Frauen* Streik in Germany by Edna Bonhomme

Edna Bonhomme

Frauen* Streik in Germany

“All women, whatever be their position, should demand political equality as a means of a freer life, and one calculated to yield rich blessings to society.”

-Clara Zetkin

Over 100 years after German socialist Clar aZetkin proposed an International Woman’s Day (IWD) at the International Conference for Socialist Women, over 25,000 people demonstrated for Frauen* Streik in Berlin, Germany. Women at the turn of the nineteenth century and women living in the twenty-first century, organised themselves through various strike actions on the 8th of March for simple demands--to live in a world where they can be more free. This year marked the first time that March 8th was a public holiday in Berlin and the political acuity of the events reverberated from daybreak strike actions for health workers to nightfall solidarity parties throughout the city.

Thousands of transgender, intersex people, gender non-binary individuals, and womxn also marched throughout German cities such as  Leipzig, Hamburg, and Göttingen. The wave of activities speaks volumes to the growing economic and social frustrations that women of various backgrounds have been facing in Germany and internationally. Protestors linked the day’s activities to their struggle for abortion rights, their opposition to gender based violence, and their conflicts at the workplace.  When asked why she was participating in 8th of march demonstrations, Ruth a thirty-three year old hostel worker responded, “I think my boss is a sexist.” In Germany, political equality are driving forces and the increased participation of migrants and people of colour proclaiming, “no one is illegal” has also politicized the character and composition of IWD opening up room to challenging European and North American imperialism.

Leading up to 8th of March, feminists and queer activists throughout Germany formed a national network and two national conferences (in Göttingen and Berlin) planting the seeds for a new international feminist movement. These initiatives were part of an effort to deepen and integrate the autonomous leftist, pro-choice, and anti-racist networks into a growing feminist movement. The radical character of IWD was not unique to Germany but was  part of a thriving international women’s strike movement in several dozen countries including Argentina, Chile, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Not only were people pointing to the productive capacities of womxn’s labour, IWD activists sought to make links to ongoing strike campaigns, environmental initiatives, and immigration issues in Germany.

The strike actions were preceded by a set of events earlier that week, mostly concerning fair wages and precarity in Germany. For one, women editors at neues Deutschland, a leftist German newspaper, went on strike on 7 March leaving blank columns to show the power of their labour. Moreover, this action not only highlighted the wage disparity between men and women in journalism, i.e., which is approximately 21%, but it also called for comprehensive transparency of salary for permanent and freelance journalists.

Abortion rights has also featured into pre-IWD actions with 200 pro-choice activists gathering outside the Ministry of  Public Health to oppose Article 218 and article 219a on 7 March. These Nazi-holdover German decrees define abortion as murder and prohibit physicians from advertising abortions in Germany. The day before International women’s day 300 activities gathered outside of the Ministry of Public Health outside calling to end these oppressive policies. The basis of the resurgent movement weg 218/219a echos what women and queer people have been fighting for globally, to have control and autonomy over their bodies.

Strike actions were not merely symbolic but they were articulated by a number of workers who are embedded in current labour struggles in Germany. At 6am, Frauen* Strike activists showed their support for physical therapists who have been leading at 4 week strike at Charité, the largest public health institution in Berlin. As one health worker from that campaign indicated, “when women stop working, the world stands still.” Childcare workers who went on strike earlier in 2019 also gathered at noon for a 400 person strong sit-in at Robert Koch Platz in Berlin. Katrina, a thirty one year old kindergarten teacher spoke about their strike why how their were fighting for justice for “parents, students, and teachers.” The campaign continues because they have initiated a campaign for fair wages for cleaners at her workplace.  

Moreover, an Internationalist Alliance contingent of mostly women, transgender, and intersex people gathered outside of Justizvollzugsanstalt für Frauen Berlin, the women’s prison in the the former East Berlin. This action was an effort to be in solidarity with incarcerated women, who were, in part, because of the imprisoned because of self-defense from gender based violence.  The international block of protestors further articulated their rage with a Global Scream which captured the internalized frustration of the demonstrators but it also allowed the collective voice of women were made bare. Activists also made sure to honour the socialist-feminist foremothers who helped to shaped early twentieth century feminism. For example, members of the Die Linke (Left Party) placed a rose for Clara Zetkin.

The actions on 8 March gestured towards the feminist history and the feminist futures. Hundreds of teenagers who were part of Fridays for Future, a global student led initiative that wants to make governments accountable to the climate protection, as outlined by the 2015 Paris agreements. It is no accident that these climate justice teach-ins and strike actions are led by young women who see the fight for the environment as a feminist issue.

Solidarity was a central feature of the Berlin IWD action and the assortment of strategies expresses the vivacity of the new feminist movement in Germany. At the same time, the political test over the coming years is to broaden the demands so as to challenge Germany’s growing far right movement, the ongoing xenophobia in Europe, and to address the gendered aspect of the global economic crisis. As a new generation of feminists and queers are building a movement that speaks to the concerns of labour, migration, health, and incarceration this feminism will have to reckon with intersectional, unapologetic and nuanced initiatives that can reformulate a feminism for the 99%.

Note: Frauen*-the asterik is used to include women, transgender people, intersex people, and gender non-conforming people

If Beale Street Could Talk by Edna Bonhomme

I finally watched Barry Jenkins “If Beale Street Could Talk” & all I can say is that it was a powerful film that showed the range of possibilities of Black life in the United States. The film found a way to bring Baldwin’s novel to life & echo the injustices of racism today while also showing our physical beauty and emotional capacity. I cried at various points during the film because of the elegant portrayals of Black love interwoven with depictions of Black dispossession. James Baldwin's masterpiece--as adapted by Jenkins--was an entry point for me escaping into another world, one that was both familiar and distant which then provided the fodder for me to let go of the weight I've been carrying. As I watched the film, I gave myself permission to let my tears flow after months of not being able to cry. At the same time, I am enamoured by love's omnipresence--familial and romantic. Love flows through the characters so seamlessly, trickling through their inner and outer core. We see it in their eyes, their smiles, and their commitment to each other. When we are confronted with Baldwin, we can take our masks off.

§218 + §219a wegstreiken - Keep your politics out of my uterus by Edna Bonhomme


Today, on a mild grey, 100 pro-choice activists in Berlin gathered outside of the Ministry of Health to oppose article 218 and 219a, through a strike action. The core demand is that they want free and full legalisation of abortion, worldwide. What drives this demand is their collective disdain for Paragraph 218 of the German constitution which defines abortion as murder while article 219a makes it illegal for doctors to advertise, advise, or inform patients about abortions. If physicians violate article 219a, they can face penalties and potential jail time, which was the case for Dr. Kristina Hänel, who was fined under paragraph 219a.

During the day of action on 7 March, protestors chanted and stood on the streets with metal hangers, loud speakers, and colourful wigs. As the rain poured upon everyone, people maintained their resilience and shouted, “Keep your politics out of my uterus.” Moreover, organisers used this event as a teaching moment to do a quiz on German sexual and reproductive health. One shocking fact is that there are only 1500 abortion providers in Germany.


German feminists have been fighting for the decriminalisation of abortion for decades and they have rightly noted that the anti-abortion laws is especially oppressive towards poor and migrant women. Pro-choice activists not only want the immediate abolition of articles 218 and 219a but they also want the public health department to provide free contraceptives upon demand.

We strike! #ichstreike8M by Edna Bonhomme

Frauen* Streik (International Womxn's Strike) in Berlin will be participating in a range of activities on 7 and 8 March. In a moment when the far right is mobilizing its forces in Europe, North America, and South America, it is important to deepen our historical understandings about oppression and political clarity about why they occur. Feminists, migrants, and leftists are gathering in Germany to challenge sexism, structural violence, displacement, and war. We want to amplify our voices oppressive through collective resistance. We believe in International Feminism and call for and end to borders. Strikes gives us the tool to articulate our grievances but we must provide the blueprint for our own liberation.

During our last general assembly in Berlin, we made a solidarity video which you can catch here:


That is why we (in Berlin), are asking womxn, transgender, intersex, etc people to wear purple, to go on strike at 11:55am, and post #ichstreike8M.

Also, here is the list of events in Berlin:

7. März:
Überlastet! Who cares?
Chic Care Catwalk und der Übergabe von Überlastungsanzeigen 
Bundesministerium für Gesundheit

§218 + §219a wegstreiken - Keep your politics out of my uterus
von und mit Aktionskommando Kleiderbügel - AKK
Bundesministerium für Gesundheit

FLTI* Vorabenddemonstration 
Stuttgarter Platz, Charlottenburg
Marsch für das Leben? What the Fuck…/vorabenddemo-maerz-bibli…/

Freitag, 8. März:

Streikposten vor der Charité (Bettenhaus): 
vor der Frühschicht mit Flyern für die Kundgebung und #ichstreike8M Aktion am Robert-Koch-Platz mobilisieren.

Kiezfrühstück in Neukölln im Flamingo e.V. (Stuttgarter Str. 61, mit anschließender gemeinsamer Anreise zum Robert-Koch-Platz

Kundgebung am Hermannplatz

Frauen* und Queer-Frühstück im Roten Laden (Weidenweg 17) mit gemeinsamer Anreise zur Demo am Alexanderplatz, organisiert von DIE LINKE Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg

Kundgebung am Robert-Koch-Platz & Aktion #ichstreike8M

Purple Ride/Feministische Fahrraddemo vom Mariannenplatz (Feuerwehrbrunnen) bis zum Frauen*knast Lichtenberg

Frauen*kampftagsdemo vom Alexanderplatz zum Oranienplatz

Unter anderem:

LGBTIQ*-Block: Demo zum Frauen*kampftag / Wir.Alle.Gemeinsam



Feminism is class war-Block

Treffpunkt für den „Bloque latinoamericano“ am U-Bhf. Magdalenenstraße

„United we get what we want“-Demo der Alliance of internationalist feminists - berlin vom Frauen*knast Magdalenenstraße bis zur Warschauerstraße

Globaler Aufschrei

Große gemeinsame Streikversammlung/Assembly am Oranienplatz

Post-Streik Spa-Küfa in der B-Lage / Neukölln

United We Get What We Want / 8th of March party SO36

“Run the world: feminist strike back” Soliparty im Mensch Meier

Solidarity from Berlin

Power in Medicine, A worshop interrogating the history of medicine in the Middle East by Edna Bonhomme

As some of you may know, I am a Marxist Herstorian (and also GEW union member) who has been researching and writing about medical and scientific practices in North Africa from the eighteenth century to the present. I am co-organising a workshop entitled “Power in Medicine: Interrogating the Place of Medical Knowledge in the Modern Middle East” which will take place in Berlin 11-12 April 2019. My co-organisers, Dr. Shehab Ismail and Dr. Lamia Moghnieh and I wanted to examine the history and politics of medicine and psychiatry in the Middle East from the 1800s until the contemporary period so we are bringing together scholars from the Middle East, North Africa, North America, and Europe together to discuss recent trends in the field.

Figure. Medical school in 19th-century Ottoman Empire

Figure. Medical school in 19th-century Ottoman Empire

You can listen to an interview I did with Professor Jennifer Derr (University of California, Santa Cruz), one of the participants of the workshop, about her upcoming research project on the history of Hepatitis and the liver in Egypt. The recording is available on Soundcloud. If you are interested in finding out more about us, you can check out our bios here.

Grandma, a poem by Edna Bonhomme

I am currently in Miami visiting family, mostly ironing out the ways that my kin have been tied to various lands, spaces, and their bodies. I am working on a poetry series that is an ongoing of the past and the present, the familial and the environmental. This is one of the current works in progress.


Figure. From left to right: Aunt Melo, Grandma, Jean, and Aunt Fifi.

Figure. From left to right: Aunt Melo, Grandma, Jean, and Aunt Fifi.

Summer of 1996

was the first time that I learned about who grandma was

she transformed from the stern matriarch

who tried to suppress her Parkinson’s

into the fierce warrior

who glided through the Haitian landscape

Grandma learned to ride horses

in the arid desert

when I could barely ride a bicycle

she rode horses

not because she wanted to

but because they allowed her

to cut across

the rugged mountains protruding

from the sacred earth


the estuaries that were pulled

by the lunar gods

Grandma would ride past

the cacti where the Arawaks lived

Columbus was here

But even more troubling

is that

the Indigenous are not

Small-scale sharecroppers like

grandma could cultivate the land

during drought to produce:




Staples that fed the people

from Benin, Dahomey, and Senegambia

When my grandmother rode horses

she put her wavy hair into a bun


unruly curls could never vex her seers.

Women who rode horses

were incendiary because

they knew how to be free.

Copyright: Edna Bonhomme, 2019.

"For my Brother," a poem by Edna Bonhomme

Yesterday, I wrote a poem about my brother being shot in January 2019. He was unarmed and shot while grocery shopping in Miami. Florida is a state that allows for people to carry guns and “Stand Your Ground.” The poem is a reflection on the ongoing state, vigilante, and gun violence against Black people in the United States. This is a picture of him as a young boy during the late 1990s in Miami, Florida.

My brother outside Toussaint L’Ouverture Elementary School in Miami, Florida during the late 1990s.

My brother outside Toussaint L’Ouverture Elementary School in Miami, Florida during the late 1990s.

For My Brother

Society has failed you

mostly because it is afraid of you

Of your tightly curled hair

with cornrows that are

neatly braided from the hands of the

people who care for you

Society fears you

because you stand six feet tall

like your grandfather

and his father

your strength is part of our

intergenerational survival

Society has ignored you

because it cannot appraise

your humanity

your intelligence

your insight

This is a failure on society’s part

They don’t know

the brother

the son

the friend

that loves climbing banyan fig trees

at Morningside Park on temperate days.

They don’t know

the brother

the son

the friend

that adores eating friend griot with pikliz and bunun

while switching between Haitian and English or

what we call Henglish

They don’t know

the brother

the son

the friend

who loves swimming in the Atlantic Ocean

hoping to reach the edge of the horizon

What society thinks it knows is a false vision





that look like


All the Black men who just want to









Copyright Edna Bonhomme, February 2019.

Do Objects Speak? by Edna Bonhomme

“It is not a dead society that we want to revive. We leave that to those who go in for exoticism.”

-Aimé Césaire

Colonialism was capacious for those in power and rapacious for those who were colonized. During the Berlin Congress of 1884-1885, European countries orchestrated the partitioning of the African continent ranging from settler colonialism to protectorate rule. The Congress was not just one meeting but a series of conversations and debates regarding the boundaries and political outline of the African continent. Berlin was not only a site for colonial planning but it was also the locale where African colonial objects remain. The history of museum objects and their circulation is being re-evaluated by activists, artists, and scholars often calling for formal apologies and repatriation of materials.


Why this resurgence of interest in understanding German colonialism? How have Berlin based artists and activists engaged with this history?


On 19 January, I visited the exhibit, “The Dead, As far as  [ ] Can Remember,” which invited viewers to convene with German colonialism on the African continent. The four-room exhibition was based at the Tieranatomisches Theatre (Animal Anatomy Theater) at the Humboldt University of Berlin. Positioned in the bustling neighbourhood of Mitte, the Tieranatomishces Theatre simultaneously functioned as an eighteenth century relic where laboratory experiments were performed and a place where historical memory was being reimagined. Each room was independently curated to engage with the legacy of European colonialism with a meditation on objects, folklore, testimonies, and expertise.

Photograph from “Chief Meli Remains”

Photograph from “Chief Meli Remains”


l“The Dead, As far as  [ ] Can Remember” used politics as an entry point but did not stop there. As I entered one room, the center of the room projected a grandfather’s tale on a broken ceramic, tiptoeing between an archeological and archival artifact. This room focused on an uprising led by Chief Meli, who opposed the German colonial occupation.


The exhibit begins with Chief Meli but it does not stop there. Rather, we come to get a glimpse of rural life, migration, and the shifting landscape of Chaggaland. One striking image are the passport pictures of five Chaggaland ambassadors who travelled to Germany in 1889 to meet the Kaiser. They were all male. One of them refused to meet the German leader. We learn about the brutality of Lt. Merker, the circulation of postcards with the marketplace of Tsunduni. It begs asking: Who were taking these photographs? By 1900, the German military forced sentenced Chief Meli and his collaborators to death. Part of what makes the exhibit harrowing is that their skulls were brought to Germany and still remains. The exhibition

Moving beyond these tales, one finds another room, which was concerned with access, digitization, and circulation. For some of the experts, the preservation of foreign objects somehow overshadows the concerns of the living. One researcher inquires: “Who benefits? Who do you do something for? Researchers are always welcome.” For him, experts should always have access yet he does not indicate their biases, their limits, and their positions. What one gathers from the interviews is that there is no consensus on the matter. Another scholar reflects a bit more about the political stakes by asserting: “We have a duty to be open and honest about things that are difficult.”


These tensions are precisely what give the “Just Listen” room such power. Repatriation and restructuring were taken up in the “Just Listen” segment that included the perspectives of people of colour and former colonial subjects. As Abdel Amine remarked, “We have to recognize that the bones come from humans.” This is precisely the humanity that is missing from the  Yet, even beyond that, these activists pointed out that the Humboldt Forum and the ethics concerning these objects. Yet, morality is not where it ends. A major element of the exhibition was restitution and the political elements of this. The people want reparations and the redistribution of wealth—from the former colonial power to the formerly colonized. These objects and their reception are part of an ongoing debate about history, memory, and retribution.


“The Dead, As far as  [ ] Can Remember”  exhibit will not solely live in Berlin, Germany, but it will find a home in Dar Es Salaam and Old Moshi in present-day Tanzania. Its circulation speaks volume to what is possible in shifting our understanding of history. For those concerned about the violent past, we do not only want to harp over the dead but to make space for the humanity of the living.

A Requiem for Rosa by Edna Bonhomme

“What do you want with these special Jewish pains? I feel as close to the wretched victims of the rubber plantations in Putamayo and the blacks of Africa with whose bodies the Europeans play ball… I have no special corner in my heart for the ghetto: I am at home in the entire world, where there are clouds and birds and human tears.” 
― Rosa Luxemburg


Berlin is a city haunted by its past. 1848, 1919, 1933, and 1989 are a series of dates that feature into several turning points for the left and right. The 15th of January marks the 100th anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg’s murder by the Freikorps, under the direction of the German Social Democratic Party. Rosa’s death is a requiem for the international Left especially given that our holidays are few and far between.


I first learned about Rosa Luxemburg in 2009 during in a Mass Strike reading group when I was living in Harlem, New York. Harlem is and was a neighborhood layered with the Black radical and literary tradition. Hence, it was no coincidence that the writings of a Jewish Polish Marxist would be acknowledged by Harlem residents. This was a place that Black Communists organized against rental hikes and the vilification of the Scottsboro boys in the 1930s. At the genesis of the economic crisis, New York City provided a political home for me to sharpen my socialist politics in the wake of capitalism’s failure.


Luxemburg’s reception has many lives. The Polish Jewish Marxist is lamented by orthodox Marxists and vilified by conservative social democratic tendencies. What is often missing from hagiographies and defamations is her political and personal complexity—a philosopher, and writer who strove for an international and anti-war socialist movement.


Through a convenience marriage, Rosa was granted German citizenship, which allowed her to live in Berlin during her political activities. For her, this city was a leftist mosaic for trade unionists, feminists, and communists. Berlin was her political home insofar that she had extant debates with her comrade Claire Zetkin and her opponent Eduard Bernstein. Rosa’s legacy survives through place and rhetoric, namely through the German Die Linke (Left) Party foundation appellation in her honor. In 2013, Verso Books published The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, which shed light on her intimate and political commitments ( Historian Helen Scott has remarked:


“Luxemburg was a product of these times, but also an unusual degree acted upon them, fighting for socialism and against barbarism. And she left a rich legacy for others who have taken up the struggle.” (Helen Scott, Haymarket Books, 2008, page 2)


For many on the revolutionary left, her premature death was a waterloo for German and European socialism. Yet, it proceeded a failed revolution months early on November 2018.


On 12 January 2019, I joined Ingar Solty and several other comrades on a tour traversing Rosa Luxemburg an Karl Liebknecht’s final days. We began on Budapeststrasse, opposite the Eden Hotel, where the Freikorps interrogated Karl and Rosa.


Picture Taken 12 January 2019 on Budapestrasse, Berlin, Germany by author.

On that grey and wet afternoon, must like the day they were murdered, our group walked towards the Landwehr Canal. One hundred years ago, the group of men transporting Luxemburg, shot her and eventually threw her body in the canal.


Picture taken on 12 January 2019 on Budapestrasse, Berlin, Germany by author. 

Her body remained frozen in the canal for several months—probably frozen by the long and protracted winter of 1919. Today, a monument is erected from the edge of the canal, with Rosa Luxemburg’s name bulging from the iron railing. This memorial is reminder of the political crises she relayed to Clara Zetkin, her friend and confidant on 11 January 1919:


 “The severe political crises that we’ve experienced here in Berlin during all of the past two weeks or even longer have blocked the way to the systematic organizational work of training our recruits, but at the same time these events are a tremendous school for the masses. And finally, one must take history as it comes, whatever course it takes. —The fact that you are receiving Rote Fahne so infrequently is disastrous! I will see to it that I personally send it to you every day. —At this moment in Berlin the battles are continuing.802 Many of our brave lads have fallen. Meyer, Ledebour, and (we fear) Leo [Jogiches] have been arrested. For today, I have to close. I embrace you a thousand times, your R.” (Rosa Luxemburg. The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, Verso Books, 2013)


One can take the history as it comes, and one can also use that history to shape a more radical and equitable future.


For those of us who have been stolen by Edna Bonhomme

Those of us who have been stolen speak Creole,






We practice Santeria, Catholicism, Islam and Atheism

Those of us who have been stolen hold on to our rituals

our music

our language

our braids

our kink

 We were stolen from a land that our



and great grandmothers never knew

Rather, they heard folklores of our siblings who extracted herbal plants,

those who transcended gender,

those who adored sunsets.

Those of us who have been stolen bear the markings of slavery and the power of resistance.

Those of us who have been stolen continue to survive. 


-e. bonhomme (August 2018)

Note: Poem inspired by a conversation with Skye Skyetshookii



Sickness and Health in Yemen during a time of War by Edna Bonhomme

Death lurks in Yemen. Not just in the unintended consequences of war led by the Saudi coalition against the Houthis, but it crops up in the built environment--one saturated with political insecurity, military bombing, and social anguish. The Arab uprisings of 2010-2011 were a brief period of hope that have mutated into horror for millions of people in Yemen. 'Amaliyyat 'Āṣifat al-Ḥazm, otherwise known as Operation Decisive Storm, is a military operation that was initiated by Saudi Arabia in 2015 against Houthi militias. While Saudi Arabia continues to be the main agent leading the attack, other Arab countries such as Egypt, Morocco, and United Arab Emirates have provided material supports for the military intervention. Support extends even further with the United States government providing logistical and military support.

The airstrikes have been deleterious for everyday life. In early August 2018, an airstrike killed over 40 people believed to be school children; another 60 are being treated for injuries. This confrontation with mass death has been frequent and ghastly as cited by the United Nations and various Human Rights groups. To date, the United Nations estimates the death toll is 16,000 with an additional 22 million people in Yemen needing aid. These figures are not merely numbers but they bear a moral obligation to the people in Yemen--those who continue to have their humanity disregarded by war.

People are on the fringe of death not only because of the Saudi-led 'Amaliyyat 'Āṣifat al-Ḥazm, but because of a cholera epidemic that is perpetuated by destruction. The disease emerges from the bacteria, Vibrio cholerae, and can easily be treated with clean water and antibiotics. Yet, the constant military attacks by Saudi Arabia leaves little room for a thorough public health solution. As the cholera epidemic continues to proliferate in Yemen, the destruction to life is further amplified with the assault on schools, hospitals and public health infrastructure. If we value those who are currently living and want to honor those who have perished from this casaulty, it means calling for an end to this Saudi-led military campaign. 

Marielle Franco, presenté! by Edna Bonhomme


"To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing."

~ Raymond Williams.


Today, approximately 300 people gathered in Berlin to honor the life of Marielle Franco, the Black Brazilian queer socialist who was recently assassinated in Rio de Janeiro. As an elected representative of the PSOL party, she denounced police presence in poor and working class neighborhoods. Her comrades have pointed to that the political murder was an attempt to repress the growing resistance against the Temer regime. As they noted:

We have reached a limit point. We go to the streets to do justice for Marielle, and to keep alive his agenda: defending the life of the black and poor people of the peripheries of the country, and fighting for a dignified life for our people. To defend our freedoms, the little democracy we still have. For our rights!

A multiethnic group of people in Berlin, mostly speaking Portuguese convened at May-Ayim-Ufer. The event's location was admirable because it bears the name of the late Afro-German poet May Ayim, a public intellectual who sought make deep links within the African diaspora. Audre Lorde was her mentor and formative for her analysis about being a Black woman in Germany. Unfortunately, anti-Black racism in Germany contributed to her depression and eventual suicide in Kreuzberg, a neighborhood in central Berlin. Institutional racism does not only provide physical violence but it eats away at one's inner core.

Turning to today's solidarity demonstration, it was a moment for people to take stock of what happened to Marielle and all those who have stood up against racism and tyranny. The group encircled with a collection of notes and artifacts for Marielle. People sang Brazilian folk songs and Tracy Chapman's "Talking 'Bout a Revolution" showing the cultural and political links between Black people in Brazil and the United States. Yet, even deeper, the struggle to fight austerity alongside police brutality show how prescient Black lives are cut short. Nevertheless, Franco was a champion for the poor, a resident of the favela, and a freedom fighter. She opposed the militarization and the policing in her community. She looked to Black radical women such as Angela Davis to rally her community.

Her death is a tragedy, as is the murder of so many people who suffer from police brutality. Yet, this shock has awakened people globally in Brazil, North America, and here in Berlin, Germany. Black people in the United States and in Brazil have been fighting back and the world is seeing the contradictions in societies that proclaim to be egalitarian yet use reveal massive inequalities. What Mike Brown's murder in 2014 and Marielle Franco's murder show is that all it takes a spark to reveal the rage that Black people--and the oppressed more broadly--feel in society but once we gather in mass, we can begin to break the chains.

Berlin acknowledged despair and Marielle's passing but the demonstration displayed a declaration of hope, love and solidarity. May her memory flare like a phoenix rising from the ashes.



227 years fighting power: Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Specter of Black Internationalism by Edna Bonhomme



I wish you could know

What it means to be me

Then you’d see and agree

That every man should be free

-“I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be Free”


In 1967, Nina Simone performed “I wish I knew How it Would Feel to be Free,” which was popularized during the Civil Rights movement. The song resonates with those who have felt the omnipotent pressures of being shackled and silenced by society. The ballad echoes with those who yearned for freedom and envisioned soaring through the sky—yet it renders freedom as a fleeting and impossible dream. That aura unfurls in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years In Power:  An American Tragedy. For Coates, racism’s salience weaves throughout his text, opining a Manichean perspective on trauma in Black America. Yet, Coates’ pessimism does not emerge from vacuity but it emanates from his experience of growing up Black in America—on the edges of a Civil Rights movement and at the locus of poverty.


Ta-Nehisi Coates was raised in a segregated, mostly Black neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland—the location of the popularly known TV series, The Wire. As of 2015, 17% of Black people in Baltimore were living in concentrated poverty compared to 2% of white people living in Baltimore. Black poverty is not random but it is by design—mostly part of the aftermath of systematic anti-Black discrimination in education, housing, and labor. For the formative years of his life, Coates moved through a world where Black poverty was visible and destructive. Yet, this was on the heels of Black resistance and the erasure of legal segregation, popularly known as Jim Crow. His father, William Paul Coates, was a member of the Black Panther Party, a Marxist revolutionary group that added a material nature to the Black power movement during the 1960s and 1970s. The augmentation of Black poverty and the implosion of Black radical struggle are factors that explain Coates’s worldview—and they surface throughout We Were Eights Years in Power.


Unbeknownst to Coates, his book sparked a dynamic debate in the United States about racism, class, and resistance. The most polemical critique arose from the acclaimed Harvard University Professor Cornel West who characterized Coates as part of a “neoliberal wing that sounds militant about white supremacy but renders black fight back invisible.” Although West’s tone and mannerism were strident, leaving Coates to abandon Twitter, West is (rightly) concerned about the gaps in Coates’ book for not directly taking on capitalism, patriarchy, and homophobia. The Marxist historian Robin D.G. Kelley provided a sober rejoinder to the Coates-West debate by pointing to the long tradition of Black American scholars, with Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois serving as the archetype of the liberal-radical divide. As Naomi Klein and Opal Tomati have noted, books cannot address all of our concerns but they can provide the space to understand parallels between racism in the United States and the tentacles of American imperialism abroad.


That debate concerning We Were Eight Years in Power is sparking deeper questions about black liberation and internationalism and it is providing the space for people to inquire about "sources of resistance" not just in the United States but also on a global scale. Political debates can provide the space to heighten strategy and tactics and a major critique, among the left, concerning We Were Eight Years in Power is that the pessimistic framework within the text elides the mass struggle by oppressed people around the world. The text falls short but not for the reasons that West describes, but rather, for its insularity. How do we reckon with Black intellectual thought that overshadows the voices of the oppressed and the contributions freedom fighters? What does it mean to write about the state of Black politics and Black self-determination in the current moment?


Eight Years in Power

We Were Eight Years in Power is a diachronic history of race relations in the United States told through framework of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ development as a writer. The eight chapters in the book glide through the Civil War period, the Civil Rights movement, and the Barack Obama administration. Not only does Coates provides snapshots of Black enslavement, mass incarceration and racial segregation, he tries to explain where his starting point was and how white supremacy is the political legacy of the United States.  


We Were Eight Years in Power shows the limits of a Black nationalist framework and what an internationalist one can offer in expanding our horizon for justice. While Coates is notable for having criticized liberal politics at the height of Barack Obama's presidency, this led him to radical demands, principally that for reparations. Coates lack of a thorough class analysis has to do with two monsters of class erasure: the attacks of US government on the leftist struggles and the failure of the left to grow with newly radical people.


There are gestures to radical politics but they fall short in describing the opposition to Black struggle. When Coates argues, “…there is the actual enslavement and all that has followed from it, from Reconstruction to Jim Crow to mass incarceration,” he is invoking the work of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. [1] In the footnotes, Coates praises her contributions but affirms that mass incarceration is “appropriate only if you already believe that certain people weren’t really fit for freedom in the first place.” This affirmation rests on an ideological perspective on discrimination—not one built on the capital and profit that emerges from slavery and mass incarceration. At the same, he acknowledges that reading Michelle Alexander’s work shifted his consciousness because it provided the foundation and language to understand the sociological and economic conditions for racism.

Coates departure from the immaterial realms of hatred towards the material impact of racism is most grounded in his chapter “The Case for Reparations.” It is here that he turns away from liberalism and make direct links between anti-Black discrimination and capital. He writes:

“Since the country’s wealth was distributed along the lines of race and because black families were cordoned off, resources accrued and compounded for whites while relative poverty accrued for blacks. And so it was not simply that black people were more likely to be poor but that black people—of all classes were more likely to live in poor neighborhoods.”


It is at this moment that he articulates his political development from a person who opposed reparations into someone who advocated for it. He provides ethnographic accounts that vividly show how African American families went from being slaves to sharecroppers to indebted. By advocating for reparations, he wants to elide white guilt and replace it with redistribution of wealth—something that could extend to the working class as a whole. The aforementioned quote matters because it shows—contrary to West’s critique—that Coates is slowly developing an analysis about the relationship between race and class and that he is doing so through a rigorous case study. Even further, it shows that a shift in political consciousness is possible when the texts, voices, and lives of the Black working class are made palpable.


These hints of trauma and strength were also overshadowed from what Haitian American acclaimed writer Roxane Gay described as “a glaring absence of reckoning with the intersection of race and gender.” This begs the question, how did Black women contribute and change the world? How does history writing take a feminist perspective? As the historian Robyn V. Spencer writes, “History is not fiction but the mechanisms that silence Black women’s intellectual production even while seeming to herald their numerical presence is present in each realm.” The narrative that Coates offers presents Black women’s suffering and their occasional resistance but not their intellectual production. It is not enough to bring Black women in because they are missing, but it is necessary because they import a particular virtuosity stemming from their insights.


In “Notes from the Fifth Year,” Coates places his ideology to the legacy of Black women who resisted slavery and Jim Crow segregation. One ancestor was Celia, a Black enslaved woman who was hung for murdering her white slave owner. Another forebear was the African American journalist and organizer, Ida B. Wells, who led anti-lynching and anti-rape campaigns. While these women endured, they are positioned in isolation, as if they operated on their own. The text falls short of including the Black women who played a significant role in broad-based movements such as: the Haymarket rebellion, Socialist Party, trade unions, and the free Scottsboro movement. It warrants pointing to their contributions because they were not separate from progressive change but they were integral to the liberation process in the United States, yet their version of freedom, their truth, and their loves are overwhelming omitted.



Coates presents a story about Black America to the exclusion of the African diaspora in North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The Americas rest on the ghosts of indigenous groups that were murdered by Europeans and on the blood of African slaves who toiled the land. These are perilous histories that have mutated into a living nightmare that continue to haunt Black people from Brazil to Puerto Rico.


Politics and political imagination needs the space and time for people to reflect on their vision of the world, which are present in visionaries like Claudia Jones, Aimé Césaire, and Frantz Fanon. Like Coates, these Black Caribbean scholars were descendants of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Unlike Coates, they were grounded in in an internationalist Black radical tradition rather than a parochial Black Nationalist tradition. Black intellectual thought and radicalism is a work in progress insofar that the political moment can inspire people to collectively organize for their liberation and to dream for other futures.


The move towards internationalism emerges in Coates when he speaks of Malcolm X’s political shift. He writes, “As Malcolm traveled to Africa and the Middle East, as he debated at Oxford and Harvard, he encountered a torrent of new ideas, new ways of thinking that batted him back and forth.”[2] What one gathers is that internationalism—something that Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party flirted with—allowed the space for radicals to move beyond borders imposed upon them and to imagine the dynamics of social struggle. The Black Panther Party, of which Coates’ father was a member, was a group that reached international lines and was a symbol of resistance amongst Algerians during the postcolonial moment and Maori who resisted white settler colonialism in New Zealdn. Given Coates’ direct link to the Black Panther Party, it is no coincidence that he was integral to the reemergence and popularization of the Marvel Black Panther comic, and subsequently the film. The Black Panther motion picture has generated a host of commentary by intersectional theorists, leftists, and postcolonial scholars. While the film does not fully appeal to the radical tenure of the comics—as Professor Christopher Lebron notes—it has opened a set of questions about the legacy of the Black Panther Party, Afrofuturism, and the limits of isolationist policies. Coates made Black Panther in its current cultural iteration possible, but it should not end there.



From Afropessimism and Black Nationalism to Afrofuturism and Black Internationalism

In We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates is less concerned about moments of resistance and possibility and more about how a hegemonic white America imposes its hate on Black Americans. The goal of the Left is to give social movements a historical materialist framework that captures the real lessons from freedom fighters around the world, rather than providing broad and superficial strokes that pit class and race against each other. The Black Marxist C.L.R. James astutely described the power of the Haitian Revolution and liberation in The Black Jacobins,


The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a single white man, into a people able to organize themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day, is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement. Why and how this happened is the theme of this book.[3]


History writing is a ceaseless activity that accumulates the tragedies with the moments of liberation, yet the insurrection of Black slaves in San Domingue altered the course of chattel slavery in the Americas and offered liberation to other Latin American countries. Delving into resistance allows the space for society to collectively recognize past crimes, acknowledge the contributions of non-elites, and honor the gains that were made. In doing so we begin to find hope for resistance from what society would consider the unlikeliest sources, be it Black slaves who freed themselves, Claudia Jones, Ella Baker, or Angela Davis.


The notion of liberation was pioneered by the Combahee River Collective whose contributions the American Left is returning to. What made them exceptional was that they were marginal subjects (Black working class lesbian women) who not only recognized the material conditions of their situation but they acknowledged that collective action through political education and organization were necessary precursors for the entirety of the working class. Yet, even further, they offer a corrective to feminist and antiracist struggles by suggesting, as titled in their new book How We Get Free, the necessary conditions for building resistance from below.



If we want to do justice to an obscured history and provide concrete solutions so that we may be free, that means finding those volcanic eruptions of struggle from below—not just on US soil but on an international scale. Borders sully international resistance—and capitalism’s ability to conquer and divide has metasized oppression especially among refugees, transgender people, and those living under war. Much can be learned from Afrofuturism and the possibilities that it offers—its proponents invite us to imagine a world where Black people are able to dream and create a world that through the arts, sciences, and beyond. When Afrofuturism is put into practice it gives hope. If we take Afrofuturism and internationalism seriously and make it a part of Black radical politics that means envisaging a world where we not only demonstrate how society is molded but how everyone can be free.





[1] Coates, p. 111-112

[2] Coates, p. 100

[3] p. ix


Searching for Fanon by Edna Bonhomme

On 1 November 1958, Frantz Fanon contributed to El Moudjahid by making the following claim:

The independence of a new territory, the liberation of a new peoples are felt by the other oppressed countries as an invitation, an encouragement, and a promise. Every setback of colonial domination in America or in Asia strengthens the national will of the African peoples. It is in the national struggle against the oppressor that colonized peoples have discovered, concretely, the solidarity of the colonialist bloc and the necessary interdependence of the liberation movements.

The FLN moved their headquarters from Algiers to Tunis in 1956.2 Shortly after, Fanon wrote for the publication El Moudjahid, travelled as a delegate to various anti-colonial conferences in Accra and Cairo. He not only theorized about the anti-colonial movement in Algeria, but he was actively participating by publishing articles and engaging with revolutionary activity.

The son of a Black middle class Martinican famiy, Fanon excelled alongside his peer Aimé Césaire which provided them the opportunity to acquire an education in the metropole: Paris. While I was re-reading Frantz Fanon I was struck that Fanon spent the last several years of his life in Tunis—a direct product of his involvement with the Front de Libération nationale (FLN). Fanon saw institutions such as the Bandung pact as necessary steps to provide the material and ideological dimensions for the anti-colonial struggle.

During the final years of his life, he wrote The Wretched of the Earth while living in Tunis. Fanon connected his own life and history not only to the Black people on the African content, but to various people who were struggling for independence. His political trajectory, albeit circuitous, was a product of the international delegations and struggles that were brewing.

Given Fanon’s involvement, I was curious to learn the extent to which Arab and Black revolutionaries were systematically engaged in ideological, material, and political movements in North Africa. Were anti-colonial struggles merely concerned about the nationalist question or was there something more internationalist about these liberation struggles? How did Marxist perspectives on the nationalist question feature into these political movements? Was there a sense that anti-colonial invoked proletariat internationalism?

Afro-Arab solidarity was not merely a function of rhetoric but it was tied to material support at the national level. What this resulted in was that leaders and activists were able to convene in North Africa to discuss political strategies for independence and self-determination. Publications such as El Moudjahid represented one of many platforms where seasoned activists could display their call to action (Figure 1).

Arab and Black figures were collaborating and coordinating against colonial interests through intellectual realm, political delegations, and solidarity statements. El Moujahid was a publication and a political platform that helped to solidify Afro-Arab solidarity during the colonial period (Figure 2). It reads on the left hand side: “Vive le Kameroun indépendant! Vive l’Afrique libéré par notre combat commun!” “Long Live an independent Cameroon! Long live a Free Africa for our common fight!”

In another issue, there was an attempt to point to the liberation of Arab nations as well (Figure 3). By the 1960s, the dynamics between Arab and Black Africans shifted according to the local context where in some cases the relations were purely political and in others there were cultural and personal ties. What hap begun as overt operations to European colonialism festered into nationalist programs thus moving further away from the radical, internationalist tradition of the mid-1950s. Fanon never lived to see Algerian independence. However, his tenacity and legacy persist mostly because he dared to envision a world where Arabs and Blacks could be free.


El Moudjahid. 1958. Cover of El-Moudjahid. It reads Africa for Africans and it has Ako Adjei, Ghana’s Minister of Labor, M’hamed Yasid, Algerian Minister of Information; C.H. Chapman Togo minister;  D.A. Chapman, Ambassador of Ghana to the UN
El Moujahid: Independence for Black Africa. They describe a colonial pact and its impact on the region. Black marks the countries that were colonized by the French. Grey colonizes by the British and White were independent.
El Moujahid. Tomorrow for the Arab Nations. This goes into detail about Arab countries, their demographics, etc

Sontag: 1933-2004 by Edna Bonhomme

Susan Rosenblatt (popularly known as Susan Sontag) was born on 16 January, the year the Nazis came to power. Sontag’s family were Lithuanian and Polish Jews who found solace in New York City, a haven for African Americans escaping the Jim Crow American South and Southern and Eastern Europeans fleeing from famine and pogroms. Her cosmopolitanism fueled her literary acuteness and her willingness to understand the human experience furthered her political crusades.


Sontag’s literary genius was demonstrated in the range of texts she produced. From commentaries on war to meditations on health, she wrote an endless number of texts that dared to be serious and pensive.


In 1968, she went to Hanoi and eventually visited Vietcong. After conducting an investigative trip she reached the conclusion that “The Vietnamese are ‘whole’ human beings, not ‘split’ as we are.” They were whole because they resisted US militarization; Americans were not, because they could not understand the Vietnamese humanity.


On the history of medicine, Sontag showed that pathogens are biological but how we cope with them is political. When we navigate through a cold, cough, or headache, our bodily discomfort and our ability to transcend those feelings comes from the community and healing practices that deem fit. Originally published in 1978, Illness as Metaphor argues that the metaphors of cancer come from warfare not economics which goes to show how society normalizes disease but also uses disease imagery in political rhetoric to create of hierarchy of life and death. Tuberculosis, a nineteenth century disease was romanticized. In contrast, cancer coarsens the body and the soul with each malignant cell being a gateway to self-destruction.  


Staying with the theme of health, Sontag opted for a discussion on collective suffering in AIDS and its metaphors. It was here that the dimensions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic engulfed her community and loved ones. Yet, disease was not merely an allegory but rife with the panoply of death, an ascension of bodies whose talents, dreams, and loves would wither. Her outcry about the disease led to her vilification by religious conservatives in the United States. Their names: Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, Norman Podhoretz.


Sontag was regal, verbose, and a modernist and her analysis about war and health offer an intimate portrait on humanity and its demise. At the same time, it showed her capacity to uncover her close encounters with death and her capacity to mourn.

Sontag smoking cig.jpeg

MLK, Presente by Edna Bonhomme

On 29 October 1929, ten months after Martin Luther King, Jr was born, Wall Street crashed thus causing one of the worst Depressions in modern history. This led to a devastating deluge of crises mostly emanating from the financial industry but eventually influencing everyday life. Yet for the destitute, workers lost their jobs and farmers moved off their land. Relatedly, African Americans were further pressed under Jim Crow segregation often finding themselves to be the first hired.


Life had become dire but ethnic minorities found a way to resist. Autoworkers in Flint, Michigan led sit-in strikes and anti-racists defended the Scottsboro Boys against oppression. The wave of political activity during the 1930s and 1940s provided the foundation for Black Americans to collectively organize and build confidence in their community.


In 1955, when Martin Luther King became president of the NAACP in Montgomery Alabama, the organization had reached its 46th year. As a young Minister, King and an outsider to this town, he helped to lead a campaign with a community of seasoned activists, including Rosa Parks—a militant troublemaker who had a led a 1944 campaign against sexual assault. Turning to the 1955 Montgomery boycott, one is struck by King’s initial campaign and his insistence for justice. He proclaimed:


We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.

1955 was not a year that existed in isolation but was part of decades of struggle—financial and racial—one where a growing number of African Americans were resisting the status quo. Many of the figures in King’s orbit were briefly impacted by Leftist politics. One of King’s most important mentors was Bayard Rustin, a gay Black American who briefly joined the Communist Party. Socialism, was not an impasse, but part of the guiding principle for how he politically oriented himself. By 1964, Rustin argued that the Civil Rights movement should link with the labour movement and took clear steps to make this a reality. Through his leadership at the A. Randolph Institute—a division of the AFL-CIO—he helped to promote unionization among Black workers and to help integrate historically white work places.


King’s legacy is often overshadowed by his “I Have a Dream” speech which was delivered at the March on Washington on 28 August 1963. Yet, it was the "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" delivered at Riverside Church in New York City on 4 April 1967 which unearthed Martin Luther King’s anti-imperialist platform. The speech is candid about the destructive forces of the US war in Vietnam by putting on display the impact of total war on Vietnamese life. He speaks about the concentration camps and the bombs. He describes how the US military poisons Vietnamese water and sabotages their illustrious forests. Beyond Vietnam, he points out that the destructive elements of war comes with a cost. King notes:


I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds on the rehabilitation of its poor so long as it adventures like Vietnam continue to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destruction suction tooth. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.


King’s speech broke the silence that liberals could not endure. He pointed to the material consequences of war. In a world where the United States military occupied Vietnam and other countries, the working class and poor would continue to suffer. US imperialism was the enemy not the Vietnamese. This speech was delivered one year before King’s death and some argue that it was the beginning of his radicalization and subsequent death. Nevertheless, he was right to point out that “a time comes when silence is betrayal and that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.” Today, that time has come for us in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Rosa Parks, the troublemaker.

Rosa Parks, the troublemaker.

Migration, "shithole," and liberation by Edna Bonhomme

Question: “Why are we having all these [African countries, Haiti, and El Salvador] people from shithole countries come here?”


My parents migrated from Haiti during the early 1980s following a wave of Caribbean and Latin American migrants who were escaping environmental destruction, political persecution and economic devastation. They were part of a mass that sought refuge from events much bigger than them, thus the decision to migrate was predicated on leaving a place whose politics was constantly being reshuffled from the outside and within. My parents are Black, Francophone, Creole speakers who travelled to the country that they thought would offer solace—the United States. Yet, the United States financially supported the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier leading many to live under state terror. As migrants from the poorest province in Haiti, my parents took separate paths and several years apart across the Caribbean Sea. When I ask them, “What was this like?” they have often respond in shame knowing that their path by boat is stigmatized. Boat people does not have a ring to it and it is telling of their class background.


When they speak of migration it is not a singular event but one mired by the physical and the immaterial, the eternal and the ephemeral. They migrated because the repression by national elites in the Global South was fueled by the ruling class of the Global North. They migrated to escape the calamitous and unpredictable changes on their seaside landscape. Dependent on subsistence farming, they noticed that the rains were less frequent and the birds were less vocal. They migrated because they knew political dissent could lead to imprisonment at Fort Dimanche. They migrated because they had every right to demand a life where their dreams were not overshadowed by their ongoing nightmare.


Unfortunately, the real shithole is apartheid America. This is a place where anti-Black and anti-Haitian sentiments have mutated into perilous policies during my parents’ thirty years in the United States. During the 1980s, the Reagan administration scapegoated Haitians for the HIV/AIDS epidemic. During the 1990s, the Clinton administration deported Haitians at record numbers and placed them in an open air prison—Guantanamo Bay. During the 2000s, the Bush administration backed a military coup and set the path for the UN military occupation of Haiti. In the new iteration of US imperialism and racism, it is important to take stock of how the current US president is continuing the racist and oppressive strategies of the past--the difference is that he is more forthright with his bigotry. These snapshots are telling of a broader issue—Haiti and Haitians has been punished since 1804 by US (and Western) countries because Haiti’s liberation was predicated on removing shackles from Black skin. The history is cogent: our liberation is considered a shithole from those who want to see us in chains.

The Evolution of Neoliberalism in Tunisia, 1980-2017 by Edna Bonhomme

In light of the recent protests in anti-austerity protests in Tunisia, I wanted to post a talk I gave at Historical Materialism (London) in November 2017.


In October 2017, the Tunisian Parliament proposed a bill that would cut funding for public schools and hospitals. Shortly after, the Tunisian General Labour Union, with a membership of 900,000, responded:


“We express our condemnation of the inability of the government to intervene to stop the deterioration and the power of workers… We reject the adoption of the provisions of the General Budget Law 2018 at the expense of the workers and the general public. We call on the government to allocate funds to social programs and to control a fair fiscal policy that reduces the tax burden on workers which has been rising since 2011.”[1]


During most of its sixty-year history, the UGTT had been state controlled and did not make direct claims about to directly challenge the government and austerity by the state. This condemnation by the UGTT is a direct product of their newly emergent confidence as an independent trade union movement that recognizes that austerity will further weaken their position and the working class as a whole.


Neoliberialism has traditionally been understood within the dimensions of liberalization and the contours of austerity but it can also be understood within the framework of resistance. I argue that while neoliberalism has been a recent phenomenon in Tunisia (late 1980s), that neoliberal policies have been met with resistance and that labour movements and unions have been integral to that struggle. Concerning neoliberalism, I want to preface that the ascension and evolution of neoliberalism did not happen overnight but was part of a process that has been repackaged over time, emerging from early twentieth century free market ideologues such as Karl Polanyi, Friedrich von Hayek, and John Maynard Keynes to the 1960s Chicago School neoliberal architects such as Milton Friedman and Gary Becker. While these policies have shaped British context under Margaret Thatcher and in the United States under Ronald Reagan, many of us continue to inherit these legacies insofar as we bear witness to NHS defunding in the British context and the evisceration of public spending for education in the United States.

At the same time, countries in the Middle East and North Africa were subject to neoliberalism which was tied to a Euro-American international financial elite that reshuffled the economic and political frameworks of society. Relatedly, neoliberalism has been packaged as an intellectual authority, rooted in a devoutly apolitical worldview by centrists and liberals, on the other hand, it has produced ultra-reactionary politics grounded around two principles, namely liberalization and austerity. While liberaliation has long featured as an integral part of increased competition, austerity has also meant the erosion of state facilities.


Liberalization and austerity are not merely abstract concepts that exist in a vacuum but they are part of continuation of crisis or what Naomi Klein has called the shock doctrine. It bears noting this to show how the tentacles of this ideology permeates as a major node of crisis but also becomes the very seed that ignites protest.


The particularity of neoliberalism in the Middle East and North Africa is that it not only functioned as a set of economic policies but that it has influenced political and social life. As Adam Hanieh has written in Lineages of Revolt, he noted that neoliberalism in the Middle East was: [quote]


“Trapped in a cycle of debt and the conditionalities that accompanied loan packages, they saw patterns of social reproduction shift dramatically—the ways in which people met their basic needs, the kinds of work they did, and their relationship to the market and the state broke sharply with the forms of accumulation that had earlier characterized the Arab world.”


As such, liberalization was a central feature of neoliberalism but this was achieved through several means that international financial firms developed structural adjustment program and Public-Private Partnerships (otherwise known as PPPs).


By the 1980s, International financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in the Middle East and North Africa began to implant themselves throughout the region including but not limited to Sudan in 1979, Morocco in 1983, Egypt and Tunisia in 1987 and Jordan in 1989. Algeria, Lebanon, and Yemen followed suit in the 1990s. These international financial organizations—in their interest to protect a capitalist hierarchy, for the global ruling class, have used international law and multinational corporations to increase privatization, lower wages, and sway politics in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet, they were able to do so with the Arab ruling class.


The particularities of neoliberalism in Tunisia is that it rested on the tightening of wealth in the hands of the ruling elite. Economic restructuring in Tunisia during the 1980s was not entirely new and began during the anticolonial period under President Habib Bourguiba. Bourguiba laid out a set of reforms that were a continuation of French colonial policies yet, they were more concentrated within the confines of Tunisian nationalists. After the passage of Law 87-47 in August 1987, the Tunisia state transferred parts of the public sector into the private industry which laid the groundwork for the public-private partnership through such bodies as the CAREPP (Commission d’Assainissement et de Restructuration des Entreprises à Participation Publique). By 1989, the World Bank granted Tunisia a loan of $130 million to carry out the structural adjustment programs through CAREPP.


These policies were blossomed during the Ben Ali regime which included the privatization of public assets, the weakening of welfare policies, and the restructuring of tax and investment codes. Between 1988 and 1999, Tunisia had $0.59 billion in privatization deals. Most of these investments were directed towards manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture. With 90% of Tunisia’s textile production going to European countries. What is more telling about these policies is how they were gendered depending on the industry. For example, women’s employment in the textile and garment industry grew by 65% in Tunisia. At the same time, this was also met with a deterioration in job security and labour rights. Subsequently, the International Labour Organization report that there were 2,100 corporations that employed more than 200,000 workers in Tunisia in 2008, with an estimated 68% of the contracts in the textile industry were temporary and 19% were nonstandard.


In 1995, the European Union signed a treaty with Tunisia solidifying its financial relationship and free trade between Tunisia and European countries.[2] Thus, the reduction of levies further strengthened capitalists because their currencies could transcend borders. Capital, under neoliberalism, was flooded with debt. Under former dictator Ben Ali, foreign debt in Tunisia went from $6.8 billion to $21.7 billion which amounted to a little under 50% of the country’s GDP; today, Tunisia’s public debt is currently at 52%.[3] Debt and crisis also begets resistance.


One space where these policies was challenged was through labour and the trade union movement especially in the absence of a broader Left coalition to challenge neoliberal policies that are being enacted across the board.


It must be noted that under former dictator Ben Ali, the acceleration of privatization in the 2000s was an attack on labour and the conditions of work more generally. Labour has become more precarious and neoliberalism has sought to weaken labour’s power for higher wages and job security. By 2001, 15% of the Tunisian employed labour force held temporary contracts and by 2010, more than half of all employees were on temporary contract, and they earned 25% to 40% less than their permanent-contract co-workers.[4] Yet, this did not happen overnight. Rather, as early as 1996 Tunisian labour laws were subsequently removed protections for workers which resulted in the lax laws in hiring and firing. Moreover, the rise in temporary contracts meant that employers could more easily terminate employees without justification. Overall, this resulted in less job security and a diminishment of worker’s ability to organize, collectively bargain, and strike.


The economic crisis of 2008 that began in financial centers of North America spread globally resulting in mass turmoil, dissatisfaction, and protest. That same year, workers at the Compagnie des Phosphates de Gafsa (CPG) went on strike in the interior town of Gafsa after the company laid off 10,000 people. Gafsa, a small mining town in the interior of Tunisia challenging local corruption, environmental degradation and layoffs.[5] What made this set of protests remarkable is that civil servants, teachers, and the unemployed collected united to challenge the dire conditions with economic, political, and social sphere. They brought CPG—a company that was established in 1896 during the French protectorate—to heel.[6] Unfortunately, the largest organized labour group did very little to offer an alternative. Despite the resilience of mineworkers to conduct a strike, l’Union générale tunisienne du travail (UGTT) leadership did not support the miners’ strike in Gafsa, yet, the unemployed youth occupied the headquarters of the UGTT set up tents on site at CPG while also collectively directing their anger towards state police and the erstwhile president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. After six-months of protests hundreds were imprisoned and dozens of people were injured or killed. Gafsa was a dress rehearsal for what was to come.


The material conditions that ignited the six-month protests in 2008 in Gafsa were not merely a product of local governance but the exploitation carried out by neoliberalism and the global financial crisis. Neoliberalism can be a chokehold for the masses but the motivation that causes people to resist. Yet, tied to worker’s ability to resist shows the potential of Tunisian worker’s to confront neoliberalism directly.


Another feature of the evolution of neoliberalism in Tunisia was austerity which was achieved through the reduction in government spending and employment. Neoliberal reform policies instated during the Ben Ali regime included the privatization of public assets, the weakening of welfare policies, and the restructuring of tax and investment codes.[7] The growth of jobs in the private sector in Tunisia did not necessarily lead to meaningful work that was evenly divided in the country. Instead, most of the jobs created during the late 1990s and 2000s were low-technology, low skilled, and low paying.[8]


While there have been gains to address political sovereignty and transparency, unemployment has been on the rise with the rate in Tunisia going from 12.8% in 2010 up to 15.5% in 2016. [It must be noted that these “official” statistics are far less than reality.] Unemployment in Tunisia remains uneven with respect to geography resulting in unemployment rates of 10% in Tunis and up to 50% in interior and southern provinces. Ancillary to this, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that 40% of youth are unemployed.


Moreover, the implementation of austerity under neoliberalism meant that shrinking government expenditures became law. For example, the public-sector wage bill decreased government salaries by 65% in 2003 and 55% in 2008. In addition to wages, government subsidies, such for gas and electricity, were also reduced. In 2013, 23.8% of Tunisians lived below their poverty level, compared to 40% in Egypt.


The economic crisis of 2008 that began on Wall Street and spread globally, sparking mass turmoil, dissatisfaction, and protest sparked resistance in Tunisia because of the measures to diminish the quality of life. Nasfi Fkili Wahiba and Malek El Weriemmi have argued that the neoliberal process between the mid 1980s and the early 2000s meant that while the Tunisian economy grew so did economic inequality.[9] At the core of this was uneven development whereby a minority was able to profit while the majority became less rich.


The Arab Spring

While the Arab uprisings of 2011 have been in a lull, the tentacles of capitalism continue to mutate in Tunisia thus perpetuating mass unemployment in Tunisia’s interior. The Arab Spring was a mass movement to topple a dictator but it was strengthened by the self-activity of labour. Not only did they directly challenge capital but they helped to convert the decades of lethargy and state domination of the UGTT into a more active union. Concerning investments and structural adjustment programs, they have not only continued since 2011 but they have metamorphized into even larger loans from Euro-American and international financial institutions


The flow of goods between Europe and Tunisia has impacted the local context. More recently, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, part of the Privileged Partnership signed in November 2012 between the EU and Tunisia, also reshaped the economic landscape causing further ventures by foreign companies in Tunisia. Newly developed financial relationships such as Partners for a New Beginning North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity and a free trade agreement with resulted in Tunisia becoming a non-NATO ally (MNNA) has meant that corporations such as Chilli’s, Johnny Rockets, and Papa John’s Pizza have begun to establish branches in Tunisia since 2011. Yet, these industries are not the only mechanism that foreign investments are incurring. International financial institutions continue to have a grip on these capitalist ventures.


Within the past five years, reforms have also been structured around international loans. In 2016 the IMF approved a $2.9 billion loan to Tunisia and in 2014, the World bank approved a $1.2 billion loan.[10] Yet, this has not only happened by international organizations but also through individual states. For example, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce wrote a letter of support for Tunisia's democratic process which then materialized into a $1 billion loan to Tunisia.[11] Some claim that these loans will help to stabilize the economy yet these economic programs further entrench Tunisia into a debt structure whereby they are indebted to the West.


What is to be done?

Neoliberalism has effectively acted to redistribute wealth from the region’s poor to the wealthiest layers of society and the Arab Spring did not eliminate these policies from being carried out by the Tunisian government. Neoliberal programs have undermined Tunisian labor, increased economic inequality, and empowered the capitalist classes. At the same time, these economic and material impositions on working class Tunisians have also been met with fierce resilience.[12]


The movement has a different flavour than labour movements on the ground that have directly challenged austerity. Returning to the UGTT, in October 2016, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed proposed an austerity package to control the fiscal deficit and government revenues. This was part of the government’s deal to accept $2.78 billion in foreign loans during 2017 - nearly double its 2016 external financing needs - to help cover a 2017 fiscal deficit seen at 5.4 percent of GDP. This announcement has been met with resistance by the largest labour union in Tunisia.


Tunisia’s UGTT labour union threatened to hold a general strike and called protests against the government’s plans to freeze public wage increases as part of measures to control the budget deficit. On October 2016, the union proclaimed,


“We call for regional protests, a large national protest in Kasbah Square (near the Prime Minister office) and another in front of the parliament.”


Although the Tunisian Parliament has been debating the extent to which they will carry out government reduction, the condemnation of the UGTT to challenge the state’s tactic to oppose labour dovetails with a radical opposition to challenge neoliberalism. The general strike and its potential to disrupt capital and international investments is part of the continuation of the radicalization of the Arab Spring and the militancy and potential of building working class power.


The economic, political, and social challenges in Tunisia have not been unique. However, the country has been purported as a “success” story given the massive repression in Egypt, the disarray in Libya, and the civil wars in Syria and Yemen. At the same time, the relative economic and political stability in Tunisia means that a victory here can spread elsewhere—as it did in 2010. Given the power of international and local elites to undermine worker’s power, it is important for social and political forces on the ground to coalescence around issues that simultaneously challenge economic and political exploitation. The upending of neoliberalism will require an international resistance where the left, labour, and civil society siphon money from the rich to the masses.






pay-ben-alis-debts and

[4] Ben Jelili and Goaied 2010 and Achy 2011: 10-11



[7] Karen Pfeifer, “How Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan and Even Egypt became IMF ‘Success Stories’ in the 1990’s,” 210 (Spring 1999), 23–27

[8] Chedly Ayari and Hakim Ben Hammouda, “Tunisia: Letter of Intent, Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies, and Technical Memorandum of Understanding,” International Monetary Fund, January 28, 2014,


[10] and




For the alienated by Edna Bonhomme

In light of those who might be alienated from the festivities of the pagan, Christian supremacist holiday which marks the beginning of the end of the Gregorian year 2017 CE, I wrote a succinct poem. 

Today, and everyday, I honor
those with fragile kinship structures,
or non-existent romantic partners,
those whose histories are erased
or who are constantly displaced.

I have love for the
the riffraff,
the ratchet,
the eccentric
the indebted.

I am in solidarity with
sex workers
And folks who identify as LGBT.

Shout out to all my fellow weirdos
who create alternative families
the queers who build communities wherever they may be.

Whether or not you know it or feel it, your difference gives you clairvoyance and power in a world that actively tries to silence you.

Black Death and Black Resistance by Edna Bonhomme

In Mahler’s symphony Das Lied Von Der Erde, the first stanza reads “Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod” [Dark is life, and so too death]. When it is subtle, death travels like sand in an hour-glass, dawdling through the orifice—but later the velocity of the sand appears to accelerate eventually marking the end of time.


For many, racism is a slow of death encompassing agony and paralysis—that deep wound trickles unto one’s neck, one’s back, and one’s heart. It is a pain that reverberates whenever one hears about another eviction, deportation, or death. Our humanity and dignity is often pushed aside and we are told to take heed and to be patient. Unfortunately, the lives of Black American women pass like the sand through an hourglass—at first, slow and steady but with time, structural racism and sexism escalates their execution. To be young, impecunious, and Black means that one is subject to the reins of premature death. Yet, it does happen alone but transforms into various forms of terror, be it the Klu Klux Klan or the New York Police Department--state and vigilante terror are that--a major agent of Black death.


Black women in the American south, Midwest, and Northeast have been subject to death—and over and over again, these accounts and images conveyed to the viewer—and especially the Black public—that Black bodies can be subject to murder without retribution. Nevertheless, atonement for Black people does occur, and it often bears a political dimension. Even when Black Americans have been subject to chattel slavery, lynching, and segregation, they have collectively organized to challenge systems of oppression.[1] Yet, the national attention to the procession of Black women women’s death in the United States is summoning everyday people to think about these victims and the precariousness of their lives.


On 17 June 2015 during a bible study meeting nine Black church members were killed from racial terror in Charleston, South Carolina.[2] They were Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, DePayne Doctor, Ethel Lance, Daniel Simmons Sr., Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, and Myra Thompson. They were pious members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Six of them were women and most of them had leadership positions within the congregation as reverends and musicians. Their church was and continues to be a historic site that has consistently challenged institutional racism, such as, the antebellum legislation preventing Black slaves from worshipping in their own church. This was an act of violence that has stirred debates about gun control, white terrorism, and the confederate flag.[3] While these debates are important and they assist in challenging these individual acts of violence, one must also acknowledge the ways that state and police violence terminates Black life.


Upon being escorted by police officers to a mental health facility, thirty-seven year old Tanisha Anderson died under the custody of two officers in Cleveland, Ohio in November 2014.[4] Nineteen-year old Renisha McBride was murdered by a white man after she sought help in a Detroit suburb when she was experiencing car trouble.[5] The growing number of women of color that are killed at the hands of U.S. law enforcement officials is still being counted by activists and new agencies.[6] The numbers are striking; as of 22 June 2015 five hundred and twenty-five individuals were murdered by the police in the United States of America.[7] Various community based groups have been documenting these killings and reporting through social media.[8]


The U.S. media has shown, over the course of the past decade something that most Black Americans already knew—the police are not here to protect its Black citizens.[9] In 2015, protests emerged after the video circulated of a Texan police officer physically assaulting a fifteen-year old black girl.[10] The adolescent Black female body is met directly with the brutal force of a white male officer. She is pinned down and made to feel miniscule. Her body is a punching bag. Ancillary to this, the emotional toll and trauma that Black women endure when they witness their brothers and kin impetuous death to law enforcement reinforces precarity. Whether it is Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Kalief Browder, death haunts Black folks.[11] For the mentally ill, Black death is especially quick and insidious causing such things as morbidity from stress, health mental health issues, and suicide—as was the case with Kalief Browder.[12]


        Death is a tragedy, however, Black death is a laceration that divulges the fault lines of structural racism. There are multitudinous studies that show how environmental racism, poor health care, and housing discrimination shortens Black life. For example, structural racism in Harlem has meant that many black residents are more prone to asthma.[13] Racism and sexism—when linked—are particularly egregious in their ability to defile the mind, body, and spirit thus leading to increased rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.[14] Black women, of course, are not the only ones to suffer unintended health consequences or structural violence. At the same time, their position in society propels one to ask: how can the United States proclaim to espouse democracy and freedom when the state terrorizes its racial and ethnic minorities?


The interminable power of Black women’s struggle began from the moment they were forced to migrate across the Atlantic as slaves until today. Black women who resisted knew that living required coordinated action and strength. This meant that women such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth worked with a multiracial network of abolitionists who could transport slaves freely outside of the South. The Jamaican born Communist Claudia Jones worked with her fellow comrades in Harlem and London to challenge racial segregation. The astute Civil Rights leader Ella Baker organized sit-ins with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and would lead voting campaigns in the American.[16] By the late 1970s, the Black lesbian organization Combahee River collective exclaimed in their infamous statement: “the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political and economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as Patriarchy”—the structural elements of racial oppression.[17] In the last line of his seminal poem, “Dream Deferred,” the African American poet Langston Hughes wrote: “Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” The escalation of social movements in the United States against police brutality is because people are fed up with their lives and dreams being deferred.


Black women do not always die on their knees—facing the consternation of their executioners, but on their feet with fists raised. Whether it is Black women activists in Ferguson who led the Black Lives Matter movement or the mother of Trayvon Martin who demanded justice for the murder of her son, these social justice movements have called into question a police system that is built on discrimination and oppression. Through nascent coalitions and collective action, groups such as “We are the Protesters” and #SayHerName are taking to the streets to show that they are lives matter. #Metoo and #sayhername are intersectional. Women involved in the #SayHerName movement have also.[18]


Black people been taught to find themselves inherently defective, to the point where they literally are subject to live in under apartheid and state violence.  This is exactly what those in power want - they want Black people to hate themselves, to look at in the mirror with disdain, to feel shame about their lives, to be rendered immobile. In between and in the midst of politically struggling, Black resistance has shown that Black death is not inevitable, that Black life is possible, and that Black lives are not defective.











[8] and










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