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Anarchism, Ethics and Justice: The Michael Schmidt Case

category international | anarchist movement | feature author Thursday June 22, 2017 23:55author by Anarkismo Network Report this post to the editors

Anarkismo network framework for international Ethics Commission and statement on convening it

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When we have to deal with disagreements, conflicts and faults, these problems must be solved with a justice that is based on our libertarian ethical values. What does this concretely mean? That we have to hear all the parties involved and make sure to provide physical and psychological protection too all, especially if someone has – at least presumably – been hurt. In cases of sexual violence – for instance – we should not reproduce the bias of bourgeois patriarchal so-called “justice” that too frequently isolates (female) survivors and dismisses their feelings and words. It means that we have to establish means to examine the different positions and eliminate any doubts. That we have to have democratic and collective processes to deal with that and to take decisions and make recommendations. And, mainly, that we must first try to reeducate people instead of punishing or isolating them. Not that in some cases punishment or isolation couldn’t be the only solution, but, at least, we have to make (re)education a priority over punishment and isolation, which should be last resorts.

To deal with these problems within our movement instances of ethical justice that aim to resolve major disagreements, conflicts and faults are necessary. These instance, such as an “ethics commission” for example, could be convened and articulated whenever one or more militants within our movement or organizations identify a problem of this kind and ask formally for the establishment of a commission. The establishment of a commission (or the denial) would be the result of a collective decision made by the deliberative and decision-making bodies of the respective organizations. If a commission is established, then a certain number of militants not involved with the case could be mandated to constitute the commission and be given a deadline to listen to the different parties involved, to develop positions, eliminate doubts and then to produce a written document with a position and recommendations to the respective organization.
To “solve the problem” means, here, to find ways to reach agreements, to find solutions to conflicts, to deal with faults and to eliminate doubts. Although giving preference to (re)education, the commission could decide for issuing a warning, suspension, sanction or even expulsion or "excommunication".



ANARCHISM, ETHICS AND JUSTICE: THE MICHAEL SCHMIDT CASE
Anarkismo network framework for international Ethics Commission and statement on convening it

This document sets out a framework for the international and independent “commission of inquiry”, or ethics commission, which the Anarkismo network said it would convene – in the September 30, 2015 “Statement from Anarkismo on the AK Press accusation against Michael Schmidt” (http://anarkismo.net/article/28576) – to deal with the Michael Schmidt case; as well as to set a new precedent and collectively delineate some general guidelines on how, as a movement, to deal with other similar cases in the future.

As we said in our “Statement on the Schmidt Case and proposed Commission of Inquiry” in March 2017 (https://www.anarkismo.net/article/30115), “Developing proposals for a framework and criteria of ethics and justice for the commission, translating, circulating, discussing in our organisations, submitting and incorporating feedback in as participatory and democratic a manner as possible has taken much time and energy, which we have had to balance with the many other demands and commitments of our organisations and struggles”. The process was more complicated and took longer than we thought and before all the organisations that comprise the Anarkismo network could discuss the proposed framework internally and reach a decision we were “informed by our comrades at the Institute for Anarchist Theory and History (ITHA-IATH) that they had received a letter from Michael Schmidt in which he confessed to having been influenced by right-wing positions and racist arguments while maintaining his ‘anarchist’ public persona and relations with the left”.

We reiterate now what we said then that, “We fully reject and distance ourselves from any and all of the racist and reactionary statements, ideas or activities Schmidt is responsible for – regardless of their alleged motivations […]” and that “we have decided to cut all ties and not to have future relations with Michael Schmidt”.

“These new developments not withstanding”, however, we are still of the opinion that “the proposed commission of inquiry has a necessary and important role to play and we will continue to pursue it. There are several important reasons for this. While at least some of the accusations against Schmidt have been proven to be true by his own admission, we noted […] that the methods of the accusers ‘raised an internal debate about how we deal with such situations'; that we ‘cannot ignore that the methods used by the accusers – especially the lack of a criteria for minimum of justice – could be used one day in an unjustified accusation against any one of us in order to defame a militant, an organisation or a whole movement’, and that; ‘the way we deal with the current situation will have consequences for similar situations in the future’ […] The purpose of this commission, as before, will be to analyse the whole case, including Schmidt’s partial confession and give a final verdict – taking into consideration the now known fact that we have no doubt he adopted rightwing positions concomitant to his anarchist ones – particularly as regards relations to him from now on as well as developing some general procedure on how to treat similar cases in the future.”

The proposed commission is not intended to decide or pronounce on whether Schmidt or anyone else involved in or implicated by the case is anarchist or not. It is not about punishing or exonerating anyone. It is about breaking the mentality within the anarchist movement of “giving medals to who is really an anarchist”, or to who exposes someone as not being an anarchist. It is about establishing whether people’s conduct and the way it has been dealt with generally have been constructive, consistent with anarchist values and principles and congruent with our vision of non-hierarchical social transformation. It is about setting a precedent and drawing lessons from the experience to help us as a movement deal with similar cases in the future in a mature and constructive way consistent with our goals and principles.

This framework has been sent to various organizations, listed below, inviting them to delegate a member to represent their organization on the proposed commission – as well as to two independent anarchist comrades also inviting them to participate in the commission. We are giving all of them one month from the date the invitation was sent, [20.06.2017], to accept or decline the invitation and, if they accept it, to supply the name of their delegate so that we can convene the commission – and finally be able to put this unpleasant episode behind us, learn from the experience and get on with the important work of building a revolutionary movement against capitalism and the state.

Anarchism, ethics and justice

As we know, anarchism has emerged and developed through a process of mutual influence involving workers/popular movements and some thinkers. Based on its almost 150 years of history, it’s possible to establish which principles are generally common to anarchists and syndicalists of all tendencies.

Among these principles[1], there is one that could be called “ethics and values” and conceptualized as “the defense of an ethical conception, capable of supporting rational critiques and propositions, and based on the following values: individual and collective freedom; equality in economic, political and social terms; solidarity and mutual aid; permanent stimulus to happiness, motivation and will”. All these values could be discussed in hundreds of pages, but as revolutionary anarchists and syndicalists, we probably have a more or less common view on them.

The relevant point here is that anarchism has historically developed a whole body of conceptions which have directed anarchist critiques, propositions, conduct, opinions/judgments and so on. Independent of how the anarchists themselves defined these conceptions – ie: Bakunin talked on the need for a “new social philosophy, a “new faith”, and Kropotkin on the need for a “new ethics” – there is no doubt when studying the history of anarchism that something like this can be extracted from it.

These anarchist conceptions of ethics and values forged the moral elements necessary to the argument that exploitation, political-bureaucratic domination, physical coercion, cultural alienation, class society and national/gender/race domination should be destroyed; and that the socialization of property, democratic self-government, self-managed culture, classless society and the end of domination at all levels should be constructed. In sum, they enable us to judge society in general. What anarchists consider ethically right or wrong, good or bad, has been based on these conceptions.

So, in this an anarchist sense, ethics could be defined as the libertarian moral values that direct our critiques and propositions and that guide our conduct and opinions/judgments. In this same sense, justice could be defined as the realization of ethics. Something is considered just/fair if it’s ethical; something is considered unjust/unfair if it’s unethical.

It’s sure that ethics and justice, as concepts, as almost every concept (socialism, freedom, democracy, power and so on), could be defined in other ways or even criticized. However, surely here we are not talking about bourgeois justice or even some metaphysic human ethics or hegemonic morals.

As the general lines of the future society anarchists intend to build are much better than the ones of the society we currently live in, so too are our conceptions of ethics and justice. Since Bakunin, we anarchists have promoted working with a prefigurative politics. Our purpose is not to create a small and perfect society isolated from the rest of society, as some former cooperativists proposed and as some others propose today. Our aim is to transform the society in which we live, and this obviously implies contradictions since it’s not possible to establish completely new social relations while living under capitalism, the state and so on. Despite this, we support prefigurative politics in the sense that we have to define our final objectives (where we would like to arrive) and, proceeding from where we are now, to develop a coherent strategy to advance towards our aims.

Concerning ethics and justice, it’s necessary, as it’s possible, to work prefiguratively in our groups, organizations and movements. Not only with the libertarian values we predict for the future, but also with the established rules and norms guided by these values. We also think that all the rules and norms have to be decided collectively and freely accepted.

Yet, disagreements, conflicts and faults surely will arise. No doubt that in a future society they will certainly decrease a lot with the social relations, institutions and so on having been completely transformed. But even then, problems and contradictions will emerge in society. Not to mention in our groups, organizations and movements. Following from our prefigurative politics, our mechanisms of justice have to solve these problems according to our ethical conceptions, or, in other words, in a fair libertarian way. Let’s just remember that our justice must be better (or much better) than the so-called justice we have in the liberal capitalist states around the world.

When we have to deal with disagreements, conflicts and faults, these problems must be solved with a justice that is based on our libertarian ethical values. What does this concretely mean? That we have to hear all the parties involved and make sure to provide physical and psychological protection to all, especially if someone has – at least presumably – been hurt. In cases of sexual violence – for instance – we should not reproduce the bias of bourgeois patriarchal so-called “justice” that too frequently isolates (female) survivors and dismisses their feelings and words. It means that we have to establish means to examine the different positions and eliminate any doubts. That we have to have democratic and collective processes to deal with that and to take decisions and make recommendations. And, mainly, that we must first try to reeducate people instead of punishing or isolating them. Not that in some cases punishment or isolation couldn’t be the only solution, but, at least, we have to make (re)education a priority over punishment and isolation, which should be last resorts.

To deal with these problems within our movement instances of ethical justice that aim to resolve major disagreements, conflicts and faults are necessary. These instance, such as an “ethics commission” for example, could be convened and articulated whenever one or more militants within our movement or organizations identify a problem of this kind and ask formally for the establishment of a commission. The establishment of a commission (or the denial) would be the result of a collective decision made by the deliberative and decision-making bodies of the respective organizations. If a commission is established, then a certain number of militants not involved with the case could be mandated to constitute the commission and be given a deadline to listen to the different parties involved, to develop positions, eliminate doubts and then to produce a written document with a position and recommendations to the respective organization.

To “solve the problem” means, here, to find ways to reach agreements, to find solutions to conflicts, to deal with faults and to eliminate doubts. Although giving preference to (re)education, the commission could decide for issuing a warning, suspension, sanction or even expulsion or "excommunication".

The Schmidt case

What we have with the Michael Schmidt case is, in some way, similar to that. Basically, taking the anarchist and syndicalist milieu as a “movement”, what we have is a sector making an accusation against one member, and what the Anarkismo network decided to do is to call for the establishment of an “Ethics Commission” to deal with the case. So, what do we have to do with the commission? We have to judge Schmidt, based on the ethics and values we have in common as revolutionary anarchists and syndicalists while trying to think in a prefigurative way. Sure this is abstract in some way, but taking into account that the anarchist milieu doesn't have common organizational documents, it’s the only way possible to do that.

First, we have to establish to what extent he contravened the informal rules and norms we have as revolutionary anarchists and syndicalists . Or, we have to deal with Schmidt’s admitted fault or, at least, to deal with the conflict that the accusations against him implied. For this, it will be necessary: to read the accusation pieces, his defense pieces, his (partial) admission in his letter to ITHA and the main documents on the case[2] ; to talk to the parties implicated and to source and examine any other relevant documents and information[3], in order to deepen our knowledge and/or to eliminate doubts. In evaluating evidence, the commission will have to a) Compile a list of accusations made against Schmidt; b) Compile a list of defenses made by Schmidt; c) Compile a list of admissions and partial admissions made by Schmidt; d) Evaluate these against the evidence / source material / original materials that have been cited, as well as against the claims made in the texts of accusers and accused[4]. It will also be necessary to reach a common position on what (more or less exactly) he did that we consider a fault. It would be important to justify why and in which measure this fault is a contravention against our ethical values, our informal rules and norms. It would also be important to put a degree on this fault: small, medium, serious, extremely serious and to classify it as “probably tractable” or “probably not tractable”. It will also be necessary to evaluate and pass judgement on the truthfulness and validity of Schmidt’s claims that he “was never entirely convinced by the racist right or the ‘national-anarchists’”, that he has “since recovered” his “unity of mind” and that he remains “a committed revolutionary anarchist, and as such a firm anti-fascist and anti-racist”.

Second, and probably more difficult, we have to decide what to do, or, to make a recommendation to people on what to do. There are at least 3 possible positions that could emerge: 1.) What Schmidt did is completely forgivable and he will be allowed to participate in anarchist projects, groups and organizations, to publish on our presses and websites etc. as before. Or, our relation to him will continue in the same way. 2.) What he did is forgivable IF something happens or some conditions are met. Here it could be recommended, for example, that Schmidt make some kind of past self-criticism, release a public statement acknowledging and recognizing his mistakes, etc. Or maybe that he make some commitments regarding the future. Or maybe some kind of temporary penalty could be imposed: for example, a certain number of months/years out of our means etc. Here, it’s important to say that willingness and disposition on his part to accept and meet the stipulated conditions is mandatory for his forgiveness. 3.) What he did is completely unforgivable and probably impossible to treat/fix. And then all formal/political anarchist and syndicalist relations with him should be cut completely. Maybe, it could also be recommended what to do concerning his publications, research, books etc. and what kind of relations anarchists and syndicalists should / should not have with him: political, academic, publishing, social, none whatsoever, etc.

Third, if it decided it necessary or useful, the commission could develop a position on the case it-self. The way it was handled by the international anarchist and syndicalist milieu, including Anarkismo, ZACF, Reid Ross and Stephens, Schmidt, van der Walt, AK Press, the anonymous sources etc.

Concerning the decision-making method, the commission could really try to reach agreements by consensus. But, if it’s not possible, we recommend voting, with the simple majority winning and the main disagreements and positions being documented in the commission’s final public report.

We propose that the commission should produce a final report with: 1.) A synthesis on what Schmidt really (or probably) did; 2.) An outline of how the commission carried out its task and a justified position of how the commission judged the case (in terms of ethical conceptions etc.); 3.) A recommendation on what to do with Schmidt based on a) the different possible levels of contravention of anarchist and syndicalist norms and values, and b) a judgement on Schmidt’s claims that he has emerged from “that dark period”, has returned to sanity and renewed his commitment to anarchism; 4.) If necessary, a general judgment on the whole process of the case (i.e. how the anarchist and syndicalist milieu handled it) and; 5.) General guidelines and recommendations on how to handle similar cases in the future.

In order for it to have legitimacy it is important that the commission is balanced and made up of delegates from the organizations representing the main traditions within class struggle anarchism and syndicalism , as well as independent anarchists. To ensure that the process does not drag on for too long and to facilitate voting, where consensus is not achieved, we recommend that the commission is not too big and that it consist of an odd number of members. We propose the commission comprise seven people but, in the event that some organizations or individuals decline the invitation, suggest it be made up of at least three of the networks, organizations and individuals (we will publish information on the individuals once the organizations below have also made proposals) proposed below to be viable:

1) The organizations of the november 2016 Bilbao's Conference[5]
2) International of Anarchist Federations (IAF-IFA)
3) Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
4) Anarkismo network
5) Red and Black Coordination (if unactive, we will contact CGT-E)

We feel it is important that nobody who has publicly taken a position either in defense of or against Schmidt should be part of the commission as this will undermine its impartiality, and therefore have asked the organizations we invited onto the commission not to delegate members who have publicly expressed opinions or positions on Schmidt's innocence or guilt.

Using this document as the basis for a common framework on the tasks of the commission and the anarchist conceptions of ethics and justice and prefigurative politics that should guide the commission, the commission itself will be responsible for deciding on its approach, identifying and dividing tasks, setting timeframes – based on the availability and capacity of commission members – and carrying out its work until such time as it has made its final judgment and released its final report and recommendations to the anarchist and syndicalist movement. After which the commission will be dissolved and it will be left up to the rest of the anarchist and syndicalist movement and milieu to accept its judgment and implement its recommendations or not and the case will be considered closed.

We will make another statement in one month time once we have received the decisions of the individuals and organizations we have invited.

The Anarkismo network


Notes

1. A list and conceptualization of these principles can be found in this article (translated into Spanish): http://www.anarkismo.net/article/26934.
2. The main documents are: The AK Press statement, the 5 Reid Ross and Stephens texts; Schmidt's 2 responses; the 2 responses Reid Ross wrote after Schmidt's 2nd (long) response; the ZACF public statement.; Schmidt’s resignation letter to ITHA; Lucien van der Walt's statement should also be taken into account, because he is an important part of this process.
3. Anarkismo will make available to the commission articles by Michael Schmidt that the Anarkismo editorial group decided not to publish. The ZACF has also said it will make available meeting minutes, internal documents and discussions relevant to the case. We suggest that all research done by Reid Ross and Stephens, including transcripts of interviews with sources, should be made available to the commission. We also ask that the sources Reid Ross and Stephens relied on for their research come forward and make themselves known to the commission (not necessarily the public) and avail themselves to answer questions.
4.This means building a table of claim(s) plus years these apply to, counterclaim(s) plus years these apply to, from all the core texts, then evaluation of the relative merits of the two (claim vs counterclaim) based on cited evidence. Then overall conclusions can be drawn. This is a very simple, systematic concrete approach. It could otherwise easily end up a discussion that goes in circles. It will also pick up issues that are dodged e.g. claims that are not rebutted, and counterclaims not answered, and allow identification of weak or unsubstantiated claims/ counterclaims.
5. We have changed the appelation ""Renovated" International Workers Association" with "The organizations of the november 2016 Bilbao's Conference". It was not our intention to be provocative or to offend anyone. We apology for our lack of sensibility on that matter.

Related Link: http://anarkismo.net

 #   Title   Author   Date 
   Misinformation     Akai    Sat Jun 24, 2017 01:13 
   Why go outside the home?     Mike Harris    Sat Jun 24, 2017 05:59 
   The commission     attorney    Sat Jun 24, 2017 19:29 
   Quite laughable but I applaud it     Karelian Blew It    Tue Jun 27, 2017 18:09 
   In anticipation of upcoming mudslinging in the faces of those who exposed Schmidt's fascism...     George    Tue Jun 27, 2017 18:43 
   precedents     And    Wed Jun 28, 2017 17:07 
   What should be learned     Akai    Wed Jun 28, 2017 22:00 
   Clean up your own mess, cowards     Eve    Wed Jun 28, 2017 23:18 
   PRIMARY SOURCES - Do not ignore this evidence     Anon    Thu Jun 29, 2017 00:47 
 10   Thx anon     Disgusted    Thu Jun 29, 2017 02:41 
 11   if ur serious contact Michael directly and get him on record     Margot    Thu Jun 29, 2017 16:51 
 12   occam's razor     Mousekitty    Thu Jun 29, 2017 23:41 
 13   a vanguard by any other name     Dumb Masses    Thu Jun 29, 2017 23:56 
 14   commissions     Akai    Fri Jun 30, 2017 17:01 
 15   The commission     attorney    Fri Jun 30, 2017 17:30 
 16   The commission     attorney    Fri Jun 30, 2017 22:35 
 17   Oh give it up already and post a **short and direct** statement     Jonathan    Sat Jul 01, 2017 00:19 
 18   contact info from ProJourn website and FB     anonanon    Sat Jul 01, 2017 01:44 
 19   fuller info here     anonanonanon    Sat Jul 01, 2017 01:48 
 20   New publishing     Mike Harris    Sat Jul 01, 2017 02:20 
 21   Schmidt still has publishers and orgs standing by him     George    Sat Jul 01, 2017 03:09 
 22   translations of BF     George    Sat Jul 01, 2017 03:22 
 23   Wildfire will be published     M    Sat Jul 01, 2017 10:18 
 24   double game     BS    Sat Jul 01, 2017 15:58 
 25   MS is in quarantine now     attorney    Sat Jul 01, 2017 18:04 
 26   ad: MS is in quarantine now     attorney    Sat Jul 01, 2017 18:40 
 27   reeducation     Martin    Sun Jul 02, 2017 22:04 
 28   Spokesperson     attorney    Mon Jul 03, 2017 17:41 
 29   looking for transparency is foolish     IANAL    Mon Jul 03, 2017 23:17 
 30   Azef Affair     Jeremiah    Mon Jul 03, 2017 23:57 
 31   The biggest mistake     attorney    Tue Jul 04, 2017 01:23 
 32   unnecessary     Akai    Tue Jul 04, 2017 05:00 
 33   This, indeed, is the forward going problem     Mike Harris    Tue Jul 04, 2017 06:54 
 34   Mrs.     attorney    Tue Jul 04, 2017 18:53 
 35   very sour     Kiwi    Fri Jul 07, 2017 22:44 
 36   Against the Fascist Creep     Book    Sat Jul 08, 2017 01:49 
 37   one of Keith Preston's Le Sueur quotes     Le Merde    Sat Jul 08, 2017 02:11 
 38   2014 article in African newspaper about Schmidt's fascist organization     Namibian Sun    Tue Jul 11, 2017 04:11 
 39   Reason for removing comment by "ZACF"     Jon    Thu Jul 13, 2017 21:57 


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