The butcher's apron and the Bund

The butcher's apron and the Bund

Dear friends,

I've been writing an essay about British Christian settler colonialism for months now. I'm not sure how the essay starts but I think do know how it ends - that is, with some provocations on home, and the bargains that are made for it; bargains that for many of us began in the historic migrations of our families and communities in the last three centuries, an act that Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, talking about moving from the country to the city or the third world to the first, once referred to as "hopes for justice under capitalism".

We return and are returned to this history when, those of us who are the descendants of settlers in white British Christian colonies such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, join demands like #decolonize, #LandBack, #FreePalestine. I suspect the work of Christian-British-descended settlers of these colonies in decolonisation is to carefully trace, face, and reconsider the inter-generational bargain as it wears thinner and thinner, rinsing and repeating the butcher's apron to the point of bloody threads.

In particular, I wonder if we need to re-member British Christian colonial ‘settlement’ as a faith project that required a decisive severance of roots, active participation in genocide, and the implantation of a mendacious story of historical process and foundations. Settlers need faith in a very precise way, and the British Empire's included a faith in the extractive capitalism that is currently destroying people and planet faster than the Panama Canal's original projected shipping times. (Including, indeed, the Panama Canal).

In her excellent book Doppelganger: A journey into the mirror world, Naomi Klein suggests that Jewish radical thought is so strong in our catalogue of hopes and designs for a world beyond capitalism in part because thinkers like Eleanor Marx and Walter Benjamin and Rosa Luxembourg, faced in their own times with murderous anti-Semitic blame for the ills of society, were trying to show us who 'the real enemy' of the average person is under capitalism. That is, capitalism itself and the people who benefited the most from it - the monarchs, aristocrats, landlords, industrialists, politicians and clergymen who hoarded the wealth created by working people, peasant farmers, and Indigenous custodians of the land.

Of particular salience to imagining other ways of organising ourselves, Klein describes the debate between ‘hereness’ and ‘thereness’ in Jewish political thought in Europe, with the ‘hereness’ of the Jewish Labor Bund project opposed directly to Zionism. Within 'hereness', Jewish people would fight for their human rights to exist within the rule of any nation-state and indeed refuse the displacement of Palestinians that would be necessary to the creation of Israel - a continuing event that was directly inspired by, and is crucially distinct from, the brutally bordered 'thereness' that intersects with British settler colonialism. As James Baldwin wrote in 1979:

"The Zionists—as distinguished from the people known as Jews—using, as someone put it, the “available political machinery,’’ i.e., colonialism, e.g., the British Empire—promised the British that, if the territory were given to them, the British Empire would be safe forever." - James Baldwin, Open Letter to the Born Again

At any rate, with the annihilatory scale of the destruction of Palestine and Palestinians, particularly since October 7, it is difficult to say anything else other than please, please can it stop. Please help Gaza by supporting the Freedom Flotilla, sending e-sims, donating to other reputable and effective aid efforts, and making the links at home, like protesting at work or on campus and raising the cost of the war to governments and corporations through boycotts and supply chain disruptions.

A new chapter in my own (privileged, chosen) migration story has just opened, as two weeks ago Gary* and I moved halfway across the country from Mexico City to San Cristóbal de las Casas in the southern state of Chiapas, nearish the Mexico/Guatemala border. I made the decision over the Christmas/New Year period when I was reporting in the region on migration through southern Mexico, and on the 30th anniversary celebrations of the 1994 Zapatista uprising. It has long been time for a change, and certainly southern Mexico in 2024 has a lot to teach about the legacies of, and alternatives to, global capitalism and perpetual colonial war.

In a communique written in the lead up to 30th anniversary events, 'El Capitán' Marcos (formerly Subcomandante Marcos) of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation writes of the mass migration, detention, organised criminal abuse, and deportation of people fleeing war and poverty from all over the world that is currently occurring through Mexico and up to the border with the US. The system, he writes, creates the migration; obliging the Indigenous, peasant farmers, and working people to leave their homes in search of enough money to eat or mortal safety from war or gang violence or racial persecution or simply ‘something better’ on the constantly growing ladder of opportunity that seems always at the same time to be buckling on the slippery sands of wage labour and ‘the cost of living’:

"social relations are disrupted and unproductive capital throws millions into unemployment and, from there, into “alternative employment” in crime, and into migration. The destruction of territories includes depopulation. The “phenomenon” of migration is not the prelude to the catastrophe, it is its confirmation."


"When we talk about migration, we forget the other migration that precedes it on the calendar. That of original populations in their own territories... Have the Palestinian people not become migrants who must be expelled from their own land? Doesn’t the same thing happen with the indigenous peoples around the world?"
Day of the Dead altar for victims of Israel's war on Gaza in San Cristóbal de las Casas, October-November 2023. Photo by Gilberto Morales, published November 4 2023 in El Heraldo

With the move done and the writing life re-focused, I hope to be producing more of this newsletter. At any rate, I'll soon be sharing new reporting from the last few months - on Mexico's lithium, the US-Mexico trade dispute regarding genetically modified corn, Mexico's lawsuits against US gun manufacturers and dealers, and the aftermath of Hurricane Otis. I'll continue to focus on feminist activism and gender-based violence, non-state armed actors and militarisation, and forced displacement and migration. And I probably won't be able to resist some hot takes on the upcoming presidential election.

Thankyou as always for staying with the trouble! I'd be grateful if you'd share this newsletter with others who might be interested in subscribing, and of course paid subs are particularly valuable to keep me writing. In an act of radical acceptance, I am also back on X-formerly-Twitter, so please follow me there and on Instagram as well until we have something better.

Finally, I am currently very available for hire - I offer a range of research, writing, and education services which you can read more about here on LinkedIn and/or write to me and I’ll send you my CV. I'd love to work together.

Best wishes always, Ann.

*here she is contemplating her new life as a forest-forward michi:

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Jamie Larson