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- 5 March 2017
- TO: The Council
- Institute for Anarchist Theory and History (IATH)
- RE: Resignation (and yet, Hope)
- Dear comrades I am writing this letter in order to make official my resignation with immediate effect from the Council of ITHA, with regret but in good faith and good humour, and in doing so concede ITHA’s right to make public this letter or portions of it as it deems fit in responding as it may to my decision. I will divide this message into thematic sections in order for it to be more readily digestible.
- 1. The good work of ITHA
- I firstly want to stress that my resignation must in no way be interpreted as a signal of any doubt in my mind regarding the great research, analysis and publication undertaken by ITHA, which I was proud to help co-found. I salute ITHA for the invaluable work it continues to undertake in favour of rigorous anarchist analysis with the aim of reconstructing an anarchist movement restored to its prior position of primacy among the oppressed classes.
- 2. Apology and Caveat
- Secondly, but foremost in my mind, I want to humbly apologise for the untenable position that my past actions and omissions in monitoring the far right, first as a journalist and then as an activist, put the Institute in, and the resulting political difficulties that have arisen from that, not least the personal sense of betrayal felt by individual comrades.
- In particular I want to stress in a caveat that, as they were not party in any way to my undercover work – as a result of my failure to disclose the full extent of such when questioned – that in no legitimate sense can either ITHA, the ZACF and CAB or their members, the contributors to the Anarkismo project, or especially Black Flame primary author Lucien van der Walt, be considered tarnished or compromised by my actions or omissions. My undercover actions and omissions were secretive and they were mine alone.
- 3. Reason for my Resignation
- I recognise that the failure of the international commission announced more than a year ago to convene has bedeviled ITHA’s good work and its reputation – but also admit the fact that my lengthy published defense in November 2015 failed to supply adequate reasoning for my past actions. This omission was partly because I know the faceless original sources of the allegations against me, and in my view they are partisans of a form of anarchism that seeks to discredit the
- movement’s mass-organisational tradition. Nevertheless, I foolishly reacted against the claims as an individual would respond to a personal attack, without, at least initially, recognising that their charges affected more than myself, but also innocent parties: the ZACF, ITHA, CAB, Anarkismo, and the organised movement more broadly.
- Taken together, the failure of the commission to convene and my own failure to detail the reasoning behind the substance of my career as a journalist and as an anarchist has left ITHA in an unfair limbo that must not be allowed to continue, so I ask that I may be allowed to resign with immediate effect. I do so with no hard feelings; indeed, I respect ITHA’s honourable and open approach to this problem.
- 4. The Heart of the Matter
- I take to heart in particular ITHA’s concern that in the process following the AK Press accusations in late 2015, I failed to engage in (public) self-criticism. There is a reason for this, and it is a difficult one for me to address for, as the saying goes, a house divided against itself must fall. So I beg your compassion as I lay this out for you, for I am only now having this conversation with myself, and have not yet raised it with my closest comrades, friends or family, so I am writing this as I wrestle with the issue. I am not admitting more than I have previously for there is nothing more to admit to – but what I am doing is giving reasons for my noxious actions and omissions.
- It is not easy for me even now to revisit the depth of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression that enveloped me over a successive period of years, starting with my unnerving war experience in Lebanon in July 2006 which turned a patch of my beard white in a single day, escalating with the extremely painful divorce from my wife and the freezing of the Africa Correspondent post I had worked towards for 19 years in 2007, and exacerbated by the horrors of the 2008 Xenophobic Pogroms and the 2012 Marikana Massacre, the delirium caused by meningitis and breaking my spine in five places in 2010, and the losses of my friend Anton Hammerl in the Libyan Civil War in 2011 and of my brother in a motorbike accident in 2014. I subsequently lost my job, my car and my home.
- Mental illness is a lonely experience at best, in no small measure because one becomes uncertain of oneself, unable and unwilling to communicate one’s distress to those one loves out of fear they recoil, or even become infected by one’s despair. When my family emigrated to the Antipodes in 2000, I alone remained behind, precisely because I have a heart for Africa and was committed to the democratic transition in South Africa; this has not changed. By the time of the onset of PTSD, my family no longer lived in the country, my closest friends lived in other cities or constantly worked abroad, so there were few I could trust with such intimate details; and though I discussed my life in some detail with my psychologist (but only after I was diagnosed with PTSD in early 2012), I did not know how to express to her the crisis of political conscience I was undergoing in addition to all the depression, violence and the other effects of PTSD.
- I stand foursquare by the honest intent of my initial foray into the underworld, the properly authorised (though it seems that fact is forgotten) creation of a Stormfront account as a Group
- Special Investigative Writer for Independent Newspapers in 2005. That was indeed straightforward investigative journalism and a watching brief that was legitimately maintained up until at least December 2007 when I left journalism: my publication of strings of stories on the right adequately demonstrates this. That I put noxious words in the mouth of my undercover persona in order to establish a profile with those I was keeping an eye on was distasteful to me, but this does not detract from the nasty, racist content of those posts – and I reject them utterly as being in any way indicative of my true socio-political positions.
- But my second foray into the underworld, the creation of false Facebook accounts, initially with the honest intent of trying to understand the marginal phenomenon of so-called “national-anarchism,” took on a life of its own as my mental breakdown increased in successive waves, and things became murkier and more erratic. This is clear from the abhorrent content of the Creed document: though one part of my mind was convinced I wrote it merely to be taken seriously in order to be able to access the intellectual leadership of the “national-anarchist” movement and engage them on an intimate level, the obsessive detail of the document revealed that another part of my mind was toying with its disastrous, racist arguments. Painfully, privately, the foundations of my house were cracking – despite all my numerous and sincere public engagements grappling with pressing issues of the day such as hate speech, massacre, and xenophobia.
- Fortunately, if I recall correctly, website analytics proved only sixteen people, most of them already-convinced “national-anarchists,” read that horrible Creed, and as such its impact was essentially zero. It would have remained unknown had AK Press’ agents not unfortunately taken the poor decision to republish it in its entirety – rather than more judiciously selecting damning paragraphs in support of their argument. I reiterate that it was designed to have no possibility of purchase in the South African white right by virtue of its white-coloured-indigenous multiracial framework, its right-radicalism, and the use of symbols such as an inverted cross – all elements which are despised by the SA right which is white-exclusivist, conservative, and Calvinist Christian. As such, I remain confident it has no resonance in the real world.
- I need not have admitted to having authored it; there would have been no way for AK Press to have proven provenance. But I publicly admitted authorship in 2015 in the interests of honesty and, restored to my right mind by that stage, I rejected and continue to reject the nasty document in its entirety. I am deeply ashamed that I wrote it, even if only as a key to understand a few right-wing leaders – as I reject the hate-infused sentiment of my Stormfront posts of this period of mental instability.
- 5. Conflict & Identity in South Africa’s Transition
- In the afterglow of Mandela’s ascension to the Presidency, it is often forgotten that South Africa went through a very violent transition from autocracy to democracy, with some 25,000 people murdered in political violence between the unbanning of the liberation movements in February 1990 and the first democratic elections in April 1994. And, as my last two books have detailed, the apartheid state’s exclusionary class-race practice has continued to do damage well into the
- democratic era. Even today, we remain a society in often violent class conflict and racism-inflected transition.
- During my period of mental instability, I was more than merely, as one comrade abroad suggested, a white African grappling with issues of identity; I was something else grappling with identity in a country with pervasive structural white privilege for a minority, and yet a virulent, rising black majoritarian nationalism that has now taken the form of a populist party that preaches a racialised doctrine. This dynamic is poorly understood by my US accusers. That I am not actually white – a fact that I continually stressed publicly not least with my involvement in the Human Genome Project in 2006 and in A Taste of Bitter Almonds in 2015 – was relevant to me personally, but irrelevant to a society which made presumptions of who and what I was. It does bear repeating, however, that AK’s initial charge that I am a white supremacist cannot stand if in all periods relevant to its charges right up to the present day, I have not considered myself white, but rather an Africanised Latino-Saxon descended from a Bengali slave.
- Yet I was indeed a house divided – and that house was falling as my PTSD unraveled my sense of a unified self. Was it Stockholm Syndrome, as some have suggested, that familiarity of discourse with the right, as human beings rather than as political strawmen, lead to a shifting of my sympathies? I initially rejected this idea, for to be intellectually and / or emotionally captured by one’s polar enemy is deeply humiliating. But on painful reflection there is some truth to that. However, that I was never entirely convinced by the racist right or the “national-anarchists” is demonstrated by the facts that:
- ● I never expressed any racist or right-wing views in my own name, either in public or in private, such engagements being entirely restricted to (anti-)social media in the names of my false online personae;
- ● I have never in my life met a single racist or right-wing individual let alone group in my personal or political capacity, I have never in my life been a member of any race-exclusivist group, and the tiny and false “group” I set up online was merely a Trojan Horse;
- ● Until these allegations in 2015, I have never in my personal, political or professional lives ever been accused of racist, discriminatory or other unwholesome actions or beliefs – and this would seem to be impossible If I was truly a racist;
- ● Throughout the period of my mental illness, despite being deeply troubled, I publicly maintained anarchist ethics and practice, promoted Black Flame, wrote Bulgarian Anarchism Armed, Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism and other unquestionably anarchist works dedicated to restoring the validity of anarchism outside of what could crudely be called the “white” North Atlantic – especially in Africa – and engaged constructively in internationalist dialogues with anarchists of all colours from Canada to Slovenia, Brazil to Lebanon, Kenya to New Zealand, Mexico to Iran, not a single one of whom raised any concerns about my transnational, multiethnic approaches to race;
- ● In the same period of illness, in my personal life, I not only actively sought work across Africa and in other non-European societies such as Solomon Islands, but maintained good relations and close political friendships with people identifying as black African, Asian, Indian, indigenous, Arab, Berber, Mayan, Maori, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist, etc – and had an intimate relationship lasting more than two years with Eve, who is an African lawyer of Indian descent (this in particular is abhorrent to white supremacists, and if anyone would know whether I was truly a racist, it would be Eve, yet no-one bothered to speak to her); and
- ● In the same period, my cultural practices in terms of the art I collected, the music I listened to, the events like Chinese New Year that I participated in, show a continued, engaged interest in multiculturalism, even while I wrestled privately with issues of an identity imposed on me by apartheid, and unalleviated by democracy.
- 6. My Errors
- It was only in early 2012, having just been diagnosed with PTSD, and starting out on the long process of mental repair, that the allegations of my misdeeds via my online personae were first brought to the notice of the ZACF. As you know, I immediately admitted to the legitimate undercover journalism work on Stormfront, but not to my engagements with the “national-anarchists”. This naturally amounts to a betrayal of trust of my comrades and friends, which would later have broader ramifications in untrue allegations that the ZACF had failed to weed its garden, and I accept my guilt. I am ashamed I did not feel confident enough at that time to be up-front about everything, and apologise unreservedly to the ZACF for that.
- My error was further compounded by a long personal engagement I had sometime in this period with Lucien van der Walt, who as my co-author on the Counter-power project was rightly concerned; but he was unable to get me to talk about the deeper reality of my mental distress and my loss of political moorings. Perhaps if we’d been able to speak at greater length – for he had to go back to work in the Eastern Cape and was only visiting for a weekend – he would have gotten my façade to crack, and we could have been spared all that followed. But I was depressed, secretive, paranoid, confused, embarrassed and unsure of how to raise the real problem, even with my best friend, so he remained in the dark about what was going on. This too, I accept was a betrayal, and I am mortally ashamed of it. I cannot stress enough that Lucien remains wholly innocent in this affair and his wonderful works on anarchism entirely untainted by my silence.
- I perhaps need to make at this stage an admission that might be shocking: that I have never read a single paragraph of the exhaustive and meandering seven-part allegations of AK Press’ agents other than AK’s initial Facebook post. This is firstly because I already knew what they consisted of, in reality at least, for with the exception of my period of meningitis-induced delirium in mid to late 2010, I was fully aware of what I had and had not done. But it is also because by the time the allegations – and they are very far from all being true – were made in late 2015, I was well recovered and restored to both my sanity and my undivided adherence to revolutionary anarchism; to read their charges risked my mental health and a return to the wasteland of PTSD. I was not willing to return to that lonely condition, and so vicariously allowed good comrades to fill me in on the necessary and often absurd details. I trust the commission, when it convenes, will determine which of these are true and which constitute character-assassination.
- 7. My Condition Now
- My fear of a return to mental instability is not unfounded: my fragility is demonstrated by the fact that since my brother’s death in June 2014, I have in all my waking hours suffered from olfactory hallucinations. I first experienced this briefly during the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996 when watching a film on army massacres provoked an olfactory hallucination in which I smelt the corpses I had witnessed in the aftermath of the Shobashobane Massacre in Zululand some weeks previously; that condition is now constant and I must tell you, for someone who used to delight in the scents of the world, most unpleasant and destabilising. As far as I understand, there is no sure way to cure this condition.
- I trust too that you understand how difficult this is to write, for it presents me with a core conundrum. If, as Polonius’ words in Hamlet have it, the most important rule in venturing into the world is “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man,” with my history of mental illness, what is my own self? Since my emergence from that dark period, I avoided admitting even to myself that any of my noxious words on (anti-)social media were true in the sense that I had been convinced or even partly-convinced of them at the time; for to do so meant admitting to my own self being abhorrent – not the sort of self that one would wish to be true to! To even admit to the existence of that dark alter-ego would mean to admit that my house was sundered by an unbridgeable faultline; this admission alone, I feared, would precipitate its fall. So, in returning to sanity, I have tried to be true to the part of myself that is honourable, anti-racist and anti-fascist – but in doing so, I have been partly false to many women, trans*persons and men, yourselves not least, who were my friends and comrades by not offering full disclosure. I hope you can appreciate how, honestly troubling this position was, and remains, though perhaps this letter is the first step in resolving the conundrum, improving my mental health, and restoring our friendship.
- The innocent: In concluding, I stress again that Black Flame is primarily Lucien’s work and that he submitted the manuscript to AK Press in January 2006, before the onset of my PTSD in the wake of the Summer War in Lebanon in July 2006. So the good reputation of that work cannot be damaged in way by my later actions or omissions; more to the point, the text itself is unambiguously anarchist in its multiethnic approaches to race, colonialism and imperialism.
- Next, again I emphasise that in the period in which I was mentally ill, neither Lucien nor the ZACF were initially aware of the seriousness of my condition, and when they were made aware of my transgressions, they immediately called me to task: thus, no racially suspect ideas can be claimed to have been current in the ZACF or associated circles; it cannot be construed as their fault that I omitted to tell them everything. The same goes for Anarkismo, ITHA, CAB, and any other organisation that hosted me as a guest speaker, or that I worked for or interacted with in the period concerned: no-one was aware of the severity of my mental disorder, or of my political deviations, and cannot in any way be tainted by the latter, nor even be accused of passive connivance. Again, I humbly apologise for the political difficulties and personal pain I have caused to all concerned.
- My politics: I still stand by my 2015 public defense – my life’s work for our cause over a quarter of a century. I want to underline that I worked for decades both as a journalist and an activist among the largely black working class and poor of Africa and continue to do so. But I recognise that my detailing of my career failed to deal with the reasons behind instances where I had indeed diverged from anarchist ethics and practice, even if only by word and never by deed, and then only in narrow far-right online enclaves.
- Though I went through a period of mental anguish and political doubt some years ago, I have since recovered my unity of mind and I remain a committed revolutionary anarchist, and as such a firm anti-fascist and anti-racist. I continue to work with a global cohort of activists who provide safe haven to persecuted writers, journalists, authors and musicians of all colours, to work for non-profit organisations operating across Africa on human and LGBTI rights, HIV and other issues, to work on a transnational multilingual online project on massacre and memory, and am currently preparing to work on the ground in countries such as Sri Lanka.
- I continue to labour ceaselessly in my own time and at my own expense on numerous studies of our movement, especially regarding Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab World, Latin America, Russia and the CIS, South Asia and Asia-Pacific – including the Anarchist-Communist Mass-Line series, the Arabic and Spanish editions of Cartography, and Wildfire: Global Anarchist Ideological and Organisational Lineages, an intense labour of love of sixteen years and counting which will be, when published, the most comprehensive history in any language of the anarchist movement globally over fifteen decades.
- Finally, I wish to thank ITHA for its understanding and wish it all success in its invaluable endeavours.
- Red & Black regards
- Michael Schmidt
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