “Well, they are workers too.” Anyway as I observed the black bloc folks, they started to take an interest in me, or rather my t-shirt, which depicted two nihilists in Italy kneecapping a nuclear power executive as they rode by on a motorbike. Rydra had given me the shirt at the East Bay Anarchist Book Fair, and the members of the black bloc obviously recognized the scene and after giving me (or the shirt) a thumbs up, they indicated I should follow them. Which I did.
Which is how during the last part of the march I was swept up into the black bloc and got the chance to observe their tactics more closely.

Which, when you see them on videos, appear utterly random and based on happenstance, opportunity — and to a certain extent they are. Yet there is also some sophisticated surveillance happening and, to the extent allowed by circumstance, security and coordination. The two spotters, distinguishable either by the red flag or the book held aloft, stayed well apart from the action, and each other. Some targets were obviously chosen by virtue of their being in the path of destruction, like the various bus shelters, advertising kiosks, and ATMs I watched being vandalized. The hand signals used were simple, non-military, expressive. The okay signal, indicated that it was time to move on, damage done. A hand wave towards the action brought more folks into the fray, and a hand wave away moved people out of the area. The various implements of destruction, paint balls, heavy objects resembling bricks for throwing through glass, firecrackers, and flares were kept by folks who stayed far away from the action — when needed they were called for. We finally reached the Place de la Nation, and the black bloc faded into the crowd — hoodies were placed into backpacks, shoes were changed, and they walked off in groups of twos and threes looking like normal Parisian high school kids out on a spring weekend. And not the angry, uncompromising insurrectionary that lurked just beneath the surface of each one.

The FA group arrived at the Place some ten or fifteen minutes after I did, we spoke for a moment or two. I thanked them for inviting me and we made plans to meet and talk the next day. I walked the long way home to the hotel in Montmartre. I was tired, my eyes stung, and I couldn’t shake the creepy feeling that the demo, the violence, the riot were still going on — somewhere. And that very soon I would once again be looking down a row of CRS goons, waiting for a teargas canister to blossom at my feet.

Dispatches from France One: the Forces Behind Events, Autonomism and Anarchism, and What Time Is It?

El Errante

My decision to travel to Europe was taken lackadaisically. There had been some indications that nation-states on the Continent were being stressed from a number of different directions. First, the movement of upwards of two million refugees from the Middle East, specifically Syria, through the social-democratic European heartland is challenging the legitimacy of both the economic and security structures of numerous states. It should be noted that the dual nature of the stress, on social redistribution schemes and border integrity, indicates that both ideological left and right are being drawn into the legitimacy maelstrom, and that the moment of the challenge, its core, is situated to call into question not just the nation-state or Capital, rather they illuminate the failure of the entire Western liberal hegemon, the whole enchilada. So, I thought, why not? I feel like traveling and writing and the timing seemed somehow, perfect.

In spite of being detained and interrogated by two Homeland Security investigators at JFK, who proved to be far better informed about my trip to Rojava in October, international speaking tours, and what I had for breakfast (that day) than I thought was possible, I was eventually released and allowed to board my flight, though without the obligatory x-ray examination of my baggage. As I hunkered down into my seat on the first leg of the trip to Moscow via Aeroflot I reflected that it will likely be a long time before I return to the United States. I will not miss it.Nuit Debout4

The first two days in Paris were allotted to rest, visiting a few museums, sitting in cafes, and consuming copious (and potentially lethal) amounts of caffeine and baguette. Finally on Sunday I walked through spring fog and drizzle to the Place de la République to see what was happening with Nuit Debout. In the photos I had seen of the first few days of the occupations the Place (a rectangle of about two acres where a number of thoroughfares converge including Rue du Temple, Boulevard Voltaire, and Boulevard Saint-Martin) had been virtually overrun by thousands of people. On the day I visited there were perhaps a few hundred folks, most sheltered under a dozen or so blue tarps that had been set up at random to accommodate various collectives, Nuit Debout logistics and publicity coordinating groups, and the occasional alphabet soup Marxist Party propaganda committee. On the afternoon I stopped by most of these tents were being used for presentations on a range of topics. These included DIY carpentry, a BiehlNuitDeboutworkshop on capitalism, “commune cause,” and a mini-assembly which appeared to be more about providing a venue for folks to vent than any specific debate or decision-making. At one tent a small YPG flag was set on a tabletop and as I circled outside I noticed that a smallish middle-aged woman was speaking and that questions would be translated for her and her responses were being translated for the listeners. I finally got a view of this presenter — and was not surprised to see that it was Janet Biehl; Murray Bookchin’s companion. I continued walking around for an hour or so, would stop and listen to a presenter and then move on.

Finally, tired of the mist and rain, I made my way to the Fédération Anarchiste (FA) infoshop just off of République. It was, as usual, busy. The FA, a synthesist working class confederation, is one of the more stable anarchist organizations in France. Meaning that while the FA is an excellent point of contact for folks traveling in Europe, it also makes of the FA one of the targets for bullshit sectarian attacks. A sectarianism that in many ways exceeds the petty sniping, character assassination and trolling that the North American anarchist community once reveled in, but now appears to be putting aside.

One of the anarchists, Lou, that I had met on my way home from Rojava was there and he and I settled into the back of the infoshop and talked a little about the renewed social contestation in France. First off, he said, no one saw this coming. The French anarchist community had pretty much given up hope on any significant social contestation for decades to come. The proposal of the Loi du Travail and its effective NuitDebout3unleashing of employers to hire, fire and discipline, essentially at will, was less an attempt to revivify the French economy than it was a direct challenge to workers and their protection under law. The large reformist trade unions, like the CGT, missed their cue completely, and the attendant riots were essentially the coming together of three distinct groups, high school students, the anarchists and the autonomists. The first two are pretty obvious; the autonomists are a new quantity (for us) and require some discussion. This amorphous group first formed around the journal Tiqqun and the subsequent Invisible Committee. The autonomists then, like the nihilist communists, reject any descriptions of the society that they envision bringing into being. In many ways the autonomists are the logical extension of the Situationist International and while Marx isn’t mentioned in as explicit a fashion as the SI claimed him as their own, their use of the dialectic, and some aspects of Marxist teleology is apparent. This has not diminished their militancy, and they have refined street contestation and tactics into a virtual art. They have also sought to organize those sectors of society largely ignored by both unionists and anarchists, including high school students. They have also proven themselves to be savvy at the placement of their ideas within mainstream media outlets. This has had the effect of placing their critique within the larger framework of French political discourse, regardless of how radical it appears. It has also placed them beyond the narrow confines of the emergency laws instituted after the Charlie NuitDebout2Hebdo attack and the ISIL bombing campaign. As an example the prosecution of the Tarnac 9 (the same group of folks who wrote The Coming Insurrection) never occurred, and probably never will. The acceptance (or at least acknowledgement) of the ideas of the autonomists among mainstream academics and theorists has removed them from the category of social villain that the anarchists and jihadis now inhabit almost exclusively. The formation and growth of autonomist organizations has also been rapid, and they have been fiercely competitive for members with larger more established organizations. As an example the French student union UNEF has had its membership raided by the autonomist high school organization MILI.

Finally, the autonomists are clear in distancing themselves from anarchism and the anarchists; in spite of some theoretical confluence, especially their critique of the dominant society and their understanding of insurrection. Which resembles some historical anarchist critiques (Stirner) and to a lesser degree recent anti-civilization theory.

The autonomists, the anarchists, and the high school students responded decisively to the proposed Loi du Travail, staging a number of ad hoc demonstrations. In the end, however, the filming of a student being beaten by the police galvanized the protestors and finally brought the unions, and everyone else, into the fray. Tensions have Nuitdebout1risen dramatically since then, the legislation itself became law when the Chamber of Deputies employed a little used legal caveat that ended debate and allowed the legislative cowards to vote by not voting. Demonstrations have been ongoing, and Lou invited me to the next big manif, on Thursday, May 26th. I jumped at the chance and we made plans to meet prior to the march.

(In the ensuing three days between meeting Lou and the manif the reformist union CGT struck at all eight oil refineries in France, and has also attempted to block entry to several of the nation’s nuclear power plants. Supplies of oil and gas have begun to dwindle, and as the CGT is the primary union for most of the transportation sector, their ability to pressure both the government and corporations into repealing the legislation will increase algorithmically.)

The next few weeks may prove decisive not only for the Loi du Travail, but for significant sectors of the economy, the political classes, and the population generally. The stress that the Syrian refugees are bringing to bear on European society seems to be matched, if not exceeded by, economic stagnation, emerging political authoritarianism, and what appears to be a restive, increasingly alienated citizenry. So the timing of the European trip was not bad. And timing, as we all know, is everything

Free Radical Radio interview with Paul Z. Simons on Rojava (November 2015)

 

Free Radical Radio:

Interview with Paul Z. Simons on Stories from Rojava on revolution, daily life & hope

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Audio interview download here

by: rydra / Free Radical Radio
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Paul Z. Simons, also known as El Errante, is interviewed by rydra on his recent trip to Rojava. Paul tells stories of his trip, relays discussions he had with people in Rojava in the YPG, YPJ, taxi drivers, translators and more. Paul describes the situation in Rojava as a “post-leftist revolution in a pre-leftist society.” Paul also tells us how he got into the country, how others can, and why he feels that what is going on there is important to anarchists all around the world.

 

Time Stamps:

0:00 Paul talks about being a post-left anarchist and interacting with actual humans instead of just theory

3:30 logistics of how he made contacts and got into Rojava

7:30 border crossing and “press passes”

9:30 discussion of western media and the accuracy of the news coming out of Rojava. More discussion of how geography and autonomous structures look. How do the cantons relate to each other?

13:50 rydra asks Paul to explain the role of the US, Turkey, Syria, and Russia in Rojava.

17:00 Rojava power structure broken down with a cake analogy. How do communes function there?

20:00 TEV-DEM: who are they and how are they working in the communes

23:00 discussion of daily life, what it looks like in the villages and the cities.

26:00 ideology? “they are aware that they are in the midst of a revolution.” “Would the US government accept a passport from an anti-government.” Personal stories.

29:30 Paul runs into the legislative minister for Kobani and discuses their role.

31:20 visiting with YPG, and what life looks like for the militia, and the differences between their militia and an army

34:00 discussion of gender and the YPG. YPJ, and a cultural shift?

37:00 impression of what is going on, tastes, smells, sights. What is going on socially? The idea of death to Gilgamesh, and Rojava as a different way for humans to live.

42:00 A bit of analysis on anarchism and the common comment that “it can never work.” Paul on hope.

43:20 rydra edits a super smooth transition into a revolutionary YPG song

45:20 returning to the idea of hope(hiccups) and what it means to be a human being in Rojava completely surrounded by giant power structures and multiple governments.

47:30 Paul discusses what a revolution is like, getting out of our heads, and the feeling that “revolution grabs you by the heart.”

51:00 Where do Ocalan and the PKK fit into all of this. Is there concern over this and how is power playing out?

55:30 Being a post-leftist, cussing, and “a post-leftist revolution in a
pre-leftist country.” Never heard talk of working class and being
anti-marxist.

58:40 lessons learned from his trip, coming back to America and the Bay Area.

1:00:25 “I’ve made my decision, I’m here to help others make theirs.”  The idea of an anarchist home.

1:04:00 things for people to do?