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Revolutionary Anti-Racist Action (RARA): Militant Practice in the Netherlands

A social center in a squat in Amsterdam in the 1980s. The smell of gasoline was in the air, which was not an everyday occurrence… but it was nothing unusual either. Some people may be surprised by this openness, with which many things took place in the 1980s, but the cop apparatus was not yet technically set up in the way it is today. I can remember that they once stood for months in a van with a big antenna in front of our squat. In winter, at minus 10 degrees, we brought them hot soup and told the cops sitting in it: “Listen, eat this now and then piss off. They actually left after that.

Originally published by Sūnzǐ Bīngfǎ. Introduction and translation by Riot Turtle.

Since we assumed that they were also observing us outside the house, we went to the apartment buildings in Amsterdam south-east again and again, because there were good possibilities to shake off any possible persecutors. You went in somewhere, could then go down into the basement corridor and ran 100 meters, then quickly out, into the next apartment building… That game was repeated a few times. Then you knew A, if you were being followed, which sometimes happened, but not always, and B, it was relatively easy to shake them off there. After that you took different routes on the way back to the city centre. We never talked about politics in the house, we always met somewhere else, and only when any possible persecutors were shaken off.

In the 1980s there were many militant actions against corporations investing in South Africa. The struggle against apartheid was a transnational struggle. Small groups went to gas stations, cut the fuel lines or burned the whole damn thing down. Sometimes these attacks were claimed, sometimes not. As a movement, we linked our struggles with the struggles in the global south. Shell supplied the South African military and police with oil and gasoline. Shell was a dominant power, among other things because of the large natural gas reserves in the Netherlands at that time.

Whenever the smell of gasoline hung in the air in one of the many autonomous pubs, there was a short nod, but there was no talking. The antagonistic movement was at its peak in the Netherlands in the 1980s. In a period of three years, according to Shell, there have been around 700 such attacks against the company. There were comparatively very few arrests, the cops were completely in the dark.

It was a time when many people were dressed in black during militant actions, but most of them were not dressed in black in everyday life. Black Bloc was still a tactic and black clothing had not yet degenerated into a subcultural fashion fetish. Alliances were relatively rare, and when they did exist, there was almost always a black bloc with its own demo or action consensus. Social democratic parties were not only seen as part of the problem in the Netherlands in the 1980s, but were consequently treated accordingly. In the Netherlands, too, the social democrats are partly responsible for a racist refugee policy. At that time, no one would have even considered forming an alliance with social democrats. It was clear that racism must be fought and that this is not possible with a party that has a racist policy itself. Clear position. Clear split.

It was also during this period that RARA, the Revolutionary Anti-Racist Action, was born. But the name RARA is also a play on words in the Dutch language: “Guess” (who we are)… After a series of RARA attacks against “Makro” which resulted in property damage of around 75 million Euros, Makro’s parent company, SHV, was forced to withdraw from South Africa. This inspired a whole generation of activists in the Netherlands. RARA had proven that a militant practice is able to achieve significant results. RARA has also carried out several attacks against Shell. It took a long time until the cops had the slightest idea who was behind RARA and even after they had a lead, the results were not really satisfying for the cops.

On April 11, 1988 I woke up very early in the morning. I looked out the window and saw cops everywhere. They did not go in our house, but one of the squats nearby was raided. The snowball phone was used to mobilize immediately and many people were there very fast. 170 cops raided eight squats that morning and arrested eight people. Later it became clear how important the quick support mobilization was. In 2015 Elsevier published an article about the investigation of RARA. In the article, a cop described how the cops who searched a squat on overtoom no longer felt safe in the building because of the tensions on the street. The cops then stopped the search without conferring with the investigating judge. But this was a legal requirement. In the end, only one of the arrested was charged, René Roemersma. On appeal, René was acquitted on 3 out of 4 counts of formal irregularities because the cops stopped the search without talking to the investigating judge. The evidence obtained during the search was not allowed to be used in the appeal. So only the charge of attempted attack remained and since the sentence was less than the time in pre-trial detention, René had to be released immediately.

But the cops had found a lot of things during the raids, this was an important lesson for many in the antagonistic movement. There was a lot of training, what can be done in the house, what is allowed to lie around and above all what is not. Where can we store things outside the house and how do we get there without being seen? There were many autonomous groups that trained all kinds of things. For example, training in interrogation techniques was also important. It is helpful if you have trained certain scenarios that can take place during interrogations. Even if you do not talk with the cops. For example, it can be helpful for you to assess what the cops might know. When I was arrested in the Netherlands after an action, not a RARA action and in the meantime time-barred, I noticed immediately that on the second day I was no longer interrogated by local cops, but by cops from the CRI (similar to the BKA in Germany). They were much better trained, had a different focus, knew how people like us think and started to play mind games. Of course I didn’t talk, and after about five minutes they said: “Well then we won’t talk. They got a couple of extra CRI cops in the interrogation room and they positioned themselves so that it was hard not to look at any of them. They also kept quiet now. They did that for about 6 hours. But that was also a scenario that we had trained. I concentrated mentally on other things. I had a very trustworthy and also politically very good lawyer, and in this situation I decided what messages I had to give my lawyer and how I would be able to do so without the cops noticing. My lawyer had announced himself again for the next morning. In this way I not only got the 6 hours of silence done, but also knew how I would approach the matter with my lawyer the next morning. It helped me to leave the interrogation room with a good feeling. After this “interrogation” and the discreet smile on my part when the cops stopped after 6 hours, the later questionings were much shorter. They did not have enough evidence and after a few days they realized that none of us would say anything. The pressure eased considerably. In the end no one was convicted.

None of us should fool ourselves, however. Even with the best training we will make mistakes. Situations often develop dynamically even in clandestine actions and we have only limited influence on this. The fact that someone lets his dog go for a walk at exactly the same time, exactly at the place where we want to carry out an action, is something we may have taken into account. But there can be situations that seem much less likely to happen, and we are not always prepared for them.

Militant actions are not a game. It is an important part of life for the people who carry them out, yet they cannot talk about it with anyone outside the group. That does something to us. It creates psychological pressure and ensures that we cannot share everything with people who are very important in our lives. Nevertheless, it is essential to deal with this like that to protect such structures.

From 1990, RARA turned its attention to Dutch refugee policies. Attacks were carried out against the Marechaussee barracks in Oldenzaal and Arnhem (March 18, 1990), against the Ministry of Justice (twice: March 25, 1990 and November 12, 1991), and against the residence of the then Secretary of State for Justice, Kosto (November 12, 1991). On June 30, 1993 (against the Ministry of Social Affairs), the Dutch militant group Revolutionary Anti-Racist Action (RARA) carried out its last attack. RARA is still shrouded in secrecy. Who exactly was behind it, except René Roemersma, was never known. What follows is a translation of an interview with RARA in June 1991, which was published in Dutch in “De Fabel van de illegaal 58, mei/juni 2003”.

Riot Turtle

After a long period of silence… an interview with RARA (1991)

Why this interview?

RARA: From our side it was quiet for a long time. During this time we had a number of discussions about progress, political perspectives and the changing situation in the world and in the Netherlands. We were faced with the decision to either communicate, as we always do in the form of communiqués, or to find another way to deal with these matters more in-depth. We chose this type of interview because it gives us the opportunity to talk about current issues.

It also gives us the opportunity to deepen the discussions that we consider as important. At the moment the situation is miserable. The radical and revolutionary debate has become silent, fragmented and disoriented. This situation is particularly evident in the countries in the Northern Hemisphere. We think it is important to contribute to the discussion and to have a dialogue with those people who have not yet lost their combative spirit, even though the end of history is being evoked and the end of ideologies proclaimed.

Why has it been quiet for so long?

RARA: There are several reasons for this, but of those we want to mention, one main reason is that we needed time to examine what exactly has changed and whether or not we should draw conclusions for our practice. By changes we mean the acute deepening of the crisis of the left, the disorientation of left politics and the changed perspective.

In what sense did this perspective change?

The victory of capitalism over socialism seems so massive that many people in the North seem to forget that capitalism itself is in crisis. For despite the hymns of praise for the so-called social market economy, the contradictions are increasing in the northern hemisphere. The explosive situation of the black population in the USA is more than a false note in this anthem. What seemed self-evident ten years ago is now being discussed. Especially the contents of left-wing politics have been watered-down. In the 1970s, the left was still committed to change all social relations on a national and international level. Now the left has withdrawn from the “debate on the big issues”.

This is clearly reflected in the development of GroenLinks (1) in the Netherlands, but also in the development of the Greens in Germany. Left-wing politics has become a hotchpotch of the individualization of society, flavored with a lifestyle sauce. The left has no (more) vision of international relations. Whereas in the 1970s and 1980s it was still about supporting the countries of the south in their struggle for a fair distribution of wealth through a “new world economic order”, today the “new world order” of Bush and Co. is accepted in view of the attitude during the Gulf War. People who are said to be like Anet Bleich or Wolf Biermann have become the “new big players” in international politics from one day to the next.

With the analytical ability to only distinguish a mouse from an elephant, they succeeded in reducing the entire (historical course of the) Gulf War to one question: for or against Israel? But the crisis of the left cannot only be attributed to mistakes of the left. It also has external causes. Apparently there is a connection between the increasing prosperity and the extreme individualism of people. Improving the world is “out”, well-understood self-interest is “in”. Is Africa hungry? We will have a benefit party for them. Hurricane in Bangladesh? Where is my checkbook?

Wealth and individualism lead to a lifestyle policy. You are not left-wing because the world is unequal, you are liberal or progressive because you think it’s all pretty shitty or something, the poverty and hunger; or how people without papers have to live here. What you think is shitty is presented to you by the media and is determined by a current topic, an incident that is even worse than last week’s incident.

A worldview that consumes misery during a concert for the Kurds or was it for Bangladesh? Well, as long as my hair looks good. The postmodern society is structured by the denial of reality. The truth is not doing well on the political market, it is an unsaleable product.

It is this psychosocial structure that makes many people weary. Due to the rapid developments in recent years, the left crisis has a social and individual simultaneity. Everyone knows someone who thinks he has fought enough, suffered enough or sacrificed enough, and who ends his political life. And every political suicide gnaws at one’s own motivation to carry on.

This simultaneity of the individual and the social within the left identity crisis makes it very difficult at the moment to find insights on solutions. Nevertheless, we want to emphasize that our motivation to continue is not only nourished by the fact that we are full of existential indignation, or in other words: “There is more, people!”

To say something meaningful about it, it might be good to look back. A few years ago we already made a change of course in our political practice. In the beginning, the spearhead of our struggle against racism and oppression was the attack on apartheid policies. Little by little we started to focus on refugee policies in the Netherlands. From our history, this was a logical step. Firstly, because we believe that there is space for fundamental changes in the West itself, which must be fought for. Secondly, because refugee policies are directly related to open, latent and institutional racism. The migratory pressure on the North is not a consequence of the so-called parasitic behavior of economic refugees, although “they” do their utmost to make everyone believe this. We reject this concept because it has primarily a propagandistic function. Above all, it must appeal to the fear of the Dutch people that their wallets will be stolen. Labor migration has always taken place over the centuries, and it is not that Europe is against it or does not need it. They just want to be able to determine which labor migrants are allowed to come and when and which not. Europe for Europeans.

Refugees do not come here for fun. They flee from poverty, war, (sexual) repression and hunger. And these are all political concepts we want to work with. They represent an important element for us, namely internationalism.

Do you still see a possibility or necessity for militant politics? In other words: Is militant resistance still legitimate?

We see legitimacy in militant resistance, because militant resistance is a tool to politicize these issues, and not only from a humanitarian point of view. Like others, we have analyzed European unification as a node point of developments, a node point that must be pestered as a result. But where we saw and still see very little perspective, is to direct our practice “against the Europe of capital”. Not because we are not against it, but because we are only too aware that a political practice cannot be based on political analysis alone. One cannot defend oneself against abstractions. In other words, such a practice could be counterproductive, because one tends to want to see resistance where there is none. We believe that in addition to an analysis of developments, one should also make an analysis of political relations, and from these two things one should formulate one’s goals in relation to practice.

But who are you aiming at? Where do you see the people who are interested in and want radical change? Who do you want to mobilize with your actions?

We have no clear answer to this question. These are as much good questions for us like they are for you. If you mean whether we are currently experiencing a political movement on which our actions have or could have an effect and which we could mobilize, then the answer at the moment is a cautious no. But this is very much related to the issue we have chosen.

Unlike the anti-apartheid struggle, the refugees here do not have a strong political lobby or a solidarity movement. And unlike the anti-apartheid struggle, refugee policy cannot simply be attributed to economic and political interest groups.

Refugee policies as a whole can almost only be understood ideologically. It moves between official statements from the Foreign Office (which almost always say that everything is fine in the country concerned) and administrative officials who, with the push of a button, compare the refugee story with the criteria in their computer.

But there is a lot going on in this area, and we think that in principle it could develop into a powerful solidarity movement with political influence. The foundation for it is there. Most of the people who are concerned about how the Netherlands deals with refugees today do not come from the “well-known” movements such as the squatter movement, the anti-militarist movement or the anti-apartheid movement. Often it is people who work from the grassroots communities of the churches and who feel an authentic outrage and compassion. They do not seem to struggle with the left identity crisis either.

Our practice is not so much about winning these people for the revolutionary cause. Our practice is a research work, a struggle to reclaim ideological space. Especially now, when far-reaching social processes (such as the introduction of the Schengen treaty and the resulting consequences for refugees, among others) are initiated tacitly and without any meaningful discussion. With our practice we want to demand to take positions.

You act against the state. Can the state be called “Almighty”? Is it not true that state, society, and politics are so interwoven that the state cannot be attacked separately?

Yes, that is correct if one looks at the sociology of power. But we are not so much looking for an explanation of the phenomenon of power or for an explanation of its construction. We consider state power as a political fact. We do not see the state as a monolithic power block, as it was the case in the 1970s. Rather, we see it as a center of influence for economic and political lobby groups, which can also be in conflict with one another.

Let’s just look at the conflict between Kosto and the Mulder Commission. Kosto does not want any regulation at all about the legal status of refugees. This would mean that the legal status of refugees could be strengthened. Kosto wants a repressive refugee policy, while Mulder has stuck to his mandate given to him by Lubbers and has therefore designed a “clean” regulation. The conflict between the Council of State and the government parties regarding the Schengen treaty has a similar magnitude.

But we do not turn against the state because of “power”. We turn against it because it is the most important instrument in the hands of the political-economic elite. And certainly the state is the most important opponent in refugee policies.

Because the character of the state has changed, it also offers new opportunities. Precisely because the perception of the idea of the state has changed in the population, politicians within the state have major problems. One of these problems is that the old-fashioned “natural” authority of authorities (and thus of the state) is subject to considerable erosion. The state must constantly legitimize its actions and policies toward the population. Indeed, the state is in a permanent ideological crisis. This is the other side of prosperity and individualism; authority must justify and prove itself. In doing so, they sometimes find themselves in a difficult situation and have to sell things that serve the interests of a group (e.g. European unification) as a matter of public interest.

So if there is no support for the implementation of repressive refugee policies, they must create one. And therein lies the vulnerability of the modern state. Things like policies and politics have become a product subjected to market mechanisms. And when the state is ideologically in a defensive position, this means more “space”. However, all this does not change the fact that our focus on the state also has disadvantages. Of the all-embracing nature of racism, we can only take up and deal with a part of it. But at the moment this seems to be the case.

Final question, why didn’t you do anything on the Gulf War?

It is difficult to find a balance between rage and political rationality. We have worked hard on it until an advanced stage. But when you work like we do, you are not able to react spontaneously. After all, our way of working requires a certain amount of preparation time. Time that we did not have due to developments during the Gulf War.

One of the decisive factors was the completely absurd reaction of the left to this war. When the first “scuds” fell on Israel, the left in the Netherlands stopped thinking and went far along with the prevailing Gulfomania [2] and Arab phobia. This and the fact that there was little resistance to the Gulf War on the left determined our approach. It is political rationality that forces one to look at the effect of one’s limited resources in this way. You achieve nothing with an attack if that attack only causes material damage and has no political effect.

And after these demobilization strategies of the left with regard to the Gulf War, we did not see sufficient possibilities for political impact. No doubt we would have had an effect if we had pushed it through, but the question was whether we would not create a false polarization, because the whole conflict was limited to being for or against Israel, and we did not want to conduct this debate in this way. As mentioned above, our actions are aimed at influencing the political agenda.

One of the preconditions for this is continuity in one’s own practice, the thematization of certain problems in a way that no one can ignore. This may sound like a modest goal, but it is the result of our assessment of political developments in the Netherlands at the present time. It is less defensive than it seems, although it does have a defensive side. In our view, it is a matter of having a political finger on the pulse in the transition period from the Cold War to the New World Order and the formation of the power bloc Europe and the increasing depoliticization of social issues in the Netherlands.

At a time when this system is developing aggressively around the world and is increasingly accepted as rationality in the North, we see the role of our kind of militant resistance as a break in the ideological hegemony of the political and economic elite. And that is our strategy for the time being.

Notes

[1] Groen Links (Green Left), a political party in the Netherlands.

[2] With Gulfomania RARA refers to the fact that during the second Gulf War (1990 and 1991), the Gulf War was the only topic in the Dutch mainstream media, and many of these media reports stirred up strong anti-Arab sentiments.



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1 thought on “Revolutionary Anti-Racist Action (RARA): Militant Practice in the Netherlands

  1. […] Originally published by Sūnzǐ Bīngfǎ. Introduction and translation by Riot Turtle for Enough 14. […]

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