Interview with José Antonio Gutiérrez, Part 2

See Part 1 of this interview

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!

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