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Interview with José Antonio Gutiérrez
Interview with José Antonio Gutiérrez, a regular writer for the international anarchist communist news site Anarkismo.net and a Chilean immigrant in Ireland. Before immigrating, he participated with anarchists in the labor and student movements in Chile, and has since been active in the international solidarity movement.
Interview with José Antonio Gutiérrez
This interview was conducted over email in January, before the earthquake that shook Chile, hence no mention of that event or its aftereffects was made in our exchange. It also happened that the earthquake in Haiti took place about halfway through our interview. While not expressly mentioned, it forms an obvious and important subtext to the second half in which we discuss international solidarity. The other subtext, in the first half (and again not expressly mentioned), is the recent student protests in California, and to a less extent the student riots in Greece more than a year ago, which grabbed international attention. Student comrades would do well to take note of the anarchist experience with the student movement in Chileone of the more optimistic experiences of our international movement in recent years, and one that points the way to how anarchism can become a force in mass movements. One last note that should be made, in agreement with comments made in the interview, and which forms a running theme of this interview, is the need for anarchists to be open to their own and others’ lived experiences, to learn from those experiences and to also criticize, and be open to criticism, in a constructive and comradely way. Having said that, readers need not agree with every point made in the interview to enjoy and appreciate it.
Kevin: Revolutionary greetings Jose! So to start, some personal intro.... How did you become an anarchist? What sort of background did you have, if any, in social struggles or political activity etc. before joining the movement? Have there been any non-anarchist influences on your thinking, prior to or since "converting"? Did you know much about or interact with any anarchists before then?
José Antonio: Well, I became an anarchist in the mid 90s by going to a place called TASYS in my town, Concepción, that was a social centre where trade unions, community organisations and the anarchists came to meet. Around that time there was a lot of movements and strikes among coal miners in the region and the anarchists were very active in a solidarity committee with that struggle, so I decided I would join them. Before that, I could say I had a very politicised life from the start, since we were living under the dictatorship of Pinochet and my family was in the opposition, so there was always a lot of political debate going on, and we were all aware of the struggle going on and some in my family were very active in the anti-dictatorship movement. My grandmother indeed was a huge political influence, and she would sometimes call herself an anarchist. So obviously I grew to have from a very young age a rabid hatred for US imperialism and an instinctive and natural sympathy for socialism. The collapse of the Soviet Union messed up things a bit, but I had a strong feeling that capitalism was fundamentally wrong and that the left was fundamentally -if not at all times- right. So I started frequenting left wing activities and got active in anything I could, usually in the revolutionary left that appealed to me the most.
A very important thing when I was young, that really struck me was a church we used to go to, that the mass was given by a so called red priest, so the social aspects of Christianity and theology of liberation were a huge influence. Paradoxically, Bakunin and his "God and the State" which I read when 14 was another huge influence. But in general, my biggest influence was a deep dislike for the Pinochet gang of thugs and morons. So the "left" as such had a natural appeal to me. There weren't many anarchists around back then, so it was hard to interact with them before I went to TASYS where they all gathered. Most people in the anarchist movement in my town were very open, warm and frank and not quite so judgmental, so it was easy to become an anarchist. I think that had I run across first those sectarian and dogmatic type of anarchists that go around snapping at everyone that doesn't think exactly as them, I would have found it very hard to become an anarchist myself. But anarchism eventually grew in Chile, I think because the political system was so closed and hermetic to alternatives, that anarchism became a natural option to youth that really did not have much of another chance if they wanted to have a voice. Then, of course, we turned this "we are anarchist because there is no room for us" into a conscious movement that has put forward its own alternative.
Kevin: It's interesting, that last part.... Some writers attribute revolutionary or anti-establishment sentiments to the "stifled ambitions" of individuals or social layers. What can you say about this for your own part, personally, and what can you say about the social demographic of anarchism in Chile to shed light on that theory?
José Antonio: I think that certainly if there were equal opportunities to all, and a fair society there would be no quarrels and therefore no revolutionary movement. The origins of social protest lay in some sections of society being excluded, marginalized, impoverished, etc. Now, the big challenge is how you turn away from mere "resentment" or from mere dissatisfaction with your lot, into a collective will for changing society. And at that point is when a movement turns really revolutionary, when it is not about begrudging individuals trying to improve their own personal lot but it is a collective movement trying to bring about a new form of society where no one is excluded, exploited, impoverished, etc. This is the constructive, as opposed to the destructive, side of the revolutionary movement. The two sides exist, but we certainly need to put more emphasis on the constructive aspects for they are the ones to bring about lasting change and our futures cannot be improvised thinking that spontaneity alone will look after it.
On the social demographics of Chilean anarchism, I'd say that it is a young movement, with very few people older than 35 years, and it certainly comprises a couple of generations for which opportunities have been quite thin in the free market miracle of Chile, generations that do no fit in the representative game of traditional party politics and look for new ways to express themselves and a generation that, having lived only the last part of the dictatorship or in post-dictatorship Chile, have no direct experience with the traditional forms of social movements and in one way or another had to re-invent mechanisms for participation and organisation -at that point, libertarian politics had a lot to say, as was proved in the massive and quite libertarian protests of students a couple of years ago. I should add that most of the Chilean movement today belongs to working class background or lower middle classes, but who had access to education and a lot of anarchists have actually gone to universities, at least for a year, some making enormous sacrifices. How this affects that theory, I don't know, but it is a movement knowledgeable enough not to believe those stories that if you study hard you will "get there".
Kevin: It sounds like the student movement of sorts in Chile is quite active. What kind of student organizations exist, how many students have mobilized, what kind of demands have they made, and so on? What is their relationship to the anarchists?
José Antonio: Yes, the students movement is quite active and for many years it has been the most visible political actor in Chile with a capacity for national mobilisation. That was true in the mid '90s more than it is now -at that time, most social organisations were completely battered and atomised. Only the university students kept some capacity to move forces on a national level and they kept their students federations largely intact. The secondary students movement was all but nonexistent by the mid '90s, even though it had been quite important in the '80s, in the struggle against the dictatorship, something recently acknowledged in a documentary about their struggle against the dictatorship called "Actores Secundarios" (Secondary Actors). So on the one hand you have the university students with their federations and a single body that brings them all together, but which has no binding capacity. On the other hand, you have the secondary students that have rebuilt their movement in the early 2000s, forming assemblies and coordinating bodies that have quite a libertarian ethos in their way of functioning and because anarchism is quite popular among the active Chilean youth.
The anarchists, of course, are an important force behind these protests. You have various types of anarchists taking part in the movement, but the only force organised nationally and with a capacity to have incidence in the movement through its own programme, is the Frente de Estudiantes Libertarios, or Libertarian Students' Front (FeL), created back in 2002 by some comrades in Santiago, Concepción and Valparaíso, among whom I was counted. Now there are comrades in other towns as well, such as Osorno, Arica, Iquique, etc. It is an organisation that as most students networks has a fluctuating membership of around a couple of hundreds, although in times of mobilisation, like in 2006 when our comrades had a huge prominence it can expand significantly. It has managed to have an influence and it is the only visible libertarian force with a real national existence.
The capacity of mobilisation varies and it is quite cyclical. But we are talking of many thousands. At times, coordinated occupations of universities have brought up to 100,000 students mobilised, and in Santiago, students demonstrations have brought to the streets 30,000 university students in the period from 1996 up to the present. In 2006, the "penguin revolution", that is how the secondary students are called because of their uniform, all of the Chilean schools we occupied and brought to a standstill, even the one school in Easter Island, a complete novelty since nothing ever happens in that remote Pacific colony. In one day of protest Police estimated that 1,000,000 students were out in the streets protesting -an awful lot since you consider that Chile has roughly 16 million people. Police brutality is always the norm in these protests -the students come out, the police harasses the students and all of a sudden, the place is in fire, water cannons, barricades, plenty of tear gas and riot sticks. And the students defend with whatever they can put their hands on.
The demands have usually been against the privatisation of education and against particular attempts to reform the education system to make it even more neoliberal than it actually is at present. The movement, in spite of its strength, has not managed to have a consistent set of demands beyond certain specific moments when such petition bodies are put forward to end up specific waves of protests. There are conflicting partial solutions to the problem and that is a weakness in strategic terms -obviously, there are political groups within the movement, particularly those centrists linked to the government, that are not interested at all in these set of coherent demands being discussed and try to boycott any attempt for such a debate to take place.
Kevin: It's baffling that a movement of that strength, with such huge clashes, gets sadly little international attention in either the bourgeois press or the anarchist movement. How come that is, do you think, or do they in fact get much attention elsewhere?
José Antonio: I think this is the case for various reasons. First, because there has been an attempt to show Chile as a sort of economic and political oasis in Latin America, and this means that political repression or even the struggles are somehow concealed from the international media. I don't think there's any conspiracy behind it apart from the biases and filters of the media. In relation to the European or US anarchist movement, I think that the fact that the movement has been for years doing a very persistent and patient work of organisation in the rank and file means that our work is not really that spectacular, in comparison to, let's say, the thrashing of Seattle a couple of years ago. I also think that issues such as sectarianism and even the language barriers have played against these experiences being a bit more known. But since anarkismo.net has been running I think there is permanent platform where people can find information of what our movement has been doing and building. Still, the amount of material from Chile in English is negligible, let alone other languages.
In South America, on the contrary, among the anarcho-communist circuit, we exchange a lot of ideas and experiences with other organisations, mainly in Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and Ecuador, and I would say that we have a fair knowledge of what we are doing at present. Also, we are doing similar work in similar circumstances. I mean, there are differences, Colombia and Chile are massively different, but we still can relate with one another much easier than, let's say, people from another continent, because of cultural reasons and because we know where we are coming from. I think that the fact that we have similar work helps.
Kevin: Now, in recent years there has been some growing interest by Anglophone comrades in "especifismo" as practiced in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina.... How are the anarchists organized in Chile? What role do anarchist groups play in mass activity of the type that you have been talking about?
José Antonio: Well, in Chile, the anarchists started a distinct process of organisation and collective involvement in struggles a decade ago. In 1999, a number of comrades that saw the need of advancing the levels of anarchist organisation and permanent presence in social organisations and struggle, decided to launch a call for an anarchist-communist (i.e. platformist) conference. We just celebrated the tenth anniversary of that conference recently, and it was a very interesting event, in which we could see the enormous experience accumulated since then. Anyway, in 1999 we came to realize that we needed a proper political organisations as anarchists and that we needed to develop a collective approach to the struggles and experiences where we participated on an individual basis. This may all sound common sensical, but because of the sometimes extreme "autonomist" and individualist tendencies present in anarchism, it was an actual struggle to get to that point and we were labeled all sorts of things, from leninists to social democrats. Anyway, with ups and downs, I should say the experience was highly successful and we turned anarchism from a disorganised movement of very committed individuals, some of them with a lot of experience in this or that struggle, into a coherent movement with a collective experience in a number of struggles and a real presence in some trade unions, in some neighbourhood struggles, such as the struggles of people with no house or with little capacity to pay their mortgages and in the students' movement of course. I think this range of work was expressed in the anniversary, where also some cultural expressions find a space -in Chile there's a long tradition of political murals, and we have started our own brigades with wonderful results.
The model of organisation runs largely along the following lines: we have a political organisation, social-political spaces or tendency groupings, like the FeL, that are wider than the political organisation and are organised in one sector, whether it is students or neighbours. Finally, we have the social organisations where we operate, the trade unions and so on. It has to be said that at the level of social organisations, I think we have brought a very positive influence, strengthening most of them and giving them a combative edge. In those organisations we are organisers and activists, we push forward for a direct action approach, with clear objectives intending on empowering the people from below and challenging the extremely anti-popular politics coming from above. The level of the social-political groupings, has been relatively successful, particularly with the students, but also with neighbours, trade unions being the slowest work -we have managed to create large organisations with a capacity to put forward a libertarian perspective on a number of struggles. It is not an exaggeration to say that anarchists had not been at the forefront of social and political struggles in 40 years in Chile and all of a sudden we were back there. The level of the political organisation remains difficult, since there has been a number of quarrels and divisions that have split the movement, but not necessarily our grassroots work, fortunately.
Kevin: So, in terms of trade unions, how do things look in Chile? Probably you know the situation in unions in the "developed countries" is dismal -- being largely run as political party machines, government interference, rampant compromises and "partnership" with management, etc. etc.... What is the case like over there?
José Antonio: Things have changed a lot when it comes to trade unions since I left, back in 2003. When I left there was one main trade union, CUT, which since fragmented in three main forces. So the scenario is far more fragmented than it used to be. What I can say, in comparison to the trade union movement in Ireland -which on the basics, I don't think is really that different from that of the US- is that even the mildest of the trade unions in Chile still would care about their own rank and file. I mean, trade union officers here are so far removed from their grassroots, so bureaucratised, so integrated in industry and the State, that is hard to consider them anything BUT a State apparatus in the strict sense as Gramsci saw it. To a greater or lesser degree, the most bureaucratic of the Chilean trade unions can still be rocked by workers in it. Here it is almost impossible by the way it works, and this gives far more sense to the idea of dual unionism or to work on alternative unions, than it would in Chile, for instance, where you can still push from within the union movement.
Kevin: What do you think are the reasons for this? Why are the trade unions in Chile not as bureaucratized as those in Ireland or the US? Why has the CUT fragmented, and what are the main forces in the split? What are examples of the unions being "rocked" by the rank-and-file workers?
José Antonio: Well, I am not too sure to be honest with you of what are the main differences, but I would assume that in Europe, unlike the US, you had a proper welfare state that bought in the trade union movements into the partnership and turned the trade union movement into an actual mechanism to keep the workers in line, turning it into an effective apparatus of State as I was saying. In the US you may know better why, but there seems to be a long tradition of conservative unionism, actually predating the emergence of "red" unions and the unions evolved as real corporations quite dominated by traditional party politics. I would be inclined to assume there has to be some role of US imperialism in that -how workers were brought in line with the wars of the 20th century as a force behind US expansion (surely with resistance, no doubt), how McCarthyism and the Cold War ended up isolating the left from most of the visible social spaces, so on and so forth.
I think that in Chile, as in most of Latin America, there has never been a proper welfare state and therefore the workers have never been brought so much in line with the State and the ruling classes. It is true that populist governments and even some dictatorships have managed or attempted to curtail workers autonomy in some countries, but it has never been a fully complete process, because the most urgent material conditions force workers to fight back. In the Chilean case, this has never really been the case, but also, there's such a low level of struggles at the moment that the ruling class can basically ignore the workers as a real force they would depend on eventually. Only in one moment in recent history the trade unions were tried to be made part of government, one being actually during the dictatorship of Pinochet in 1975, when the government proposed after coronell Estrada proposal, that fascist inspired three party commissions between workers, business and State were formed, but this project never took off and in the end, by 1980, the typically neoliberal solution of trying to get rid of the unions altogether by passing laws that made it almost impossible to organise came into effect. What is remarkable, is that although repression strongly hit the unions, they were intervened, many of the trade unionists were murdered, exiled or disappeared and incarcerated, etc. they still managed to express workers discontent in spite of leaders chosen by the dictatorship. There was a generation of mainly Christian Democratic trade union officers which were tolerated by the dictatorship but in the process of the dictatorship sponsored commissions came under heavy pressure from the rank and file and had to give in to it to a greater or lesser degree, and different forms of industrial action and sabotage happened in the copper mines in 1977 in an extremely repressive environment. That lead directly to the prominence of copper miner unions in the call for national days of protest against the dictatorship in 1983. I think that as soon as the dictatorship saw the trade unions, no matter how tame they were, were a double edge blade, they opted for the typically neoliberal solution of getting rid of them altogether.
To be sure, there's a lot of bureaucratism and party politics in the middle. This traces back to how the trade union central, the CUT, was regenerated in 1984, lead mainly by opposition parties and not by rank and file workers. And this explains quite well that its leadership in 1990, as the dictatorship was formally coming to an end, agreed not to take actions that could destabilise the democratic government, that is, to postpone workers interests for the sake of an elite agreement to get rid of Pinochet from the Executive power. But still, I think the whole thing is not quite the same as in Europe, where trade unions respond far more to the demands of capitalists than to those of workers and for sure there are structural conditions for that. In the case of Chile there is still capacity in some unions to call for quite radical struggles and to drag along with them a number of other unions. I'm thinking of copper miner unions, lumber workers, who are in some very strategic sectors for our economy, but also you have a clear left wing and class conscious element active in some other unions, like construction workers where anarchists have a real presence.
So the split in the trade union movement came after all this pressure -on the one hand party politics, on the other hand pressure from the rank and file who grew impatient of the inability of the CUT to face the bosses. It is not easy, but real attempts to create a class based unionism have been multiplying with varying degrees of success since 1998, when there was an important trade union meeting attended by some 200 trade union officers. Some of the splits, like CGT, involve people trying to create this type of trade unionism.
Kevin: So, speaking personally again, have you been keeping busy still with organizing in Ireland? You have written a lot on international solidarity with folks in Colombia, Palestine, Haiti among others.... How long have you been doing this work and how did you get into it?
José Antonio: Ireland is a country where it is actually quite tough to keep yourself busy, since there's not much struggle going on, but still you manage to do so. Most of the stuff I do is in relation to Latin America or issues linked to our community -we have an awful lot of people with problems, from papers, to work problems, etc. In part I think this is so because it is difficult to feel part of your community when you are an immigrant, I think that most of the immigrants here are quite alienated from society at large. That is particularly true among Latin Americans. Of course there are moments in which you overlap with the comrades here, like when some years ago we had a massive drive to unionize Latin American workers, and indeed good numbers unionized mostly Brazilian meat workers. Also, you always hang around the different protests and pickets where anarchists or others in the left take part, but there are very few chances -I really do miss the level of struggle and of spirit of the protest in Latin America. Here things are so different, it is a much lower intensity of struggle and it is difficult to adjust to the traditions here. I participated in the WSM for a number of years but have distanced myself for a while, in part for the above mentioned reasons. You feel priorities are not necessarily the same and maybe this is quite natural, so I stick mostly to solidarity work with our comrades in Latin America. From that point of view, I think that I have been doing some valuable work and indeed it is probably in what I can be more useful at the moment here.
In relation to international solidarity, being internationalists, from Chile I had interest in what was happening in the world and we always had international affairs in our magazine, Hombre y Sociedad. Since 2001 anyway, because of the international context, I think that imperialism became far more aggressive than the previous decade, what is a lot to say, and this put international solidarity at a really important place in the agenda. Also, as an immigrant here in Ireland, you co-exist with other communities and that makes you a bit more sensitive to what's happening in the world, but at the same time you can get a different and unique sense of what's happening in the world, because you interact at the same time with a number of them, so you can be sharing experiences and views from three different continents on one table. So I think from the perspective I'm in, I can see things in a perspective I could not have possibly seen it before at home. But altogether, I would say imperialism has become more aggressive and I think that the anarchist movement needs to acknowledge how important and crucial anti-imperialist struggle is in today's world.
You mention three examples that are very dear to me: Palestine is something I've always been close to. As you may know, Chile has the largest Palestinian community out of the Arab world -many of the Christian Palestinians expelled by Zionism in the '40s. We even have a Palestinian football team -which was just about to be national champion at the start of 2009, something that was seen in very symbolic light because of the Gaza carnage. So as you see, the Palestinian question is very strong in Chile and is permeated at varying levels, even among the traditional parties, whether they are left, right or centre. I have, indeed, Palestinian family myself. Here in Ireland there is a very decent, hard working and important Palestine solidarity movement and I've been around the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign for a good while. It is an appalling situation and I think it is a matter of basic humanity to throw your support behind it.
On Haiti, I've been aware for a while of what's going on there, but when Chilean troops invaded Haiti in 2004 to topple Aristide, alongside Canada, France and the US (something that is hardly mentioned), I thought it had to be my business. Indeed, the anarcho-communists in Chile took the issue of anti-imperialism and articulated an immediate response to it. The FeL also took the issue. I think that Haiti proves that sub-imperialist practices or imperialist practices can also be committed by countries other than the US in the region, and the main Latin American force behind the occupation is Brazil. This obviously reflects the changing patterns in the regional balance of power and sends a very worrying message out there and it is that Haiti was the first time that a Latin American country was invaded by a multinational Latin American force. So this should have been in the agenda in much stronger terms well before the earthquake. If you look at things well, in Anarkismo was one of the few non-Haitian websites that was constantly covering news on Haiti and denouncing the occupation in unequivocal terms. Most of the Latin American left decided to keep a shameful silence. So we, as Chilean citizens, have to be responsible for what Chilean troops are doing, and of course it was an unpopular stance to take, but a necessary one.
On Colombia, being in solidarity with Latin America, you can't ignore the most worrying and terrifying situation in the whole hemisphere, as it is the US-backed dirty war in Colombia that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. I started working in solidarity with Colombia out of a mere chance: most of my friends in Ireland are Colombians, and some of them wanted to start a work of awareness of the rights and the situation of indigenous peoples in Colombia, and because they did not have much experience of how to start a solidarity group, they asked me to give them a hand and there I am up to the present! So I do analysis and write on Colombia, but we do far more other work behind the scenes. Work with trade unions in relation to support, work with some representatives in relation to bring the human rights situation in Colombia to government's attention, etc. As a result of this work a solid relationship has been established not only with Colombian social movements but also with the Colombian anarchists, that are a remarkable bunch, 100% committed to the cause, free from silly sectarianism and petty vanities so prevalent in anarchism and very involved with the actual struggles going on there.
Apart from that, I think it is important, as a resident in Europe to denounce the EU implication in world affairs. Its imperialistic role flies in the face of its social democratic pretensions. While the EU claims to be different to the US as its role is primarily directed according to democratic and human rights concerns, reality says the EU is as exploitative, imperialistic and aggressive as the US, according to their relative importance in the world scene. Its behaviour towards Latin America, Haiti, Africa, Palestine, etc. is often shocking. The ex-trade commissioner put their view of the world very clear in a comprehensive document called "Global Europe".
Kevin: What you mention about imperialist practices by countries that, historically, have been oppressed by imperialism ... this an important point that anarchists are especially aware of, but our responses to it are often conflicted. Haiti is not the first time we have seen it, in fact the epitome of this is Zionism: what, for many people, was a struggle against the worst kind of oppression, proved itself to be a terrible source of oppression. For someone that grew up studying the Holocaust, who takes much inspiration from the history of Jewish resistance, it can be tragic to look at Palestine and the consequences of Zionism.
How has this problem played out, if at all, in your experience doing international solidarity work? How do you believe it should be tackled by anarchists or by working-class movements?
José Antonio: Well, the first thing to take into account is that in society things are always a bit more complex than oppressors and oppressed, neatly divided one from the other. In reality, one oppressed person can oppress others: a man can be terribly exploited at his work and we, as anarchist, will have naturally a lot of sympathy for him. But then, when back at home, he may be a very abusive husband that inspires no sympathy whatsoever from us. A gay bourgeois can be actually oppressed and oppressor at the same time. A black member of the elite can be a victim of a racist attack, and if I witness that act, I will not hesitate to side with the black rich man instead of the racist thugs, no matter how working class they may be. Likewise, some colonised people which resist imperialism may have a lot of sympathy from us on that specific ground, and nonetheless, we may be extremely critical of their social and political programme when imperialism is formally gone. I think a lot of anarchists have a very crude way to understand reality in terms of seeing only "enemies and foes", with obvious implications for tactics. It is not unheard of comrades who have gone to support a group of strikers and then ended up attacking them verbally for eating meat as if they were as bad as the bourgeoisie -this, though an extreme case, sums up the attitude that has lead most anarchists to isolation.
Now, in relation to the cases you mention, I think Zionism is a very extraordinary phenomenon that cannot be compared to anything else, not even to the occupation in Haiti. While the occupation of Haiti is a classic military occupation, Israel is a settler colonialist project in which the occupiers created forcefully a national identity out of a diverse group of people from a religious-cultural background, created a language that 60 years ago no one spoke, etc. The case of Haiti in reality proves the changing balance of power in the region.
If anything, the examples above show that in reality there are no intrinsically good or bad people, and that placed in a situation of unchecked power, authority or privilege, no matter how insignificant it may be, abuse and oppression will take place. That was an argument put forward by Bakunin in the First International during his polemics with Karl Marx and I don't think there's much that needs to be said. Defeat US imperialism, but if the same conditions and social system persist, others will move in to fill that vacuum.
In political terms and how to deal with them, I think it is fundamental to explore and understand the actual ways in which exploitation and oppression interact, and how capitalism has come to absorb a number of pre-capitalist contradictions and use them for their own advantage. I think that ultimately we have to show that it is in the best interest of everyone in the working class to unite against the system, but this is a long term perspective. In the short term, we need to understand that relative gender or race privileges can play against working class unity and therefore require to be confronted specifically by those who are victims of that type of prejudice. Inasmuch as the liberation of the working class will be a task of the working class itself, the liberation of women, of gay people, of the Palestinians, etc. will be a task of themselves also -what does not mean that it is a task they alone will achieve, we will practice solidarity, but it is a conquest they can ultimately achieve and they will have to lead this process. Imagine if the people around the world would have waited until white workers supported the anti-apartheid movement before throwing their unequivocal support behind it, probably they would still be waiting! And also South Africa is far from being a paradise, and our South African comrades know that better, I think few people, save some white chauvinists, will say that South Africa was better off under the apartheid.
Sometimes we don't acknowledge these privileges and they have to be confronted -sometimes the only "benefit" you can derive from a position of relative privilege is to know that you can abuse others and thus "feel a whole lot better" after having a bad day -of course you would be better off shouting at your boss, but since you can't do it, you channel your hatred, misery, anxiety and frustration towards the "lesser races", for instance. Other times those privileges will be concrete and material, better wages, positions of political power, etc. Either way they have to be confronted and to pretend to ignore them by throwing over them a blanket of class struggle, under which we are all the same, will not make them go away, you know. So as an anarchist I'm all in favour of specific groups for specifically oppressed people -still it is necessary to keep some level of contact and coordination and from that respectful ground, I'm sure political debate on other issues (like class conflict) will happen, but first you have to do the walk before doing the talk.
The first thing, as I said is to understand the interactions between oppression and exploitation. Then it is important to have a clear understanding of your own politics, and understand why it is important to confront colonialism or racism. If you think this is not an important issue, and if you come from an imperialist country, then it will obviously make your internationalist approach just not credible for most people out there. Certainly this confrontation may put you in difficulties with your own people which may regard you as a "traitor", but you need to confront chauvinism and imperialism at home as a priority instead of mainly criticise the obvious shortcomings of those confronting it on the other side of the world. And then it comes the issue of tactics: the fact that to agree on one thing (i.e. that our troops should come back home) does not mean that we have to agree on others (i.e. all are equal regardless of credo, gender, etc.) and how to work on that ground, how to apply a political analysis and demands that we can accomplish on that ground, etc. Personally, I’m inclined to think that you can support an anti-imperialist struggle on that basis without necessarily endorsing everything else in a political programme, but this obviously requires critical thought beyond the with me or against me approach.
Kevin: Now, I think it is getting time to close up this exchange, but for a last question or two.... What is the most important thing you have learned so far from your personal experiences, observing the struggles of the day and from your reading of history? What, to your mind, is it most needed for the anarchist movement today to learn if we are to "move forward"?
José Antonio: The most important thing in my opinion is to accept that we don't have all the answers. Anarchists, for so long, have regarded anarchism as a sort of religion that can explain everything in the world, and if there is anything that I have learnt thus far it is that anarchism, as any other political current, has flaws and limitations. This is the reason why we should always be open to learn from others, to learn from the experience of the ordinary folks that stand up every day in different ways, to question ill-conceived dogmas, to develop a culture of constructive criticism and not to be happy with over simplistic explanations about reality. "Down with government! Down with Capital!" is a slogan that on its own will take us nowhere. We need to give more positive and constructive content to our anarchism and at that point, at the point of practice, of providing real solutions to real people on real circumstances, we see the shortcomings of ideology. But that is the only way for theory to move forward, for anarchism to develop and not degenerate into a museum piece or into an intellectual pastime for people with no real intention of making their ideas a reality.
Kevin: Comrade, thanks a lot for taking your time to do this interview. Solidarity and best of luck for another year of organizing and struggle!
José Antonio: No problem comrade, it is my pleasure, seriously! Same to you!