What is Anarchist Black Cross (ABC)?
ABC chapters around the world autonomously support people who are imprisoned for their thoughts and actions for justice and freedom from oppression, also known as political prisoners or prisoners of war. It is an extension of the work begun by the Political Red Cross in the late 19th century supporting political prisoners in Tsarist prisons or labor camps. PRC not only provided aid, but many times assisted in the planned escapes from prisons or places of exile. In 1907, the Anarchist Red Cross formed and branched out internationally to support both anarchist and socialist revolutionaries in prison and exile, since revolutionaries with these movements had begun to be excluded from the PRC’s support. With the rise of a new dictatorship in Russia, the ARC reorganized in 1919 as the Anarchist Black Cross. During the Spanish Civil War and WWII, ABCs comprised mostly of Russian Jews aided anarchist comrades fleeing from fascist persecution as well as those arrested in the resistance movements throughout Europe.*
In 1979, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin, an anarchist political prisoner in the US at the time, issued a “Draft Proposal for an ABC Network” in hopes that it would initiate a united mass movement rather than individual collectives. This proposal influenced the growth of ABC for over a decade, and in 1995 several groups banded together to form the ABC Federation of which Philly ABC is still a member. In addition to roughly a dozen chapters across so-called North America, there are chapters in South America, Europe and Asia. As anarchists, we support a diversity of tactics and aim to support current political prisoners as they see fit. Most chapters on Turtle Island prioritize support for Black and Indigenous liberation struggles in addition to people from anarchist and other anti-authoritarian movements.
Why Prisoner Support?
In the words of Ojore Lutalo (former New Afrikan anarchist political prisoner who was instrumental in the formation of the ABCF):
Any movement that does not support its political internees is a shame movement.
We do not leave our comrades behind when they are prosecuted by the state. We continue to envelop them in the love and support of the community and engage in mutual aid. Repression is expected when one is resisting oppression, so our aim is to strengthen the work in the face of crackdown.
On a broader level, anarchists are inherently abolitionists. We believe that abolition of prisons and police is necessary in free communities, and do not engage with or cooperate with law enforcement. Many of us work in building alternative justice structures through systems such as restorative and transformative justice. We are building community support structures from the bottom up to replace authoritarian structures as they crumble.
*See Yelensky’s Fable: A History of the Anarchist Black Cross by Matt Hart for more information.