Mutual Aid Dispatch

Mutual Aid Dispatch #4: Mutual Aid via the Etniko Bandido Infoshop/Local Autonomous Network, Philippines

From the onset of COVID-19, it was obvious that the authoritarian government led by Rodrigo Duterte was not prioritizing the needs of Phillipino people. He ignored calls for a travel ban, lest the country lose out on any tourism revenue. And, while the pandemic called for health-related responses, like increased PPE and transportation for healthcare workers, Duterte’s administration responded instead with militaristic tactics, treating the virus like an enemy state. According to Local Autonomous Network (LAN), this is an attempt to secure power, rather than to keep anyone safe.

The anarchists involved in LAN were already not inclined to rely on Duerte’s regime, nor the prevailing capitalistic order. To do so begets a return to ‘normal’, and ‘normalcy’ means more of a structure that encourages selfishness and supremacy over cooperation. As with most anarchists, LAN sees many of the hardships under COVID-19 not as anomalous, but as agitations of structural injustice. For example, they cite Duerto’s ineffective aid to “no work, no pay” workers, such as street vendors or pedicab drivers, as an ignorance towards the needs of his own people. Those who have reacted to COVID-19 with selfishness are expressing a learned maladaptive - a symptom of a social order that impairs cooperation.

“Mutual aid is a natural action for a person,” says a collective member who helped Food Not Bombs hand out fresh soup. “Cooperation is an instinct.” Jean, who helped distribute rice around her community said, “this is not to show off that we want to be a hero, but [that] we are there to share what we have according to our capacity.” Chung, a pedicab driver, has been offering free rides to healthcare workers, as well as using his cart to distribute aid packages. These efforts belong to a complex network that looks to model cooperative living: community gardening, donation drives, food redistribution, and online classes for children and adults. All of this falls in-line with LAN, FNB and the Etniko Bandido Infoshop’s ongoing work; that is, community-building mutual aid that persists through foul and fair weather.


Mutual Aid Dispatch

Mutual Aid Dispatch #3: Occupy Sandy

Now is a great time to revisit Occupy Sandy, an example of grassroots, horizontal organizing that stepped in when government organizations like FEMA and NYCHA were stumbling. The ad-hoc effort came about from people who were previously involved in Occupy Wall Street, and grew into a coordinated system that deployed hot meals and supplies with a force of over 60,000 volunteers.

Following Hurricane Sandy, there was a varied reaction across state entities. Public-facing officials made use of their extended screen time to feign efficacy and across-the-aisle cooperation, often overplaying the resiliency of their region. (Sound familiar?) FEMA, although also administering on-the-ground aid, largely focused on monetary loans (with varying success). The MTA reistated service quickly, while NYCHA left residents stranded in unsafe conditions. Meanwhile, other members of government were comfortable taking a back seat while Occupy Sandy provided aid in hardest-hit communities, sometimes providing the supplies for OS to distribute. Along the way, the Department of Homeland Security was keeping tabs on OS, culminating in an exhaustive report that can teach us a lot about how the state exists alongside disaster communities.

By Out of the Woods’ telling, “disaster communities are not intentional communities, drop-out communes, or activist temporary autonomous zones. They’re self-organised, non-market, non-statist social reproduction under adverse conditions.” Within these communities, we see examples of mutual aid - in the case of Occupy Sandy, that looked like community-based organizing around need-fulfillment, without the hierarchical trappings of orgs like the Red Cross. Their occurrence is natural - during crisis, there is an innate “reversion to improvised, collaborative, cooperative, and local society.” But they are also ephemeral, and slated to disappear once normalcy is restored.

Thus, while such autonomous entities springing up when the state is weak might appear threatening, these disaster communities come equipped with the latent promise that they’ll disappear. With that security in hand, the state can feel empowered in utilizing their services, and even, in the case of the DHS report, praising their strategy. But, as Easton Smith argues, there’s more to it than that. By working alongside Occupy Sandy, the state was granted access to a stabilized public; by supporting, rather than squashing its efforts, the state was allowed an intercessor that could quell public frustration in the interim between crisis and normalcy. Meanwhile, the state made OS meet them on their terms, including threats to withhold essential provisions if protests were staged. Members of OS worried that they could either be political or provide aid, although the two needn’t be mutually exclusive.

The solution is not necessarily to bar all interaction with the state. Smith makes the case for some interplay - especially when it comes to getting emergency supplies - but with a full understanding of the value of a disaster community, which can be leveraged. Occupy Sandy, by nature of being so ad-hoc, had no foundational understanding of its relationship to the state. And there’s another thing that the DHS report can teach us: that the state knows its enemy. Going forward, we ought to try to understand them at least just as well.

Lastly, we must consider the revolutionary potential of these disaster communities. Let’s accept that they not only can, but must be both aid-giving and political. But even so, Out of the Woods argues that no amount of disaster communities lead to revolution. Maybe so, but when they pull upon existing activist work and mutual aid structures, the effect is different. In the case of covid-19, this may look like anti-prison groups using health-related decareration to stoke justice reform; or the mainstream appropriation of rent striking to link tenants to unions for long-term organizing. The Mexico City earthquake of 1985 is a good example of disaster as a catalyst for reform. Lastly, disaster communities can easily be made into long-term networks, which can develop a more sophisticated relationship with the state, and work to serve more dimensions of our daily lives.

Anarchist Documentary List

Rojava/Democratic Confederalism/Kurdish Freedom Movement

1. Rozava: The Country of Two Rivers

– Rojava doc made by Rojava Film Commune focusing on “civil side” of Revolution

2. Voices of Bakur

– Documentary on “Democratic Confederalist”/Kurdish Freedom movement in Turkey

3. Radio Kobani

– Doc on a young women’s radio project in Kobane, Rojava.

4. Fear Us Women

– Short documentary on women fighters in Rojava, with a focus on Hannah Bohman, a woman internationalist volunteer.

5. Our War

– Documentary on Rojava Revolution focusing on international volunteers.

6. Bakur (North): Inside the PKK (2015)

– Documentary on the PKK and Kurdish movement for “democratic confederalism”

7. Carnets d’un combattant kurde aka Primavera in Kurdistan (2006)

– Documentary following daily life of PKK fighters – covering Kurdish left movement/democratic confederalism.

8. Her War Women Vs. ISIS (2015)

– Documentary produced by Russia Today on women fighters in Rojava/volunteers and the struggle against ISIS.

9. Gulistan, Land of Roses (2016)

– Another PKK documentary (Gulistan is another name for Kurdistan) focusing on the women’s movement aspect and female guerrillas.

Spanish Civil War

10. An Anarchist’s Story (2007)

– Documentary on Ethel Macdonald. Scottish anarchist best known for being a broadcaster during the Spanish Civil War.

11. The Spanish Civil War [episodes 1-6]

– UK documentary series that references Bookchin’s writing on Spain heavily.

12. Into the Fire: American Women in the Spanish Civil War (2002)

– On women’s participation. A more “liberal” documentary that de-emphasizes the radicalism of volunteers and revolutionary aspects of Spanish Civil War.

13. CNT 1936-1939 (2012)

– Documentary collection (available on DVD) of a vast amount of CNT produced films from the period of the Spanish Civil War. Fascinating historical work. Spanish language only (as far as I know) for most work.

14. The NO-DO Years:1939 Victors and Vanquished (2006)

– Documentary collection (DVD) of the “NO-DO”s (shorts/newsreels) that were distributed during Spanish Civil War. Other periods and years are available. Spanish language only (as far as I know) for most materials.

15. Ispaniya aka Spain (1939)

– Documentary on the Spanish Civil War, edited by pioneering woman filmmaker Esfir Shub. Esfir Shub is a famous Soviet documentary filmmaker, who helped pioneer montage techniques and documentary filmmaking. This film is, due to her loyalties, more focused on the communists of Spain.

16. Celuloide Colectivo. El cine en guerra (2009)

– Documentary on CNT/anarcho-syndicalist film production during the Spanish Civil War. Includes interviews with participants and is not just a collection, but a broader overview of their work.

17. The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War (1984)

– Documentary on American internationalists in the Spanish Civil War

18. Memorias rotas aka Broken Memories (2010)

– Arthouse documentary on the Spanish Civil War in Galicia, with emphasis on a particular engagement and unit of Republican fighters led by an anarchist.

19. Indomables (2013)

– Documentary on Mujeres Libres, anarchist women’s organization. As far as I know Spanish language with Portuguese and Italian subtitles only.

20. De Toda la vida AKA All Our Lives (1986)

– Documentary on the Mujeres Libres anarchist women’s organization during the Spanish Civil War.

21. Durruti en la Revolucion Española (1988)

– Spanish language documentary on Buenaventura Durruti, anarchist militant and wartime commander during the Spanish Civil War.

22. Casas Viejas: El Grito del Sur (1996)

– Documentary focusing on a specific anarchist uprising in the Spanish Civil War (agrarian revolt in Casas Viejas). Spanish language only (as far as I know).

23. El Sopar (1974)

– Unusual documentary. Films a dinner conversation between five former political prisoners under the Franco regime. Spanish Civil War and Spanish left.

Zapatismo/Zapatista Movement

24. The Silence of the Zapatistas (2001)

– Documentary on Ethel Macdonald. Scottish anarchist best known for being a broadcaster during the Spanish Civil War.

25. A Place Called Chiapas (1998)

– Fairly early documentary on the Zapatista movement and uprising.

26. Zapatistas, crónica de una rebelión (2003)

– Another Zapatista documentary, with a wider view on the uprisings impact in Mexico and Mexican state’s response.

27. Zapatistas (1999)

– Zapatista documentary featuring interviews with many key figures in the movement.

28. The Sixth Sun: Mayan Uprising in Chiapas (1995)

– Another very early documentary on the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico against globalization/capitalism.

29. 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle (2000)

– Not necessarily a pro-anarchist documentary, a journalist frames his own experiences throughout the demonstrations and crackdown.

Biographical Docs not in Previous Categories

30. Néstor Makhno, Paysan D’Ukraine (1996)

– Documentary on Nestor Makhno’s life, Ukrainian anarchist who fought during the Russian Revolution for an anarchist Ukraine. French language only (as far as I know).

31. Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (2018)

– On the anarchist, or anarchist loved, author Ursula K. Le Guin.

32. Free Angela and All Political Prisoners (2012)

– Documentary featuring Angela Davis herself, on Black Power, left movement in U.S., and Angela Davis in particular.

33. Accidental Anarchist

– Documentary on former UK diplomat Carne Ross, who, after the Iraq war abandoned liberalism for anarchism. He is currently a proponent of the Rojava Revolution and other struggles. His TedTalk is a great introduction for those unfamiliar with anarchism.

34. Emma Goldman: An Exceedingly Dangerous Woman (2004)

– Biographic documentary on Emma Goldman.

35. The Cell (2008)

– Interview collection documentary with Antonio Negri (named for his “cell” – as he was a long time political prisoner while actively collaborating with Michael Hardt).

36. Sacco and Vanzetti (2006)

– Documentary on the trial and execution of two Italian-American anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti. Was a worldwide cause and their innocence or guilt is still debated today (for those who think it’s relevant).

37. Antonio Negri: A Revolt That Never Dies (2005)

– Documentary on former militant and theorist of (highly uncredited anarchist influenced) “autonomous Marxism”

Globalization – Effects of Capitalism – Macro-documentaries

38. Terrorists: The Kids They Sentenced (2003)

– Documentary on anti-globalization protests in Sweden in 2001 and the extreme repression of activists.

39. Profit & Nothing But! Or Impolite Thoughts on the Class Struggle (2001)

– More “arthouse” documentary on globalization and capitalism’s impact on the poor of the world.

40. Surplus: Terrorized Into Being Consumers (2003)

– Documentary critique of globalization and capitalism – however leans towards a more primitivist anarchist viewpoint.

41. Breaking The Spell - Anarchists, Eugene, & The WTO (1999)

– Self-explanatory title on alterglobalization mobilizations! Documentary included in the Crimethinc collection. point.

42. No Border/ Un Homme idéal/ N’entre pas sans violence dans la nuit (2008)

– Sylvain George DVD documentary collection. George is an avant documentary filmmaker on the left – with numerous films on occupations, border controls, immigrant struggles, etc.

43. Raising Resistance (2011)

– Documentary about the revolt of soy farmers in Paraguay, their subsequent occupation/squatting and struggle over land and crop supply chains. Another globalization movie.

Mixed Films on Anarchism/Collections/Leftist history

44. CrimethInc. Guerilla Film Series, Vol.1 (2006)

– Collection of documentary features and shorts on the anarchist movement.

45. The Battle for the Liberation of Japan: Summer in Sanrizuka (1968)

– Experimental documentary on the ’68 revolt in Japan focusing on student movement and agrarian protest. The filmmaker has made many other “left” documentary films.

46. The Voice of Free Labor: The Jewish Anarchists (1980)

– Doc narrated by Paul Avrich on the American Jewish anarchist movement.

47. Anarchism in America (1983)

– Includes older footage and figures like Emma Goldman, alongside figures like Kenneth Rexroth, Murray Bookchin, and Molly Steimer. Strange but not bad, especially the interviews!

48. Antifascist Attitude (2008)

– Made by Russian anti-fascists (“The Children of Bakunin”), on the anti-fascist struggle there. Russia has one of the most violent, repressive and intense fascist movements.

49. Libertários AKA Libertarians (1976)

– Documentary focusing on the Brazilian anarchist movement at the turn of the century.