The Ex-Worker is back! After a hiatus to work on other projects, our newly reassembled audio affinity group is leading the charge to produce audio versions of a wide range of CrimethInc. materials. Stay tuned for updates!
Since Elon Musk kicked us off of Twitter at the urging of a certain far-right troll, we haven’t slowed down—you’ll find us publishing regularly here at crimethinc.com and circulating our texts and ideas through accounts on Mastodon, Kolektiva, and other platforms. But we want to make sure that the analysis, reporting on current events across the globe, historical accounts, calls for action, and other anarchist content we’ve been providing for over two decades can reach the widest possible audience.
To that end, the Ex-Worker Podcast has committed to producing audio versions of most of the new content we produce. Beginning this month, you’ll be able to find links at the top of each page to an audio version of the article you’re reading. You’ll also be able to get the latest audio releases from the Ex-Worker by streaming or downloading directly from the podcast page, through your favorite podcatcher, or from other audio/video platforms including YouTube and Soundcloud—stay tuned for updates as we roll these out.
Today, we’re releasing the first of two episodes on the struggle to Stop Cop City and defend the Weelaunee Forest in Atlanta, Georgia. In the coming days, you’ll see episodes appear on our banning from Twitter and our analysis of social media, navigating fascism and left electoralism in Brazil, and an audio version of our article on the Battle of York in 2002. Stay tuned!
Additionally, we’re working our way through the back catalog of our most popular articles and zines that haven’t had audio versions produced yet. You can already find audio versions of some classics, including To Change Everything, From Democracy to Freedom, and our book No Wall They Can Build. Coming soon, you’ll be able to listen to a wide range of articles and zines, including Why We Don’t Make Demands, Against the Logic of the Guillotine, There’s No Such Thing as Revolutionary Government, and many more! If you’ve got requests for audio versions of your favorite article or zine, you can drop us a line to podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Finally, in response to popular demand, we’re working on a major project to produce an audiobook version of Work, our classic analysis of capitalism, economics, and resistance. Today, revolt against work is spreading across the world in the aftermath of the pandemic, and a wave of strikes and union organizing offers possibilities but also limits. We want to make sure that as many people as possible have tools for understanding the functioning of the economy from the bird’s-eye-view down to the cash register and the factory floor—and ideas about how to challenge the mythology of work and take action to escape from its clutches into a freer world. Stay tuned!
Since 2013, the Ex-Worker Podcast and our comrades at The Hotwire have offered an audio strike against a monotone world. The project has evolved over the years, and will continue to change as our lives and the terrain we’re fighting on goes on shifting. When we got started nearly ten years ago, other than our friends at The Final Straw Radio (who are still going strong!), there were hardly any anarchists working in the medium of podcasting. Today, we’re a part of the Channel Zero Network, which has hosted dozens of different audio projects produced by anarchists and anti-authoritarians. We have participated in international gatherings networking with podcasts, radio shows, and radio stations across dozens of countries.
But we still think there’s a vital role for audio projects in support of our broader mission to hasten the end of all forms of hierarchy and domination and dream a free world into being. From your headphones to the streets, we’ll be seeing you!
The Ex-Worker Podcast Collective
We endorse the following statement of solidarity with the movement to defend the Weelaunee Forest.
We call on all people of good conscience to stand in solidarity with the movement to stop Cop City and defend the Weelaunee Forest in Atlanta.
On January 18, in the course of their latest militarized raid on the forest, police in Atlanta shot and killed Manuel Teran, known by fellow forest defenders as Tortuguita. This is only the most recent of a series of violent police retaliations against the movement. The official narrative is that Cop City is necessary to make Atlanta “safe,” but this brutal killing reveals what they mean when they use that word.
Forests are the lungs of planet Earth. The destruction of forests affects all of us. So do the gentrification and police violence that the bulldozing of Weelaunee Forest would facilitate. What is happening in Atlanta is not a local issue.
Politicians who support Cop City have attempted to discredit forest defenders as “outside agitators.” This smear has a disgraceful history in the South, where authorities have used it against abolitionists, labor organizers, and the Civil Rights Movement, among others. The goal of those who spread this narrative is to discourage solidarity and isolate communities from each other while offering a pretext to bring in state and federal forces, who are the actual “outside agitators.” The consequence of that strategy is on full display in the tragedy of January 18.
Replacing a forest with a police training center will only create a more violently policed society, in which taxpayer resources enrich police and weapons companies rather than addressing social needs. Mass incarceration and police militarization have failed to bring down crime or improve conditions for poor and working-class communities.
In Atlanta and across the US, investment in police budgets comes at the expense of access to food, education, childcare, and healthcare, of affordable and stable housing, of parks and public spaces, of transit and the free movement of people, of economic stability for the many. Concentrating resources in the hands of police serves to defend the extreme accumulation of wealth and power by corporations and the very rich.
What do cops do with their increased budgets and their carte blanche from politicians? They kill people, every single day. They incarcerate and traumatize schoolchildren, parents, loved ones who are simply struggling to survive. We must not settle for a society organized recklessly upon the values of violence, racism, greed, and careless indifference to life.
The struggle that is playing out in Atlanta is a contest for the future. As the catastrophic effects of climate change hammer our communities with hurricanes, heat waves, and forest fires, the stakes of this contest are clearer than ever. It will determine whether those who come after us inherit an inhabitable Earth or a police state nightmare. It is up to us to create a peaceful society that does not treat human life as expendable.
The forest defenders are trying to create a better world for all of us. We owe it to the people of Atlanta and to future generations everywhere to support them.
Here are some ways to support the defense of the forest in Atlanta:
Over the past week, police have taken brutal steps to suppress ecological movements in Europe and the United States. In Germany, police evicted and destroyed the long-occupied village of Lützerath in a massive operation in order to expand an ecologically devastating open pit coal mine. Today, in Atlanta, Georgia, police murdered a person in the course of their efforts to evict and destroy the Weelaunee Forest.
Those who stood up to the police in Lützerath are fighting for a future for all human beings and living things. Whatever immediate justifications capitalist profiteers may offer for seeking to extract and burn more coal, keeping the earth inhabitable is more important.
Likewise, we are deeply moved by the courage of those who continue to defend the forest in Atlanta, even after police have demonstrated that they will commit murder to evict it. If our species is able to survive the ecological catastrophe that industrial capitalism is bringing about, it will chiefly be due to the courage of such brave and selfless individuals.
In the following photoessay, a witness of the events in Lützerath documents the clashes that unfolded between police and climate activists.
We have also prepared a poster identifying the responsibility of the authorities for the ongoing catastrophes inflicted by industrially driven climate change.
The following photographs are from January 9 to 13, documenting the eviction.
The tunnel posed the police significant problems during the assault. Eventually, the corporation RWE redefined the eviction as a “rescue operation” in order to force the fire department to be responsible for evicting the activists.
The two activists who occupied the tunnel delayed the eviction for several days. After at least four days in the tunnel, the activists exited more or less voluntarily. When they did so, they were the last occupants of Lützerath.
Geräumte Träume, “evicted dreams, “ is a pun in German. The destruction of the occupation of Lützerath clears the way for the fossil fuel industry to wreak more havoc on the climate, but this place was also a partially realized effort to create an alternative model showing what life could be without the violence of police and the pressure to compete within capitalism. In that regard, the eviction also represents an attack on an attempt to demonstrate the virtues of a life free of domination.
Immediately after the eviction of Eckhardt’s farm, the last official residence in Lützerath, police demolished the yard in order to destroy any symbols of resistance. The surrounding houses were destroyed over the following days.
Many of the security guards and workers employed by RWE in the demolition arrived in Germany as migrants or come from Eastern European countries.
On Saturday, January 14, more than 35,000 people particapated in a demonstration against the eviction of Lützerath.
Immediately after arriving at the rally site, participants made their way to the fence around Lützerath. Spontaneously, many attempted to break through the police lines. Police responded by brutally striking demonstrators, often aiming for their heads. In what appears to be a new police tactic, many officers made a point of manually striking demonstrators directly in the larynx, so that these assaults might appear to be mere “pushing” when captured by the cameras of photojournalists.
After the police managed to stop the first attempt to break through their lines, organized groups joined in the confrontations and succeeded in pushing the first line of cops back to the fence.
There, the second wave also came to a halt.
After the clashes of January 14, footage circulated widely showing a person dressed as a monk—popularly dubbed the “mud wizard”—facing off with hapless riot police. See appendix I for more details about the international adventures of this mysterious figure.
For Tuesday, January 17, the alliance Lützerath Unräumbar (“Lützerath cannot be evicted”) called for decentralized actions.
One action group occupied the rails that supply coal to the coal power plant Neurath II.
At the same time, people occupied a coal excavator in the Inden open pit mine and one in the Hambach open pit mine.
A group called The Last Generation blocked RWE access roads, while another group blocked RWE trucks with a sit-in blockade.
At Lützerath, some people attempted to break out of a demonstration surrounded by police to reach the fence.
In Düsseldorf, Extinction Rebellion mobilized in front of the Ministry of the Interior.
Footage circulated widely showing a person dressed as a monk—popularly dubbed the “mud wizard”—facing off with hapless riot police during the clashes in Lützerath on January 14.
In fact, this mysterious figure had already appeared in 2018, during the defense of the ZAD (the “Zone to Defend,” a longtime occupied area where the residents blocked the construction of an airport) at Notre-Dame-des-Landes.
According to le Monde, the police ambushed the monk among a group of other defenders. The monk threw buckets of water at the police, proclaiming “I baptize you in the name of the ZAD!” In the ensuing chaos, he made off with one of their batons.
Reportedly, at the ZAD, the same monk was later seen chanting “disarm them” with the liberal retirees while holding the baton he had taken from the cops.
Victory to the mud wizards! Defend the earth!
In response to the police violence in Lützerath and Atlanta, we have prepared a poster identifying the responsibility of the authorities for the ongoing catastrophes inflicted by industrially driven climate change.
As climate change approaches the point of no return, remember—after September 11, 2001, the FBI declared that environmental activists were enemy #1.
As temperatures soar, remember how politicians passed legislation to protect fossil fuel profiteers.
As hurricanes pummel the coast, remember how the cops swabbed pepper spray into protesters’ eyes.
As flash floods destroy towns, remember all the people they brutalized at Standing Rock.
As forests go up in smoke, remember how riot police charged the crowds so they could expand the open-pit mine at #Lutzerath.
As the polar ice caps melt, remember how prosecutors charged young people with terrorism for trying to protect the environment that we all depend on.
Remember who is responsible.
If not for their violence, we could have dealt with the ones who are driving climate change long ago.
In return for a few dollars, they are forcing the end of the world on us.
In response to the efforts of various fascists and billionaires to silence and isolate us, we present this poster in the romantic tradition of the first generation of CrimethInc. projects—a gesture of faith in the boundless possibilities that remain ahead of us and of determination to continue to build and rebuild the ties that connect us. Our collective predates the era of social media. We have lived through many waves of repression, many setbacks. Our enthusiasm remains undimmed.
Their attempts to silence and separate us—to make us vulnerable to repression and attack, to hold us back and keep us down—will never be more powerful than our love and joyous anarchy.
When they isolated us in our homes and towns,
we found and built communities online.
When they kicked us out of class and put us in detention,
we carved love letters and memoirs into the wooden desktops.
When they cut the power to our basement punk shows,
we screamed without electric amplification: “Rather be alive!”
When they shut down the abandoned warehouses that we had brought back to life,
we partied in the desert and in underground storm tunnels using generators.
When they evicted and abandoned us,
we built networks of mutual aid and community self-defense.
When they dismantled our pirate radio station,
we installed a bigger antenna and sailed farther out to sea.
When they banned us from social media sites,
we reconvened on decentralized and encrypted platforms.
If ever you think you’ve lost me, just go where flowers grow. I will too. And we’ll always find each other again.
— Love and joy
CrimethInc. Star-Crossed Romantics
On Saturday, January 12, 2002, hundreds of neo-Nazis gathered in York, Pennsylvania to promote white supremacy. Anarchists and other opponents of fascism throughout the region mobilized to prevent them from achieving their purpose.
As usual, the police did everything they could to protect the neo-Nazis. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, officers arrested 25 people, “all but two of them anti-racists.” Nevertheless, the anti-fascists made common cause with locals and sent the fascists packing from York.
Twenty-one years later, a participant in the battle of York recounts the clashes of that day and reflects on what has changed since then, comparing the events in York with those in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.
The following account is adapted from a forthcoming memoir on PM Press, entitled The Anarchist International. You can read more from the same author here.
It was the year 2002 and I was in an anarchist organization. The attacks of September 11, 2001 four months earlier had put a damper on many of the movements we had participated in, clearing the way for jingoistic patriotism and warmongering. Nonetheless—for precisely that reason—we were determined to continue our efforts at full throttle.
One of our focuses was combatting fascist organizing. Our print publication, Barricada, was militantly and vocally anti-fascist. We regularly mobilized against fascist rallies and events. We included a “Bloody Nazi of the Month” picture section in our publication, in which we outed the names, addresses, and license plates of fascists.
The Nazis were hailing their upcoming gathering in York, Pennsylvania as a “great unifying rally,” with confirmed attendance from the infamously violent Eastern Hammerskins as well as the two leading racist organizations of that time, the National Alliance and the World Church of the Creator. They had called for a rally and a public meeting at the city library in York because the city was embroiled in a controversy regarding the involvement of Mayor Charles Robertson in a 1969 race riot that had culminated in the death of a young Black woman at the hands of a white mob. Robertson, who had been a police officer in 1969, had finally been arrested and charged with her murder. Despite the arrest and charges, Mr. Robertson refused to resign, outraging York’s African-American community. The white supremacists were rallying to his defense, and Matthew Hale, leader of the World Church of the Creator, was to be the “keynote speaker.”
By 2002, Matt Hale and his organization, the World Church of the Creator, had been growing steadily for several years. Hale had appeared in several television interviews, where he could be seen wiping his feet with an Israeli flag as he entered his home, proclaiming himself Pontificus Maximus [sic] of his “church,” and promoting “The White Man’s Bible,” calling for “rahowa,” short for “Racial Holy War.” Their flag was red with a white circle in the middle bearing a “W” instead of a swastika.
Today, Matthew Hale is serving a 40-year prison sentence for attempting to solicit an undercover FBI informant to murder a federal judge. His organization has been superseded by a series of other such groups. But in 2002, anti-fascists had to take him and the World Church of the Creator seriously alongside the National Alliance, another of the most dangerous fascist organizations of that time.
We had already had the pleasure of meeting some of these fine representatives of the Aryan race a few months earlier in Wallingford, Connecticut. In fact, the mobilization to counter their public meeting at the Wallingford Public Library had been so successful that many people were skeptical that it would be possible to accomplish much in terms of direct confrontation in York. A small contingent of primarily Boston anti-fascists had mobilized to Wallingford; upon arriving at the library, they were pleasantly surprised to see that the police had failed to create any kind of physical division between the Nazis who had assembled outside and the growing crowd of anti-fascist protestors. Afterwards, we hypothesized that this was due to the fact that the New England area had experienced a lull in public fascist organizing, so local police were unprepared for militant anti-fascist opposition, black blocs at that time being largely reserved for summits and party conventions.
The Hartford Courant described the events:
1:30 p.m. — A large group of protesters surges into the parking lot. Many have scarves and handkerchiefs covering their faces.
“Racist, sexist, anti-gay! Matt Hale, go away!” they chant. A young man briefly tussles with a Hale supporter. A police officer reaches in. “Hey, watch it! Watch it!” the cop yells.
Many of the protesters are college students. They carry signs that read “Racial harmony not racial holy war.” They are from Boston, Washington, and Philadelphia. Some are members of the Connecticut Global Action Network, which also organized during the Seattle protests against the World Bank last fall. Another group of activists from Boston describes itself as “an anarchist collective.
“Large” was a generous descriptor; the bloc numbered somewhere between 25 and 40 people. As the cops watched this small but tight-knit black bloc advance swiftly towards the racists holding neo-Nazi and confederate flags, they remained surprisingly passive. Never inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth, the anti-fascists quickly charged the racists. The ensuing brief but lively confrontation resulted in the Nazis losing several flags and gaining a few injuries. Police eventually intervened with pepper spray to break up the mêlée, rescuing the “Pontificus Maximus” in the back of a police cruiser.
Matthew Hale returned to Wallingford a month later. This time, those who turned out to oppose him faced a radically different scenario. Despite the New York Times and other outlets reporting that there had been only “minor scuffles,” police had no desire to lose control again. This time, as one reporter put it, “police preparations that were made days ahead of time—including dug-in telephone pole barricades and blocks of concrete the size of cars—kept Hale supporters and protesters apart.”
If memory serves, I believe there were police officers armed with pepper ball guns mounted on elevated platforms along the perimeter of the barricades.
We organized in a network of perhaps 50 or 60 comrades, mostly comprised of anti-fascists from Columbus, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. We ourselves had coordinated privately beforehand in a tight-knit group, primarily consisting of NEFAC [Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists] and ARA [Anti-Racist Action] groups. We saw these joint mobilizations as an opportunity to work with others outside our immediate circles in order to build an anarchist fighting force that could mobilize swiftly and discreetly.
We had just stepped out of the strip mall parking lot that we had chosen as our meeting point and into the outskirts of York when somebody yelled out, “Oh shit, look at that truck!”
We couldn’t believe our eyes. There was a red pickup truck about 30 meters away from us, like any other except for the distinctive decal on its rear bumper: the upside-down peace sign of the National Alliance. As we began to move towards them, the Nazis yelled something and sped off, tires screeching dramatically as they made their escape. A few of us made commendable yet futile attempts to reach the truck as they ran the light. Sadly, no amount of youth, training, enthusiasm, or political analysis can enable you to match the speed of an automobile on foot.
We had just resigned ourselves to this when the red pickup truck reappeared, having apparently circled the block. Just then, the light at the corner turned red, trapping the Nazis between other stopped vehicles! Five or six of us sprinted toward them once more. Glass shattered and the inside of the truck was generously doused with pepper spray.
Barricada describes the ensuing confrontation thus:
“At this point, the two Nazis, the bravest of the day, decided to jump out of the car and confront the crowd, the driver wielding a baton in his hand. As he faced off with one anti-fascist, others circled around him and attacked his car from the front. At one point, however, taking advantage of a distraction, the driver jumped back into his vehicle and sped away, leaving his passenger to dive into the back of the pickup already in motion (a true “Great Moments in White Pride” scene). The driver of the truck was later identified as Jeff Omasta, of Edgewood, Maryland.”
This skirmish, while emboldening, also drew us a police escort, in the form of a squad of riot cops on foot. They didn’t seem to be seeking a confrontation, nor did they appear to have any intention of carrying out arrests. They consistently kept a distance of a half block or more. We deduced that their objective was to keep us out of York’s inner city and away from the library.
Being tight-knit and well-organized, we managed to outmaneuver and outrun them. With the cops between us and the library, we marched the other direction, then turned and moved as fast as possible down the next parallel street back toward the city. The cops figured out what we were doing and tried to cut us off at the next intersection, but it was too late.
A preacher was loudly preaching “the white man’s gospel” at the police barricade in front of the city library. He was waving a copy of “The White Man’s Bible” around, the way a regular bible thumper might brandish the Good Book. He kept on yelling right in front of a wall of cops as a mob of black-clad masked anti-fascists approached him.
The York Daily Record describes the scene:
The anarchists wound up at the intersection of East Market and Duke streets, where police had erected a barricade. As they milled in the street, a man who said his name was John King and identified himself as a World Church of the Creator member from Virginia held up a copy of the church’s holy book, “The White Man’s Bible,” and taunted the anarchists… One of the protesters snatched his book and threw it in the street.
“Can I have my book back?” King asked. He looked at several police officers nearby for help, but they responded with a look that said King was on his own.”
Indeed, without word or violence but in plain view of the cops, I had relieved him of his “bible.” The cover promised it to be “a powerful religious creed and program for the survival, expansion, and advancement of the white race.” A must-read for an inquisitive Jew such as myself!
He began yelling to the cops that he had been robbed. The newspaper, while wrong about the “bible” being tossed into the street, is indeed correct that none of them intervened. We took note of this: it was the second indication of the day that they were not keen on a confrontation. I tucked the book inside my jacket and schlepped it with me all day rather than doing the safe thing and throwing it into the nearest garbage can. You could blame the football hooligan culture I grew up around for the “trophy hunter” mentality, but displaying of confiscated fascist propaganda after the fact sends a powerful message to both friend and foe alike. I consider it a valid political tool.
Once we had reached the vicinity of the library, after the incident with the preacher, there were a few minutes of aimless milling around as we discussed what our next steps should be, as we assumed most Nazis were probably already inside the building. At this point, a group of three men caught our attention. They were youngish, probably late twenties or so, muscular build, short cropped hair, no distinguishing patches or visible tattoos, one of them wearing a bomber jacket, all of them eyeing us suspiciously. After a bit of hesitation, they began moving towards the police barricades in order to enter the library.
Being the inquisitive and friendly kids that we were, we thought it would be proper to have a quick chat with them first.
“Hey hey hey, what’s the rush?”
“Are you a Nazi?”
“Are you looking for your friends inside?”
We asked the basic icebreakers while blocking the way. All the attention and questions must have made them a little shy, because they didn’t seem to want to chat with us. Suddenly, one of the comrades lost patience—frustrated with their lack of social skills, no doubt—and a flagpole struck the head of one of them with a loud “crack.”
In that instant, one of them whipped around while putting his hand in his jacket. I distinctly remember thinking “Oh shit, gun.” Maybe the comrade with the bulletproof vest hadn’t been exaggerating about the risk. This was Pennsylvania, after all.
Then we realized that the shiny metal object in his hand wasn’t a gun—it was a police badge! Oops. Honestly, I wasn’t sure which was worse. It was a cartoonishly comical moment as all of us who were a split second behind the quick-drawing comrade with the flagpole strike to the head turned away mid-movement like vampires who had just been flashed a cross. Not our finest “Let’s try to not antagonize the cops too much today” moment. But somehow, miraculously, without further consequence.
Still, seeing as how the Nazis were already inside, the area was full of cops, and it probably wasn’t a great strategy to whack cops over the head with blunt objects and then hang around to see what happened next, we decided that was probably our cue to move along. Our time around the library had also allowed some stragglers and unorganized groups to join the bloc. There were now closer to a hundred of us. We decided to march around the area looking for stray Nazis.
“What are those flags?” A friend from DC pointed to the end of the next block ahead of us. In the distance, we could see several flags, mostly bearing red and black colors. My comrade turned to one of the anti-fascists from Philadelphia: “Are we missing anybody?”
“I don’t think so, all the groups are accounted for. And if it were just individuals, there wouldn’t be that many and they wouldn’t have all those flags.”
As we approached, we got a clearer look. They were not red and black flags, but rather red, black, and white…
Then the swastikas came into view.
According to the Barricada article, “Victory in York,”
“We had accidentally stumbled upon a parking lot full of Hammerskins. Almost immediately, the bloc broke out into a run in order to reach the thirty or forty Hammerskins before the police could rush in to save them. However, the few moments of hesitation were enough to allow the police to set up a dividing line between the Hammerskins and the anti-fascists.”
Perhaps some of the US comrades were more accustomed to this, but for me, as a foreigner, it was a shocking sight. I had seen a swastika here or there in other countries, in photographs of clandestine Nazi shows or on some bonehead’s patch or tattoo. But since they are illegal throughout Europe and South America, I had never in my life witnessed a group of Nazis standing in the street with enormous swastika flags. They looked like real-life incarnations of the cartoon cliché of a Nazi bonehead, uniformly sporting shaved heads, bomber jackets, and steel-toed boots.
As a militant anti-fascist with an intellectual understanding of the past horrors of fascism and the dangers that it currently poses, I have made fighting fascists a more or less central aspect of my adult life. But I am also the grandson of Jewish refugees from Germany. I grew up on the stories my grandfather told me about not being allowed to ride the train to school because he was not “Aryan,” about the yellow star he had to wear. His father, my own great grandfather, was a decorated German soldier who had been wounded in World War I. They were fully assimilated Germans first, Jewish second. My grandfather told me that his father, this veteran of war, could not bring himself to understand that “his” country would turn on them like that, that they were no longer “German” but “other,” just “Jews.” In 1937, after my grandfather received a particularly vicious beating from a group of Hitler Youth, my great grandfather finally decided to take his family to Paraguay.
So my antifascism is practical and personal as well as intellectual. The sight of a swastika-waving mob standing smugly behind the shelter of a police line inspired a visceral rage that to this day I don’t feel I can adequately articulate.
But as far as I could tell, we had reached an impasse. The police were between us, protecting the Nazis.
“Hey, are you seeing all these people?!”
I turned to the person asking, a friend from the Midwest with whom I had shared more than a few scenes of combat with over the preceding year. Sometimes, you lose the forest for the trees; I had been staring at the swastika enthusiasts for the last hour or so, losing track of the rest of my surroundings. When I finally turned to look behind me, I saw a sight as surprising as it was inspiring. Whereas previously, we had been a group of less than one hundred black bloc anarchists, we were now part of a crowd of perhaps five hundred people. There were people of all ages—some white, but mostly Black and Latino/Latina. People in the neighborhood had heard what was going on and had come out to see for themselves.
She and I started to mingle with the crowd. A lot of them were not sure what to make of the mob of weird kids in ski masks. We engaged in conversation where we could. Whether because she was a woman or simply because she was friendly and articulate, most people seemed to be more inclined to engage with her. For my part, I made a point of talking with those I heard speaking Spanish. From our interactions as well as from the snippets of conversations we caught among locals, it was clear that word was getting around to the effect that the people in black were the good guys and gals.
“Up the street, Louise McCarthy, a legal assistant, watched warily from her stoop. She thought the white supremacists should have met in the square—”out in the open”—instead of in the library. A passerby told McCarthy he hoped there wouldn’t be any trouble. McCarthy responded: “I hope (the protesters) beat the s— out of them.”
Another conversation captured by the increasingly incredulous York Daily Record reporter went similarly: “That’s the good crowd. They’re going stand up to those people. I appreciate that.”
I don’t remember a single conversation or incident that day involving concerns about protecting the free speech of Nazis, or the idea that violence would make us just as bad as the Nazis, or any other liberal horseshoe-theory-of-extremism nonsense. This was a multi-racial working-class neighborhood and the mood was combative: Nazis out! That would have been enough to make for an inspiring experience, with the headline in next month’s Barricada declaring “Local Community and Anarchists Confront Nazis; Nazis Cower Behind Police Protection.” But it would have ended there, had it not been for the energy and initiative of the local youth.
It’s important not to repeat white racist tropes depicting young people of color as inherently dangerous. Those pave the way for racist vigilantes to stalk and murder youth of color on the streets when they try to purchase Skittles or go jogging. At the same time, it’s fair to say that some of the young people who joined us that day were no strangers to violence.
At first, there was a small group of five or ten. They started calling their friends, and before we knew it, a solid forty to fifty combative locals, mostly in their teens or early twenties, had gathered alongside us.
As if on cue, either the Nazis or the cops decided it was time to go and they both began moving up the street and into an alleyway leading to the parking lot. This generated excitement and commotion, but there was still a solid police line separating us. The locals proposed a solution: “This way, this way! We can get into that alleyway from the other side!” We sprinted along behind them, a hundred people strong. Within seconds, we were face to face with the Nazis, who had no cops to protect them this time.
The ensuing confrontation was intense. Boots, fists, and flagpoles flew in every direction. The police swiftly intervened, but not before several Nazis received bloody noses and someone on our side suffered a broken elbow.
As we withdrew before the ensuing police charge, I saw my comrade stumble as a police officer caught up with him. It seemed to me that the officer had the upper hand—but at the last minute, my friend regained his footing and sped away.
“Dude, when we were on the ground, you know what that cop said to me? ‘Go, go, go, get out of here.’” Evidently, at least some of the cops had decided that we were the lesser of the two evils that day.
We regrouped and got our bearings. We still numbered a good fifty or sixty. The Hammerskins were in the street, while the cops had pushed us back into the open-air parking lot… the parking lot full of the Nazis’ vehicles! If only they could see the grins beneath our ski masks. We began playing an energetic adaptation of“Where’s Waldo?”—Spot the Nazi’s car and remove the windows. The merry music of smashing glass resounded in the parking lot while the Nazis watched helplessly from the street.
From the Barricada article “Victory in York”:
Eventually, the police decided to try to usher the Hammerskins out through the other side of the alley, halfway down the intersecting street. Once again, the local youths led the way at full speed and directed the out-of-town anti-fascists to the exact spot where the Nazis were to be found, once again, without police to defend them. Several dozen Hammerskins with swastika flags, and one in a white pickup truck, faced off against a significantly larger number of black bloc anarchists and local African-American and Latino youths. After instants of hesitation, during which all sorts of debris flew, the anti-fascists charged full speed into the Hammerskins who, in another display of “White Pride and Bravery,” retreated quickly behind police lines, losing a large swastika flag in the process.
The confrontation was extremely violent and, for lack of a better word, intimate. The setting, an urban alleyway, had a kind of modern day West Side Story charm. We were in hand-to-hand combat. On both sides, you could see people nursing injuries, visibly bloodied, although the Nazis definitely got the worst of it.
I would be lying if I said that I feared for my safety at the time. I wasn’t thinking about any such thing. But there is a significant distinction between a confrontation with the repressive arm of the state and a confrontation with fascists. In a street confrontation, while a police officer will usually respond within certain parameters and protocols of engagement, this is not the case with fascists. If you are at a demonstration and push against a line of police, the chances are slim that one of them will pull out a knife and stab you in the heart. This is not the case with fascists, who can and will kill you.
But the inverse is true, as well. When we engage in confrontations with police, because our tax dollars have paid for tons of expensive protective gear for them, the chances of inflicting serious injury are relatively slim. Moreover, at least in my case, my opposition to the cop is based on the mercenary role he plays perpetuating capitalism and the state. From my perspective, the individual cop is not necessarily a hateful villain. I am fighting what he is paid to defend, not necessarily him as an individual.
This is not true of the fascist. As an individual, the fascist is my enemy. He is a bigot with ideas that are diametrically opposed to mine. His victory means danger and death to vulnerable, marginalized, and excluded communities and individuals. It means danger and death to me personally as a Jewish person. There is nothing ritualized or symbolic about our confrontations with fascists.
I take great pride in my role in standing up to violent racists, that day in York and elsewhere around the globe. In that clash, I became the proud owner of a swastika flag to go with my “White Man’s Bible.” Some Nazi tried to hit me with his flagpole, foolishly using the side with the flag on it as the business end of the weapon, and was promptly relieved of both flag and flagpole. If ever you must use a flagpole with a flag on it as a weapon, wrap the flag tight around it and strike with non-flag side towards your opponent.
But ideally, don’t use flagpoles as weapons. Try to resolve your differences amicably. Violence is bad.
We live in a world that is structured around the threat of violence, implicit or explicit. It is not surprising that attempts to change the world often lead to violent confrontations. It should also not be surprising if these are necessary when it comes to opposing the adherents of genocidal ideologies.
Which brings us to the next point that often comes up in regards to confrontations with Nazis—the issue of fear. Those who applauded what we did but who didn’t feel capable of doing it themselves sometimes described us as “brave.” I can’t speak for others, but in my case, this notion of “bravery” didn’t apply to me. I understand bravery as taking action despite fear. But whether because of my personality, my political fanaticism, or for some other reason, I felt no fear for my own well-being. Somehow, the idea that I could be significantly injured or even killed in a confrontation never crossed my mind, despite my having seen several comrades fall. In my eyes, I was simply taking my convictions to their natural—and to me obligatory—conclusion, using my body as a tool against fascists, state, and capital.
What happened next shocks me more today than it did back then, now that I am a little older and a lot more appreciative of the fragility of human life. And I can no longer think of York without thinking of Charlottesville and what happened to Heather Heyer.
Whether panicking or simply seizing the opportunity to murder people he considered less than human, the Nazi in the aforementioned white pickup truck hit the gas, driving into the crowd at full speed. As in Charlottesville, where people were penned in by the cars parked on both sides of the road, we were penned in the alleyway, with nothing but wall to either side of us. My comrades and I were fortunate enough to dodge the oncoming truck, but one anti-fascist was not. Incredibly, he suffered nothing more than a dislocated shoulder.
The Nazi also struck a twelve-year-old local girl. She required hospitalization to treat her injuries, but miraculously, she escaped permanent physical injury.
From an anonymous street medic’s eyewitness account:
Then I heard somebody scream, “MEDIC!” I went back into the insanity behind me to find that a girl around I would assume was 10-14 years old had been sideswiped by the truck that had minutes before been driven through the crowd. Another medic on the scene was doing what little she could for the girl, such as keeping her calm and treating for shock, as I dialed 911 on my cell phone. I was put through to the dispatcher and requested EMT backup and an ambulance. Waiting for the ambulance to arrive, we were approached by around 20 riot cops who proceeded to harass us, asking us what we were doing there. We told them that we were medics, but they continued to harass us. An unidentified woman who knew the girl who was hit (I don’t know if the woman was her mother or aunt or just a friend) was standing up against a building behind the injured girl, screaming at the police, asking how they could let this happen. The ambulance then drove up and a medic got out and began to check the injured girl. The cops grabbed the screaming woman as the medic was working on the girl and the cops started a fight right over the girl who had been hit by the truck. As the woman fought back, several black bloc members rushed the cops and attempted to pull them off. One of the black bloc members in a valiant attempt to free the woman tackled a cop and was then grabbed by three other riot officers. As they pinned him down and got the cuffs out, the cops were hit again, and the bloc member was yanked up and flung into the crowd and disappeared. Watching this, it was then that I noticed the ambulance fleeing the scene. Everyone was screaming at them because they left the girl at the scene.
Imagine if that little girl had been killed. Obviously, a rational analysis would have us conclude that the responsibility lay squarely with the homicidal Nazi who saw a bunch of anarchists and a young Black girl and decided to treat them like bowling pins. But to what extent would we have been indirectly responsible for contributing to the situation?
The Nazi’s truck stalled about half a block down the road. Once again, people attacked him. He lost all his windows, and then as he continued trying to flee he struck both a police officer and his vehicle. The cop gave him quite a beating before proceeding to arrest him. (Baltimore Nazi Richard Desper’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day ended with four counts of aggravated assault and one count of reckless driving.)
That was the point at which things started to get insane. The cops completely lost control of the situation, as several groups of ten to twenty people hunted Nazis around the city as they tried to make their escape.
Our group quickly encountered yet another white pickup truck (apparently the racists’ vehicle of choice) with a bonehead girl wearing a Skrewdriver scarf standing by it. Skrewdriver was the band led by the late Ian Stuart, who rose to international fame among racist youth thanks to catchy and poetic masterpieces such as “White Power,” “White Warriors,” “Race and Nation,” and “Blood and Honor” In 1993, Mr. Stuart was fatally attacked by a tree while driving, in yet another heinous act of anti-white racism.
One of us unsuccessfully attempted to relieve her of her scarf. She scrambled into the passenger’s side of the truck. A flagpole came crashing down on her hand as she closed the door. The driver sped away, but stopped less than half a block away.
Again, all the windows were smashed. One of the local kids grabbed the driver with both hands and tried to pull him out the window of the truck. Failing that, he proceeded to strike him repeatedly. I moved around to the passenger side, thrusting half my body through the window. And this is where I probably should have died.
The next image in my mind is that of a handgun pressed firmly against my masked forehead. The driver had recovered and was looking straight at me while pressing the gun against my face. In that moment, my only reaction was to call out “Gun!” in order to give my comrades fair warning. I pushed myself back out of the cab, then proceeded to attack again, but from the rear window, trying to stay out of view and ideally out of the way of a possible shot. Somehow, the idea that I was in potentially mortal danger didn’t even cross my mind, although I reflected that the comrade who had worn a bulletproof vest might not have been overprepared after all. Aside from that, the incident did nothing to make us think that “Hey, maybe that was enough for today.”
On the contrary. We continued ambushing cars and trucks full of racists around the city. The only explanation I can come up with as to why neither I nor any of my comrades were shot that day is that the racist right have gained confidence and combativeness over the two decades since.
After the gun incident, our next encounter was with a van full of World Church of the Creator “White Berets,” the so-called defense forces of the WCOTC. They briefly exited the vehicle as if to confront us, then jumped right back in and sped off as the van’s windshield caved in. I can’t possibly imagine that these people were not armed, yet they didn’t even brandish a firearm as a dissuasive measure.
The Nazis we fought at York were representatives of the largest and most violent fascist organizations of that time. To us, York was a momentous battle. A gathering of well over a hundred Nazis in the Northeast was an exceptional and worrying event, but it ended with them being run out of the city.
Yet when I look at footage from Charlottesville, I can’t avoid the conclusion that our enemy at York was almost harmless compared to the fascists who gathered in Charlottesville in 2017. I’ve been involved in anti-fascism for over twenty years and on three continents, including a ten-year stint in Germany where there are indeed a large number of fascists. But what I saw in Charlottesville terrified me.
Besides the issue of numbers—as the gathering in Charlottesville was significantly larger than the one in York—the main distinction is in the confidence of the fascists and how common it has become among them not only to brandish firearms, but also to use them offensively. Their movement has normalized the mass murder of those who don’t fit into their vision of a white ethno-state—not just as fantasy, but in tangible acts, as evidenced by the regularity of white supremacist killing sprees, now indubitably the most significant “domestic terror” threat in the United States.
In the decade and a half between the fascist rallies in York and Charlottesville, fascists successfully regrouped and rebranded, emboldened beyond their wildest dreams by the political developments of those years—including a president who acted as their cheerleader-in-chief.
The white supremacist lunatic fringe of the 1990s and early 2000s seems to have effectively merged with the much larger and politically powerful movement of “white grievance.” White grievance and the conscious or subconscious defense of whiteness as a dominant force in society was the driving force behind Trump’s appeal. Capitalism has exacerbated this, as declining economic conditions leave white workers more susceptible to a reactionary analysis, and the failure of the “left” to fill that void doesn’t help. But the experience of racial privilege and the fear of losing it remains a driving force in the reactionary drift in US society.
Organized white supremacists have been effectively harnessing that sentiment and positioning themselves as faithful vanguard of Trumpism. They may be relatively few in number, but they are filling several key roles. They are its shock troops on the streets—but just as significantly, they are the main driving force behind attempts to normalize the racist attitudes that had begun to shift to the margins of society thanks to decades of anti-racist struggle. The backlash against “political correctness” represents an attempt to re-legitimize racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and reactionary attitudes and language that had been successfully marginalized through decades of struggle.
I don’t have a particular solution to propose. Far from it. I hated the “veteran of battles past gives lessons to youth” speeches when old-timers subjected us to them. If anything, I would simply make a broad argument for the continued urgency and necessity of militant anti-fascism on all fronts. I would also encourage and applaud efforts to improve our training and capacity for collective defense, so that we can deny the fascists any easy victories and keep ourselves safe at the same time. As a comrade pointed out to me after York, “We may be the good guys, but we aren’t bulletproof.”
We drove away from York that day feeling powerful, happy, and emboldened. It didn’t hurt that we had a nine-hour drive during which to rehash every detail of what we had just experienced.
The Nazis had attempted a show of force. Instead, they had sustained several injuries, lost several flags, had their vehicles smashed, and been chased out of town. This wasn’t exactly new—something similar had happened to them in Wallingford, Connecticut and Peoria, Illinois. But it felt important to us at that moment.
In the United States, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, we were increasingly isolated against the growing chorus of people claiming “now is not the time for militance”—be they reformists claiming that protest was somehow disrespectful or former allies calling for a supposedly strategic withdrawal from the streets. In Barricada, we kept proclaiming that this was no time to stop being combative, and we felt an obligation to lead by example. Our mobilization in York was already our second successful act of mass militance in the post-9/11 times. We had sustained a relatively low number of arrests and injuries. We were starting to believe that “just keep pushing no matter how hard the prevailing headwinds might be” wasn’t just the strategy that most appealed to our youthful enthusiasm and fanaticism, but might also be the correct approach.
That night, we felt great enthusiasm and optimism. Yet writing enthusiastically about anti-fascist victories is difficult today, when a lot of those same fascists and their ideas have now entered the mainstream. It is difficult to reconcile the idea that we acted correctly, both in terms of political analysis and tactics, with a reality in which racist and fascist movements are exponentially stronger than they were twenty years ago. Perhaps we must consider the possibility that we can give our very best, both analytically and tactically, yet still be defeated by historical forces much greater than ourselves. If there is any lesson from history that anarchists should be painfully aware of, it is and that a just idea or cause can be defeated, temporarily or permanently, for a variety of reasons.
I won’t attempt to analyze how racist and nationalist ideas have gained so much traction in the mainstream of society in the US and Europe. Does rainbow capitalism foment an identitarian reactionary backlash? Probably, as a “socially progressive” but economically reactionary society necessarily creates disenfranchised groups who will look for scapegoats and find them in the foreign worker or the darker-skinned neighbor. It is precisely for this reason that revolutionary anti-fascists have always insisted that there is no effective anti-fascist analysis without a critique of capitalism. Should we have focused more on the suit-and-tie fascists, on the racist and totalitarian ideas seeping into the mainstream of society, instead of on the marginal clowns waving swastika flags? I’m tempted to say so, but I suspect that this wouldn’t be fair to the anti-fascist struggles around Europe and the US in those days. It was and is right to confront fascists militantly as a matter of community self-defense. In France in the 1990s, we were already warning against the “lepenization des esprits,” which translates roughly to the “Le Penization of the mind” (Jean-Marie Le Pen being the leader of the far-right French National Front at that time). In the United States, militant anti-fascism has always gone hand in hand with a critique of systemic and institutionalized racism.
The victory in York was significant because it showcased the tremendous potential of spontaneous and organic cooperation between militant anti-fascists from around the region and local Black and Brown youth. Had it not been for them identifying us as allies and trusting us enough to fight beside us, January 12 would have ended in a forgettable standoff. Instead, their initiative and familiarity with the terrain carried the day. Aside from the fact that we had not conducted much outreach ahead of time, the events in York represented a glimpse of what engagement with local communities could look like when we communicated and acted in ways that potential allies could identify with, addressing issues that were relevant to their daily lives.
I’ll let the pages of a 2002 issue of Barricada speak for themselves:
…even more inspiring than the tactical victory of York for the anti-racist movement, are the political ramifications that the action has had. By working on a street level with the local working-class youth, and people of color of all ages, we have made important connections with people who generally fall outside of our demographic. In showing that we can put words into action, that we are willing to put ourselves on the line to stop neo-Nazis from rallying, and that we will use violence to drive them out, we have successfully legitimized ourselves in the eyes of these communities.
In doing so, we have opened the door to further dialogue and cooperation between us. Already, some comrades have discussed having our own anti-racist public meeting in York to help develop these ties. This is exactly what we should be doing now, and any means of facilitating greater connection between ourselves as anti-racists and as revolutionaries and the Black and Latino communities of York should be pursued. Now that we have proven ourselves militant anti-racists, we should seek to expand the debate around racism within York to include an analysis of systemic and institutional forms of racism and propose our own revolutionary anarchist solutions to them. However, the established order is seeking to co-opt our own militant anti-racism with their MTV-style “anti-racism,” which only serves to conceal the real sources of systemic discrimination and racism. We cannot allow our victory to end in a gain for neo-liberalism.
It is heartening to note that it was the working-class youth of York themselves who took the lead in attacking the neo-Nazis, and it was the anti-racist and anarchist activists who followed them, both physically and tactically. By rejecting a leadership role, and acting only as instigators of the street protest, the activists present allowed the situation to become intensely empowering for the locals in the streets, rather than hinder it as has been done at so many large protests in the last two years. While this is attributable only to the people of York, we should seek to replicate this in the future, if possible, by refusing to impose our own tactical decisions upon locals who join us in the streets.
Since the development of the “anti-globalization movement,” there has been a raging debate over why there is not greater participation from working-class communities in either that movement or revolutionary struggles in general in the United States. York, along with the Cincinnati rebellion last year, seem to go a long way in explaining this phenomenon. Clearly, people of color are not reluctant to engage in militant action and risk arrest, as many have claimed in the past, simply because they face higher risk of punishment than white youths. It seems painfully obvious now that when confronted with an issue that directly affects them, as the people of York were when neo-Nazis invaded their city, these communities are often the most militant and passionate about total resistance. In dealing with neo-Nazis, it is not likely that we will need to explain to anyone why they pose a threat to their safety; however, the lesson remains true to all political work we do: if working class people do not directly relate to the issue at hand, then they will not be inspired to fight in large numbers against it.
On January 8, 2023, far-right supporters of defeated former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro stormed government buildings in Brasília, apparently in grotesque imitation of the fiasco in which Donald Trump’s supporters did the same thing in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021. In the following report, our comrades in Brazil detail the trajectory leading up to these events and discuss the conundrums that opponents of fascism face in Brazil as a consequence.
Yesterday’s far-right incursion poses questions that anarchists and other anti-fascists must confront around the world.
Who is driving far-right efforts to escalate civil conflict and transform state institutions into a battlefield? While many in the United States have suggested the involvement of Steve Bannon, Brazil and Latin America in general have a long history of coups led by local military and right-wing forces and supported by centrists as well as conservatives within the United States government. Unlike Trump, Bolsonaro himself was absent from Brazil during the storming of the buildings, having fled before his presidential term ended. It is probably a mistake to reduce these events to the machinations of few autocrats.
Whoever was behind the incursion, why was the debacle of January 6, 2021 deemed successful enough to be worth repeating? Was the goal of the participants to seize power, to exert pressure on the incoming administration or provoke it into overreacting, to legitimize extra-legal tactics as a step toward building a fascist movement? Or is there no rational goal here, only the side effects of the campaign strategies of far-right demagogues, the increasing polarization of a fragmenting society, and the irresistible pull of memetic tactics?
How can the marginalized populations that are targeted by fascist movements mobilize to defend themselves without legitimizing the same institutions of state that both fascists and centrists employ against them? How can anarchists and others who are invested in profound social change prevent far-right “rebels” from monopolizing the way that the general public sees tactics that we, too, will need to use, albeit in pursuit of liberation?
We hope the following contribution will help our comrades to think through these questions.
Since the defeat of Jair Bolsonaro and the victory of Luís Inácio Lula da Silva by a margin of less than 2% in the Brazilian presidential elections of October 30, 2022, the mobilizations of the extreme right have been escalating in both scale and violence. Soon after the announcement of Lula’s victory, demonstrators camped out around army barracks and blockaded roads, contesting the election results and calling for military intervention. Many of these camps were equipped with chemical toilets, tents, and kitchens; they were financed by businessmen and politicians aligned with Bolsonarism and the extreme right. In November, the Federal Superior Court ordered that the accounts of some of the funders should be blocked, signing search and seizure warrants.
As we documented, truck drivers organized by employers’ groups blocked hundreds of roads across the country, benefitting from the indulgence of the Federal Highway Police (PRF). When these blockades were defeated, the momentum shifted to urban Bolsonarist movements, especially the encampments in front of military barracks. The camps that had begun with a more diverse character, including elderly people and children, became predominantly male, with the participants more willing to use force. Lynchings of people attempting to cross the blockades, kidnappings, and even torture of those who disagreed with their tactics or views became commonplace.
On the night of December 12, during the formal recognition of President Lula and his vice president Geraldo Alckmin as the winners of the election, the radicalized street base of Bolsonarism advanced one step further in a general rehearsal for the events of January 8. Groups that were camped in Brasília attacked a police station and the headquarters of the Federal Police. Bolsonaro supporters set fire to five buses and three cars in response to the arrest of an Indigenous man named Serere Xavante, an evangelical pastor and Bolsonarist. Xavante was accused of organizing towards a coup, making threats, and promoting attacks on the democratic rule of law; the Minister of the Federal Supreme Court, Alexandre de Moraes, ordered his arrest.
The Federal Supreme Court ordered the arrests of dozens of people involved in the pro-Bolsonaro demonstrations and in the financing of the camps. The left continued to bet that institutional repression would suffice to rein in the Bolsonaristas. Counting on laws and institutions that had done nothing to diminish the momentum of the far right left the streets open to fascist organizing. In general, despite the aforementioned arrests, the police and other authorities continued to treat the Bolsonarist movement permissively.
The image of a bus in flames—formerly a symbol of the fight against state repression and capitalist exploitation, seen in protests against the bus fare increase in 2013, the FIFA World Cup in 2014, and police violence in the urban periphery—is now associated with “right-wing terrorism.” The legalist and institutional left, represented by the incoming government, is adopting the role of “defender of law and order.”
Unable to bear electoral defeat, Bolsonaro left his supporters to fight on their own for his dream of a coup. On December 30, he departed for Orlando, Florida in the presidential plane with his entourage and family members; public money paid for everything. His vice-president, General Hamilton Mourão, became acting president, making a statement praising “the alternation of power in a democracy.”
The extreme right now sees both Bolsonaro and Mourão as traitors. But without Bolsonaro, Bolsonaristas only became more enraged and volatile.
On Christmas Eve 2022, the driver of a fuel truck found an explosive device in the vehicle and alerted the police. The author of the attempted attack, George Washington de Sousa, was arrested and confessed to intending to blow up the vehicle near the Brasília airport before Lula’s inauguration, in hopes of forcing still-president Bolsonaro to establish a state of siege. The authorities discovered a considerable stock of weapons in Washington de Sousa’s apartment; he claimed to have acquired these over the years, motivated by Bolsonaro’s speeches. This drew the attention of the authorities, including Lula’s incoming administration, to the ways that the Bolsonarist occupations were recruiting and radicalizing the far right.
On January 1, 2023, Lula was sworn in under tight security. This made him the only president elected three times by democratic vote in Brazil—and Bolsonaro the first president to fail to be re-elected, as well as the first president in the democratic era to refuse to pass on the presidential sash at an inauguration ceremony. The images of representatives of Indigenous peoples, workers, Black people, the disabled, and the excluded passing the banner to Lula circulated worldwide, signifying optimism—though palliative measures for a capitalist society in obvious decline will probably not offer much more than a brief superficial improvement before the collapse.
In any case, the feeling of calm after the “defeat of fascism at the polls” did not last even a week.
Although participation diminished after Lula assumed power, far-right protests and encampments continued. In the first days of January, Bolsonaro supporters called a demonstration for Sunday, January 8. Approximately 4000 people who had been protesting at the gates of the barracks in several cities around Brazil took chartered buses to the capital city of Brasília, joining forces for a mass demonstration repudiating Lula’s inauguration as president. The crowd included a large number of civil servants, employees of parliamentary representatives, and even deputy mayors of smaller cities. They claimed that the elections were rigged and that Lula was the head of a criminal gang seeking to embezzle money from Brazil to finance “communism.”
When the buses to the capital arrived, fascists dressed in the T-shirts of the Brazilian soccer team marched in the early afternoon, experiencing no interference or police harassment in a place that is usually heavily policed and difficult to access. They approached the buildings of the National Congress, the Federal Supreme Court, and the Palácio do Planalto (the presidential palace). These are the seats of the three federal powers of Brazil: legislative, judiciary, and executive. The demonstrators stormed the buildings, destroying windows, equipment, and furniture and damaging and stealing historic objects and rare works of art by Candido Portinari, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, and Victor Brecheret valued at millions of dollars. They stole documents and weapons from the Institutional Security Office on the ground floor of the Planalto Palace; this suggests the possibility that some of them had prior access to information about the location of these.
As in the events at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, the protesters filmed everything they did themselves, showing their faces and posting the footage live on social media without any concern about risk. Ironically, they carried off an action defying the very powers that many people had trusted would suffice to rid society of fascism after the election of a left-wing progressive government.
The invaders benefitted from the tacit support of the Military Police of the Federal District, commanded by Governor Ibaneis Rocha; they experienced no opposition or police repression for at least three hours. Police permitted them to enter the buildings. Only at 6 pm did the police manage to take some initiative and surround the buildings. Several videos show police officers taking selfies and laughing as protesters invaded Congress; others show police officers fraternizing with the Bolsonaristas inside the invaded buildings.
Only after 8 pm did police including the National Force—who are usually so eager to attack teachers, students, and Indigenous peoples—manage to peacefully “contain” the protest, arresting about 200 people. In videos, we see the police removing Bolsonaristas peacefully, with no injuries or deaths, despite the Brazilian police being arguably the most lethal in the world.
This institutional reaction only began when Lula, who was in a city in the interior of São Paulo, issued a decree of Federal Intervention in Public Security of the Federal District, naming the Secretary of Public Security of the Ministry of Justice, Ricardo Cappelli, as intervenor until January 31, 2023. In practice, this means removing the government police from the case (the Military Police and Civil Police) and handing the case over to the federal government police (the National Security Force and Federal Police). In the evening of January 8, the Minister of Justice and Public Security made a statement saying that investigations had been opened, the financiers of the buses had been identified, and that around 200 people had been arrested.
The Minister of Justice, Flávio Dino, a former judge and former governor of the state of Maranhão, also spoke, making a measured speech in which he tried to safeguard the legitimacy of the institutions of government, depicting the participants in the pro-Bolsonaro demonstrations as isolated radicals who would be treated as criminals, thereby emptying the event of political content while describing it as an attempted coup d’état. The Minister of the Supreme Court, Alexandre de Moraes, who had been active throughout Bolsonaro’s administration as a “guardian of the democratic institutional order,” also ordered the removal of the governor of the Federal District, a well-known supporter of Bolsonarism.
Today, the day after the events, the situation remains perplexing for the press and the authorities, despite the fact that the demonstration had been announced for months on Bolsonarist networks.
There are many similarities between the events of January 8, 2023 in Brazil and the events of January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. But there are also significant differences, starting with the political leadership of the fascists.
Jair Bolsonaro has always positioned himself as a supporter of Donald Trump, aligning himself with global far-right movements like those in Poland and Hungary. Bolsonaro has connections to Steve Bannon, who mentored Bolsonaro’s sons for the 2018 presidential campaign and claimed last year that Bolsonaro’s election was the second most important for his movement. After the defeat, Bannon and Trump advised Bolsonaro to contest the election result. Even so, it is not possible to say that there is direct interference from Bannon or the international extreme right.
The motivation for the two invasions of government buildings is also similar in the content of the supposed conspiracy: Bolsonaro supporters allege that the elections were rigged in favor of a globalist elite sympathetic to communism and China, with the objective of destabilizing nationalist governments in order to disseminate what they call “gender ideology,” encourage drug use, and promote the interests of international criminal cartels. Following the example of the alt-right elsewhere around the globe, they declare themselves liberal in their economic program and conservative in their cultural program. Thus, they claim to defend the traditional Christian family as a means to spread white supremacy, hatred of LGBTQI+ people, and anxiety about a supposed communist threat.
On both January 6, 2021 and January 8, 2023, a fascist mob claiming to be the true representatives of the people and refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the electoral process that defeated their candidate invaded the physical headquarters of the constituted powers to generate chaos in hopes of suspending the result of the elections.
After decades of democratic management, during which practically all parties accepted that as the only possible form of politics in the era of capitalist globalization, the extreme right has placed politics back in the field of dispute and confrontation. It is increasingly clear that the consensus built in the post-World War II period around the formula capitalism + liberal democracy + human rights, which ignored the contradictions and inequalities inherent in the capitalist and state system, has been broken. Significantly, it is the right that is betting on this rupture, explicitly endorsing civil war, while most of the left still cling to democratic institutions and the management of an increasingly precarious peace.
The events in Brazil differ from the events in the United States in that the Bolsonarists cohered around something older than the Trump cult, something that is specific to Brazilian political history: nostalgia for the dictatorship that was installed by a civil-military coup with the assistance of the United States in 1964 and allegiance to all the aspects of the dictatorship that persist in Brazilian society.
In the formulation of the psychoanalyst Tales Ab’Sáber: “What remains of the dictatorship in Brazil? Everything, except the dictatorship.”
Unlike what happened in the United States after the election of Biden, the Brazilian Armed Forces—comprised of officers trained in military schools permeated by the anti-communist discourse of the Cold War context and by the historical revisionism that calls the military civil coup the “‘64 revolution”—are a fundamental part of the coup movements. Social and electoral Bolsonarism involves numerous reserve officers from the army, navy, and air force. Active-duty officers barely disguise their support for the pro-Bolsonaro protesters; since 2014, they have made public statements expressing opposition to leftist parties and candidates. The most obvious proof of the support of the Armed Forces for the coup movements is their tolerance of the camps outside their barracks, which would certainly not have been accepted if the content of the demonstrations had been different.
In hopes of brokering a rapprochement within the institutions, the coalition led by the institutional left that won the elections of October appointed José Múcio to the Ministry of Defense—a right-wing politician who is a friend of the military, whose party (the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro) used the motto “God, Family, Homeland, and Liberty.” In his statement on the demonstrations, Lula admitted that the Minister of Defense had not acted to evict the occupations around the barracks.
What is happening today in Brazil shows the strength that the extreme right has gained over the past decade, capitalizing on a diffuse social fascism that has always existed in Brazilian society. The democratic institutions that were introduced with the 1988 Constitution of Brazil did not know how to defend themselves against this—or else did not desire to. We can see this from the very beginning, in the participation of the military in the process of reintroducing democratic elections in the 1980s and the “constitutional role” of the military as guarantors of state power.
The biggest shame for the left as a whole—and especially for those who consider themselves radicals—is that the government of Jair Bolsonaro and his militias has reorganized the entire state structure, dismantling public health, education, and environmental protections while targeting Black and Indigenous people, women, and LGBTQI+ people, all in the midst of a global pandemic that killed more people in Brazil than the per capita average worldwide. Yet we were unable to respond throughout those events—neither with a general strike, nor by shutting down cities and highways, nor by invading the president’s palace.
Now all of those actions, which we should have taken to defend ourselves against the far right, are associated with the far right. This contributes to a discourse that will paralyze us, rendering it impossible to wield the leverage we need to against fascists both outside and inside state institutions, not to mention the other parties that will also use the institutions of government to continue imposing the worst effects of capitalism on us.
We need to foment popular revolt that includes all the disenfranchised sectors of society, everyone who is targeted by fascists, everyone who suffers under capitalism even when it is managed by a progressive government. We must not delegitimize insurrection when the state apparatus is in the hands of the center-left while the streets remain in the hands of fascists and security forces. We must find ways to resist, rejecting the blackmail of those who claim that the most important thing is to maintain order, with their eternal moralism in defense of private property and state power.
We’ve survived 2022—and with it, the ebb tide following the upheavals of 2019 and 2020. Both in the United States and around the world, this has been a year of challenges and reversals. In the following overview, we revisit how we got here, explore the events of the past twelve months, and review our own efforts to contribute to movements for liberation.
As for our collective, we reach the end of 2022 embattled but unbowed. We began the year with our warehouse in ashes and concluded it by getting permanently suspended from Twitter by Elon Musk—at that time the world’s richest man—at the request of a notorious pro-fascist troll. Yet in response to the fire, our comrades raised tens of thousands of dollars to support us and we were able to go right back into action; likewise, thus far, our suspension from the chief corporate social media platforms has only multiplied the number of people visiting our website and ordering our materials.
We didn’t expect this to be easy. We go into 2023 ready for the next round and we hope you’ll be right there beside us.
In the United States, the George Floyd Rebellion of 2020 and the subsequent far-right counter-mobilization remain the most significant political events of our time. The events of 2021 and 2022 have played out in their shadow. To understand the developments of the past year, we must begin in 2020.
As we argued in our retrospective on the fiasco of January 6, 2021,
When police murdered George Floyd, public trust and respect for law enforcement plummeted to unprecedented depths. Demands to defund or even abolish the police migrated from the extreme political margins to become serious proposals that were widely debated in the mainstream. Fox News and its imitators continued their racially charged crime alarmism, but with diminishing returns; efforts by police unions, PR firms, and liberal corporate media outlets to feature stories of cops doing good made little headway against the widespread suspicion that had taken hold from the left all the way to the center.
In this environment, the failed coup of January 6 was a godsend to the state. Police could pose as both victims and heroes again, the National Guard as saviors and bulwarks against chaos; even the Federal Bureau of Investigation was doing its part to protect democracy from right-wing thugs. Liberals and mainstream media outlets seized upon these interpretations and ran with them, with extraordinary success.
When Joe Biden took office in 2021, he didn’t have a solid enough grip on power to crack down on the networks that made the uprising of 2020 possible, nor on Donald Trump himself. Instead, Biden, the New York Times, and other centrists joined the right wing in calling for more police and re-legitimizing the judicial system. They succeeded in reconstructing a social consensus—or at least the appearance of one—around support for the coercive institutions of the state.
Anarchists and other rebels were already exhausted before Biden came into office—witness the attrition in attendance at demonstrations in the waning months of 2020. (Ahead of January 6, 2021, Trump tried to arrange for the National Guard to keep anti-fascists from interfering with the march on the Capitol, apparently regarding them as the chief threat to his coup attempt—but by that time, the anti-fascist movement was so overextended that very few anti-fascists went to Washington, DC at all.) The massive mutual aid projects that had emerged in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the routines of confrontation dating from spring 2020 had largely collapsed by mid-2021. But the same thing happened to the far right: after January 6, 2021, it took them a long time to regain their footing.
The centrist grip on power remained tenuous until the 2022 elections. Democrats were convinced that, if previous precedents were any indication, they would be trounced by Republicans—that the polls were not capturing the strength of Trump’s continuing popularity and they were essentially in an interregnum between fascisms. Perhaps as a consequence, throughout 2022, the Biden administration did little to crack down on Trump himself, instead continuing the spectacle of investigation that has been running since at least 2017—which chiefly functions to help both parties solicit donations.
In fact, Democrats outperformed their expectations in the elections of November 2022. This may embolden them to crack down on social movements, but it probably won’t shift their approach to Trump. If he remains weak, they won’t want to prevent him from becoming the Republican frontrunner in 2024, and if he regains his political footing, they will be back in the situation they were before, in which they are powerless to do anything besides wring their hands about his bad behavior.
The outcome of this election bears further comment. In fall 2020, the New York Times and other centrists had spread fear that street protests would cost Biden the election, attempting to overwrite the popular memory of the George Floyd uprising with their own defeatist narrative. Yet when the votes had been counted and New York Times correspondents crunched the numbers in a report that was not widely circulated, they had to admit that the majority of those who cited the protests as a factor in their decision had voted for Biden. In other words, if anything, the demonstrations in response to the murder of George Floyd helped keep Republicans out of power. If not for the burning of the Third Precinct, most people would never have heard George Floyd’s name—nor been prepared to respond to a potential Trump coup—nor participated in a movement that shifted public discourse. Let no one say that confrontational anti-authoritarian movements inescapably drive people to support the right wing; in a polarized and deadlocked society, the opposite is probably true.
This suggests that the suppression of the social movements of 2020 will not ultimately benefit the institutional left or political centrists. While Trump’s star is passing, sooner or later a more centrist Republican Party will probably take the seat of state power that the Democrats have effectively prepared for it by re-legitimizing the police, crushing rebellion, and framing Trump as exceptional.
In short, at the end of 2022, we are finishing up the classic ebb phase that always follows a high point of struggle. This is to be expected. Once people have seen their long-cherished fantasies play out beyond their wildest dreams, discovering in the process what the limitations and shortfalls of those fantasies were, it takes a while to develop and pursue new visions. At the same time, the authorities have learned from the last round of revolt and are putting the pieces in place, one after another, to prevent history from repeating itself.
Still, the events of 2022 have continued to erode faith in the authorities and the state, especially among young people. At this point, a large proportion of both Democrats and Republicans are chiefly voting out of fear rather than hope. Most of the widely discussed “political issues” of 2022 have been framed as matters that only the state can address: gun control, inflation, student debt, abortion, what instructors can teach in schools, and the like. This is calculated to sideline ordinary people. But as soon as grassroots movements can show that ordinary people can address their needs directly without recourse to representatives, there will be another wave of social movements.
The post-2020 lull has been exacerbated by the fact that social atomization and the digital erosion of our attention spans have rendered it difficult to retain any gains from 2020, in terms of both organization and collective memory. Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is another step towards the ruling class consolidating control of digital communications, which will create new challenges for future movements. Our species is in a race against time as capitalists implement new repressive technologies and clamp down on the possibilities that digital connectivity opened up.
Musk’s buyout of Twitter shows how far the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few billionaires has gone: they can now buy major infrastructure themselves as private individuals, rather than as corporations. This extreme accumulation of power is contributing to the shift towards authoritarianism across the board—as people have less and less power relative to those who claim to represent them, they become angrier at the same time that it becomes harder for them to imagine egalitarian relations or doing without a representative.
In any case, the problems that caused people to get unruly in 2020 have not been resolved. There’s still tremendous potential, tremendous need.
In this context, anarchists in the United States are still grasping for new models. There has been a boom in interest in labor organizing, but we have yet to see workers overcome the structural impediments that have made it so difficult to build a contemporary labor movement with teeth over the past several decades.
We have sought to contribute analysis to these efforts, exploring the emergence of anti-work sentiments in the wake of the pandemic and studying what we can learn about how the economy has changed by comparing the general strikes of 1946 and 2011. On the same theme, we published an interview with Antijob, a Russian anarchist labor defense platform, and a history and analysis of graduate worker organizing at Columbia University, documenting how confronting the union bureaucracy has been essential to every victory across two decades.
Besides labor organizing, most of the newer struggles in the US in 2022 have been defensive projects focusing on public space—protecting homeless encampments, resisting sweeps, defending wilderness. The defense of the Atlanta forest represents one of the most promising of these experiments, bringing together an array of different issues and tactics and producing new constellations of diverse social bodies. The participants succeeded in establishing a months-long autonomous zone, building a movement that is affirmative and generative as well as defensive.
Although their electoral efforts have failed to secure them a firm grip on legislative or executive power in the United States, the far right has succeeded in solidifying their control in certain parts of the country. The same thing has occurred in France, Brazil, and other parts of the world, while outright fascists came to power in Italy this year. While centrists reign triumphant, the far right has consolidated a position as the chief alternative to the prevailing order, marginalizing those who would counterpose the possibility of revolutionary transformation and thereby serving centrists as a threat to keep potential revolutionaries in line. Future revolutionary movements will have to figure out how to overcome this challenge.
In the street, elements of the far right have continued to experiment with new models of their own. In January 2022, a truck convoy established occupations and blockades along the Canadian border on the pretext of opposing COVID-19 lockdown measures, initiating a weeks-long standoff. (For our part, we were most sympathetic to the students who organized walkouts against institutional carelessness in the face of the pandemic.) Later, supporters of Bolsonaro emulated Canadian and Chilean truck blockades after he lost the Brazilian election of 2022.
The year is ending with an ominous series of attacks on power stations in North Carolina and the Northwest. There are indications that these, too, may be the work of white supremacists experimenting with a new tactic to destabilize society and exert pressure. While the anti-social nature of such tactics might prevent fascists from building legitimacy with society at large, they would serve to play the role of terrorizing people into the arms of the reigning authorities.
This year saw a steady assault on gender and reproductive autonomy from Republicans and fascists across the United States, while heads of state like Vladimir Putin have made homophobia into one of the chief points in their program. Rhetoric about “groomers” has helped fascists to continue polarizing people towards transphobia and homophobia, though their attacks on drag queen story hours and the like have not brought out anything comparable to the mobilizations of fascists in Washington, DC and the northwest in late 2020.
The Supreme Court decisions of 2022 contributed to the impression that we are still living in the Trump era, while the lackluster grassroots response showed the extent to which the spirit of 2020 has been successfully suppressed. When the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, for example, the ensuing protests were divided distinctly into passive liberal street marches and clandestine invite-only direct action. This a classic symptom of a waning movement, in which professional organizers dictate what happens in mass gatherings while a few isolated radicals continue to try to escalate out of contact with a social base that could join them.
For our part, in response to the assault on abortion access, we produced a poster, proposed a strategy to employ direct action to push back on the authorities, and published an interview with activists who assist people in accessing abortions in defiance of draconian Polish anti-abortion laws in hopes of equipping people in the United States to defend and extend abortion access here.
In response to the wave of legislation, mass shootings, and fascist mobilizations targeting trans and queer people, we published an analysis spelling out the case for gender self-determination and proposing a framework for resistance. We also published a do-it-yourself guide to producing transdermal estrogen in hopes of making it easier for people to take the care they desire into their own hands.
As in the United States, people in many other parts of the world are caught between an unsatisfactory ruling capitalist centrism and a far right that is not quite powerful enough to achieve supremacy but still poses a credible threat. The global wave of revolts of 2019 was undercut by the pandemic, which largely benefitted the center and the far right—in that order—outside the US. Since then, war, environmental catastrophes, and other disasters have mostly immobilized people rather than remobilizing them. In France, last October, many people anticipated a new round of protests about the rising cost of living, hoping that these might become a sequel to the Yellow Vest movement of 2018-2019. Yet the demonstrations turned out to be underwhelming. Perhaps, when the government can blame all economic problems on Russia, it is difficult for outrage to gain traction, especially with far-right presidential candidate Marine le Pen having done so well in the last election.
In this situation, it appears that no one on the statist left has any bold new ideas or proposals. This is most dramatically evident in Brazil, where Workers Party presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the 2022 election—but by a much narrower margin than he did in 2002 and with much of the promise that he originally represented discredited almost a decade ago now. Instead, in Brazil, the chief function of the Bolsonaro years has been to discipline those who voted for Lula out of the aspirations that inspired them to revolt in 2013.
It seems to be a defining feature of our era that the difficulties of survival regularly provoke revolt on a scale that exceeds any particular subculture or demographic, but that these movements have thus far almost universally failed to bring about fundamental changes. None of the pat answers for this conundrum (e.g., that it indicates the supposed need for a centralized authoritarian party) have helped anyone to produce different results. It still remains to us to hit upon new ways of living and fighting that are adequate to the crises of our times.
Consequently, the most significant new development of 2022 has been the spread of war.
Starting on the very first day of 2022, the rising cost of living and the end of fuel subsidies sparked protests in Kazakhstan. Within days, an insurrection erupted in Almaty, the country’s largest city. The armies of six nations coordinated to suppress it.
The uprising in Kazakhstan was only the latest in a long chain of events indicating how much pressure people are under in the former Soviet Union, both from economic privation and authoritarian domination. It was preceded by the brutal suppression of various protest movements in Russia and Belarus; in summer 2022, unrest also broke out in Uzbekistan. This situation came to a head with the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the end of February.
In the buildup to the invasion, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko and Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin cynically lured refugees who were fleeing armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other parts of Asia and Africa by promising them a safe migration route through Belarus to the European Union. While the European Union made some provisions to receive Ukrainian women (and trans men) who were permitted to flee the war, they heartlessly left refugees from other parts of the world stranded at the Belarusian border, starving and freezing in limbo between the two power blocs. We published an article detailing anarchists’ efforts to defy Polish law to get assistance to these refugees.
Panning back, we can see the invasion of Ukraine continued a process of militarization and displacement that had already gotten underway in Syria. Amid ecological collapse and war—the side effects of capital accumulation and its consequences—more and more people are being forced into exile around the world. One thing anarchists can focus on doing better in the future is to help refugees—whether from Ukraine, Central African Republic, or New Orleans—to develop political agency wherever they end up. Towards that end, we published an interview with Syrian refugees who managed to establish a collective in Paris and to continue to organize on an international scale.
The invasion of Ukraine is likely an indication of things to come. Over the past several decades, governments worldwide have invested billions of dollars in crowd control technology and military equipment while taking precious few steps to address mounting inequalities or the destruction of the natural world. As economic and ecological crises intensify, more governments will seek to solve their domestic problems by initiating hostilities with their neighbors. Now that Russia is too distracted to call the shots in its previous sphere of influence, we are already seeing signs of this in Turkey’s eagerness to resume invading Rojava and in new conflicts between Azerbaijan and Armenia and, further to the east, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At the same time, we are seeing saber-rattling in Serbia about Kosovo, in China and the United States about Taiwan, and elsewhere around the globe.
Though the war in Ukraine has generated difficult debates among anarchists, we had better take these seriously if we are likely to confront similar situations elsewhere in the future. For our part, we have continued to report on anti-war protests and draft resistance in Russia. We also published an interview with a clandestine collective of anarchist combatants carrying out sabotage actions against Putin’s war effort.
Elsewhere, 2022 was less eventful, for good or ill. With the exception of Ecuador, which experienced a reprise of the uprising of October 2019 in 2022, and Sudan, where street mobilizations have continued periodically all year, most of the places that saw uprisings in 2019 have been quiet this year. The powerful movement in Hong Kong that helped set the tone for autumn 2019 has effectively been suppressed, though unrest has finally begun to spread in China. The movement in Chile, which arguably achieved the most out of all the 2019 uprisings, was effectively channeled into electoral politics via the promise of replacing the Pinochet-era constitution, and consequently ran aground as the right wing finally regained the initiative.
This past summer and fall, we published analyses from the Philippines and Brazil about the ways that electoral politics have served to strengthen the extreme right while giving centrists a pretext to discourage anarchist and anti-fascist organizing.
This year’s most promising movements have taken place outside the epicenters of wealth and power. The revolt in Iran has initiated change in Iranian society at large, if not within the Iranian government, while the occupation movement in Sri Lanka succeeded in temporarily chasing the head of state out of the country. These victories will be reference points for the struggles of 2023.
This year, we published a collective oral history of the historic protests against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund of April 2000. We also published a retrospective on the Gezi Park uprising in summer 2013, recalling a moment of optimism and possibility in Turkey and analyzing the ways that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan consolidated autocratic power in the years that followed.
In response to a destructive police raid on People’s Park, the longstanding commons in Berkeley, California, we produced a poster honoring Rosebud Abigail Denovo, an anarchist who was murdered by police while defending the park against an eviction threat in 1992.
Finally, one of the texts we most enjoyed putting together this year is “Punk: Dangerous Utopia.” This has just appeared as the foreword to a book about the intersections between punk and anarchism, published in the United Kingdom by Active Distribution. Punk was profoundly influential in introducing hundreds of thousands of people to participatory, horizontal, and decentralized models for organizing and culture, and there is still a lot we can learn from it today.
Before we knew that Elon Musk would personally boot us off Twitter, we published a history tracing the trajectory of Twitter from its origins as a street protest tool to the billionaire’s acquisition of the platform.
But long before that particular debacle, we knew we should not permit our access to the general public to depend on the good will of corporate executives. In 2022, we produced three new posters and twelve new zines in a total of ten different languages. This coming year, we’ll continue to publish new print projects.
In December 2008, after the Greek insurrection, a small number of anarchists intentionally promoted two tactical proposals as a way to break out of the impasse that summit-hopping and other approaches from the so-called “anti-globalization era” had reached. These were university occupations and anti-police revolt. Although both of these had occurred in the United States before, these anarchists believed that they had untapped potential.
These experiments began humbly, with a few dozen people occupying buildings at the New School in New York and a few hundred people rioting in Oakland after Oscar Grant was murdered. The former led indirectly (via the “Occupy Everything” slogan of the student occupation movement and the subsequent occupation of the capitol building in Madison) to Occupy; the latter set a precedent for the revolts in Ferguson and later, in May 2020, Minneapolis. The long-term potential of those models was not immediately apparent in their awkward beginnings, nor were the permutations that the movements arising from those initial examples would undergo.
We are once again at the beginning of a new era that will pose new challenges. This is the time to propose new tactics, new strategies, new horizons for experimentation.
As you undertake projects of your own this coming year, imagine that these are not just ways to address immediate needs or respond to emergencies, but also opportunities to shape the imaginations of thousands of others like you. Imagine what it would look like to develop new models for revolt in an era of scarcity and ecological crisis, when people desperately need new ways to access and share space and resources. Imagine that your efforts could give rise to new experiments that will be infectious and that these will evolve in unpredictable ways. How can you contribute to this process? How can you accelerate it? How can you approach your own humble efforts as a step towards the movements of the future?
This guide describes how a small collective produced and distributed transdermal estrogen using reproducible do-it-yourself methods.
What follows here is not medical advice; it is a report on an experiment in process, providing proof of concept. Generally speaking, if you want to take estrogen and you have the option to acquire it through the prevailing medical institutions, we encourage you to consider taking that route. At the same time, it is already difficult for some people who need estrogen to access it that way, and those difficulties may only increase in the future—so we believe that information like this should be distributed widely. Taking a hands-on approach to healthcare can give you a more direct relationship to your agency, which can give you more control over your safety in the long run, provided you learn about the risks and reflect properly on them.
Above all, we believe in gender self-determination: the idea that everyone should be free to position themselves as they see fit within the matrix of gender. Neither governments, religions, patriarchal authorities, nor anyone else should be able to confine us within their narrow visions of who we should be or who we can become.
This guide was adapted from a zine by the Fairy Wings Collective, available here along with related resources.
We made our own transdermal estrogen and started giving it out to people. Transdermal means you just rub it on your skin and that’s it: no needles, no adhesives, no eating it. When we tell other anarchists about this, they’re usually like, “Oh yeah, I talked to some friends about that once, but we didn’t know how to do it.” We got together with about four people and scrounged up a few thousand bucks and decided to figure it out. This article describes what we did, some of the risks involved, and how you can do it yourself.
With access to transgender health care becoming increasingly politicized and restricted, especially in certain parts of the country, being able to make our own hormones is a necessary step towards ensuring that people in our communities have access to the care they need. Doing this project ourselves instead of relying on doctors, prescriptions, and the established medical supply chain offers more privacy, autonomy, and ease of access for individuals who might find it difficult to access hormones through traditional methods. Our primary audience includes young people, people who are transient or without an established address, people who are uninsured or underinsured, and those living in rural or politically conservative areas. We don’t think we can reach all of those people via our little distribution network—that’s why we are proposing that anarchists in other areas start making DIY estrogen in a decentralized way. We encourage anyone who wants to participate in this project to read this guide and start producing their own supply.
First, some good news: it works! Several individuals started using the transdermal estrogen we made without taking any other exogenous hormones. After several weeks, they had successfully raised their estrogen levels. They were able to adjust the dose by taking more or changing the administration site, as different places on your body offer a higher or lower efficacy of absorption. Below, we’ll offer a more detailed report on their experiences.
Estradiol suppresses your body’s production of other sex hormones through a negative feedback loop; an estradiol level of 150 pg/ml is usually enough to suppress your body’s production of testosterone into the female range. However, current standards of care and some individuals’ body chemistry may require an anti-androgen to achieve these levels. Since the dose is flexible and site of administration can be changed to suit your needs, some of this depends on your body and the results you want.
For more information, check out TransFemScience.org—specifically this article.
The process of producing a usable form of estradiol is pretty straightforward: buy ingredients, mix them together in set ratios, apply. Based on our experiences, the hardest parts were researching how exactly to turn estradiol powder into something usable and attempting to find a lab to analyze the estradiol we bought. Now that we’ve done those things, you can copy our steps and end up with about the same result.
We encourage you to do your own research and learn as much as you can on this topic. None of us are experts and we would all benefit from learning from each other. The way we chose to approach this is not the only way. We could have bought a pill press and a binding agent and cranked out estradiol pills. We could have produced injectable estradiol. However, based on our limited knowledge of chemistry and medicine and our cleanliness standards (reasonable, but not a clean room and not sterile), we felt that producing transdermal estrogen was the safest and easiest approach. Contamination risk is very real and injectable products must meet a much higher standard to be safe for use.
You will need:
Rather than setting up a formal organization, we favor a more decentralized approach. This is why we called our project Boobs not Bombs—an homage to Food not Bombs, a call to action for people in any community to feed their neighbors. Anyone with a small set of supplies can make enough do-it-yourself estrogen to serve hundreds of people. We intentionally chose reproducible methods. Our goal is to equip others to make do-it-yourself hormones as well. You know your community and its needs better than we do. Via direct action, we can secure the autonomy of queer and trans folks, even in the face of an increasingly oppressive and surveilled future.
If you are starting a Boobs Not Bombs, email us!
Disclaimer: Neither the vials we produced nor this text are intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any medical illness. None of these statements has been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. They are NOT medical advice.
Boobs Not Bombs is a reference to Food Not Bombs, an anarchist food distribution project dating back decades. Boobs Not Bombs is our name for the idea of distributing estrogen cheaply or for free; Fairy Wings Mutual Aid is the name of our specific chapter. This chapter was created as an explicitly anarchist project and we have sought to organize it around anarchist principles. If anything in here is unclear or confusing don’t hesitate to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!
A standard dose is 0.57 ml—about a quarter of a dropper—applied to the scrotum or neolabia once per day. Based on the bloodwork we have done so far, this should be enough to fully suppress testosterone into the female range and induce feminization.
For lower levels, switch to a less efficient application site or reduce the dosage. You can choose from the following application sites, listed from least absorbent to most absorbent: the soles of the feet or palms, abdomen, forearm, armpit, scrotum/neolabia.
If your levels aren’t high enough, you could increase the dosage or apply a dose twice per day. It’s worth noting that once testosterone has been suppressed, higher levels of estradiol have not been shown to produce any benefit and carry additional risk.
Applying lotion afterwards at the site of application will slightly increase absorption. Using sunscreen will decrease absorption. For one hour afterwards, make sure not to make skin-to-skin contact between the site of application and anyone who doesn’t want additional estrogen in their body.
As in many do-it-yourself projects (and most activities), there are risks to making or using this product.
Some risks have to do with the supply chain. For example, we tested the estradiol we bought as raw powder and found it to be 97.2% estradiol. The test also showed that it contained no heavy metals. That being said, we weren’t able to figure out what the remaining 3% was. Is there something dangerous in that 3%? We don’t know.
The same is probably true for grocery store supplements as well. If a company is accused of putting dangerous chemicals in its supplements, it might be investigated, but otherwise, supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. In our opinion, this estrogen is probably about as dangerous as a standard over-the-counter supplement. If you are able to get estradiol prescribed by a doctor and you can afford it, it will undoubtedly be higher quality, and we recommend you do so.
Nevertheless, that isn’t possible for many people. That’s where this guide comes in.
There are inherent risks to taking estradiol, as well. The following is written for AMAB (Assigned Male at Birth) people. For AFAB people, the risks are greater and the rewards are very different.
For all people, estradiol is associated with blood coagulation. This can lead to a number of adverse events including heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots, also known as thrombosis. Of particular concern are venous thromboembolisms, or VTE events—blood clots in veins moving blood towards the heart. For AMAB people that take estradiol, the increased risk depends on the dose and the means of administration. The risks are greater with higher levels; some ways of taking estradiol are more associated with VTE events than others. The exact risks are not precisely known, as research on trans people is poorly funded. However, based on the available data, it seems that transdermal estradiol levels within 100-200 pg/ml (and perhaps as high as 300 pg/ml) produce little or no additional risk of clotting events. For a fuller overview of the research, read this.
Another risk to consider is breast cancer. Like blood clots, there seems to be a causal link between exposure to estrogens and breast cancer. This also seems to be dose dependent, so higher doses of estradiol will result in an increased risk of breast cancer. As with blood clots, the exact degree of risk isn’t precisely known; for AMAB people taking estradiol, the risk level is likely to be somewhere between the risk levels for cis men and cis women.
Lastly, the primary effects of estradiol itself—feminization and suppression of your body’s reproductive processes—could be considered risks, depending on your perspective. For better or worse, the vast majority of effects from estradiol, like smoother skin and fat distribution, are reversible. However, some effects are permanent, including breast development and, possibly, infertility. Anyone who might use this product should be made aware of the risks so they can make an informed decision.
Estrogen is not a scheduled substance. It is legal to import it. The other ingredients you need are all legal to purchase. As long as an item is not labelled for medicinal use, it is legal to sell or give away even if it contains potentially bioactive ingredients—think of herbal medicines sold in stores. In many places, you can buy estrogen over the counter to alleviate symptoms of menopause. All in all, we think that the present legal risk is very low.
However, this could change at any time: several states have passed laws against mailing or importing misoprostol and some have introduced new laws restricting access to gender-affirming medical care for youth or even adults. It’s probably better to stay a bit below the radar in case this becomes illegal later. Currently, our chief security concern is publicity from hostile far-right groups: we’re more concerned about showing up on Fox News than FBI raids.
Unlike estrogen, testosterone is a scheduled drug—it is generally illegal to access it without a prescription. Producing and distributing testosterone would involve a different set of legal risks.
As there is insufficient research on trans health, the long-term health consequences of starting and stopping hormone treatment are unknown. Hormones affect many body systems in ways Western medicine still doesn’t understand, and there is little data available on the long-term effects of intermittent hormone use.
So far, the Fairy Wings chapter of Boobs not Bombs has distributed approximately 200 bottles of transdermal estrogen. Early on, we invited several volunteers to switch to Boobs not Bombs estrogen and to test their estrogen and testosterone levels. As more bottles were distributed, people who were starting hormones for the first time also provided lab results. We asked volunteers to wait until they had been taking Boobs not Bombs estrogen for three to four weeks before they tested, in order to avoid lingering effects from other preparations of estradiol they may have been on previously. The results we collected do not meet the rigorous standards of a scientific study, especially considering the wide variety of possible administration sites, dosing, and individual variables including other medical conditions, concurrent medications (hormone-related and otherwise), lifestyle, and the like. However, we can provide the information we received from volunteers.
Since the beginning of the project, five people have taken or switched to Boobs not Bombs estrogen and provided numerical lab results. While we asked a standard set of questions of each person, some people were unable to have their testosterone levels checked and some provided incomplete information. At least one individual never took any lab tests, but did experience breast development and sensory changes.
One person reported applying a quarter of a dropper daily to the scrotum/neolabia, which resulted in estrogen levels of 250 pg/ml and testosterone 200 ng/dl. Two people applied the estrogen to their forearms: one used a half dropper per day and measured estrogen 94 pg/ml, while the other used one full dropper daily for estrogen levels of 125 pg/ml. The two people who administered this estrogen to their armpits were also both taking anti-androgens. Both applied a half dropper per day; one had estrogen levels of 200 pg/ml and the other 842 pg/ml (and testosterone of 33.3 ng/dl).
According to transfemscience,
Commonly recommended ranges for transfeminine people in the literature are 100 to 200 pg/mL (367–734 pmol/L) for estradiol levels and less than 50 ng/dL (1.7 nmol/L) for testosterone levels (Table). However, higher estradiol levels of more than 200 pg/mL (734 pmol/L) can be useful in transfeminine hormone therapy to help suppress testosterone levels. Lower estradiol levels (≤50–60 pg/mL [≤180–220 pmol/L]) are recommended and more appropriate for pubertal and adolescent transfeminine individuals.
If you want to share your own results, email us and tell us how long you’ve been taking this estrogen, any other hormone-related medications, your dose, administration site, and lab results (estrogen and testosterone levels).
For some people, there can be risks associated with not taking hormones, as well, and these can also be life-threatening. Those who want to restrict access to hormones often speak about the “irreversible changes” that are associated with taking hormones. In fact, our bodies are always changing in irreversible ways. Taking exogenous hormones can be a way of intentionally participating in that change in order to move it in a direction that feels more aligned with how you want to be.
While there are numerous barriers that prevent people (especially trans people) from accessing hormones like estradiol, there are comparatively few mechanisms to ensure that everyone who wants hormones has access to them. Furthermore, even when the medical establishment is able to meet our needs, this only occurs on the terms of insurance corporations, medical review boards, the state, the family, and other institutions that have historically served to oppress, exploit, and exclude people. These institutions restrict access to hormones and other resources in order to reinforce cis-heteronormativity (the idea that being cis and straight is the only “correct” or “natural” way to be). They aim to reinforce these ideas and gate-keeping structures in order to diminish our bodily autonomy because that helps them to maintain control of all the other aspects of our lives. Rather than trying to work within and validate the existence of those institutions, we can deliberately choose to work outside of them. We believe everyone should be free of the coercive power of the state and should have access to the tools they need to shape their bodies however they want.
Some people believe that only massive institutions can meet people’s needs and that those institutions have to adopt repressive practices in order to do so. By making estradiol widely and easily available at little or no cost, we can help people access a greater degree of bodily autonomy and give people cause to question the necessity of centralization and control.
The following instructions have been calculated for a batch that starts with 100 grams of estradiol. This number was chosen because it’s relatively affordable and makes the math a little bit easier.
The formula that we used is based on a patent (technically two patents) we found for a transdermal birth control product. The patent describes a product that is 0.24% active ingredient, which is split between a progestin (0.18%) and estradiol (0.06%). We modified this recipe to include only estradiol at 0.24%. We recommend that you look over these patents to get an idea of what we’re doing and to make sure we’re not missing anything. Copies of these patents, the spreadsheets we used to calculate the amounts of each ingredient, and other helpful information are available here.
Before embarking on your own Boobs Not Bombs adventure, think carefully about the risks involved and whether you’re willing to take them. Because Estradiol is not a controlled substance, what we are doing is legal—as far as we can tell—given that what we are offering is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any medical illness. Nevertheless, the fact that something is legal has never stopped the state from harassing people. This is especially true because trans people have unfortunately become a target for many conservative politicians. The prospect of people handing out estrogen on the street is ripe to get blown out of proportion by the right-wing media and politicians looking to score points by attacking trans people. If you aren’t comfortable with these risks, consider helping existing BnB efforts by donating to or contacting the authors of this text.
As a rule, don’t discuss your involvement in this project with people that you don’t trust. Only tell people what they need to know. If you need to discuss the project with others via electronic means, always use open-source encrypted software like Signal, ProtonMail, and Cryptpad. Of course, every approach has limitations and there is nothing you can do to guarantee that you haven’t left a trace. The guidelines we have set out here should be regarded as a solid baseline to add to, rather than a security guarantee. For more information about digital security, read this.
The first step in this project is to get together with your friends and comrades and see who would like to help make it a reality. If you don’t have a network of trusted friends who are interested in helping, try going to the closest anarchist community center or mutual aid project and see what you can help out with. Hopefully, you will develop friendships with people in the course of working together. If all goes well, eventually Boobs Not Bombs can be one of the projects you can add to your shared repertoire!
If you are going to work on this project on your computer, we recommend that you get a Tails stick. This is a USB flash drive with the Tails operating system installed on it. Tails is a secure operating system that only connects to the internet via the Tor network and saves absolutely nothing to your hard disk. To obtain a copy of Tails, have a friend that already has a Tails stick clone it. If you don’t know anyone with Tails, you can download it and read a full set of instructions here. If this process seems overwhelming, find a computer-savvy friend to help you.
Next, start your computer running Tails and create an email account with which to contact vendors. It is strongly recommended that you only sign in to this email from within Tails. Remember, Tails and Tor are not magic. If you sign in to your personal email account at the same time as you sign in to the email you are using for this project, you will have associated the two. Only work on one project at a time when using Tails.
To prepare for ordering and receiving shipments, get together with your friends and figure out how to receive the packages anonymously. The easiest way is to get a friend who isn’t directly involved in the project to receive the package for you. Ship it to them under their own name and then pick it up from them. Receiving packages is a good way people can aid the project while limiting their involvement. Other possibilities include getting packages shipped to a friendly community center or an abandoned house, or dividing up the ingredients and shipping them sporadically to your own houses. For example, one person could order and receive the propylene glycol, another the diethylene glycol monoethyl ether, a third person the alcohol. Doing it in this way reduces the chances that an investigation could determine the pattern of purchases and deliveries.
If someone is receiving a package, it’s usually best that they pay for the package themselves using their own payment methods and then you reimburse them in cash. You can probably send multiple packages to some people if the things they’re receiving are not sketchy, such as scales and glass jars. At the same time, you should seek to minimize your online purchases. Wherever possible, buy things in person with cash. Do you need to buy glass overflow jars online, or can you get them from a thrift store?
You will need a certain amount of resources to get started. If need be, raise funds discreetly among your friends. You should be able to fund the entire project with about $2000. If you can, set aside more than this to allow for unexpected problems. Store these funds as cash in a secure location. Keep track of how much money comes in and how much has been spent on each item so you can see how much money you have left and identify ways to reduce expenses.
Your operation will need a physical location. An empty bedroom is big enough, though we don’t recommend a bedroom that anyone lives in, as it would be difficult to store everything you need in a room along with someone’s personal possessions. You should also think about security here. You could find a friendly community space that is willing to rent a room to a member of the project, come up with a persuasive cover story, and rent it as a personal room. Draft a lease that stipulates that the room is not to be entered without your permission and put a lock on the door. This both protects you and those you are renting from: in the event of trouble, they will have a lease to provide legal cover, confirming that as landlords, they are not responsible for what their tenants do.
You could use cryptpad to create a spreadsheet to keep track of your finances. This includes managing your money and keeping track of prepaid cards—where they are, how much is on them, what they’ve been used for so far, and the billing information attached to them. For example, if a website requires you to put in a billing address for the card, make sure you note which billing address has been used for which cards. This way, you won’t have the card get rejected due to using contradictory information.
1. Purchase and Test Estradiol
Cost: $800 ($300 for estradiol, $500 for the test)
Raw estradiol can be purchased directly from manufacturers listed on the Estradiol PubChem page. The prices they quote are prohibitively expensive, and many manufacturers will only ship to businesses or research institutions. That may not be an insurmountable hurdle—it might suffice to find a friend with a .edu email address and an address to receive packages.
Alternatively, you can message gray market vendors from China, such as Hanzhong Han Traceability Biological Technology Co. Ltd. To find more vendors, try searching “estradiol suppliers china” on duckduckgo. They usually sell bulk amounts of estradiol; however, the quality may be lower as a result. When communicating with a vendor, only email them from your secure email account. See if you can pay via money order. If you can, purchase a money order with cash and mail it to them. If that is not an option, use cash to purchase a pre-paid debit card from Walmart or another big box store. You might be able to pay with bitcoin, but make sure that the bitcoin itself was purchased in a manner that can’t be traced (e.g., with cash).
Purchase 100 grams of pure estradiol, CAS number 50-28-2. Have it shipped to you using one of the methods outlined above. If you used a prepaid debit card, make note of it in your spreadsheet.
If you bought your estradiol from a gray market supplier, you will need to test it when it arrives. Go to toxassociates.com. Order a comprehensive drug analysis: tell them you want a quantitative analysis of estradiol and a test for heavy metals. Pay for the test with a money order purchased with cash and await your results. If the test doesn’t come back clean (e.g., they sold you a bunch of baking soda), go back and start over.
If you can go in on this step with other groups like yours, you could save a lot of money. Assuming multiple chapters place an order of estradiol together, you’ll only need a single test for everyone.
You’re looking for the results to say >99% estradiol and no heavy metals or anything else detected. Ours was 97%. We would love to know what the other 3% is—but after extensive research, it appeared that we’d need thousands of dollars and corporate or academic credentials to find out. If you know of another way to identify impurities in a sample, please contact us!
1. Purchase 6 gallons of 95% alcohol.
You can buy alcohol in bulk online from Laballey.com and organicalcohol.com. Laballey often offers good sales. Depending on the vendor, alcohol may be referred to as ethanol. Ethanol is the name for the kind of alcohol that you can drink. You could also use isopropyl alcohol, which is much cheaper—but not for internal consumption, as it causes organ damage and blindness. We went with ethanol because we wanted to stick as close to the patent as possible. The patent mentions that you can use isopropyl alcohol, but they imply that ethanol is preferred.
If you order from Laballey, bear in mind that they will automatically cancel any order that has a different shipping and billing address. To get around this, have a friend buy alcohol from them legitimately, paying with their own card and shipping it to their legal name. You will need to have alcohol shipped to someone older than 21 and they must sign for the package when it arrives.
You could also get around this step by buying Everclear from liquor stores. This has the advantage of being faster and available in return for cash, but it is also much more expensive—we calculated that it would be roughly three times more expensive to use Everclear.
Alcohol is extremely flammable. Six gallons of it should be considered a major hazard. Do not open the container it comes in until you’re ready to make a batch. Store the alcohol far away from any fire hazards. Never smoke while working with alcohol; make sure there are no open flames anywhere nearby.
2. Purchase two gallons of propylene glycol USP.
Propylene glycol is a very common chemical. You can obtain it via a number of websites, including the aforementioned Laballey. Wherever you get it, make sure that it’s pure propylene glycol, not propylene glycol mixed with something else.
USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) refers to a standard of purity for chemicals. All chemicals should be sold to you as USP. If you can afford it, you should send all of your reagents off for testing in addition to the estradiol.
3. Purchase two liters of diethylene glycol monoethyl ether USP.
Follow the same steps as for propylene glycol to obtain diethylene glycol monoethyl ether. We could not find other vendors for diethylene glycol monoethyl ether besides Laballey.com.
4. Purchase a large wide mouth glass container for mixing.
Throughout the manufacturing process, we use glass because it’s nonreactive.
Realistically, it’s hard to find wide-mouth glass containers larger than two or two and a half gallons. You can find five-gallon glass carboys (the kind of bottles used in water coolers), but it is difficult to mix liquids in them owing to their narrow mouths. You might be able to find a workaround involving a long, narrow stirring stick, a magnetic stirrer, or something else.
We used a wide-mouth glass container of approximately two-gallon capacity. Generally bigger is better, provided that you can find a way to stir it.
You might be able to find a large enough glass container at a store. If you can, use cash to buy it. If you can’t find one in a store, there are plenty of options on Amazon.com.
5. Purchase an even larger glass container for storing the finished product.
The size of this container doesn’t matter so long as it is bigger than the mixing container and it is made of glass. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to purchase this item in person at a store. You can get a five-gallon glass carboy for $60 on Amazon.com.
6. Purchase seven wide-mouth glass containers of medium size.
The size of these containers doesn’t matter as much. Perhaps half a gallon. These should absolutely be purchased with cash at a store. Walmart and ACE Hardware offer six-packs of half gallon mason jars for something like $20. You can likely spend far less than $100 for all of these if you go to a thrift shop.
7. Purchase scales.
One scale will need to be a higher capacity kitchen scale accurate to within .1 g. The other must be accurate down to 0.01 g. Make sure that the higher capacity scale can handle the weight of the mixing jar and water or alcohol. For the batch size we’re talking about here, the scale should have a capacity of at least 15 pounds, preferably 20.
8. Purchase bottles and tincture droppers.
Buy at least 350 four-ounce amber Boston round bottles and an equal number of 1 ml tincture droppers. Make sure that the bottles and droppers have matching neck sizes. In our case, we used the neck finish 24-400.
9. Purchase miscellaneous lab equipment.
For this step, we’re mostly thinking about gloves, goggles, a table if you need one, and any other small items.
10. Buy water.
Buy four gallons of distilled water from any grocery store. It must be distilled water, not spring water, “purified” water, or anything else.
The basics of making transdermal estrogen are as follows: measure out all of the raw materials by mass, add them to a mixing container, mix vigorously, pour into a larger container, and bottle it from there. To bottle it, just pour the mixture out of the large carboy into a smaller wide-mouth container, then scoop it out and pour it into bottles. The point of using the carboy is to enable one team to continue to make two-gallon batches while another team bottles. Based on our experience, the bottleneck in this process, ironically, is bottling. Because we bottled by hand, that part took much longer than preparing the batch itself. Using the carboy is a way to speed up the process. Otherwise, the team making each batch will have to stop and wait until all of the transdermal estrogen has been bottled before they can start making the next batch.
You’ll be making about five batches of two gallons each. The process is actually pretty straightforward—it just takes a while to bottle. You should set aside about four hours for the whole process. Keep in mind that this will likely be messy, involving alcohol spilling over your work environment. You should pick a place where that won’t be an issue and clean up as you go. Don’t work by open windows where passersby can see what you’re doing—they might think you’re making drugs.
1. Label all of your containers.
Once you’re ready to get started, clean your work surface, lay out all of the materials, and label your containers. You should have a weighing container and an overflow container for every ingredient except estradiol. You should also have a two-gallon mixing container, a five-gallon (or more) glass carboy, and a bottling jar.
If you ordered more than one bottle of something, keep only one out on your work surface. This will help keep the space less cluttered. You can also have the bottling station set up separately to keep things organized.
2. Put on PPE
This means long sleeves, gloves, and goggles. If you have long hair, put it up before beginning.
3. Add 16.4 grams of estradiol in the two-gallon mixing container.
Place your estradiol weighing container on the scale and tare it. Then add 16.4 grams of estradiol using a spoon. If you add too much, scoop some back into the container that the estradiol came in. Then pour the estradiol into the two-gallon glass jar. Some estradiol will likely remain in the cup. We will deal with that in a second.
4. Measure out 2872.9 grams of alcohol to the mixing container and mix vigorously.
Place the alcohol weighing container on the larger scale and tare it. Then add 2872.9 grams of alcohol. If you add too much, pour some out into the alcohol overflow jar until you’ve got the number right. When you are weighing out alcohol for the next batch, add this overflow into the alcohol weighing container first. As you pour alcohol into the mixing container, have someone hold the estradiol weighing container in the mixing jar and pour in the alcohol such that it washes it out. Once the alcohol has been poured in, mix vigorously it for one minute using a glass stirring rod. If you don’t have one, use a large metal serving spoon.
5. Add 2585.7 grams of distilled water to the mixing container and stir.
Use the large scale to measure out 2585.7 grams of distilled water. Use the water overflow jar to pour out any overflow. When you’ve got the amount right, add it to the mixing container and mix it vigorously for one minute.
6. Add 1026.6 grams of propylene glycol and stir.
Follow these steps for propylene glycol (PG). PG overflow goes into the PG overflow jar; add it to the next batch. If you want to be especially precise, make sure to weigh the weighing container after you’ve poured the propylene glycol into the mixing container, so you can tell exactly how much remains in the container. Write this amount down and add slightly more than that amount to the PG weighing container. Add this to the mixing jar, then check the weight to see how much actually ended up in the mixing jar. Repeat until you’re satisfied that you’re close enough. Once you are done adding PG, mix vigorously for one minute.
7. Add 342.2 grams of diethylene glycol monoethyl ether and stir.
Follow this same procedure for diethylene glycol monoethyl ether and mix vigorously for one minute.
8. Pour the mixing container into the carboy; begin bottling; start the next batch.
When you have finished steps 1-7, you have completed a two-gallon batch. Using a large clean funnel, pour all of the contents of the mixing container into the glass carboy. The bottling team can then pour the transdermal estrogen out of the carboy and into another wide-mouth container. From there, they can scoop out the transdermal estrogen using a ½ or ¾ measuring cup and a funnel to pour it into bottles. Leave a little room at the top when you fill the bottles—otherwise, when you add the dropper lid, it will overflow. After filling a bottle, dry it with a towel and then add a label. Store the bottle in whatever box or container you’re keeping the transdermal estrogen in before distributing it.
While one group of people is bottling, another group should repeat steps 1-7. Continue to do so until you no longer have enough raw materials to make another batch. At that point, you can either stop and help with bottling or measure out the last of whatever ingredient you don’t have enough of, and then calculate new amounts for all the other ingredients using the ratios provided. For example, if you only have 1500 grams of alcohol, you can’t make a full batch. But since you know that alcohol is 42% of the batch by weight, you can work out what the total weight of the last (smaller) batch should be and make one more batch before you reorder supplies.
9. Clean up your workspace.
When you’re done, clean up your work area. Tear off all of the labels of the packages you received and burn them (somewhere far away from the alcohol). This is to prevent you from putting a bunch of incriminating evidence into the same dumpster. Once all of the labels are disposed of, you can discard the boxes as regular recycling. If you peel the labels off the chemicals you bought (the propylene glycol and diethylene glycol monoethyl ether), you can also dispose of them as normal recycling. If not, dispose of each one in a separate dumpster that cannot be connected to you.
Empty any remaining overflow containers back into their original bottles. Wash all non-disposable lab equipment thoroughly. Return all of your supplies to storage. You should have about 300 bottles filled, though you might have less, depending on whether you worked until you ran out of an ingredient or just stopped when you didn’t have enough for a full batch.
10. Print zines
We made a zine explaining our process and goals to distribute along with the transdermal estrogen. We designed it from scratch because we didn’t have a model to work from. You’re welcome to take the one we made, change out the contact information and any other details, and print your own edition. Make sure to change the title of the zine to “Boobs Not Bombs—[Your chapter’s name]” or something other than the title of our zine, so as to not confuse people. If you’d like an electronic copy of our zine for editing, email us.
Giving the length of this zine, printing will be expensive. We recommend finding someone with a printing hook up.
1. Create a distribution network.
For a clandestine arrangement, keep the bottles yourself and distribute them through word of mouth only. If you’re comfortable with a more public arrangement, you could advertise online and mail the bottles out. If you want to go this route, you could contact hrt.cafe and see if your small operation can be listed on the website. You could also set up a BnB station somewhere presenting the bottles and zines alongside a donation jar. Periodically check the sites to keep them stocked.
You could also offer your wares at Really Really Free Markets, Food Not Bombs servings, drag shows, art spaces, and any other location frequented by people who might like to have access to estrogen. Of particular interest are places (such as Republican-controlled states) that are making it increasingly difficult to access hormones.
The more decentralized the network that is producing estrogen, the more difficult it will be to suppress it.
2. Distribute bottles.
Once you know where to take the bottles/zines, physically transport them to all of the various locations. You could mail them, but that would be expensive, as the bottles are heavy. If you ship bottles, package them so they don’t shatter in transit.
If you’re distributing at physical locations, you could set up a station with bottles, zines, and a donation jar. This might necessitate a folding table or rack for each location. For a donation jar, you could cut an opening in the lid of an old coffee container and write “donations” in large visible letters on it.
Once you have run out of bottles and zines, collect a final round of donations, conduct any additional fundraising necessary, and then repeat the process from the beginning.
A note about email security. The only way to ensure the security of an email server is to run it yourself, and running email servers is not easy. The way that email functions involves a lot of information being transferred in the clear in order to allow for the routing of messages. In this sort of structure, the best we can do is encrypt the message content. Protonmail provides encryption without the users having to do any work, as long as they are messaging other users of the service or have someone’s keys loaded into their account’s keychain. Protonmail does have access to your registration details and the times that certain IPs accessed accounts, and they have provided that information to governments before. If you sign up with information that does not lead back to you and always use a VPN or Tor to check your inbox, this information should not be compromising. ↩
How did punk emerge out of the countercultures of the 1960s that it claimed to reject? Why did it play such a central role in the resurgence of anarchism around the world at the end of the 20th century? How did it prefigure the participatory media of the digital age? And what can its legacy teach us today?
The following text is the foreword to Smash The System! Punk Anarchism as a Culture of Resistance, a new book published by Active Distribution. You can pre-order it here. You can freely download nearly all of the punk and hardcore records CrimethInc. has released over the years here.
“PUNK ROCK EQUALS ANARCHY PLUS GUITARS AND DRUMS. ANYTHING LESS IS JUST SUBMISSION.”
Let’s imagine the ideal cultural vehicle for anarchism.
It has to be defiant, obviously. It should accommodate both gleeful irony and stark courage. But let’s make it affirmative, too, even if we have to go the long way round through suffering and catharsis to get there. We don’t want the kind of nihilism that makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning—we want the kind that keeps people out all night causing trouble.
For starters, then, we’ll set our point of departure in the creative arts: music, fashion, design, graffiti, writing, photography, petty crime. These are fundamentally affirmative even when they express anger and despair—and the start-up costs are pretty low. Put the music front and center, so literacy isn’t a barrier.
Aesthetically, we’ll want it raw and disruptive. Throw out all claims to expertise; make a clean sweep of the classics. At the most, we can retain a few of the innovations that the music industry stole from working-class people. Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted.
Economically, if we can’t unilaterally break with the capitalist mode of production, let’s build in some norms to counteract its effects: price controls (“pay no more than two quid”), a loathing of profiteering and all things corporate, a do-it-yourself ethic. Place all the emphasis on things that can’t be bought. If that means an embattled discourse about “authenticity,” so be it.
This subculture has to be inclusive—and not just in the superficial sense associated with the liberal politics of representation. Rather than just preaching to the converted, it should draw in people from a wide range of backgrounds and politics. We want to reach the same young folks who are going to be targeted by military recruiters, and we want to reach them first. Sure, that will mean rubbing shoulders with a lot of people who are not anarchists—it will mean a big messy stew of different politics and conflicts and contradictions—but the goal is to spread anarchism, not to hide out in it. Get everyone together in a space premised on horizontality, decentralization, self-determination, reproducible models, being ungovernable, and so on and let them discover the advantages for themselves.
The most important thing is the participation of those who are poor, volatile, and angry. Not out of any misguided notion of charity, but rather because the so-called dangerous classes are usually the motor force of change from below. The self-satisfied and well-behaved lack the risk tolerance essential for making history and reinventing culture.
Picture a self-education society without instructors, ranks, or lesson plans. Teenagers will teach themselves to play drums by watching other teenagers play drums. They won’t learn about politics in dusty tomes, but by publishing zines about their own experiences and corresponding with people on the other side of the planet. Every time well-known musicians perform, musicians who are just getting started will perform, too. Learning won’t be a distinct sphere of activity, but an organic component of every aspect of the community.
Dadaism and Surrealism were OK, but “Poetry must be written by all, not one,” as Comte de Lautréamont put it. Our ideal subculture isn’t a coterie of artists—it’s more like a network of underclass gangs in which everyone has a band, a zine, or at least a criminal record. The art isn’t just what’s happening on the stage—it’s the designs people inscribe on their jackets and shirts and bodies, the dancing and kissing and fighting and vandalism, the atmosphere they create together. The collective mythos of a worldwide grassroots movement. Let that mythos be contested territory—the conflict will keep people invested.
Our subculture will be Dionysian—sensual, spontaneous, wild—an uncontrollable geyser of raw feeling. The Apollonian (the rational, the intentional, the orderly) will follow the chaotic energy that drives this movement, not precede it. Intellectual proposals can build on adrenaline, lust, violence, and pleasure, but they can’t substitute for them.
So nothing sanctimonious, nothing triumphalist or moralistic. Better a gritty romanticism that sees dignity in defeat as well as victory, an unpretentious attitude that says “nothing human is alien to me.”
This subculture should be a space where people can learn about the politics of consent and assert their boundaries against invasive authority figures, entitled men, and other pests. At the same time, it should spread a rebel sociality that erodes the physical and emotional confines that individualize the capitalist subject. “Our utopia is not a world in which no one ever bumps into you—it’s a world in which everyone crashes into each other and it is joyous and good, in which it means something different when people crash into you.”
Not an anodyne utopia in which there is no fighting, but a dangerous utopia in which there are things worth fighting for. Not a Potemkin Village concealing the fault lines that run through society, but an arena in which you can take a stand in those conflicts on the scale of your own life. Not the anarchist equivalent of the Red Pioneers—complete with doddering leadership and tedious traditions—but an open space of freedom in which each generation makes its own mistakes and charts its own path.
From this point of departure, we can pan back to an entire alternative way of living: self-organized venues and infoshops, collective housing, squatting, Food Not Bombs, reading groups, affinity groups, feminism, veganism, non-monogamy, eco-defense, militant unemployment—the sky’s the limit. A worldwide network of countercultural spaces and movements and lifestyles. A chain reaction of rebellions going off like a string of fireworks encircling the globe.
Only now, with the benefit of hindsight, can we grasp how lucky we have been to participate in one of the greatest countercultural folk art movements of the past several hundred years.
“If there’s any hope for America, it lies in a revolution, and if there’s any hope for a revolution in America, it lies in getting Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara.”
“Punks is hippies.”
Now let’s situate the emergence of this counterculture historically, in the second half of the 20th century.
The powerful and rebellious labor movements of the early 20th century had been bought off, abandoning demands for self-determination in return for higher wages, cheaper consumer goods, and more job security—the so-called Fordist Compromise, though the same thing went by the name “socialism” in the Eastern Bloc. Thus integrated into the self-regulation of the market, the union bureaucracy was slowly being outflanked by corporate outsourcing as capitalism transformed the entire earth into a single integrated supply chain.
Stalinism, fascism, the Second World War, two Red Scares, and the Cold War had crushed the anarchist movements of the early 20th century, polarizing most of humanity into a binary between false freedom and false equality that boiled down to a choice between the CIA and the KGB. Those born after the Second World War grew up with no horizon for social change beyond trying to reform one side of this dichotomy or the other.
At the same time, thanks to Fordism, the baby boomers had access to a wider range of commodities than any previous generation. Corporate marketing encouraged young people to understand themselves as a distinct group with their own interests and aspirations. Mass-produced youth culture inadvertently generated the possibility of mass refusal of mainstream culture, creating new shared reference points that cut across older national, cultural, and social divisions.
Originally a working-class art form emerging from Black communities in the United States, rock music was one of the commodities that capitalists began to cultivate as a cash crop for this mass market. In this context, the success of the Beatles represented the anyone-can-make-it dream of economic mobility—but it was also an incomplete effort to appropriate and domesticate working-class youth rebellion. The fact that four ordinary Liverpudlian proletarians, availed of all the recording technology and popular attention of an entire civilization, could go from singing “Love Me Do” in 1962 to recording the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” LP in 1967 implied a utopian possibility that exceeded anything the market could fulfill: if we all had such opportunities, couldn’t all of us be artists? The lads from Liverpool, like the generation who grew up on their music, discovered they were not satisfied with the options at their disposal, even at the top of the pyramid—and the social bodies that had coalesced through shared consumer activity rebelled against the conformity and alienation of mass society.
In his book, Do It!, arch-yippie Jerry Rubin credited the unrest of the 1960s to this progression: “The New Left sprang, a predestined pissed-off child, from Elvis’s gyrating pelvis.” The generation that started out rebelling against its parents’ sexual repression by listening to rock and roll ended up occupying universities and protesting in the streets. By the time of the Woodstock festival in August 1969, this counterculture was millions strong.
Despite the anti-authoritarian spirit of these youth cultures, the resurgence of anarchism proper was limited. Anarchists established a presence in the campaign for nuclear disarmament in Britain and represented an influential minority within Students for a Democratic Society in the United States. Up Against the Wall Motherfucker, the “street gang with an analysis,” translated the Spanish anarchist concept of grupos de afinidad into the Anglophone model of affinity groups; thus equipped, they stormed the Pentagon, cut the fences at Woodstock, and brought their mimeograph machine with them when they occupied Bill Graham’s rock music venue to demand a free night for the people. Yet as the decade wore on, authoritarian Marxists won power struggles within the leadership of many of the movements of the era. Like Marx’s coup within the International Workingmen’s Association a century earlier, these pyrrhic victories contributed to the collapse of the movements themselves.
Within the counterculture, the star system introduced its own hierarchies. At Woodstock, half a million people watched from the mud as a series of celebrities took the stage.
Meanwhile, capitalists had begun incorporating hippie demands for individuality and diversity into the market. This coincided with the transition from straightforward Fordist mass production to increasingly diversified consumer goods and identities—the shift from economies of scale to economies of scope. If Beatlemania had exemplified mass culture, the emergence of metal, punk, and hip hop in the 1970s exemplified the “post-Fordist” proliferation of subcultures.
In summer 1976—one hundred years after the death of Mikhail Bakunin, fourteen years after the recording of “Love Me Do,” and seven years after the Woodstock festival—the Sex Pistols made their first television appearance, performing “Anarchy in the UK,” the song that became their debut single. “Bakunin would have loved it,” the television host quipped when they were done.
Here it is, at the public premiere of punk proper: the proof of punk’s anarchist credentials. All the attempts to water it down came after.
So yes, punk was a reaction to the countercultures of the 1960s. Pistols singer Johnny Rotten opened that television performance with a derisive phrase about Woodstock, rejecting everything self-satisfied and naïve about the hippie era—all the ways in which, in seeming to succeed, the hippies had been neutralized and assimilated.
But punk was also a continuation of those countercultures. It recapitulated the same process of radicalization that Jerry Rubin’s generation had experienced—only intensified, like a bacteria that had become immune to antibiotics. From the beginning, punks took great pains to distinguish themselves from hippies; in retrospect, punk was everything hippie that couldn’t be domesticated and commodified. Not festival stages, but basement shows; not tie-dyes and peace signs, but leather jackets and street fighting à la Up Against the Wall Motherfucker. What is a punk band, after all, but an affinity group with guitars? Discussing the Sex Pistols, John Lennon remarked that the Pistols were intentionally doing all the things that the Beatles’ management had forbade them to do at the outset of their commercial career.
A year after the Pistols debuted “Anarchy in the UK,” Crass (one of the first punk bands identified with the redundancy “anarcho-punk”) got started at a collective living project that members Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher had founded in 1967. We can trace punk’s pedigree through Crass directly back to the hippies, complete with the pacifism that the next generation of punks shook off.
As a part of the post-Fordist shift, music publishing and printing technology were finally becoming widely accessible to the general public. Crass was one of a new wave of do-it-yourself punk bands who released their own records. (The story goes that they had to press 5000 copies of their debut LP because that was the minimum run that a pressing plant would produce at the time.) By self-managing the production process rather than selling themselves to a label, they were able to hijack the mystique that decades of capitalist investment and promotion had vested in the rock industry, reclaiming it for the sort of autonomous youth subcultures that had produced rock’n’roll in the first place.
At the same time, volatile globalized markets were undermining the job security of the mid-20th century. In 1977, the children of redundant workers could read the writing on the wall, echoed in the lyrics of the next Sex Pistols’ hit: “No future.” Punk caught on among the forerunners of today’s superfluous workforce at a time when the futureless were still a bitter, isolated minority. It was the song of the canary in the coal mine.
But it took decades for Fordism to collapse entirely, vanishing along with the complacent masses it had produced. It wasn’t until 2007 that the Invisible Committee, in The Coming Insurrection, could write
“The future has no future” is the wisdom of an age that, for all its appearance of perfect normalcy, has reached the level of consciousness of the first punks.
Today, in a time of widespread economic and environmental crises, pandemic, and war, when practically no one anticipates a bright future anymore, punk has become redundant, at least as a minoritarian rejection of capitalist optimism and aesthetics. If we don’t set punk in its historical context—as a reinvention of preexisting forms of resistance in response to particular conditions—we won’t understand its strengths or the limits it reached. Considering the changes that were taking place in the labor market and consumer identity, it is not surprising that from the 1980s on, even the most doctrinaire anarcho-syndicalists were initially politicized through punk music rather than workplace organizing. Likewise, to understand why punk plateaued in the early 21st century, we have to recognize the ways that it anticipated and then was subsumed by the online networks, participatory models, and volatile identities of the Digital Age.
From the 1970s to the turn of the millennium, almost everyone with confrontational tendencies was effectively quarantined in a distinct subculture. But as the shift from economies of scale to economies of scope accelerated, these subcultures ceased to be discrete, long-term affiliations. Today, people stack up consumer identities like trading cards, and many subcultural identifiers last no longer than it takes to circulate a meme. It has become as difficult to isolate rebellion in particular social groups as it is to constitute a coherent revolutionary subject.
Likewise, the underground economy based in do-it-yourself networks prefigured contemporary hyper-capitalism, in which the self-management of our marketability extends into every aspect of our social lives and leisure time. Crass and their contemporaries achieved a breakthrough by using formats that had previously been inaccessible to the working class to spread subversive messages, but in the process, they unwittingly pioneered and validated a new form of entrepreneurship, paving the way for less politicized entrepreneurs. All the shortcomings punks identified in the unidirectional capitalist media of the late 20th century (“Kill your television!”) inform the participatory capitalist media of our own day. Who needs to go to band practice when you can make a video on your smart phone and post it to Tik Tok immediately? Do it yourself!
Of course, social media platforms have hardly tamed the new generation. Continuing the process of assimilation and reinvention, today’s uprisings draw on every aspect of punk that could not be domesticated, commodified, or outflanked. Riots without punk shows; black sweatshirts without patches on them, so the police can’t identify you; defiance and rebellion without anthems, without aesthetics, without hope.
If anything, we have overcorrected against the vestiges of the hippie era that persisted in the first phase of punk. When the Pistols came out, they were reacting against a subculture that involved too much art, and not enough rebellion; too much entertainment, and not enough disruption; too much optimism, and not enough reality. As we move deeper into a century that is already characterized by destruction and despair, we could do with a little more art, creativity, and optimism.
This is one of the many reasons punk remains relevant in 2022.
“Today, in the anarchist movement, we sometimes miss the Dionysian spirit that characterized the hardcore punk underground at its high point: the collective, embodied experience of dangerous freedom. This is how punk can inspire us in our anarchist experiments of today and tomorrow: as a transformative outlet for rage and grief and joy, a positive model for togetherness and self-determination in our social relations, an example of how the destructive urge can also be creative.”
History is not divided neatly into periods; it’s more like a series of sedimentary layers comprising the present. Tonight, as you read this, a symphony orchestra is performing uptown, a jazz band is playing downtown, and a punk band is playing out in the suburbs.
If we understand punk as an heir to longstanding traditions of resistance, this will explain its persisting importance to anarchism. While an older generation of labor-oriented radicals used to deride punks’ political commitments as ephemeral, punk is much older—and stabler—than today’s contemporary political organizing models; it dates from a time when subcultures still produced lasting identifications and commitments. Small wonder if many of those who still maintain the infrastructure of anarchist organizing from one year to the next are longtime punks. Punk combines the engaging agitprop and global networks of 21st-century cultural movements with the longevity of pre-internet political formations.
My friend’s punk band is playing in the backward little Southern town next to mine. The venue is a fallout shelter from the Cold War. It’s called The Fallout Shelter.
A police car pulls up in front of the venue and an officer gets out. While the officer is hassling the punks on the sidewalk, my friend slips across the street. He gets down on his elbows and knees, crawls behind the police car, and punctures its tire with his pocketknife.
The cop has to radio for backup. All evening, between bands, punks drink on the sidewalk and applaud ironically as the police struggle to replace the tire.
The first week of high school, Seven Seconds plays the one club in my little town. The show ends the way every big hardcore show there does—in a massive skinhead brawl that spills out onto the main drag.
I go to class the next morning with a bruise on my arm in the precise shape of a Doc Martens boot print. It marks me: I’m not part of your world.
Over the following decade, I join a band, I start a zine, I engage in endless debates about dancing, fashion, food, and fighting. I befriend the people who work night shift at the copy shop down the street. I stay up all night photocopying zines there, strictly off the books. Somebody in Czech Republic mails me a copy of the Kritická Situace LP in trade for my zine. I take the LP to the listening station at the public library because I don’t have a record player. I drive twelve hours to play a show attended by bruisers who have pledged to attack me on sight. I set up shows for bands. I release records.
Our band goes on tour. Night after night, people host and sometimes even feed us. We buy a van together. We travel around the country, playing self-organized venues and staying at collective houses. Overseas, we see our first giant squatted buildings, with banners hanging on the walls and movement archives and bicycle repair shops serving the neighborhood. It starts to dawn on us that we’re part of something much bigger than we imagined.
It is only after three months on tour that I realize that I have shifted from thinking in the first person singular to the first person plural. We.
We meet the old-timers from the Crass generation. They’ve all got a couple decades on us; we’re the youngest ones at all the shows in the UK. A member of Doom drives us around the British Isles in their van, since we’re not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road.
One night, the fellow from Doom stays up late talking with a member of the Subhumans. They end up arguing about whether the Clash ruined punk by selling out to a corporate record label. I get the impression they’ve been having the same argument for twenty years. Still, it helps me to think of my own commitments on a longer time frame.
Reclaim the Streets—Millions for Mumia—the National Conference on Organized Resistance—the Presidential Inauguration. During every conference, before or after every protest, there is a punk show. Not just bands, but puppet shows, performance art, radical cheerleading. Itinerant punks set up literature tables consisting entirely of Noam Chomsky books shoplifted from Barnes & Noble bookstores. Sometimes the black bloc sets out directly from the mosh pit.
In Sâo Paulo, I attend a demonstration against a monument celebrating 500 years of colonialism. Everyone is masked up. The punks behind us throw paint bombs at the monument and rocks at the lines of riot police in front of us. The police shoot live rounds over our heads. Afterwards, we hide out inside an açai stand so the cops don’t target us for the paint on our clothes.
A couple days later, Abuso Sonoro plays in Guarujá. The guitarist performs wearing the same mask he wore at the demonstration. A worldwide culture of resistance.
The first time we pull up to Ungdomshuset, the squatted punk venue in Copenhagen, every window in the neighborhood is boarded up. There was some unrest here the night before, our hosts explain, because the police want to deport a man to Turkey. After the show, while we sleep in the guest room, police sit outside the building in an armored car, reciting threats over a loudspeaker to the punks standing guard on the roof.
The fourth time we visit Ungdomshuset, there are too many of us to sleep in the guest room. Instead, our hosts unfold gym mats across the length of the entire great hall. We unroll our sleeping bags and lie down in a line, thirty or more of us—the bands, the organizers, and every random traveler who doesn’t have another place to stay, together under the vaulted ceiling of the building in which International Women’s Day was announced in 1910. Let the earth be a common treasury for all. Before I go to sleep, I turn to the person bedding down to my left. “Where are you from?”
“Me? I’m from Australia,” she answers. “Where are you from?”
A year later, police raid and demolish the building in the biggest operation in Denmark since World War Two. The city riots for a week; demonstrations continue weekly for a year. Plans are in motion for thousands of people to forcibly occupy City Hall when the government relents and grants the squatters a new building. The next time I go to Denmark with a band, we play there, at the new Ungdomshuset.
Years later, during the Occupy movement, a new generation filters into the anarchist community in our little Southern town. They’re the first ones to arrive without having punk as a reference point.
“But you have to do a workshop about punk, too,” Liz says to me, after a direct action training.
“A workshop? Why? Punk is just a style of music, it’s not essential to this stuff,” I answer. Decades of arguments about subcultural insularity have made me a little touchy on this subject.
“Maybe, but for all of you who knew each other before this, punk is like a sorority you were in, or a secret society. A bunch of references to bands we’ve never heard of, like a private code. It only comes up when you’re socializing with each other, but… that’s how people form intimacy, right? You have to let us in on it.”
A few years later, the anarchist student group at the local university asks us older townies to come make a presentation. I expect they want us to talk about security culture or consensus process or the Spanish Civil War. In fact, they want us to tell them about punk.
Roxy and I commandeer a full-length mirror from the abandoned glass factory next to my house and bring it into the classroom. We set it up facing the audience. I begin reciting a boring lecture in a button-up shirt, like a professor. While their eyes are on me, Roxy swings a baseball bat into the mirror, sending shards flying everywhere, and the d-beat kicks in.
“There—now why would we do that?” she asks them, afterwards, and their answers tell them everything they need to know about what punk is. Whatever conception you have of yourself and the world you see yourself in, smash it—whatever you consider bad luck, do it right now—and begin from there, remaking yourself and the world.
The Last Of The Hippies—An Hysterical Romance, Penny Rimbaud
As everyone knows, we have been suspended from Twitter at the same time that Elon Musk is welcoming notorious neo-Nazis back to the platform. On a platform like Twitter, a project like ours is like a canary in a coal mine: when things change, we are the first to go, and that means the clock is ticking for everyone.
Today, we speak to you from the other side of the great divide. Banned on Facebook, Instagram, and now Twitter, we nonetheless exist and organize. If you can still hear us—if you are reading these words—then there is life after social media. That goes for entire social movements as well as individuals and publishers.
Looking at this situation in a broader historical context, Twitter itself is like a canary in a coal mine. Elon Musk’s acquisition of the platform confirms the end of social media as we have known it, at least for the purposes of positive social change. All the major platforms that played roles in the movements of the past decade have been brought under the direct control of reactionaries determined to make sure that they cannot be used to coordinate resistance.
The question is what comes next. Will reactionary billionaires determine what we can do and think and dream? Or will we establish other channels via which to communicate, other forms of connection, other means of coordination?
When Donald Trump was booted off of Twitter after January 6, it became inevitable that someone from his faction of the ruling class would seek to take over the company. Twitter became a symbol of everything that remained beyond their control.
Relative to the size of its user base and its ability to turn a profit, Twitter has been disproportionately influential. This is precisely because it has been moderated differently from Facebook and other such platforms, which have consistently suppressed dissident voices while offering echo chambers for the far right. Twitter has been difficult to monetize, but—perhaps for precisely that reason—it has retained a certain credibility.
Unfortunately, all this made it irresistible to Elon Musk. And thanks to the capitalist market, a billionaire can waltz in and purchase just about anything.
This is especially true today, as wealth inequalities reach new extremes.1 In 2003, Bill Gates was considered the world’s wealthiest man with roughly $40 billion to his name; in January 2022, Elon Musk was valued at over $300 billion. Not long ago, if rich people wanted to take over a major corporation, they had to form a corporation to buy it; today, a single power-crazy billionaire can do it alone.
Now that most of the world’s financial capital has accumulated in a few hands, we are also forced to compete for attention as a new currency so that the capitalist market can go on expanding. This is not just a metaphor: cryptocurrency, for example, derives its entire worth from the fact that people perceive it to possess financial value. It has never been so obvious that the supposedly essential truths on which capitalism is based are simply arbitrary social constructs.
This explains why, having accumulated the most financial capital in the world, Elon Musk set out to gain control of one of the platforms on which attention is distributed.
We should not trust Musk to disclose his true intentions any more than we take Donald Trump at his word. Musk spoke about securing Twitter for “free speech”; by now, it is clear that he meant the opposite. Musk’s acquisition of Twitter lines up with his desire to be the tastemaker-in-chief and to suppress the voices of those critical of himself and other capitalists. The impact of his acquisition of the platform will likely hit hardest in parts of the Global South where Musk is trying to get a foothold for his various business interests at the same time that authoritarian governments are cracking down on social media in order to secure their rule.
When Musk purchased Twitter, it had approximately 7500 employees. He fired half the workforce, prompting many other employees to resign. By Thursday, November 17, less than 3000 remained—a disproportionate number of them dependent on their work visas for their residency of the United States, and therefore at the mercy of Musk’s agenda. In retrospect, this probably was not a question of bad management on Musk’s part, nor a deliberate effort to destroy Twitter itself, but rather a strategy to oust everyone who was not supportive of Musk’s program.
This wave of downsizing created a considerable buzz on the platform, with alarmists suggesting that without those employees, the platform would quickly collapse or suffer a severe security breach. As often occurs, however, the real danger was not that Twitter would come to an end, but that business would continue as usual.
Users crowed about how Musk had declared that “comedy is now legal on Twitter,” then threatened parody accounts with permanent suspension; others went on the offensive with fake accounts, ruining Musk’s initial attempt to roll out $8 credentials and temporarily undermining market confidence in certain profiteering corporations. We saw straitlaced New York Times columnists urging people to follow them on Mastodon as if they were reclusive German hackers. For a moment, it appeared that Musk had unwittingly cast himself in a real-life morality play about the risks of absolute power.
Yet we are not witnessing the demise of a specific platform so much as the end of an era. Once Elon Musk bought it, Twitter collapsing was the best case scenario. Instead, we are in the midst of a boiling frog situation, in which every day, things get a little worse on the platform, but not quite bad enough for most people to quit. Bit by bit, Twitter users are becoming inured to algorithms that promote racist and anti-Semitic material, to the suspension of anti-fascists, to the appearance of neo-Nazis in the center of public discourse.
No conspiracy theories are necessary here. Musk did not to set out to destroy Twitter at the cost of $44 billion dollars and his own reputation as a good manager. He simply wants to control the platform and believes that in the long term, doing so could pay dividends in a currency more valuable than mere money. Since taking charge of Twitter, Musk has sought to employ the same tactics by which he bullied workers into giving him an edge in the aerospace and electric car industries.2 On a platform like Twitter, however, the user base itself is effectively both product and producer—so it is the users as well as the employees who are the target of his tactics.
If Musk’s takeover of Twitter works out and the platform survives, the whole fiasco will set a precedent for similar behavior from other billionaires. In any case, the damage is already done. The old Twitter workforce and culture—not radical by any measure, but arguably less reactionary than the equivalents at comparable social media platforms—is gone. And without the previous Twitter administration as a competitor, other social media corporations will have no incentive to include the voices of those already suppressed on Facebook.
If the New York Times columnists stay on Twitter rather than migrating to Mastodon, they will effectively grant a far-right billionaire the role of moderator in every discussion. But what is happening is not the result of the whim of a single malevolent individual. Relying on market-based means of communication made it inevitable that sooner or later, the ruling class would get to determine who can speak and how.
Let’s go back to the metaphor of the canary in the coal mine. When the canary dies, it’s time to get out of the mine. Now, we’re not necessarily urging you to quit Twitter; it would be better to get permanently suspended for raising a fuss. The point is that it’s not good to have to be in a coal mine in the first place. Even if it doesn’t kill you outright, it diminishes your quality of life. Corporate social media and the social relations it fosters cut us off from other ways of understanding and experiencing the world—and if we maintain the coal mine metaphor, the target of extraction is our sociality itself.
The networks offered by Facebook aren’t new; what’s new is that they seem external to us. We’ve always had social networks, but no one could use them to sell advertisements—nor were they so easy to map. Now they reappear as something we have to consult. People corresponded with old friends, taught themselves skills, and heard about public events long before email, Google, and Twitter. Of course, these technologies are extremely helpful in a world in which few of us are close with our neighbors or spend more than a few years in any location.
The network, which had previously been used to establish and maintain relationships, becomes reinterpreted as a channel through which to broadcast.
In a digitally interconnected world, whoever has the most robust networks, the right relationship between visible and opaque channels, and the most persuasive narrative will triumph. Communication and coordination trump brute force when any clash can draw in a potentially infinite number of participants on either side. This is why the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, Zapatista Army of National Liberation) was able to stand down the Mexican state; it’s why the global uprisings of 2019-2020 spiraled out of control in over a dozen countries.
The authorities know this. The challenge for them has been that the same digital networks that maximize economic productivity by keeping all potential workers, trends, and ideas available to the market at all times can also serve as a space to coordinate resistance. Over the past two decades, they have scrambled to establish controlled networks that can fulfill the same economic function without facilitating unrest—Facebook and WeChat being among the chief examples of this.
Early on in this era, the RAND corporation theorized this kind of connectivity-based conflict as Netwar, seeing early examples of it in the Zapatista uprising and the shutting down of the summit of the World Trade Organization in 1999.
But the Zapatistas were not using Indymedia. Likewise, demonstrators were not using Twitter or even TXTmob at the protests against the WTO, the International Monetary Fund, or the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Most of the participants didn’t even have cell phones. The communications platforms that were in play when the concept of Netwar emerged were mostly 20th-century unidirectional technologies, like printing newspapers and pressing vinyl LPs, that had been repurposed to create grassroots movements.
So the most determinant factor in the victories of the anti-capitalist movement of the turn of the century was not digital connectivity, per se—it was robust networks that exceeded the control of the authorities, such as those that had emerged in Indigenous organizing, punk, environmental movements, and other cultural spaces. The intensity of the connections that people formed, and the fact that they were so difficult for the authorities to monitor, were as important as the extent to which they spread.
In the next wave of revolt, between 2008 and 2013, participants took advantage of mobile phones and emerging digital networks to gain the initiative. After Greek police officers murdered Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Athens in 2008, for example, police around Greece were taken by surprise by activists who had received the news before them. At the same time, mobile phone records enabled British police to convict a large number of participants in the riots of August 2011. The Egyptian revolution picked up momentum precisely when Hosni Mubarak shut down the internet, forcing everyone to go into the street to learn what was happening. Occupy spread digitally, including on Facebook, but drew its power from the shared physical presence of the participants. Once again, it wasn’t digital connectivity, per se, that gave these movements their strength.
The wave of movements of 2018-2020 (say, from the Yellow Vest Movement to the end of Donald Trump’s administration) did indeed draw on Twitter, Telegram, and similar platforms for coordination. Still, it’s worth noting that the specific platforms that have been essential to each of these waves of activity have changed from one wave to the next.
Extrapolating from these examples, it seems likely that the next wave of social movements will emerge as a consequence of people forging new connections on new platforms. Those platforms will necessarily develop beyond the control of people like Elon Musk. It would be simplest if those fired from Twitter would establish their own platform on a self-organized, decentralized, horizontal basis—something like Mastodon, say, but better organized. What will actually come next is hard to anticipate, but one thing is certain under capitalism: things will continue to change.
In the meantime, there are two layers to digital communication—a public layer and a private layer. The public layer serves movements as a means of informing and coordinating on a large scale; the private, of connecting and planning on a personal scale. As it becomes more difficult to utilize the public layer of corporate social media platforms, people will shift their focus to the private layer—to encrypted platforms like Signal and Matrix—and this will hopefully produce stronger and deeper connections than platforms like Instagram and Twitter could.
A contradiction: the self-regulating and self-organizing qualities of emergent networked phenomena appear to engender and supplement the very thing that makes us human, yet one’s ability to superimpose top-down control on that emergent structure evaporates in the blossoming of the network form, itself bent on eradicating the importance of any distinct or isolated node. This dissonance is most evident in network accidents or networks that appear to spiral out of control—Internet worms [sic] and disease epidemics, for instance. But calling such instances “accidents” or networks “out of control” is a misnomer. They are not networks that are somehow broken but networks that work too well.
-The Exploit, Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker
In the 1980s and 1990s, anarchism made a comeback by rooting within subcultural spaces including punk, the rave scene, and various protest movements. Starting in the early 2000s, some young people treated anarchism as a subcultural milieu unto itself comprised of interlocking cliques and institutions. Most of those models began to reach their limits by the early 2010s, as scenes that had been based in tight-knit groups of friends succumbed to attrition and communities fractured over conflicts about privilege and accountability. At the same time, gentrification was rendering it more difficult to hold on to physical spaces such as social centers and collective housing projects.
By the beginning of the Trump era, many of the communities that had preceded social media had disintegrated, replaced by networks based in online connection. Coordinating through social media allowed for a more atomized social body to nonetheless respond rapidly and flexibly to unfolding events—without necessarily emerging from those experiences with stronger social ties.
The pandemic created unprecedented isolation and reliance upon digital technology. Internet use skyrocketed alongside alienation. Some of us hoped that the end of the pandemic would bring a renaissance of in-person organizing. But there was no conclusion, properly speaking, just a tapering off of security measures, with the consequence that intimate social relationships have continued to erode throughout our society.
The reactionary takeover of social media, which culminated with Elon Musk buying Twitter, will force us to renew other forms of connection. Otherwise, what we can create together will indeed be limited by the algorithms of the ruling class.
This situation is an opportunity as well as a setback. It reminds us to root our relationships in deep connection, to build affinity offline. If we are successful in fostering nourishing communities, other people will want to share these with us, as alienation and isolation have become widespread. There is life after social media.
“At a cultural level, we didn’t stop smoking just because the habit was unpleasant or uncool or even because it might kill us. We did so slowly and over time, by forcing social life to suffocate the practice. That process must now begin in earnest for social media.”
Spending time physically together—or at least in direct contact—is the bedrock of our relationships. If we don’t begin from strong personal connections and an ability to gather, there is nothing to network.
Print out some zines, acquire a few books, and set up a literature table. For the previous generation of anarchists, the classic in-person educational event was the book fair, at which a variety of publishers and distributors would hawk their wares. But you could set up a table at other events, too—protests, speaking events, punk shows, dance parties, art shows, even holiday markets. Maybe you don’t need an event at all, just a high-traffic location on a campus or at a public park or skate park.
Go out at night and decorate your community with stickers and posters. You can buy wallpaper paste or make wheatpaste at home yourself. You can also use stencils or other forms of graffiti to spread a message widely. You can obtain a variety of posters and stickers from us or make your own.
Organize mutual aid events, projects, and networks. The classic mutual aid project is Food Not Bombs—cooking and eating together is a time-honored way to solidify bonds. Another longstanding model is the Really Really Free Market, in which the participants establish a temporary commons based in a gift economy. The pandemic and the George Floyd Rebellion offered a range of newer frameworks for mutual aid projects. The solidarity network model offers a blueprint for how people can help each other confront typical problems with landlords and bosses. For a more informal model drawing on traditional barn raising, a group could form to assist with group projects on a rotating basis.
Organize dance parties! All the better if you can occupy some exciting or unusual venue to host them.
Organize reading groups around particular texts, discussions about ideas or public events, movie screenings, presentations, speaking tours, conferences.
Organize a social center to host events and provide a point of entry for curious people in your community. Maintaining a gathering space will help you meet new people and enable your community to form deeper connections. If it’s impossible to rent a space, you could establish a common gathering area in a public locatioin, or make a practice of gathering at a regular time and place. The Atlanta forest offers one example of how forest defenders have made an embattled public space into a sort of revolutionary commons.
Host a knitting circle, art night, or work party so you benefit from each other’s company while you tinker.
Organize a theater group—traditional theater, shadow puppetry, sock puppetry—or just gather to read a play aloud, the way people did in the 19th century. If you don’t have a better idea, try the works of Dario Fo.
Host parlor games. The surrealists developed an array of those.
Construct giant inflatables, homemade musical instruments, infernal machines. Carry out interruptive performance art actions at municipal events, staid gallery openings, graduation ceremonies, and the like. You can read about how others have done such things here.
Print handbills advertising local events. Leave them at bus stops, on the bus, at coffee shops. Put them under windshield wipers. Put them in mailboxes. Hand them to strangers.
Talk to people. Talk to your housemates, your family members, your co-workers, your neighbors, to people at bus stops. Invite them to events. Don’t keep to yourself with others like you in a subcultural bubble—make sure you are always interacting with new people, challenging them and yourself.
Most of these things can be organized in such a way as to minimize risk from COVID-19 and address other health concerns in order to keep everything participatory and inclusive. If circumstances make participating in these activities difficult for you personally, you can support others who engage in these activities, donate to social centers and distribution projects, and contribute to bail funds when people get arrested.
In a sector of the tech market in which employees have a wider range of employment options that Tesla and SpaceX employees do, reusing the tactics he developed in the aerospace and electric car industry proved more difficult than he anticipated. Many of the employees who worked at Twitter could earn more money selling the same skills to other corporations; they stayed at the company because, to some extent, they identified with the role Twitter played in society. As soon as they received Musk’s email demanding that they be “hardcore,” most of them left. ↩