IN DECEMBER 2008, Time magazine ran the headline, “Could Greece’s Riots Spread to France?”1 The article was accompanied by fiery images of anarchists battling police on the streets of Athens. Four months later, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper fretted that a planned march against the G-20 meetings in London, “could be hijacked by anarchists who are known to create so-called ‘black blocs’—tight, hard-to-break units which can smash through police lines.”2 More recently, student resistance to the economic crisis facing colleges and universities in the United States has sparked debates with anarchists who propose a maximum strategy to “occupy everything” and yet, “demand nothing.”3
Since the advent of the global justice movement of the 1990s, anarchist ideas have had a renaissance, and continue to attract growing numbers of adherents, despite detractors in the mainstream media and political repression from the police. For the social movements of the past decade, the broad ideas of anarchism have defined the political landscape. These ideas express themselves in a multitude of ways: from consensus based decision-making models, activist collectives, spokes councils, and affinity groups to black bloc tactics at demonstrations and targeted property destruction (bank windows, ATMs, Starbucks, parking meters, etc).
While the black-hooded anarchist rioters of global justice demonstrations remain the media’s favorite spectacle, anarchists of all types are currently debating new tactics, political shifts, and reassessments of the anarchist tradition. Importantly, strains of contemporary anarchism have offered convincing critiques of the lifestyle approach to social change, rehabilitated the legacy of syndicalism, reoriented to class struggle, and initiated new ways of relating to the working class and social movements. At the same time, other anarchists have mounted vicious attacks on the organized political left and activism in general.
This article is an attempt to explore these new developments and seek common ground with the best aspects of today’s anarchism. Further, this article will analyze the shared assumptions of these disparate strains of anarchist thought and offer a Marxist critique of anarchism’s historical, as well as present, shortcomings.
Big “A” and little “a”
The most common definitions of anarchism stress two points; first, anarchists are opposed to any form of coercive authority; following from this, anarchists are opposed to state power and seek to destroy it. But even this basic definition ignores the important distinction between anarchists who emphasize collective action rather than individualism, or who avoid any strategies focused on the state (even its destruction). Indeed, a major characteristic of anarchism is the breadth of ideas, often contradictory, that fall under its umbrella. It is not uncommon for people such as Max Stirner, Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau, Michael Bakunin, John Zerzan, Emma Goldman, or even Gandhi to be included in the broad tradition of anarchism.4 One anarchist has written, “To call yourself an anarchist is to invite identification with an unpredictable array of associations, an ensemble which is unlikely to mean the same thing to any two people, including any two anarchists.”5
The last stand of traditional anarchism, which reached its high point in Spain during the 1930s, suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Franco’s fascists and the criminal policies of the Stalinized Communist Party. A once vibrant international anarchist movement was in ruins by the end of the Second World War. In the United States, political repression and Red Squad terror decimated the anarchist ranks more than a decade earlier. Small, isolated groups of anarchists survived, but never again reached the influence once attained during the Spanish Civil War.
Only with social upheavals of the 1960s did anarchism begin to reemerge with any significance. Because of the revolutionary, anti-imperialist movements then taking place in colonial countries like Cuba and Vietnam, the dominant ideas of the new radicals reflected the atmosphere of the time. A patchwork of national liberation politics, Maoism, and Leninism played a considerable role in the New Left. However, in an era when official “Marxism” meant the suppressions of the Hungarian and Prague uprisings, many young radicals sought a “third way” that appropriated ideas from the anarchist tradition.
A crisis of theory in the United States
As the dominant politics of the New Left ebbed, anarchism developed more influence—by 1976, there was “the beginning of the large-scale, antinuclear, nonviolent direct action movement with the formation of the Clamshell Alliance,” writes Max Elbaum. “This movement captured the imagination of many young (white) people and—while undoubtedly radical—was much more influenced by anarchism and feminism than socialism or Marxism.”6
However, the political downturn of the Reagan and Thatcher era also marked a political retreat for anarchism. Many anarchists became disillusioned with “society” in general and especially the working class. A brand of cultural anarchism emerged in this period, with its own forms of social organization that were mostly disconnected from the broader political struggles.
The punk subculture remains the dominant iconography of anarchism in the 1980s. While the punk movement was highly critical of the crass indulgence of mainstream culture, it also remained highly sectarian, elitist, and insular. Much of the period’s songs and writings focused on the conservatism of working-class people, who were seen as brainwashed robots. Indeed, punk’s intense criticism of the earlier hippie culture concealed the ironic fact that the movement’s approach shared so much with the “drop out” aspects of hippiedom; its emphasis on an anti-work ethic, communal living, and a music-centered youth culture.
Some punk activists were able to counter the worst aspects of the movement’s elitism, developing innumerable offshoots and subgenres of the culture. The most political sections of the anarcho-punk movement centered on a core of political music, zines, and artists, focusing on abortion rights and anti-racist activism, and playing a prominent role in the development of Anti-Racist Action, which quickly grew into a training ground for a new layer of young radicals—though even in this period the movement retained its predominately white complexion.7
Most anarchists, however, refused to draw any organizational or political conclusions in this period. Instead, oppression was something to simply “reject,” as the influential zine Profane Existence declared, “As punks we reject our inherited race and class positions because we know they are bullshit. We want no part in oppressing others and we certainly want no part of Suburbia, our promised land.”8
By the end of the decade, anarchism had established itself as a provocative, radical opposition to the hegemony of pop culture and the suburban conservatism of Reagan and Thatcher’s worldview. At the same time, anarchist ideas were reduced to a tiny cultural milieu, stripped of virtually all class politics. In this context, anarchism emphasized the politics of the personal; veganism, interpersonal relations, and lifestyle choices, rather than revolutionary class politics.
The failure of anarchism to convincingly offer a coherent strategy for fighting oppression meant that many turned to variants of identity politics. Rather than a unified movement, this resulted in an increasingly disjointed residue of identity-based anarchisms; green anarchism, anarcha-feminism, anarchist people of color, queer anarchism, etc. Just as the new global justice movement was chalking up some early victories, anarchist organizations were disappearing.
A new global struggle—a new anarchism?
In 1994, the Zapatista uprising marked the beginning of a worldwide fight against the excesses of global capitalism. The growth of neoliberalism and global resistance had a profound effect on anarchism internationally. In the United States, where the few workplace fightbacks were largely isolated and beaten, the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization offered a militant, dynamic way of fighting and immediately became a touchstone for a revived anarchist movement. In this new context, the central discussion within anarchism was no longer about the nature of oppression. Instead, protest tactics became the immediate focus—how to recreate the success of Seattle during other meetings of world capitalist elites.
This new emphasis on street tactics marked a significant turn from debates on the roots of oppression. In fact, much of the global justice movement fostered an atmosphere hostile to political debate. Under the guise of building consensus, minority perspectives were systematically buried. While much of the movement was preoccupied with a “diversity of tactics,” little room was left to discuss the very real diversity of politics and ideas that existed in the movement. “The new movement did arrive, first in the pentecostal appearance of the Zapatistas in 1994, then in 1999 and after at Seattle, Quebec, Genoa, and Cancún,” explains Staughton Lynd in Wobblies and Zapatistas.
Moreover, mirabile dictu, it arrived not exactly with a theory, but at least with a rhetoric: the vocabulary of anarchism. Far be it from me...to tell these splendid and heroic young people that they need more and better theory. I will just say that I am worried that in the absence of theory, many of those who protest in the streets today may turn out to be sprinters rather than long-distance runners.9
This evolving emphasis on practice over theory—and in some cases the elevation of tactics to the level of principle—exposes two problems for contemporary anarchism. First, the anarchist method was transformed into its raison d’être. The tactic itself became the goal.
Second, this represented a retreat from any goals-based, long-term strategy. As a result, anarchism was chiefly expressed in the concept of prefigurative politics, where anarchism’s method sought to prefigure an anarchist ideal of social relations.
In this scenario, the classic anarchist goal of destroying the state receded into the background. Instead, as Lynd describes the approach, the anarchist project “should be to nurture a horizontal network of self-governing institutions down below, to which whoever holds state power will learn they have to be obedient and accountable.”10
Prefigurative politics, of course, have always been part of the anarchist creed. “No revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation unless the means used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the purposes to be achieved,” wrote Emma Goldman.11 What is different about the new anarchism is that it ignores rather than challenges state power; instead of the means prefiguring the ends, the means have become the ends.
Agents of revolution?
Much of the current anarchist strategy that turns away from confrontation with the state has been credited to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. With the rise of the global justice movement, their book Empire became a theoretical guide for many activists. This tendency maintained that modern capitalism negated the centrality of the nation-state. In the process, they argued, other centers of power and hegemony replaced the state’s role in exploitation, oppression, and social control. They pointed to the multinational corporations with power to shape government policies and international trade.
This tendency also signaled a shift away from class politics, or indeed that social classes in the Marxist (or classical anarchist) sense existed any longer. Hardt and Negri argued, instead, that a myriad of oppressions and exploitations could only be understood as a whole multitude. No longer, they argued, was class struggle the primary motor force of history. They highlighted the rebellions of indigenous communities, landless farmers, the urban poor, and others as examples of this new dynamic that, in their view, did not fit into the classical Marxist understanding of class struggle.
Although popularly understood as a recent contribution to anarchism, this move away from seeing the working class at the heart of an emancipatory project is not new. The ecological anarchist Murray Bookchin wrote two decades earlier of a “growing recognition that the proletariat has become—and probably has always been—an organ of capitalist society, not a revolutionary agent gestating within its womb.” In place of the class struggle Bookchin argued for revolution as “a cultural project (or counterculture, if you will).”12
These critiques of a revolutionary working-class orientation typically combined with a mixture of postmodern ideas and viewed the working class as just another socially constructed identity. Even the Industrial Worker, newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World, known most recently for organizing Starbucks workers, argued in March 2009,
The emphasis on the individual identifying as a worker has many benefits in terms of promoting solidarity, but also poses some problems. For an individual to identify as solely a worker raises the dangerous specter of robotism. Hailed authors such as Antonio Negri (Empire) have referred to the modern radical as a cyborg, half human / half machine, tirelessly plugging away at work and activism with little room for emotion…Identifying as a “worker” can potentially play into the control mechanisms of society.13
This approach illustrates the central problem with contemporary anarchism’s understanding of the relationship between exploitation and oppression. While the state depends on a myriad of oppressions to maintain its rule, the working class has a very specific material relationship to the production of wealth—its labor is the lynchpin of capitalism.
Rather than playing “into the control mechanisms of society,” becoming conscious of one’s own class position is a requisite step in uniting with others who have similar class interests. Class consciousness is precisely what enables workers to understand their collective power and move beyond the isolation and alienation imposed by capitalism—quite the contrary to the “specter of robotism” that the IWW writer raises. Naturally, socialists seek to extend that consciousness beyond trade unionism, to encompass a commitment to challenge all forms of oppression upon which capitalism depends. But class solidarity is the foundation of such a development.
Supplementing the new social theory of Empire and multitude was a strategy best articulated by John Holloway in his book, Change the World Without Taking Power. Frequently referred to as anti-power or counter-hegemony, these ideas advocate a strategy that consciously negates state-oriented struggle. Hence, activists should not seek to overthrow the state, take over the state, or even make demands on the state. State-oriented strategies, it argues, only serve to legitimize the state (as the power that grants rights and freedoms) or willingly accept the hegemony of the state by protesting in ways that are expected and accepted.
It is this analysis that informs the political approach of the “occupy everything, demand nothing” anarchists who have popped up around the March 4, 2010, anti-budget cuts protests centered in California, but which had some resonance elsewhere. A group of anarchists in California, for example, defended the idea of demanding nothing:
We must reject all options on offer and demonstrate that without negotiations, it is still possible to act. That is why we do not make demands. All demands assume the existence of a power capable of conceding them. We know this power does not exist. Why go through the motions of negotiating when we know we will not win anything but paltry concessions? Better to reveal the nature of the situation: there is no power to which we can appeal except that which we have found in one another.14
Rather than demanding jobs and opposing cutbacks, the anarchists championed “excitement,” and the power we “find in one another” that is yet too powerless to exact concessions from the state. To formulate demands requires a political process of generalization involving other student militants in the movement—an attempt to devise strategies and tactics that build up the movement’s forces in order to exercise the maximum pressure on states and officials that, despite the anarchist rhetoric, really do have the power to make concessions. The anarchists, though, operated autonomously, they were unaccountable and represented only themselves and so could not formulate a coherent set of demands—indeed, they did not wish to. In fact, while much of the student resistance in California mobilized broadly and with a clear purpose, the “demand nothing” anarchists proved remarkably ineffective in moving the struggle forward.
All of these proposals to make a “revolution” without actually challenging the state are radical sounding, but are based on the acceptance of the state—the very institution that possesses the monopoly of coercive means necessary to maintain capitalist social relations.
The idea of eluding rather than smashing state power isn’t entirely new. The anarchist Gustav Landauer wrote in 1910,
One can throw away a chair and destroy a pane of glass; but [only] idle talkers...regard the state as such a thing or as a fetish that one can smash in order to destroy it. The state is a condition, a certain relationship among human beings, a mode of behavior between men; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another.… We are the state, and we shall continue to be the state until we have created the institutions that form a real community and society.15
Ultimately, the anarchist dismissal of the working class’s revolutionary agency is matched by the dismissal of revolution itself. By accepting the state’s existence, anarchists at best doom themselves to operate as a pressure group on the state, or at worst, retreat into utopian experiments (“behaving differently toward one another”) that pose no serious challenge to capitalism or to the state.
Contemporary forms of anarchism
Although anarchism continues to appropriate ideas and methods from other political traditions, its fundamental problems remain unresolved. What is the relationship between class exploitation and oppression? What is the nature of state power and how can it be destroyed? Within the movement, five trends in particular exert an influence and contend for anarchism’s future. Confusingly, these trends are not always easily discernible or mutually exclusive. More often than not, these disparate tendencies are interwoven, overlapping when tactically useful or selectively applied extemporaneously.
Insurrectionary anarchism. Perhaps the most visible trend is insurrectionary anarchism, whose vandalism and rioting make exciting press. This trend was especially revitalized within the international demonstrations of the global justice movement, and has gained some notoriety recently with the publication (and translation) of a French text written by a group called “The Invisible Committee,” entitled The Coming Insurrection.16 It claims that traditional social and labor movements work to reinforce state power by participating in forms of protest that are acceptable to the status quo. The insurrectionists use black bloc and other tactics to expose the hegemony of state power (and its control over “mainstream” protests). A recent position paper for the Institute for Anarchist Studies’ Perspectives outlines the purposes of black bloc tactics:
Anarchists and anti-authoritarians who march in a black bloc threaten the ability of the state to regulate bodies during protest. If the peacekeepers refused to endorse spatial regulations and control, the police would have to increase their presence and visible control of the protest. This enlarged presence would give the appearance of a more threatening state and further visualize its power…. The black bloc has challenged the hegemonic mechanisms of control as used by both mainstream protest organizers and the state.17
This is a cold recipe to provoke police violence on other activists. To be sure, the state will mobilize armed force to control social protest—our movements do not need special tactics to elicit police violence—we need more people on our side of the struggle. Sometimes, confronting the police is necessary to win, or to defend our movement. But the insurrectionists prefer to visualize “a more threatening state” rather than the power of social movements.
The insurrectionists have highlighted the tactics used by Greek anarchists over the course of the last two years in street battles against police brutality and government austerity. In the wake of the Greek protests, a great deal of debate has emerged over protest tactics. The mobilization against the G-20 meetings in Pittsburgh widened the debate in the United States. On the one hand, CrimethInc. opined,
It has been said that the demonstrations of the past decade have functioned as a sort of inoculation for the police state: without ever seriously threatening it, they have provoked it to develop a much more powerful immune system. Yet it may be that this police state has also bred a tougher breed of anarchist, too, the way that new strains of virus evolve that are immune to existing vaccines.18
This affinity for street fighting is wearing thin for some anarchists, though. In a popular article posted to Indymedia, Ryan Harvey articulated the thoughts of anarchists growing weary of the bad romance with batons and tear gas:
I am no longer lending my support to these acts if they are not solidly rooted in an organizational and movement-wide foundation, supported by large numbers of people who understand their purpose and the steps to take afterwards. If we are “stepping it up” or “escalating” without the massive numbers of people that we were previously standing with, we are losing people, and are thus destined to fail. I don’t want to be in a people-less movement, I want to build strong movements that can take bold and seemingly dangerous steps together, growing as they move forward. This can justify the risk.19
Harvey understands the uselessness of street fights that aren’t connected to larger, confident organizations and movements, as well as goals that shape the tactics. But the insurrectionists have absconded with this occasional tactic of social movements and elevated it to the level of ideological principle. Rather than emboldening and empowering the mass forces whose self-activity are at the heart of any successful struggle, these elitist, provocative tactics accomplish little more than offering an excuse for the state to justify its violence against social movements.
Post-leftism. Some anarchists draw a stark contrast between themselves and others on the left—even declaring that real anarchism must consider itself outside the left. As the Chicago-based Brick Collective wrote in 2003, “Roughly speaking we would divide the resistance into two camps: 1) authoritarian, and 2) autonomous and anarchist. The differences between the two general approaches and visions are significant, and cannot be bridged by a shared militancy. In fact, as anarchist revolutionaries, antifascists, and radical feminists we understand our situation as a three-way fight. Them, Them, and Us.”20
According to this creed, the main division in society is not between classes, nor even between oppressor and oppressed, but between those who are “authoritarian” and those who are “anti-authoritarian.” Taken at face value, this means that the Brick Collective sees other individuals and organizations on the left, even if they are fighting for the same things (for example, against the war in Iraq or a G-8 summit), as enemies to be opposed every bit as much as the state. This sectarianism, in which these anarchists hold themselves to be the only “true” rebels, naturally puts them in a posture whereby they claim no accountability to other forces in the movement.
In its most extreme form, it gives them permission (in their own minds) to disrupt the activities and organizations that they consider “authoritarian.” So, for example, a group of anarchists associated with a blog called “Take the City,” which denounced “the I.S.O., maoist allies, & activist ‘organizers’” on New York’s Hunter College campus as a “reformist bloc” and the “vanguard of submission,” disrupted protests and physically attacked activists at Hunter College in New York City during a protest on March 4 against budget cuts.21
The writer Bob Black helped to popularize post-leftism as the logical conclusions of anarchism and counter-hegemony. In targeting state hegemony, he includes the entire left, workers, and even anarchists as part of the problem,
The “real enemy” is the totality of physical and mental constraints by which capital, or class society, or statism, or the society of the spectacle expropriates everyday life, the time of our lives…. The totality is the organization of all against each and each against all. It includes all the policemen, all the social workers, all the office workers, all the nuns, all the op-ed columnists, all the drug kingpins from Medellin to Upjohn, all the syndicalists and all the situationists.22
Similar to the Brick Collective’s “Them, Them, and Us” strategy, this type of anarchist theorizing means that everything is a valid target and thus, opposition can assume any form. In their now infamous pamphlet, The Coming Insurrection, The Invisible Committee writes, “Becoming autonomous could just as easily mean learning to fight in the street, to occupy empty houses, to cease working, to love each other madly, and to shoplift.”23 The anonymous authors of this text ask their readers to “Sabotage every representative authority…. Abolish general assemblies.”24
While post-leftism exerts some influence on contemporary anarchism, it plays less of an influence in the wider social movements, specifically because it ultimately disengages its followers from activism. More often, post-left anarchists are to be found within cultural cliques far removed from political struggle, and they partake in frantically developing critiques of everything in sight. Typically, the post-leftists fetishize form at the expense of content with radical-sounding phraseology that conceals empty ideas. The Institute for Experimental Freedom’s journal, Politics is Not a Banana, typifies this:
We could give a fuck about the War or Hillary or Obama. None of this changes $6.50 plus tips, our rotting teeth, or all our combined STDs. We want conﬂict, we want the heads of those whiny little pundits on all TV stations. We want doctors tied up in the basement. We want erect nipples and just a fair amount of blood. Yeah, and roses too.25
Since post-leftism positions itself outside and opposed to the left, it plays the most reactionary role within anarchism. Unaccountable to anyone but themselves, post-leftist tactics have served to disrupt and disorient fresh activist movements. On the ideological level, post-leftism is more closely related with the bizarre formulations of the so-called anarcho-capitalists and national anarchists. Indeed, many do not consider the post-leftists to be anarchists at all. Yet, the “three-way fight” politics continue to permeate the anarchist movement.
Social movement anarchism.The Israeli anarchist Uri Gordon describes contemporary anarchism as one that is “[l]argely discontinuous with the historical workers’ and peasants’ anarchist movement.”26 The organic connections with classical anarchism have been severed, he argues, and instead,
[T]he mainsprings of today’s anarchism can be found in the intersection of several trends of social criticism and struggle whose beginnings were never consciously “anarchist”—in particular the cross-issue formulations of radical ecology, the waves of militant feminism, black and queer liberation movements, and the anti-neoliberal internationalism launched by movements in the global South, most celebrated of which are the Mexican Zapatistas.27
Conversely, as these non-anarchist ideas have grown in influence, traditional methods of anarchist organization have declined. For instance, the consensus decision-making models common among anarchist organizations and collectives are not a significant aspect of traditional anarchism, but evolved from the interactions with pacifists in the anti-nuclear movement. For some, the consensus process has become a principle of organizing, yet many anarchists have historically rejected it as elitist and fundamentally undemocratic. In his classic polemic against lifestylism, Murray Bookchin makes an important point about the consensus model,
If anything, functioning on the basis of consensus assures that important decision-making will be either manipulated by a minority or collapse completely. And the decisions that are made will embody the lowest common denominator of views and constitute the least creative level of agreement. I speak, here, from painful, years-long experience with the use of consensus in the Clamshell Alliance of the 1970s. Just at the moment when this quasi-anarchic antinuclear-power movement was at the peak of its struggle, with thousands of activists, it was destroyed through the manipulation of the consensus process by a minority. The “tyranny of structurelessness” that consensus decision-making produced permitted a well-organized few to control the unwieldy, deinstitutionalized, and largely disorganized many within the movement.28
Anarchism, in Uri Gordon’s view, is a diverse political culture—comprised of fragments appropriated from various social movements, no matter how contradictory. In this context, social movement anarchism embraces even the most liberal of political traditions, and sheds all pretense to fundamental social transformation. “Perhaps the most prominent feature of the new anarchist formulation,” he writes, “is the generalization of the target of anarchist resistance from the state and capitalism to all forms of domination in society.”29
Contrasted to the insurrectionary and post-left variants of anarchism, social movement anarchism seeks to build a broader left and stronger social movements. It is this trend of social movement anarchism that has the widest appeal to activists in the United States. In the context of a weak political culture, a moribund labor movement, and a fragmented left after decades of the bosses’ offensive, it is not uncommon for activists to call themselves “sort of an anarchist” or “closest to anarchism.” In fact, this looser, all-inclusive interpretation of anarchism—the “new school”—represents the most diffuse and liberal wing of anarchist thought.
Class-struggle anarchism/anarcho-syndicalism. For decades, class struggle has been treated with indifference or outright contempt by anarchists. However, the workers’ occupation at Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors factory during the first week of December 2008 inspired radicals everywhere, including anarchists. Black banners on Chicago’s 2009 May Day demonstration read, “Republic Workers Show the Way!” In more general terms, the Great Recession provides a backdrop to questions of class and class inequality coming to the fore among a greater number of anarchists.
In their book Black Flame, South African anarchists Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt seek to redefine anarchism as an explicit set of revolutionary politics centered on the struggle of the working class, placing syndicalism at the keystone of the anarchist edifice. Their contribution to the debate is a departure from most of the recent works that accept an all-inclusive understanding of what constitutes anarchism, and is very much a polemic against the more liberal trends of anarchist thought.
It is our view that the term anarchism should be reserved for a particular rationalist and revolutionary form of libertarian socialism.... Anarchism was...in favor of an international class struggle and revolution from below by a self-organized working class and peasantry in order to create a self-managed, socialist, and stateless social order.30
The authors write out of the movement any anarchists who did not put the class struggle at the center of their politics, including Pierre Joseph Proudhon (considered by many to be the father of anarchism), as well as the extreme individualists Max Stirner and Benjamin Tucker. “The anarchist movement,” they argue, “only emerged in the 1860s, and then as a wing of the modern labor and socialist movement.”31 needs of the small independent farmers and craftspeople.”32 Narrowing what they consider anarchism at one end, they expand it at the other by including syndicalists in the socialist tradition such as Daniel DeLeon, James Connolly, and Big Bill Haywood as part of the “broad” anarchist tradition.
Despite the authors’ claims, however, anarchism cannot arbitrarily be reduced to its revolutionary class-struggle wing. Syndicalism has not always been the centerpiece of anarchism, nor are all anarchists in favor of syndicalism. In a discussion with Spanish anarchists in 1926, the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta argued,
I am against syndicalism, both as a doctrine and a practice, because it strikes me as a hybrid creature that puts its faith, not necessarily in reformism…but in classist exclusiveness and authoritarianism. I favor the labor movement because I believe it to be the most effective way of raising the morale of the workers.… At the same time I am well aware that, setting out as it does to protect the short-term interests of the workers, it tends naturally to reformism and cannot, therefore, be confused with the anarchist movement itself.33
Certainly not all of the IWW members, known as Wobblies, considered themselves anarchists. On the contrary, many of them, like Big Bill Haywood, were active socialists and later joined the Communist Party. Syndicalism is an historic expression of working-class organization where the established labor bureaucracies (and mass reformist socialist parties) have become too entrenched to fight in the interests of workers. In this context, workers have organized themselves into industrial and other unions as an alternative, and both anarchists and revolutionary socialists disenchanted by the failures and betrayals of parliamentary socialism and craft “business” unionism have turned to syndicalism as an alternative.
While it can be demonstrated that the heart of Marxism (as opposed to the socialist movement more broadly) is working-class self-emancipation, anarchism is a much broader church from which certain wings can only be expelled arbitrarily, not because of something intrinsic to anarchist theory. Nevertheless, the popularity among anarchists of Schmidt and Van der Walt’s book—arguing as it does for a revolutionary politics rooted in the class struggle—is a very welcome development.
Platformism. Platformism is once again a topic of discussion within the anarchist movement. Initiated by exiled Russian anarchists in the wake of the 1917 revolution, this movement owes its name to its founding document, “The Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists.” Published in 1926, the platform attracted a number of anarchists from around Russia, but failed to gain much significant support elsewhere. Among the most notable were Peter Arshinov, a former Bolshevik, and Nestor Makhno, the anarchist guerrilla leader.
Displeased with the ineffectiveness of international anarchism and its marginal role in the Russian Revolution, “The Organizational Platform” declared,
There can be no doubt, however, that this disorganization [of revolutionary anarchism] has its roots in a number of defects of theory, notably in the distorted interpretation of the principle of individuality in anarchism, that principle being too often mistaken for the absence of accountability…. We have a vital need of an organization which, having attracted most of the participants in the anarchist movement, would establish a common tactical and political line for anarchism and thereby serve as a guide for the whole movement.34
Platformism enjoyed minimal influence in the wider anarchist movement after its publication, playing a negligible role, for example, in the Spanish Revolution. In the midst of the 1990s global justice movement, it was rediscovered out of frustration with the mainstream of the anarchist movement. In 1996, the anarchist organization Love and Rage noted of the Platformists that, “their critique of the organizational failings of the anarchist movement and call for the measures necessary to correct those failings have lost none of their resonance. Their organizational principles are simple and sensible, but they are a stake through the heart of anti-organizational anarchism.”35
Although short-lived, the Russian Revolution provided a powerful example of workers’ power before its bureaucratic degeneration. As revolutionaries around the world identified with the Bolsheviks and formed new Communist Parties, the influence of anarchism began to decline. Platformism represented an attempt, from within anarchism, to solve the long-term weaknesses of the tradition around questions of organization, theory, and practice, challenging the traditional anarchist hostility to political action and political parties.
Another anarchist trend, influenced by platformism, is known as “social insertion,” orespecifismo in Latin America. It is committed to building strong social movements, but moves away from more diffuse anarchist concepts of organization. Social insertion anarchism calls for “specifically anarchist organization built around a unity of ideas and praxis,” which “inserts” itself into the mass movements of the working class and the oppressed in order to give them direction. Especifismo criticizes the looser, more individualist and liberal anarchist collectives “for being driven by spontaneity and individualism and for not leading to the serious, systematic work needed to build revolutionary movements.”36 Social insertion puts an emphasis on collective “discipline between militants,” a “collective responsibility to the organizations’ plans and work,” and on the necessity of developing a common program and strategy based on “rigorous analysis of society and the correlation of the forces that are part of it.” Though politically especifismo remains anarchist in its opposition to “vanguards” and to electoral politics,” this trend comes close to more Marxist conceptions of revolutionary organization.37
Anarchism and state power
If classical anarchism called for the abolition of the capitalist state, contemporary anarchism attempts to resolve the problem of state power by going around it, as we have already noted. It claims to do this by creating space independent of authoritarian control by establishing autonomous zones. Hakim Bey’s “The Temporary Autonomous Zone” has become one of the classics of modern anarchism. In this series of essays, Bey outlines an anarchy that has abandoned the necessity of social revolution. His vision of human liberation is one of serial rebellions, each for its own sake. The fundamentals of human liberation lie inside the temporary space created by each act of rebellion:
You will argue that this is a counsel of despair. What of the anarchist dream, the Stateless state, the Commune, the autonomous zone with duration, a free society, a free culture?... [R]ealism demands not only that we give up waiting for “the Revolution” but also that we give up wanting it. “Uprising,” yes—as often as possible and even at the risk of violence…. [B]ut in most cases the best and most radical tactic will be to refuse to engage in spectacular violence, to withdraw from the area of simulation, to disappear.38
Bey argues that the temporary autonomous zone must “evade the violence of the State” rather than challenge it.
Confusion over state power remains the long-standing problem for the anarchist tradition. At the high points of struggle, anarchism has been confronted forcefully with this question: if anarchists reject power, then who fills the vacuum left by the destruction of the old state? During the Spanish Revolution, the Catalan anarchists remained true to their principles by refusing power, and thereby leaving it in the hands of the bourgeois parties. In Spain as a whole, leading anarchists simply cast their principles aside and entered the bourgeois republican government.39
But if anarchism is still to be a vision of a new society rather than simply accommodation with the old, it must tackle the question of power. Clearly, autonomous zones do not challenge capitalism or the state. However, assuming for a moment that the “horizontal networks of self-governing institutions” that anarchists seek to create become widespread and broadly effective, then the existing state’s power is necessarily threatened (the ability to regulate trade, maintain “special bodies of armed men,” enacting and enforcing laws, etc.) Consequently, any successful revolutionary movement will immediately run into the state’s opposition and one of the two forces must emerge victorious from the resulting struggle; the two cannot exist in harmonious balance indefinitely.
Examining the experiences of the English, French, and Russian Revolutions, Leon Trotsky described this phenomenon of “dual power” that arises during revolutions:
This double sovereignty does not presuppose—generally speaking, indeed, it excludes—the possibility of a division of the power into two equal halves, or indeed any formal equilibrium of forces whatever.... It implies that a destruction of the social equilibrium has already split the state superstructure. It arises when the hostile classes are already each relying upon essentially incompatible governmental organizations—the one outlived, the other in process of formation—which jostle against each other at every step in the sphere of government. The amount of power which falls to each of these struggling classes in such a situation, is determined by the correlation of forces in the course of the struggle.... By its very nature such a state of affairs cannot be stable.... The splitting of sovereignty foretells nothing less than a civil war.40
Failing to grasp this simple fact of revolution, the anarchists wish away the demands of history, as if the state will either simply evaporate or become somehow irrelevant—with no alternative prepared to fill the needs of reconstructing society.
To break the ruling class’s control of production, the working class must seize and exercise its own control. This requires a way to make democratic decisions and enforce them. “Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois?” Engels asked the anti-authoritarians of his day.41
The collective use of this authority is the substance of workers’ power and its historical expression is the workers’ state. If classical anarchism failed to answer the question of what is to replace the state after it is destroyed, contemporary anarchism avoids the question altogether—and certainly the ruling institutions of society will happily ignore whatever “autonomous” organizations fail to challenge them.
The social basis of anarchism
Anarchism began its life as a philosophical reaction to the oppressive growth of early capitalism. Essentially rooted in liberal, enlightenment thought, anarchism’s social basis lay in the small craft and artisanal classes—what Marx called the petty bourgeoisie, then being eradicated with the growth of industrialism. The anarchist Albert Metzler agrees with Marx’s assessment of anarchism’s birth.
Anarchism, said Marx, was the movement of the artisan worker—that is to say, the self-employed craftsman with some leisure to think and talk, not subjected to factory hours and discipline, independently-minded and difficult to threaten, not backward like the peasantry.… As the capitalist technique spread throughout the world, the artisans were ruined and driven into the factories. It is these individual craftsmen entering industrialization who became Anarchists, pointed out successive Marxists. They are not conditioned to factory discipline which produces good order, unlike a proletariat prepared to accept a leadership and a party, and to work forever in the factory provided it comes under State control…. It should be the task of an Anarchist union movement to seize the factories, but only in order to break down mass production and get back to craftsmanship. This is what Marx meant by a “petit bourgeois” outlook.42
Here, we see one of anarchism’s chief characteristics; the political ideology of a ruined class reinterpreted to fit new objective situations, but only to advance the return to some previous mode of social organization (“to break down mass production and get back to craftsmanship,” as Metzler argues.)
As the social basis of anarchism withers in one historical period, it acquires a new social base. For instance, John Holloway has discussed how the traditional ejidos of Mexico are the social basis of Zapatismo. Gordon discusses the role of subculture in the anarchist tradition. “Besides initiating multiple spaces of alternative cultural and social reproduction—from communes and squats to festivals and ’zines,” he writes, “subcultures also provided the radical activism with a more rooted social base from which to operate, replacing the declining position of traditional working class communities in this role.”
Because of its shifting social basis, and because its core ideas are based around absolutes (antiauthoritarianism), anarchism is acutely affected by the broader forms of social struggle and the objective balance of class forces. We saw this in the First International, as industrial organization and struggle increased, anarchists were brought toward the communists on issues such as private property. Even for Bakunin, Karl Marx’s analysis of capitalism was far superior to anything else. “Nothing that I know of,” Bakunin wrote of Marx’s Capital, “contains an analysis so profound, so luminous, so scientific, so decisive and if I can express it thus, so merciless an exposé of the formation of bourgeois capital and the systematic and cruel exploitation that capital continues exercising over the work of the proletariat.”43
These shifts in the social basis of anarchism explain its many nuanced and contradictory perspectives (class versus “multitude”; violence versus nonviolence; individualism versus collectivism; mass struggle versus withdrawal into autonomous zones; and so on). Further, the class struggle does not simply resolve the basic contradictions within anarchism. Instead, anarchism has resorted to nonanarchist ideas in an attempt to resolve questions of oppression and state power. The Russian Revolution itself illustrates this dynamic, when many anarchists were pulled toward Bolshevism, as the anarchist historian Paul Avrich writes, “A variety of opinions soon emerged, ranging from active resistance to the Bolsheviks, through passive neutrality, to eager collaboration. Some anarchists even joined the Communist Party. In the end, a large majority gave varying degrees of support to the beleaguered regime.”44
After several decades of the bosses’ offensive and retreats by the labor movement and political left, anarchism continues to offer a radical alternative for those sickened by the state of the world. No doubt, many of the revolutionary left’s most dedicated activists identify with the anarchist tradition and continue to make important contributions to the fight against oppression. In light of the many official distortions of Marxism, these anarchists have represented Marxism better than some of the so-called Marxists.45
The fundamentals of Marxism are about full and complete human liberation—not so different from anarchist aspirations. As Marx once wrote, “All socialists see anarchy as the following program: Once the aim of the proletarian movement — i.e., abolition of classes — is attained, the power of the state, which serves to keep the great majority of producers in bondage to a very small exploiter minority, disappears, and the functions of government become simple administrative functions.”46 The differences are over the road to liberation.
However, political differences do exist, particularly over the means to achieve human liberation, and what social forces or classes can accomplish it. Contemporary anarchism has some important differences, but also a great deal of continuity, with historical anarchism. Where it focuses on building an alternative in the “interstices” of capitalism, it accommodates to, rather than challenges, capitalism; and where it fetishizes street tactics, it generates more press than tangible success in either building the struggle or in challenging the state.
But struggle teaches, and those anarchists most engaged in struggle and most concerned with finding the most effective means of winning a better world are looking for alternative ideas to make sense of the crises around us. Marxists and these anarchists should stand shoulder-to-shoulder in every aspect of struggle, whether fighting evictions, the far right, or budget cuts. And serious revolutionaries must consider what tactics will strengthen the movement and its chances of victory. Foolish acts of vandalism by unaccountable individuals only serve to disrupt and weaken the movement, and the best anarchists recognize this. “When we want to occupy,” write some anarchists criticizing the disruptive actions of a group of anarchists at the Hunter College March 4 action, “let’s reach out to those who might want to occupy too, so there’s a chance they might occupy with us.”47
We need social movements that are confident, democratic, and dynamic. We also need radical political organizations that continue to press forward with tactics and ideas, winning other activists to a revolutionary perspective that puts the working class at the center of its project. The ongoing crisis of capitalism, and the developing class response from below, should help propel more anarchists in this direction. There’s a world to win—let’s demand everything.
- Bruce Crumley, “Could Greece’s Riots Spread to France?” Time, December 15, 2008.
- Christopher Hope, Kurt Jones, and Gordon Rayner, “G20 Protests: Anarchist Fears over Put People First March,” Telegraph, March 28, 2009.
- See “Demand Nothing, Occupy Everything,” http://bang.calit2.net/tts/2009/11/18/a-more-radical-proposal-demand-nothing-occupy-everything/.
- “Anarchism finds its first and most well-known expression in India with Mahatma Gandhi’s statement, ‘the state evil is not the cause but the effect of social evil, just as the sea-waves are the effect not the cause of the storm. The only way of curing the disease is by removing the cause itself…the state is perfect and non-violent where the people are governed the least. The nearest approach to purest anarchy would be a democracy based on non-violence.” Jason Adams, Non-Western Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context (Soweto, South Africa: Zabalaza Books, 2003), 13. To give a sense of the disparate views of these individuals: Stirner was a mid-eighteenth century individualist anarchist; Tolstoy was a pacifist, Christian anarchist; Thoreau advocated civil disobedience against injustice; Bakunin was a “collectivist anarchist” who favored violent revolution; and Zerzan is a “primitivist,” advocating a rejection of modern technology.
- Bob Black, “My Anarchism Problem,” http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/black/sp001644.html.
- Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air (London: Verso Press, 2002), 222.
- Roy San Filippo, ed., A New World in Our Hearts: Eight Years of Writings from the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation (Oakland, Calif.: AK Press, 2003), 84.
- Quoted in Emilie Hardman, “Before You Can Get Off Your Knees: Profane Existence and Anarcho-Punk as a Social Movement,” http://www.allacademic.com//meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/1/8/4/5/3/pages184536/p184536-1.php.
- Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic, Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism, and Radical History (Oakland, Calif.: PM Press, 2008), 42.
- Ibid., 50.
- Emma Goldman, “My Further Disillusionment in Russia,” 1924, http://www.panarchy.org/goldman/russia.1924.html.
- Murray Bookchin, “Anarchism: Past and Present,” May 29, 1980, http://www.social-ecology.org/1980/05/anarchism-past-and-present/.
- Chris Agenda, “Crisis is Time for IWW Ideas, Organizing,” Industrial Worker, March–April 2009.
- “A more radical proposal: demand nothing, occupy everything,” http://theimaginarycommittee.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/occupation-guide.pdf.
- Gustav Landauer, “Schwache Stattsminner, Schwacheres Volk,” Der Sozialist, June 1910.
- The text of The Coming Insurrection can be found here: http://tarnac9.wordpress.com/texts/the-coming-insurrection/.
- Sabrina Alimahomed and Jake Alimahomed-Wilson, “Protest as Embodied State Practices: An Examination of Hegemonic and Counter-Hegemonic Protest Tactics,” http://www.anarchist-studies.org/node/319.
- 18 “G20 Mobilization: A Preliminary Assessment,” CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective, http://www.crimethinc.com/texts/recentfeatures/g202.php.
- Ryan Harvey, “Are We Addicted to Rioting?” September 27, 2009, http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/09/27/18623480.php.
- “Above and Below: Them, Them, and Us,” Brick Anarchist Collective, 2003, http://www.ainfos.ca/03/jun/ainfos00229.html.
- See “For a Movement That Unites Us,” statement by fourteen Hunter College activists about the disruption of protests by anarchists, http://socialistworker.org/2010/03/09/a-movement-that-unites-us. See also “Beware Those Who Would Deliver You to a Cheaper Suicide,” http://takethecity.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/pushed-by-the-violence-of-our-desires/.
- Black, “My Anarchism Problem.”
- The Coming Insurrection, 27.
- Ibid., 80.
- Politics is Not a Banana, The Institute for Experimental Freedom, http://issuu.com/the.institute/docs/banana_pages.
- Uri Gordon, Anarchism and Political Theory: Contemporary Problems (University of Oxford Mansfield College doctoral thesis, 2005), 3.
- Ibid., 76.
- Murray Bookchin, “Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm,” http://www.scribd.com/doc/14280442/Murray-Bookchin-Social-Anarchism-or-Lifestyle-Anarchism-an-Unbridgeable-Chasm.
- Uri Gordon, Anarchy Alive! (London: Pluto Press, 2008), 37.
- Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (Oakland, Calif.: AK Press, 2009), 52.
- “We reject the view that figures like William Godwin (1756–1836), Max Stirner (1806–1856), Proudhon, Benjamin Tucker (1854–1939), and Leo Tolstoy are part of the broad anarchist tradition,” in ibid., 9.
- Ibid., 84–85.
- Errico Malatesta, “Further Thoughts on Anarchism and the Labor Movement,” March 1926, http://www.marxists.org/archive/malatesta/1926/03/syndic3.htm.
- “The Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists,” 1926, http://www.nestormakhno.info/english/newplatform/introduction.htm.
- Roy San Filippo, A World in Our Hearts—Eight Years of Writings from the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, 44–45.
- Adam Weaver, “Especifismo, The Anarchist Praxis of Building Popular Movements and Revolutionary Organization in South America,” http://nefac.net/node/2081.
- Quoted in Ibid.
- Hakim Bey, “The Temporary Autonomous Zone,” http://www.t0.or.at/hakimbey/taz/taz3a.htm.
- For a description of the role anarchists played in the Spanish Civil War, see Geoff Bailey, “Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War,” ISR 24, July–August 2002, http://www.isreview.org/issues/24/anarchists_spain.shtml.
- Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008), 207–08,
- Engels, “On Authority,” 1872, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1872/10/authority.htm.
- Albert Metzler, Anarchism: Arguments For and Against (Oakland, Calif.: AK Press, 2000), 65–66.
- Michael Bakunin, “The Capitalist System,” 1871, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/various/capsys.htm.
- Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists (Boston: AK Press, 2005), 196.
- For instance, “In this controversy it is Pannekoek, not Kautsky, who represented Marxism, for it was Marx who taught that it is not enough for the proletariat simply to conquer state power…but that the proletariat must break up, smash this apparatus and replace it with a new one,” Vladimir Lenin, State and Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1990), 95.
- Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “Fictitious Splits in the International,” in Marx, Engels, Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 74.
- “A movement that stands for childcare, healthcare, and education for everyone means more to most people than slogans shouted by those who are ‘pushed by the violence of our desires’ to act as individuals. A statement with that phrase as its title, written by some folks involved in the altercation at Hunter, claims, ‘We do not need the “consent of the people.”’ But militant direct action needs to take place within the context of a movement, not outside of it. To single-handedly declare that a protest is not radical enough without participating in the democratic processes of the movement is vanguardist. It’s ironic—and tragic—when it comes from anarchists. When we want to occupy, let’s reach out to those who might want to occupy too, so there’s a chance they might occupy with us.” “The Politics of Impatience: An Open Letter from Anarchists to the Anarchist Movement,” April 12, 2010, http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=20100412041053960.
Dedication For the second edition of Anarchism and the Black Revolution
I dedicate this second edition of Anarchism and the Black Revolution to Comrade Ginger Katz, one of the founders of the original North American Anarchist Black Cross almost 15 years ago. It was Ginger Katz who almost single-handedly arranged for the typesetting, publishing and printing of the first edition, and then she went out and sold them by the thousands. Without her, this second edition would not have been possible.
She had to fight to get the books published, and to get a hearing for myself and other Black Anarchists, who had things to say about the direction of the movement. The “Anarchist purists,” who wanted to keep the movement all white and as an Individualist, counter-cultural phenomenon, fought her tooth and nail. Some of these criticisms and struggles were thinly veiled racism, and I am sure that they frustrated and exhausted Comrade Ginger. If so, she never relayed it to me, but I heard it from other sources. I remember my dealings with Anarchists in the movement during the 1970s, who denied the existence of racism as something we should fight entirely. But not Comrade Ginger. She was one of the few Anarchists who understood how the American state was organized, and how it used white skin privilege to split the working class, and to continue the dictatorship of Capitalism through such “divide and rule” tactics.
I still have some of the letters that Ginger wrote me 15 years ago when I was in prison. But I lost contact with her since the early 1980. In 1983, I was released from prison, and became estranged from the Anarchist and prison movements, so I do not know where she is. But wherever she is, I hope she will know how much I appreciate what she did to make this project a reality, and how she laid the seeds for the growth of the present and future Libertarian Socialist movement on this continent, and hopefully around the world. I am hopeful that I might one day meet her, maybe when I am on a national book tour for this and other books I have written, and just thank her for helping me, when I could not help myself. To this comrade, I will give my love and respect always. Thank you.
Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin
Chapter 1. An Analysis of White Supremacy
This pamphlet will briefly discuss the nature of Anarchism and its relevance to the Black Liberation movement. Because there have been so many lies and distortions of what Anarchism really stands for, by both its left- and right-wing ideological opponents, it will be necessary to discuss the many popular myths about it. This in itself deserves a book, but is not the intention of this pamphlet, which is merely to introduce the Black movement to revolutionary Anarchist ideals. It is up to the reader to determine whether these new ideas are valid and worthy of adoption.
How the Capitalists Use Racism
The fate of the white working class has always been bound with the condition of Black workers. Going as far back as the American colonial period when Black labor was first imported into America, Black slaves and indentured servants have been oppressed right along with whites of the lower classes. But when European indentured servants joined with Blacks to rebel against their lot in the late 1600s, the propertied class decided to “free” them by giving them a special status as “whites” and thus a stake in the system of oppression.
Material incentives, as well as the newly elevated social status were used to ensure these lower classes allegiance. This invention of the “white race” and racial slavery of the Africans went hand-in-glove, and is how the upper classes maintained order during the period of slavery. Even poor whites had aspirations of doing better, since their social mobility was ensured by the new system. This social mobility, however, was on the backs of the African slaves, who were super-exploited.
But the die had been cast for the dual-tier form of labor, which exploited the African, but also trapped white labor. When they sought to organize unions or for higher wages in the North or South, white laborers were slapped down by the rich, who used enslaved Black labor as their primary mode of production. The so-called “free” labor of the white worker did not stand a chance.
Although the Capitalists used the system of white skin privilege to great effect to divide the working class, the truth is that the Capitalists only favored white workers to use them against their own interests, not because there was true “white” class unity. The Capitalists didn’t want white labor united with Blacks against their rule and the system of exploitation of labor. The invention of the “white race” was a scam to facilitate this exploitation. White workers were bought off to allow their own wage slavery and the African’s super-exploitation; they struck a deal with the devil, which has hampered all efforts at class unity for the last four centuries.
The continual subjugation of the masses depends on competition and internal disunity. As long as discrimination exists, and racial or ethnic minorities are oppressed, the entire working class is oppressed and weakened. This is so because the Capitalist class is able to use racism to drive down the wages of individual segments of the working class by inciting racial antagonism and forcing a fight for jobs and services. This division is a development that ultimately undercuts the living standards of all workers. Moreover, by pitting whites against Blacks and other oppressed nationalities, the Capitalist class is able to prevent workers from uniting against their common class enemy. As long as workers are fighting each other, Capitalist class rule is secure.
If an effective resistance is to be mounted against the current racist offensive of the Capitalist class, the utmost solidarity between workers of all races is essential The way to defeat the Capitalist strategy is for white workers to defend the democratic rights won by Blacks and other oppressed peoples after decades of hard struggle, and to fight to dismantle the system of white skin privilege. White workers should support and adopt the concrete demands of the Black movement, and should work to abolish the white identity entirely. These white workers should strive for multicultural unity, and should work with Black activists to build an anti-racist movement to challenge white supremacy. However, it is also very important to recognize the right of the Black movement to take an independent road in its own interests. That is what self-determination means.
Race and Class: the Combined Character of Black Oppression
Because of the way this nation has developed with the exploitation of African labor and the maintenance of an internal colony, Blacks and other non-white peoples are oppressed both as members of the working class and as a racial nationality. As Africans in America, they are a distinct people, hounded and segregated in U.S. society. By struggling for their human and civil rights they ultimately come into confrontation with the entire Capitalist system, not just individual racists or regions of the country. The truth soon becomes apparent: Blacks cannot get their freedom under this system because, based on historically uneven competition, Capitalist exploitation is inherently racist.
At this juncture the movement can go into the direction of revolutionary social change, or limit itself to winning reforms and democratic rights within the structure of Capitalism. The potential is there for either. In fact, the weakness of the 1960s Civil rights movement was that it allied itself with the liberals in the Democratic Party and settled for civil rights protective legislation, instead of pushing for social revolution. This self-policing by the leaders of the movement is an abject lesson about why the new movement has to be self-activated and not dependent on personalities and politicians.
But if such a movement does become a social revolutionary movement, it must ultimately unite its forces with similar movements like Gays, Women, radical workers, and others who are in revolt against the system. For example, in the late 1960s the Black Liberation movement acted as a catalyst to spread revolutionary ideas and images, which brought forth the various opposition movements we see today. This is what we believe will happen again, although it is not enough to call for mindless “unity” as much of the white left does.
Because of the dual forms of oppression of non-white workers and the depth of social desperation it creates, Blacks workers will strike first, whether their potential allies are available to do so or not. This is self-determination and that is why it is necessary for oppressed workers to build independent movements to unite their own peoples first. This is why it is absolutely necessary for white workers to defend the democratic rights and gains of non-white workers. This self-activity of the oppressed masses, (such as the Black Liberation movement) is inherently revolutionary, and is an essential part of the social revolutionary process of the entire working class. These are not marginal issues; it cannot be downgraded or ignored by white workers if a revolutionary victory is to be had. It has to be recognized as a cardinal principle by all, that oppressed peoples have a right to self-determination, including the right to run their own organizations and liberation struggle. The victims of racism know best how to fight back against it.
So What Type of Anti-Racist Group is Needed?
The Black movement needs allies in its battle against the racist Capitalist class — not the usual liberal or phony “radical” support, but genuine revolutionary working class support and solidarity, otherwise called “mutual aid” by Anarchists. The basis of such unity however must be principled and be based on class interest, rather than liberal “guilt tripping,” “do-gooding” or opportunism and manipulation by liberal or radical political parties. The needs of the oppressed people must be the most important consideration, but they want genuine support, not fakery or leftist rhetoric.
The Anarchist movement, which is overwhelmingly white, must start to understand that they need to do propaganda work among the Black and other oppressed community, and they need to make it possible for non-white Anarchists to organize in their communities by providing them with technical resources (printing of zines, video and audio cassette production, etc.) and assisting with financial resources.
One reason there are so few Black Anarchists is because the movement provides no means to reach people of color, win them over to Anarchism and help them organize themselves. This must change if we want the social revolution to take place in America, and if we want North American Anarchism to be more than “white rights” movement.
The type of organization needed must be a “mass” organization working to unite all workers in common class struggle, but must be able to recognize the duty to support and adopt the special demands of the Black and other non-white peoples as those of the entire working class. It must challenge white supremacy on a daily basis, it must refute racist philosophy and propaganda, and must counter racist mobilization and attacks, with armed self-defense and street fighting, when necessary. The objective of such a mass movement is to win the white working class over to an anti-white supremacy, class-conscious position; to unite the entire working class; and to directly confront and overthrow the Capitalist state, and its rulers. The cooperation of and solidarity of all workers is essential for full Social revolution, not just its privileged white sector.
For instance, an existing organization like Anti-Racist Action, if adopting such politics as an Anarchist group, should be given a higher priority by our movement. Every city and town should have ARA-type collectives, and every existing Anarchist federation should have internal working groups that do work around racism and police brutality. In fact, the type of group that I am talking about would be a federation itself to coordinate struggles on the national and maybe even international level.
This would be a revolutionary movement, not content to sit around and read books, elect a few Black politicians or “friends of Labor” to Congress or the State Legislature, write protest letters, circulate petitions, or other such tame tactics. It would take the examples of the early radical labor movements like the IWW, as well as the Civil rights movement of the 1960s, to show that only direct action tactics of confrontation and militant protest will yield any results at all. It would also have the example of the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion to show that people will revolt, but there need to be powerful allies extending material aid and resistance info, and an existing mass movement to take it to the next step and spread the insurrection.
The Anarchists must recognize this and help build a militant anti-racist group, which would be both a support group for the Black revolution and a mass-organizing center to unite the class. It is very important to wrest the mass influence of the racial equality movement out of the hands of the left-liberal Democratic wing of the ruling class. The left liberals may talk a good fight, but as long as they are not for overthrowing Capitalism and smashing the state, they will betray and sabotage the entire struggle against racism. The strategy of the left-liberals is to deflect class-consciousness into strictly race consciousness. They refuse to appeal on the basis of class material interests to the U.S. working and middle classes to support Black rights, and as a result allow the right-wing to capitalize unopposed on the latent racist feeling among whites, as well as on their economic insecurity. The kind of movement I am proposing will step in the breach and attack white supremacy, and dismantle the very threads of what holds Capitalism together. Without the mass white consensus to the rule of the American state, and the system of white skin privilege, Capitalism could not go on into the next century!
The Myth of “Reverse Racism”
“Reverse Discrimination” has become the war cry of all those racists trying to roll back civil rights gains won by Blacks and other oppressed nationalities in housing, education, employment, and every aspect of social life. The racists feel these things should only go to white males, and that “minorities” and women are taking them away from white men. Millions of white workers day-in and day-out are bombarded by this racist propaganda, and it is having e big impact. Many whites believe this lie of reverse discrimination against white people. This belief is embraced by many duped white workers, who consider “reverse discrimination” to be at least partly responsible for the economic problems so many of them are suffering from today. Such beliefs propelled Ronald Reagan to his two terms as U.S. president. Reagan tried to use this racist propaganda line to precipitate a rollback in the civil rights gains of oppressed nationalities.
The racists claim the concept of reverse discrimination suggests the wholesale discrimination against Blacks and other racially oppressed groups is a hoax. Baldly stated, the idea is that the passage of the 1964 Civil rights Act ended discrimination against Blacks, Latinos and other nationalities, and women, and now the law is discriminating against white people. The racists say racial minorities and women are the new privileged groups in American society. They are allegedly getting the pick of jobs, preferential college placements, the best housing, government grants, and so on at the expense of white workers. The racists say programs to end discrimination are not only unnecessary, but are actually attempts by minorities to gain power at the expense of white workers. They say Blacks and women do not want equality, but rather hegemony over white workers.
An Anarchist anti-racist movement would counter such propaganda and expose it as a ruling class weapon. The Civil Rights Act did not cause inflation by “excessive” spending on welfare, housing, or other social services. Further, Blacks aren’t discriminating against whites: whites are not being herded into ghetto housing; removed from or prohibited from entering professions; deprived of decent education; forced into malnutrition and early death; subjected to racial violence and police repression, forced to suffer disproportionate levels of unemployment, and other forms of racial oppression. But for Blacks the oppression starts with birth and childhood. Infant mortality rate is nearly three times that of whites, and it continues an throughout their lives. The fact is “reverse discrimination” is a hoax. Anti-Black discrimination is not a thing of the past. It is the systematic, all pervasive reality today!
Malcolm X pointed out in the 1960s that no civil rights statutes will give Black people their freedom, and asked if Africans in America were really citizens why would civil rights be necessary. Malcolm X observed civil rights had been fought for at great sacrifice, and therefore should be enforced, but if the government won’t enforce the laws, then the people will have to do so, and the movement will have to pressure the government authorities to protect democratic rights. To unite the masses of people behind a working class anti-racist movement, the following practical demands, which are a combination revolutionary and radical reformism, to ensure democratic rights, are necessary:
Black and white workers’ solidarity. Fight racism on the job and in society.
Full democratic and human rights for all non-white peoples. Make unions fight racism and discrimination.
Armed self-defense against racist attacks. Build mass movement against racism and fascism.
Community control of the police, replacement of cops by community self-defense force elected by residents. End police brutality. Prosecution of all killer cops.
Money for rebuilding the cities. Creation of public works brigades to rebuild inner city areas, made up of community residents.
Full socially useful employment at union wages for all workers. End racial discrimination in jobs, training and promotions. Establish affirmative: action programs to reverse past racist employment practices.
Ban the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and other fascist organizations. Prosecution of all racists for attacks on people of color.
Free open admissions to all institutions of learning for all those qualified to attend. No racial exclusion in higher education.
End taxes of workers and poor. Tax the rich and major corporations.
Full health and medical care for all persons and communities, regardless of race and class.
Free all political prisoners and innocent victims of racial injustice. Abolish prisons. Fight economic disparity.
Rank and file democratic control of the unions by building an Anarcho-Syndicalist labor movement. Make unions active in social issues.
Stop racist harassment and discrimination of undocumented workers.
Smash the right Wing!
“Fascism is not to be debated. It is to be smashed...”
— Buenaventura Durritti, Spanish Anarchist revolutionary, 1936.
As Capitalist society decays, people will look for radical and total solutions to the misery they face. The Nazis and the Klan are among the few right-wing political forces that offer, or appear to offer, a radical answer to the current problems of society for the white masses. That these solutions are false will matter little to confused and hysterical people searching desperately for a way out of the socioeconomic crisis the Capitalist world is facing. Sections of the middle class, better-off layers of the white working class, poor and unemployed white workers, all poisoned by the racism of this society, are easy prey for Nazi and Klan demagogues.
The Nazis, skinheads and the Klan are the most extreme right-wing racist/fascist organizations in the United States. Today these groups are small, and many liberals like to downplay the threat they represent, even to argue for their legal “rights” to spread their racist venom. But these groups have a tremendous growth potential and could become a mass movement in a surprisingly short period of time, especially during an economic and political crisis like we are now in.
Basing themselves on alienated white social forces, the Nazis and Klan are trying to build a mass movement that can hire itself out to the Capitalists at the proper moment and assume state power. When the Capitalist feel that they might need an additional club to keep the workers and the oppressed in line, they will turn to the Nazis, Klan and similar right-wing organizations, with both money and support, in addition to strengthening the state police and military forces. If need be, the Capitalists will place them in power, (as they did in Spain, Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 1930s), so the fascists will smash the unions and other working class organizations; place Blacks, Latinos Gays, Asians, and Jews into concentration camps; and turn the rest of the workers into State slaves. Fascism is the ultimate authoritarian society when in power, even though it has changed its face to a mixture of crude racism and smoother racism in the modern democratic state.
So in addition to the Nazis and the Klan, there are other right-wing forces that have been on the rise in the last 15 years. They include ultra-conservative rightist politicians and Christian fundamentalist preachers, along with the extreme right section of the Capitalist ruling class itself — small business owners, talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, along with the professors, economists, philosophers and others in academia providing the ideological weaponry for the Capitalist offensive against the workers and oppressed people. Not all the racists wear sheets. These are the “respectable” racists, the new right conservatives, who are far more dangerous than the Klan or Nazis because their politics have become acceptable to large masses of white workers, who in turn blame racial minorities for their problems.
The Capitalist class has already shown their willingness to use this conservative movement as a smoke screen for an attack on the Labor movement, Black struggle and the entire working class. Many city public workers have been fired; schools, hospitals and other social services have been curtailed; government agencies have been privatized; welfare rolls have been cut drastically; and the budgets of city and state governments slashed. Banks have even used their dictatorial powers to demand these budget cuts, and to even, make entire cities default if they did not submit. This even happened to New York City in the 1970s. So this is not just an issue of poor, dumb rednecks in hoods. This is about hoods in business suits.
A first step in organizing and preparing the working class in the economic crisis we face is to directly take on the right-wing threat. Repressive economic legislation by conservative politicians to punish the poor and working class must be defeated; taxes on the rich and major corporations must be increased, while taxes on the workers and farmers must be abolished. If the politicians will not do it, we will organize a tax boycott to force them to do it. The Nazis and Klan must be confronted through direct action. Anarchists, the left and labor organizations must organize to defend workers and oppressed from physical assaults by the racists, as well as hold mass demonstrations in the streets at fascist rallies. We also must oppose scum like Operation Rescue that uses violent Fascist tactics against women’s rights to abortions. It is part of the same battleground.
Here is the situation: David Duke, the “ex”-Klansman is now part of the “respectable” right, which picks up support among the upper middle class. Meanwhile the Klan and Nazi skinheads are making headway among different social layers, mainly poor white workers and unemployed white youth. Tom Metzger, the leader of white Aryan Resistance, called the Nazi skinheads his “Brown-shirts of the ’90s.” This is very dangerous, but we cannot leave these people to the Nazis and Klan uncontested. We should try to win them over, or at least neutralize any active opposition on their part. This is a defensive tactic at the very least, but really we have no choice, and it is part of our revolutionary duty to organize the entire working class anyway. We should direct propaganda to these workers to expose the Nazis and Klan for the scum they are, and show how the workers are being misled. We should also make it possible for them to fight this misery against the real enemy: the Capitalist class.
But in addition to defensive operations for propaganda, we must take direct offensive action to physically resist the racists when this is possible. For example, where the balance of forces allows it, we must organize to forcefully drive the Nazis and Klan off the streets. In order to smash their movements we must organize commando-type actions to attack their rallies, close their bookshops and newspapers, destroy their meeting halls, and break up their marches. Since the Nazis and Klan organize by threatening and using violence, we must be prepared to reply to them in kind, but in a better-organized and more effective way. For instance, pigs like David Duke and Tom Metzger, who have been advocating and leading the fascist movement in America, should be assassinated. We should infiltrate Klan and Nazi demonstrations in order to assault leaders and disrupt them, or hide at a distance and snipe at them with high-powered rifles. I have always felt that underground guerilla movements like the Black Liberation Army, Weather Underground, and New World Liberation Front should have attacked fascist movements and assassinated their leaders. If we cripple the fascists in this fashion, we can smash the entire right and begin to smash the State. This is the only way to stop fascists. Death to the Klan and all fascists!
None other than Adolph Hitler has been quoted as saying: “Only one thing could have stopped our movement. If our adversaries had understood its principle, and from the first day had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.” We should take heed.
One other thing that we must do, and is something which tactically separates us Anarchists from the Marxist-Leninists, is that we use our studies of the authoritarian personality to help us organize against fascist recruitment All the M-L’s “United Fronts” care about is a strict political approach to defeat fascism and prevent them from attaining state power, while being able to usher the Communist party in instead. They organize liberals and others into mass coalitions just to seize power, and then crush all radical and liberal ideological opponents after they get done with the fascists. That is why the Stalinist ‘Communist” states resemble fascist police states so much in refusing to allow ideological plurality — they are both totalitarian. For that matter, how much difference was there really between Stalin and Hitler? So, I say that merely physically beating back the fascists is not the issue. We need to study what accounts for the mass psychology of fascism and then defeat it ideologically, going to the core of the deep seated racist beliefs, emotions, and authoritarian conditioning of those workers who support fascism and all police state authority.
The third prong of our strategy is to organize among the workers and other oppressed sections of society with a program that addresses their needs. As has been said, the Klan and Nazis recruit among certain social layers — overwhelmingly white youth who are hard-pressed by the economic crisis. These people see Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Gays, women, and radical movements as a threat. They are racist, reactionary and potentially very violent. Fearful that they will lose the little they have, they buy the myth that the problems is “those people” trying to steal their jobs, homes, future, etc., rather than the decay of the Capitalist system.
As long as there appears to be no alternative to fighting over a shrinking social “pie,” the fascists, with their simple minded “solutions,” will get a hearing among the degenerate elements of the working class. The only way to undercut the appeal of the right is to organize a Libertarian workers movement that can fight for and win the things that people need — jobs, decent housing and schools, health care, etc. This can demonstrate concretely that there is an alternative to the right wing’s poisonous “solutions,” and it can win to the ranks of the workers’ movement some of those people attracted to the fascist movement.
In all areas of our organizing, we must carry out consistent revolutionary propaganda explaining Capitalism is responsible for unemployment, rising prices, rotten schools and housing and the rest of the decay we see around us. We must expose the fact that, while the Nazis, Klan and other right-wingers make Black, Gays, Latinos and other oppressed people the scapegoat for the economic crisis, their real aim is to destroy the entire workers movement, commit genocide, start an adventuristic war and turn workers into outright slaves of the State. Therefore, these fascist forces are a threat to all workers of every nationality. It must be explained that they only want to use white workers as pawns in their scheme to create a fascist dictatorship, and all workers must unite and fight back and overthrow the state if they are to be free. Death to the Klan, death to the nazis!
Defeat white supremacy!
The very means of class control by the rich is the least understood. White supremacy is more than just a set of ideas or prejudices. It is national oppression. Yet to most white people, the term conjures up images of the Nazis or Ku Klux Klan rather than the system of white skin privileges that really undergrids the Capitalist system in the U.S. Most white people, Anarchists included, believe in essence that Black people are “the same” as whites, and that we should just fight around “common issues” rather than deal with “racial matters,” if they see any urgency in dealing with the matter at all. Some will not raise it in such a blunt fashion, they will say that “class issues should take precedence,” but it means the same thing. They believe it’s possible to put off the struggle against white supremacy until after the revolution, when in fact there will be no revolution if white supremacy is not attacked and defeated first. They won’t win a revolution in the U.S. until they fight to improve the lot of Blacks and oppressed people who are being deprived of their democratic rights, as well as being super-exploited as workers.
Almost from the very inception of the North American socialist movement, the simple-minded economist position that all Black and white workers have to do to wage a revolution is to engage in a “common (economic) struggle” has been used to avoid struggle against white supremacy. In fact, the white left has always taken the chauvinist position that since the white working class is the revolutionary vanguard anyway, why worry about an issue that will “divide the class”? Historically Anarchists have not even brought up the matter of “race politics,” as one Anarchist referred to it the first time this pamphlet was published. This is a total evasion of the issue.
Yet it is the Capitalist bourgeoisie that creates inequality as a way to divide and rule over the entire working class. White skin privilege is a form of domination by Capital over white labor as well as oppressed nationality labor, not just providing material incentives to “buy off” white workers and set them against Black and other oppressed workers. This explains the obedience of white labor to Capitalism and the State. The white working class does not see their better off condition as part of the system of exploitation. After centuries of political and social indoctrination, they feel their privileged position is just and proper, and what is more has been “earned.” They feel threatened by social gains of non-white workers, which is why they so vehemently opposed affirmative action plans to benefit minorities in jobs and hiring, and to redress years of discrimination against them. It is also why white workers have opposed most civil rights legislation.
Yet it is the day-to-day workings of white supremacy that we must fight most vigorously. We cannot remain ignorant or indifferent to the workings of race and class under this system, so that oppressed workers remain victimized. For years, Blacks have been “first hired, first fired” by Capitalist industry. Further, seniority systems have engaged in open racial discrimination, and are little more than white job trusts. Blacks have even been driven out of whole industries, such as coal mining. Yet the white labor bosses have never objected or intervened on behalf of their class brothers, nor will they if not pressed up against the wall by white workers.
As pointed out there are material incentives to this white worker opportunism: better jobs, higher pay, improved living conditions in white communities, etc., in short what has come to be known as the “white middle class lifestyle.” This is what labor and the left have always fought to maintain, not class solidarity, which would necessitate a struggle against white supremacy. This lifestyle is based on the super-exploitation of the non-white sector of the domestic working class as well as countries exploited by imperialism around the world.
In America, class antagonism has always included racial hatred as an essential component, but it is structural rather than just ideological. Since all of the institutions, the culture, and the socioeconomic system of U.S. Capitalism are based on white supremacy, how then is it possible to truly fight the rule of Capital without being forced to defeat white supremacy? The dual-tier economy of whites on top and Blacks on the bottom (even with all the class differences among whites has successfully resisted every attempt by radical social movements. These reluctant reformers have danced around the issue. While winning reforms, in many cases primarily for white workers only, these white radicals have yet to topple the system and open the road to social revolution.
The fight against white skin privilege also requires the rejection of the vicious identification of North Americans as “white” people, rather than as Welsh, German, Irish, etc. as their national origin. This “white race” designation is a contrived super-nationality designed to inflate the social importance of European ethnics and to enlist them as tools in the Capitalist system of exploitation. In North America, white skin has always implied freedom and privilege: freedom to gain employment, to travel, to obtain social mobility out of one’s born class standing, and a whole world of Eurocentric privileges. Therefore, before a social revolution can take place, there must be an abolition of the social category of the “white race.” (with few exceptions in this essay, I will begin referring to them as “North Americans.”)
These “white” people must engage in class suicide and race treachery before they can truly be accepted as allies of Black and nationally oppressed workers; the whole idea behind a “white race” is conformity and making them accomplices to mass murder and exploitation. If white people do not want to be saddled with the historical legacy of colonialism, slavery and genocide themselves, then they must rebel against it. So the “whites” must denounce the white identity and its system of privilege, and they must struggle to redefine themselves and their relationship with others. As long as white society, (through the State which says it is acting in the name of white people), continues to oppress and dominate all the institutions of the Black community, racial tension will continue to exist, and whites generally will continue to be seen as the enemy.
So what do North Americans start to do to defeat racial opportunism, white skin privileges and other forms of white supremacy? First they must break down the walls separating them from their non-white allies. Then together they must wage a fight against inequality in the workplace, communities, and in the social order. Yet it not just the democratic rights of African people we are referring to when we are talking about “national oppression.” If that were the whole issue, then maybe more reforms could obtain racial and social equality. But no, that is not what we are talking about.
Blacks (or Africans in America) are colonized. America is a mother country with an internal colony. For Africans in America, our situation is one of total oppression. No people are truly free until they can determine their own destiny. Ours is a captive, oppressed colonial status that must be overthrown, not just smashing ideological racism or denial of civil rights. In fact, without smashing the internal colony first means the likelihood of a continuance of this oppression in another form. We must destroy the social dynamic of a very real existence of America being made up of an oppressor white nation and an oppressed Black nation, (in fact there are several captive nations).
This requires the Black Liberation movement to liberate a colony, and this is why it is not just a simple matter of Blacks just joining with white Anarchists to fight the same type of battle against the State. That is also why Anarchists cannot take a rigid position against all forms of Black nationalism (especially revolutionary groups like the Black Panther Party), even if there are ideological differences about the way some of them are formed and operate. But North Americans must support the objectives of racially oppressed liberation movements, and they must directly challenge and reject white skin privilege. There is no other way and there is a shortcut; white supremacy is a huge stumbling block to revolutionary social change in North America.
The Black Revolution and other national liberation movements in North America are indispensable parts of the overall Social revolution. North American workers must join with Africans, Latinos and others to reject racial injustice, Capitalist exploitation, and national oppression. North American workers certainly have an important role in helping those struggles to triumph. Material aid alone, which can be assembled by white workers for the Black revolution, could dictate the victory or defeat of that struggle at a particular stage.
I am taking time to explain all this, because predictably some Anarchist purists will try to argue me down that having a white movement is a good thing, that Blacks and other oppressed nationalities just need to climb aboard the “Anarchist Good Ship” (a ship of fools?), and all of this is just “Marxist national liberation nonsense.” Well, we know part of the reason for an Anarchist anti-racist movement is to challenge this chauvinist perspective right in the middle of our own movement. An Anarchist Anti-Racist Federation would not exist just to fight Nazis. We need to challenge and correct racist and doctrinaire positions on race and class within our movement. If we cannot do that, then we cannot organize the working class, Black or white, and are of no use to anyone.
Chapter 2. Where is the Black struggle and where should it be going?
Some — usually comfortable Black middle class professionals, politicians or businessmen who rode the 1960s Civil rights movement into power or prominence — will say there is no longer any necessity to struggle in the streets during the 1990s for Black freedom. They say we have “arrived” and are now “almost free.” They say our only struggle now is to “integrate the money,” or win wealth for themselves and members of their social class, even though they give lip service to “empowering the poor.” Look, they say, we can vote, our Black faces are all over TV in commercials and situation comedies, there are hundreds of Black millionaires, and we have political representatives in the halls of Congress and State houses all over the land. In fact, they say, there are currently over 7,000 Black elected officials, several of whom preside over the largest cities in the nation, and there is even a governor of a Southern state, who is an African-American. That’s what they say. But does this tell the whole story?
The fact is we are in as bad or even worse a shape, economically and politically, as when the Civil rights movement began in the 1950s. One in every four Black males are in prison, on probation, parole, or under arrest; at least one-third or more of Black family units are now single parent families mired in poverty; unemployment hovers at 18–25 percent for Black communities; the drug economy is the number one employer of Black youth; most substandard housing units are still concentrated in Black neighborhoods; Blacks and other non-whites suffer from the worst health care; and Black communities are still underdeveloped because of racial discrimination by municipal governments, mortgage companies and banks, who “redline” Black neighborhoods from receiving community development, housing and small business loans which keep our communities poor. We also suffer from murderous acts of police brutality by racist cops which has resulted in thousands of deaths and wounding; and internecine gang warfare resulting in numerous youth homicides (and a great deal of grief). But what we suffer from most and what encompasses all of these ills is that fact that we are an oppressed people — in fact a colonized people subject to the rule of an oppressive government. We really have no rights under this system, except that which we have fought for and even that is now in peril. Clearly we need a new mass Black protest movement to challenge the government and corporations, and expropriate the funds needed for our communities to survive.
Yet for the past 25 years the revolutionary Black movement has been on the defensive. Due to cooptation, repression and betrayals of the Black Liberation movement of the 1960s, today’s movement has suffered a series of setbacks and has now become static in comparison. This may be because it is just now getting its stuff together after being pummeled by the State’s police agencies, and also because of the internal political contradictions which arose in the major Black revolutionary groups like the Black Panther Party, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or “snick’ as it was called in those days), and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. I believe all were factors that led to the destruction of the 1960s’ Black left in this country. Of course, many blame this period of relative inactivity in the Black movement on the lack of forceful leaders in the mold of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, etc., while other people blame the “fact” the Black masses have allegedly become “corrupt and apathetic,” or just need the “correct revolutionary line.”
Whatever the true facts of the matter, it can clearly be seen that the government, the Capitalist corporations, and the racist ruling class are exploiting the current weakness and confusion of the Black movement to make an attack on the Black working class, and are attempting to totally strip the gains won during the Civil rights era. In addition there is a resurgence of racism and conservatism among broad layers of the white population, which is a direct result of this right-wing campaign. Clearly this is a time when we must entertain new ideas and new tactics in the freedom struggle.
The ideals of Anarchism are something new to the Black movement and have never really been examined by Black and other non-white activists. Put simply, it means the people themselves should rule, not governments, political patties, or self-appointed leaders in their name. Anarchism also stands for the self-determination of all oppressed peoples, and their right to struggle for freedom by any means necessary.
So what road is in order for the Black movement? Continue to depend on opportunistic Democratic hack politicians like Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy; the same old group of middle class sellout “leaders” of the Civil rights lobby; one or another of the authoritarian Leninist sects, who insist that they and they alone have the correct path to “revolutionary enlightenment”; or finally building a grassroots revolutionary protest movement to fight the racist government and rulers?
Only the Black masses can finally decide the matter, whether they will be content to bear the brunt of the current economic depression and the escalating racist brutality, or will lead a fight back. Anarchists trust the best instincts of the people, and human nature dictates that where there is repression there will be resistance; where there is slavery, there will a struggle against it. The Black masses have shown they will fight, and when they organize they will win!
A Call for a New Black Protest Movement
Those Anarchists who are Black like myself recognize there has to be a whole new social movement, which is democratic, on the grassroots level and is self-activated. It will be a movement independent of the major political parties, the State and the government. It must be a movement that, although it seeks to expropriate government money for projects that benefit the people, does not recognize any progressive role for the government in the lives of the people. The government will not free us, and is part of the problem rather than part of the solution. In fact only the Black masses themselves can wage the Black freedom struggle, not a government bureaucracy (like the U.S. Justice Department), reformist civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson, or a revolutionary vanguard party on their behalf.
Of course, at a certain historical moment, a protest leader can play a tremendous revolutionary role as a spokesperson for the people’s feelings, or even produce correct strategy and theory for a certain period, (Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind), and a “vanguard party” may win mass support and acceptance among the people for a time (e.g., the Black Panther Party of the 1960s), but it is the Black masses themselves who will make the revolution, and, once set spontaneously in motion, know exactly what they want.
Though leaders may be motivated by good or bad, even they will act as a brake on the struggle, especially if they lose touch with the freedom aspirations of the Black masses. Leaders can only really serve a legitimate purpose as an advisor and catalyst to the movement, and should be subject to immediate recall if they act contrary to the people’s wishes. In that kind of limited role they are not leaders at all — they are community organizers.
The dependence of the Black movement on leaders and leadership (especially the Black bourgeoisie) has led us into a political dead end. We are expected to wait and suffer quietly until the next messianic leader asserts himself, as if he or she were “divinely missioned” (as some have claimed to be). What is even more harmful is that many Black people have adopted a slavish psychology of “obeying and serving our leaders,” without considering what they themselves are capable of doing. Thus, rather than trying to analyze the current situation and carrying on Brother Malcolm X’s work in the community, they prefer to bemoan the brutal facts, for year after year, of how he was taken away from us. Some mistakenly refer to this as a leadership vacuum.” The fact is there has not been much movement in the Black revolutionary movement since his assassination and the virtual destruction of groups like the Black Panther Party. We have been stagnated by middle class reformism and misunderstanding.
We need to come up with new ideas and revolutionary formations in how to fight our enemies. We need a new mass protest movement. It is up to the Black masses to build it, not leaders or political parties. They cannot save us. We can only save ourselves.
What form will this movement take?
If there was one thing learned by anarchist revolutionary organizers in the 1960s, you don’t organize a mass movement or a social revolution just by creating one central organization such as a vanguard political party or a labor union. Even though Anarchists believe in revolutionary organization, it is a means to an end, instead of the ends itself. In other words, the Anarchist groups are not formed with the intention of being permanent organizations to seize power after a revolutionary struggle. But rather to be groups which act as a catalyst to revolutionary struggles, and which try to take the people’s rebellions, like the 1992 Los Angeles revolt, to a higher level of resistance.
Two features of a new mass movement must be the intention of creating dual power institutions to challenge the state, along with the ability to have a grassroots autonomist movement that can take advantage of a pre-revolutionary situation to go all the way.
Dual power means that you organize a number of collectives and communes in cities and town all over North America, which are, in fact, liberated zones, outside of the control of the government. Autonomy means that the movement must be truly independent and a free association of all those united around common goals, rather than membership as the result of some oath or other pressure.
So how would Anarchists intervene in the revolutionary process in Black neighborhoods? Well, obviously North American or “white” Anarchists cannot go into Black communities and just proselytize, but they certainly should work with any non-white Anarchists and help them work in communities of color. (I do think that the example of the New Jersey Anarchist Federation and its loose alliance with the Black Panther movement in that state is an example of how we must start.) And we are definitely not talking about a situation where Black organizers go into the neighborhood and win people to Anarchism so that they can then be controlled by whites and some party. This is how the Communist Party and other Marxist groups operate, but it cannot be how Anarchists work. We spread Anarchists beliefs not to “take over” people, but to let them know how they can better organize themselves to fight tyranny and obtain freedom. ‘We want to work with them as fellow human beings and allies, who have their own experiences, agendas, and needs. The idea is to get as many movements of people fighting the state as possible, since that is what brings the day of freedom for us all a little closer.
There needs to be some sort of revolutionary organization for Anarchists to work on the local level, so we will call these local groups Black Resistance Committees. Each one of these Committees will be Black working class social revolutionary collectives in the community to fight for Black rights and freedom as part of the Social revolution The Committees would have no leader or “party boss,” and would be without any type of hierarchy structure, it would also be anti-authority. They exist to do revolutionary work, and thus are not debating societies or a club to elect Black politicians to office. They are revolutionary political formations, which will be linked with other such groups all over North America and other parts of the world in a larger movement called a federation. A federation is needed or coordinate the actions of such groups, to let others know what is happening in each area, and to set down widespread strategy and tactics. (We will call this one, for wont of a better name, the “African Revolutionary Federation,” or it can be part of a multicultural federation). A federation of the sort I am talking about is a mass membership organization which will be democratic and made up of all kinds of smaller groups and individuals. But this is not a government or representative system I am talking about; there would be no permanent positions of power, and even the facilitators of internal programs would be subject to immediate recall or have a regular rotation of duties. When a federation is no longer needed, it can be disbanded Try that with a Communist party or one of the major Capitalist parties in North America!
Revolutionary strategy and tactics
If we are to build a new Black revolutionary protest movement we must ask ourselves how we can hurt this Capitalist system, and how have we hurt it in the past when we have led social movements against some aspect of our oppression. Boycotts, mass demonstrations, rent strikes, picketing, work strikes, sit-ins, and other such protests have been used by the Black movement at different times in its history, along with armed self-defense and open rebellion. Put simply, what we need to do is take our struggle to an new and higher level: we need to take these tried and true tactics, (which have been used primarily on the local level up to this point), an utilize them on a national level and then couple them with as yet untried tactics, for a strategic attack on the major Capitalist corporations and governmental apparatus. We shall discuss a few of them:
A Black Tax Boycott
Black people should refuse to pay any taxes to the racist government, including federal income, estate and sates taxes, while being subjected to exploitation and brutality. The rich and their corporations pay virtually no taxes; it is the poor and workers who bear the brunt of taxation. Yet they receive nothing in return. There are still huge unemployment levels in the Black community, the unemployment and welfare benefits are paltry; the schools am dilapidated; public housing is a disgrace, while rents by absentee landlord properties are exorbitant — all these conditions and more are supposedly corrected by government taxation of income, goods, and services. Wrong! It goes to the Pentagon, defense contractors, and greedy consultants, who like vultures prey on business with the government.
The Black Liberation movement should establish a mass tax resistance movement to lead a Black tax boycott as a means of protest and also as a method to create a fund to finance black community projects and organizations. Why should we continue to voluntarily support our own slavery? A Black tax boycott is just another means of struggle that the Black movement should examine and adopt, which is similar to the peace movement’s “war tax resistance.” Blacks should be exempted from all taxation on personal property, income taxes, stocks and bonds (the latter of which would be a new type of community development issuance). Tax the Rich!
A National Rent Strike and Urban Squatting
Hand-in-glove with a tax boycott should be a refusal to pay rent for dilapidated housing. These rent boycotts have been used to great effect to fight back against rent gouging by landlords. At one time they were so effective in Harlem (NY) that they caused the creation of rent control legislation, preventing evictions, unjustified price increases, and requiring reasonable upkeep by the owners and the property management company. A mass movement could bring a rent strike to areas (such as in the. Southeast and Southwest where poor people are being ripped of by the greedy landlords, but are not familiar with such tactics. Unfair laws now on the books, so-called Landlord-Tenant (where the only “right” the tenants have is to pay the rent or be evicted) should also be liberalized or overturned entirely. These laws only help slumlords stay in business, and keep exploiting the poor and working class They account for mass evictions, which in turn account for homelessness. We should fight to rollback rents, prevent mass evictions, and house the poor and the homeless in decent affordable places.
Besides the refusal to pay the slumlords and exploitative banks and property management companies, there should be a campaign of “urban squatting” to just take over the housing, and have the tenants run it democratically as a housing collective. Then that money which would have gone toward rent could now go into repairing the dwelling of tenants. The homeless, poor persons needing affordable housing, and others who badly need housing should just take over any abandoned housing owned by an absentee landlord or even a bearded-up city housing project. Squatting is an especially good tactic in these times of serious housing shortages and arson-for-insurance by the slumlords. We should throw the bums out and just take over! Of course we will probably have to fight the cops and crooked landlords who will try to use strong-armed tactics, but we can do that too! We can win significant victories if we organize a nationwide series of rent strikes, and build an independent tenants movement that will self-manage all the facilities, not on behalf of the government (with the tricky “Kemp plan”), but on behalf of themselves!
A Boycott of American Business
It was proven that one of the strangest weapons of the Civil rights movement was a Black consumer boycott of a community’s merchants and public services. Merchants and other businessmen, of course, are the “leading citizens” of any community, and the local ruling class and boss of the government. In the 1960s when Blacks refused to trade with merchants as long as they allowed racial discrimination, their loss of revenue drove them to make concessions, and mediate the struggle, even hold the cops and the Klan at bay. What is true at the local level is certainly true at the national level. The major corporations and elite families run the country; the government is its mere tool. Blacks spend over $350 billion a year in this Capitalist economy as consumes, and could just as easily wage economic warfare against the corporate structure with a well planned boycott to win political concessions. For instance, a corporation like General Motors is heavily dependent upon Black consumes, which means that it is very vulnerable to a boycott, if one were organized and supported widely. If Blacks would refuse to buy GM cars, it would result in significant losses for the corporation, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Something like this could even bring a company to its knees. Yet the revolutionary wing of the Black movement has yet to use boycotts, calling it “reformism” and outdated.
But far from being an outdated tactic that we should abandon, boycotts have become even more effective in the last few years. In 1988, the Black and progressive movement in the United States hit on another tactic, boycotting the tourist industries of whole cities and states which engaged in discrimination. This reflected on the one hand how many cities have gone from smokestack industries since the 1960s to tourism as their major source of revenue, and on the other hand, a recognition by the movement that economic warfare was a potent weapon against discriminatory governments. The 1990–1993 Black Boycott against the Miami Florida tourism industry and the current Gay rights boycott against the State of Colorado (started in 1992) have been both successful and have gotten worldwide attention to the problems in their communities. In fact, boycotts have been expanded to cover everything from California grapes, beer (Coors), a certain brand of Jeans, all products made in the country of South Africa, a certain meat industry, and many things in between. Boycotts are more popular today than they ever have been.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized the potential revolutionary power of a national Black boycott of America’s major corporations, which is why he established “Operation Breadbasket” shortly before an assassin killed him. This organization, with offices in Chicago was designed to be the conduit for the funds that the corporations were going to be forced to pour money into for a national Black community development project for poor communities. And although he was assassinated before this could happen, we must continue his work in this matter. All over the country Black Boycott offices should be opened! We should build it into a mass movement, involving all sectors of our people. We should demonstrate, picket, and sit-in at meetings and offices of target corporations all over the country We must take it to their very doorstep and stop their looting of the Black community.
A Black General Strike
Because of the role they play in production, Black workers are potentially the most powerful sector of the Black community in the struggle for Black freedom. The vast majority of the Black community is working class people. Barring the disproportionate numbers of unemployed, about 11 million Black men and women are today part of the work force of the United States. About 5–6 million of these are in basic industry, such as steel and metal fabrication, retail trades, food production and processing, meatpacking, the automobile industry, railroading, medical service and communications. Blacks number l/3 to l/2 of the basic blue-collar workers, and 1/3 of clerical laborers. Black labor is therefore very important to the Capitalist economy.
Because of this vulnerability to job actions by Black workers, who are some of the most militant workers on the job, they could take a leading role in a protest campaign against racism and class oppression If they are properly organized they would be a class vanguard within our movement since they are at the point of production. Black workers could lead a nationwide General Strike at their place of work as a protest against racial discrimination in jobs and housing, the inordinately high levels of Black unemployment brutal working conditions, and to further the demands of the Black movement generally. This general strike is a Socialist strike, not just a strike for higher wages and over general working conditions; it is revolutionary in politics using other means. This general strike can take the form of industrial sabotage, factory occupations or sit-ins, work slowdowns, wildcats, and other work stoppages as a protest to gain concessions on the local and national level and restructure the workplace and win the 4-hour day for North American labor. The strike would not only involve workers on the job, but also Black community and progressive groups to give support with picket line duty, leafleting and publishing strike support newsletters, demonstrations at company offices and work sites, along with other activities.
It will take some serious community and workplace organizing to bring a general strike off. In workplaces all over the country, Black workers should organize General Strike Committees at the workplaces, and Black Strike Support Committees to carry on the strike work inside the Black community itself. Because such a strike would be especially hard-fought and vicious, Black workers should organize Worker’s Defense Committees to defend workers fired or black listed by the bosses for their industrial organizing work. This defense committee would publicize a victimized worker’s case and rally support from other workers and the community. The defense committee would also establish, a Labor strike and defense fund and also start food cooperative to financially and material support such victimized workers and their families while carrying on the strike.
Although there will definitely be an attempt to involve women and white workers; where they are willing to cooperate, the strike would be under Black leadership because only Black workers can effectively raise those issues which most effect them. White workers have to support the democratic rights of Blacks and other nationally oppressed laborers, instead of just white rights campaigns” on so-called “common economic issues,” led by the North American left. In addition to progressive North American individuals or union caucuses, the labor union locals themselves should be recruited, but they are not the force to lead this struggle, although their help can be indispensable in a particular campaign. It takes major organizing to make them break free of their racist and conservative nature. So although we want and need the support of our fellow workers of other nationalities and genders, it is ridiculous and condescending to just tell Black workers to sit around and wait for a “white workers vanguard” to decide it wants to fight. We will educate our fellow workers to the issues and why they should fight white supremacy at our side, but we will not defer our struggle for anyone! We must organize the general strike for black freedom!
The Commune: Community Control of the Black Community
“How do we raise a new revolutionary consciousness against a system programmed against our old methods? We must use a new approach and revolutionize the Black Central City Commune, and slowly provide the people with the incentive to fight by allowing them to create programs, which will meet all their social, political, and economic, needs. We must fill the vacuums left by the established order... In return, we must teach them the benefits of our revolutionary ideals. We must build a subsistence economy, and a sociopolitical infrastructure so that we can become an example for all revolutionary people.”
— George Jackson, in his book ‘BE’
The idea behind a mass commune is to create a dual power structure as a counter to the government, under conditions, which exist now. In fact, Anarchists believe the first step toward self-determination and the Social revolution is Black control of the Black community. This means that Black people must form and unify their own organizations of struggle, take control of the existing Black communities and all the institutions within them, and conduct a consistent fight to overcome every form of economic, political and cultural servitude, and any system of racial and class inequality which is the product of this racist Capitalist society.
The realization of this aim means that we can build inner-city Communes, which will be centers of Black counter-power and social revolutionary culture against the white political power structures in the principal cities of the United States. Once they assume hegemony, such communes would be an actual alternative to the State and serve as a force to revolutionize African people — and by extension — large segments of American society, which could not possibly remain immune to this process. It would serve as a living revolutionary example to North American progressives and other oppressed nationalities.
There is tremendous fighting power in the Black community, but it is not organized in a structured revolutionary way to effectively struggle and take what is due. The white Capitalist ruling class recognizes this, which is why it pushes the fraud of “Black Capitalism” and Black politicians and other such “responsible leaders. These fakes and sellout artists lead us to the dead-end road of voting and praying for that which we must really be wilting to fight for. The Anarchists recognize the Commune as the primary organ of the new society, and as an alternative to the old society. But the Anarchists also recognize that Capitalism will not give up without a fight; it will be necessarily to economically and politically cripple Capitalist America. One thing for sure we should not continue to passively allow this system to exploit and oppress us.
The commune is a staging ground for Black revolutionary struggle. For instance, Black people should refuse to pay taxes to the racist government, should boycott the Capitalist corporations, should lead a Black General Strike all over the country, and should engage in an insurrection to drive the police out and win a liberated zone. This would be a powerful method to obtain submission to the demands of the movement, and weaken the power of the state. We can even force the government to make money available for community development as a concession; instead of as a payoff to buy-out the struggle as happened in the 1960s and thereafter. If we put a gun to a banker’s head and said “Yore know you’ve got the money, now give it up,” he would have to surrender. Now the question is: if we did the same thing to the government, using direct action means with an insurrectionary mass movement, would these would both be acts of expropriation? Or is it just to pacify the community why they gave us the money? One thing for sure, we definitely need the money, and however we compel it from the government, is of less important than the fact that we forced them to give it up to the people’s forces at all. We would then use that money to rebuild our communities, maintain our organizations, and care for the needs of our people. It could be a major concession, a victory.
But we have also got to realize that Africans in America are not simply oppressed by force of arms, but that part of the moral authority of the state comes from the mind of the oppressed that consent to the right to be governed. As long as Black people believe that some moral or political authority of the white government has legitimacy in their lives, that they owe a duty to this nation as citizens, or even that they are responsible for their own oppression, then they cannot effectively fight back. They must free their minds of the ideas of American patriotism and begin to see themselves as a new people. This can only be accomplished under dual power, where the patriotism of the people for the state is replaced with love and support for the new Black commune. We do that by making the Commune a real thing in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people.
We should establish community councils to make policy decisions and administer the affairs of the Black community. These councils would be democratic neighborhood assemblies composed of representative elected by Black workers in various community institutions — factories, hospitals schools — as well as delegates elected on a block basis. We must reject Black Mayors and other politicians, or government bureaucrats, as a substitute for community power. We must therefore have community control of all the institutions of the Black community, instead of just letting the State decide what is good for us. Not just jobs and housing, but also full control over schools, hospitals, welfare cents, libraries, etc., must turned over to that community, because only the residents of a community have a true understanding of its needs and desires.
Here is an example of how it would work: we would elect a community council to supervise all schools in the Black community. We would encourage parents, students, teachers, and the community at large to work cooperatively in every phase of school administration, rather than have an authority figure like a principal and his/her uncaring bureaucratic administration run things as are done at present. The whole Black community will have to engage in a militant struggle to take over the public schools and turn them into centers of Black culture and learning. We cannot continue to depend on the racist or Black puppet school boards to do this for us.
The local council would then be federated, or joined together, on a local level to create a citywide group of councils who would run affairs in that community. The councils and other neighborhoods collectives organized for a variety of reasons would make a mass commune. This commune would be in turn federated at the regional and national level the aim being to create a national federation of Black communes, which would meet periodically in one or a number of mass assembly meetings. This federation would be composed of elected or appointed delegates representing their local commune or council Such a national federal of communes would allow community councils from all over North America to work out common policies and speak with one voice on all matters affecting their communities or regions. It would thus have far more power than any single community council could However, to prevent this national federation from bureaucratic usurpation of power by political factions or opportunistic leaders, elections should be held regularly and delegates would be subject to recall at any time for misconduct, so that they remain under the control of the local communities they represent.
The Black community councils are really a type of grassroots movement made up of all the social formations of our people, the block and neighborhood committees, Labor, student and youth groups, (even the church, to a limited degree), social activist groups, and others to unite the various protest actions around a common program of struggle for this period. The campaigns for this period must utilize the tactics of direct mass action, as it is very important that the people themselves must realize a sense of their organized power. These grassroots associations will provide to the usually mass spontaneous actions, a form of organization whose social base is of the Black working class, instead of the usual Black middle class mis-leadership.
The Anarchists recognize these community councils as being a form of direct democracy, instead of the type of phony American “democracy,” which is really nothing but control by politicians and businessmen. The councils are especially important because they provide embryonic self-rule and the beginnings of an alternative to the Capitalist economic system and its government. It is a way to undermine the government and make it an irrelevant dinosaur, because its services are no longer needed.
The Commune is also a Black revolutionary counterculture. It is the embryo of the new Black revolutionary society in the body of the old sick, dying one. It is the new lifestyle in microcosm, which contains the new Black social values and the new communal organizations, and institutions, which will become the sociopolitical infrastructure of the free society.