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(en) ONWARD vol. 3 iss. 1 OUT NOW! - Decentering Whiteness and Understanding Nationalism - By David Gilbert

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://www.onwardnewspaper.org/)
Date Fri, 11 Oct 2002 03:19:20 -0400 (EDT)


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Dear Dan,
Well, you did it once again: another lovely ONWARD. I
can't even keep my superlatives flowing at the pace you
do issue after issue. Can't give you the detailed response
the issue merits, but here are some off-the-cuff thoughts.

Great that you did a piece on John Brown ("Refusing To
Surrender: John Brown and White Anti-Racist Struggle"
in ONWARD vol. 2 iss. 4). Definitely the most relevant
historical e.g. for white radicals. I really should re-read
your piece, because it was complex, but here are quick
thoughts. I applaud that you started with and emphasized
Kansas. All the standard history makes Harper's Ferry the
story. But Kansas is even a better e.g. because he actually
led/ developed a civil war among whites around racism,
although we might not be able to endorse every action.
Also, it was strategically key. If Kansas had become a
slave state, the slavocracy would have controlled the
federal government. Then, at best, the North would have
seceded from the South or, alternatively, accommodated
to slavery. So, right on for your emphasis on Kansas.

The other thing I loved is that you were willing to be
critical. Brown is our best e.g. (and more advanced than
you or I) but nonetheless not mechanically applicable in
every way to today and had some problems even for then.
I remember thinking that Butch Lee's Jailbreak Out of
History was kind of ahistorical in how it criticized Brown,
but don't really remember the specifics. Also W.E.B.
DuBois had a much more favorable (and probably overly
generous) interpretation of JB's strategy at Harper's Ferry
than what you present. But whatever uncertainty I have
over some of the particulars, it's more important that you
were willing to criticize, and I completely agree with your
main criticism that he should have done more to follow
Black leadership. Also, while I don't know the history of
this well enough, undoubtedly major shortcomings re:
sexism.

Your intro was a bit too self-conscious re: focusing on a
leading e.g. for whites. The Malcolm X quote explains the
validity and relevance of doing so very eloquently. On the
other hand, you make the mistake, near the beginning of
referring to the "largely pacifist" abolition movement, thus
letting white abolitionists define the whole. Many Black
freemen took up arms to prevent re-capture of fugitive
slaves, and of course Harriet Tubman was armed. You
could be less self-conscious about a focus on/for whites,
but more aware that whites didn't define abolition
movement as a whole.

Overall, great job in focus on the best historical e.g. and
still making useful criticisms to help draw relevant
lessons. The rest of the issue was also excellent. I like
your having so much on both Argentina and Palestine. All
in all, ONWARD has made me more open to re-looking
at anarchism. My 1960s experience with it among whites
in the U.S. was as a rationalization for the
ultra-individualism so deep in U.S. culture - a trend Krysti
Guest criticizes so clearly in her article ("Feminism and
Anarchism: Toward a Politics of Engagement" in
ONWARD vol. 2 iss. 4).

A simultaneously great strength and weakness of this
issue are the articles on nationalism. Your serious
consideration was a big step forward from the anarchist
tendency to evaluate issues solely along the axis of
relationship to the state - but the two theoretical pieces
were still marred by not getting much beyond that one
dimension. There was some recognition but not nearly
enough comprehension of the central and qualitative
difference between oppressor and oppressed nations. That
doesn't make all nationalism in the latter progressive, but
it makes a tremendous difference in the context and
terms. In this regard, it's great that you had Ashanti's
piece, which is powerful in giving a sense of the issue
from within the oppressed Black nation. The theoretical
pieces need to catch up. Hearn's piece, in particular,
failed to grasp the history and realities of imperialism. He
kind of equates secession with self-determination and if
anything, is even more favorable to the former because it
is smaller scale. Fomenting secessionist break-ups has
been perhaps imperialism's most potent tactic against
national liberation and has led to heartbreaking bloodshed
and to total disaster and devastation in Third World
countries and keeping the people there in a state of
permanent agony. So facilely embracing secession is, in
effect, a cavalier dismissal of imperialism's horrid
oppression of the Third World.

The difference between national liberation and secession
is fairly complicated - so I won't try to define that here,
but will indicate two missing key components for a
serious treatment of the issues. 1. The purely subjective
definitions of nation are a problem. Admittedly, an
"objective" definition isn't that clear-cut. But given that
imperialism was all about the plunder and consequent
economic crippling of the Third World, the definition has
to consider what coherent territory and organizational
forms are needed to develop the productive forces on the
terms of and for the benefit of the people. On that basis,
one would also want to look at what it takes to achieve
what Amilcar Cabral referred to as a people's reclaiming
of the ability to make their own history. These
considerations are not all that goes into a more objective
and historical definition, but are key aspects missing here.
2. On that basis, sorting these things out requires
thorough historical study of an area - pre-imperialism,
how it was shaped by imperialism, the consciousness and
organization formed in the resistance to imperialism. So,
while the two theoretical articles were a welcome advance
in considering the issue, I still found them to be another
painful e.g. of white radicals putting forth grand political
schematics without much sense of the nature of
imperialism and the liberation struggles against it.
Including Ashanti's piece was definitely a redeeming
factor here.

Right now, Israel's invasion of Palestinian cities and
towns has been especially gruesome. In the U.S. media
and political discourse, it is always the Palestinians who
are the aggressors and terrorists. Two colossal facts, at
the base of the whole problem, are routinely elided over:
1. It is Israel who occupies Palestine; 2. Israelis have
killed many times more Palestinian civilians than vice
versa. It's very hard to see any positive ways out at this
point.

I heard the April 20 demos in D.C. were strong and that
support for Palestine was a central demand, so that is
encouraging. All we can do is keep love for people in our
hearts and keep moving forward. I'm OK. This place can
really drive you crazy - but hopefully I'm not all the way
there (yet, smile). I keep plugging away on my book
project and continue to have a lot of good visits.

Solidarity,

David Gilbert
83A6158
PO Box 149
Attica, NY 14011-0149
ect: ONWARD vol. 3 iss. 1 OUT NOW! -


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