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(en) Northeastern Anarchist #7 - Eight Years of Writings from the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation - Edited by Roy San Filippo

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 15 Jul 2003 08:09:55 +0200 (CEST)


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A New World in Our Hearts:
The Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation lasted from
1989 to 1998. It was a long-lasting and serious effort to form a
North American revolutionary anarchist federation. It would
certainly be very useful to have a selection of the wide range of
writings produced by the Federation, from its newspaper (also
called Love & Rage) and its internal bulletins, together with a solid
and informative introduction. This is not that book. Instead, it is a
short volume with a highly personal selection of written work,
reflecting the current politics of the editor.

The editor does not choose to select writings on many aspects of
the period in which Love and Rage existed. Anti-patriarchal
struggles, for example. Struggles of African-Americans. Our
Mexican section. Our support for Eastern European resisters.
Anti-war issues (particularly the 1991 Gulf War). Prisoners. The
living wage campaign. Labor struggles. None of these activities
make it. Nor does it include Ron Tabor's serial critique of Marxist
theory.

Rather than discussing any of this, the introduction by Roy San
Filippo rapidly goes into the final collapse of Love and Rage (2/3 of
the introduction). This took the form of an internal conflict mostly
between two caucuses (factions) -- the background being the
general decline of the left in this period. San Filippo puts all the
blame on one of the factions -- the one which I supported at the
time. Very briefly, one faction was abandoning anarchism in favor of
a Maoist version of Marxism-Leninism. The other faction fought to
maintain a belief in anarchism, while aware that further theory and
practice were necessary. The introduction does not discuss the
Marxist-Leninists, but instead heatedly denounces the anarchist
faction for our "purism and sectarianism" as well as "arrogance" in
being "dogmatic" because we continued to support revolutionary
anarchism. Following the introduction there are twenty articles, two
by supporters of the pro-anarchist faction (one by me) and eleven
by our opponents, showing the lopsided nature of the editing.

This little book has four sections. The first, ANARCHY, is a loose
collection of pieces. It includes a brief critique of Weatherman
politics and two pages on the black bloc. There is a 'Draft Proposal
on the State', which has worn well, I think. Dealing with the possible
needs for coordination of a revolutionary army during a civil war, it
said, "The anarchist ideal is democratic popular militias...We
advocate only as much centralization and discipline as is
temporarily necessary to win the revolution...with as much internal
democracy as possible." (p. 15)

There is an article by Chris Day, 'Dual Power in the Selva
Lacandon'. Day was to become the key initiator of the anti-anarchist
faction. The piece is formally within the framework of anarchism
and it says some interesting things about the Zapatistas. In
hindsight there are several striking things about the article. One is
that it raises weaknesses of anarchism without proposing any
alternatives. For example, it calls the idea of a popular militia
defeating a counterrevolutionary army "nave". It doubts that the
Zapatistas would be able "to create a stateless, classless society"
even if they won, but gives them uncritical support anyway because
"they may be able to take things a few steps closer". (pp.30-31)

The worst is a cynical paragraph saying, "there are the supposed
structures of dual power that are under the domination of an aspiring
elite...These...may actually constitute a dramatic step forward..."
"The people may really gain," Day claims, "from such a new set of
bosses." (pp.18-19)

There is a philosophical discussion by Matt Black, which was to
lead to his rejection of anarchism. Unfortunately none of the
responses to his statement are included. There is Chris Day's 'The
Revolutionary Anarchist Tradition'. This piece, as it stands, reads
like a pro-organizational perspective on anarchist history, virtually a
Platformist statement. It covers Malatesta, the Platform, the FAI,
and the Friends of Durrutti. What is not obvious is that this is a
watered-down and cleaned-up version of his original document, 'The
Historical Failures of Anarchism'. That document went considerably
beyond this version in its rejection of anarchism. It claimed that only
a centralized, authoritarian army could win a revolution. Without
reprinting this paper it is hard for readers to figure out what the
shouting was all about. Instead of reprinting any of the responses to
Day's original document, the book includes a piece by me
responding to a part of his paper on why the Spanish revolution was
defeated.

The second section is labeled ORGANIZATION. It begins with
'Love and Rage in the New World Order', an article by Chris Day
(altogether the editor chose eight articles by Chris Day, in whole or
part, out of the twenty). This was his famous "reprole" document,
claiming that the key constituency for L&R should not be the
working class or other oppressed. Instead it should be young adults
from the middle class whom the bad economy was forcing down into
the working class from which their parents had once escaped
(re-proletarianization). This thesis sank like a stone. But what was
almost unnoticed at the time (1994) was Day's overt rejection of
anarchism, "Calling ourselves anarchists identifies us not as
anti-authoritarians but as ideological dinosaurs...The weight of
anarchist history is...a set of concrete boots dragging us to our
deaths in the muck at the bottom of a stagnant lake." (p.63) Instead
he praises the European autonomists, who were neo-Marxists.

This is followed by a former Love & Rage editorial, 'What Kind of
Revolutionary Organization is Useful Today?' It rejects both the
vanguard party and the temporary autonomous zone in favor of
revolutionary pluralism. That meant to unite a range of legitimate
mass struggles in a democratic and popular fashion, in which the
anarchist organization would fight to make the movement as
participatory, open, and militant as possible. I think this much
remains valid. Unfortunately this was counter posed to a working
class perspective, even to seeing the working class as at least one
of the key forces for liberation. Instead the three main struggles
were listed as against white supremacy, support for the Zapatistas,
and opposition to prisons and the criminal justice system. The
concept of a prefigurative organizational perspective is raised in a
piece by Matt Black followed by an account of the limitations of an
infoshop.

The third section is on RACE. It is not about the struggles of
African-Americans but about how white people should deal with
their racism. Most of this (three out of four pieces) is from the
viewpoint of the 'Race Traitor' journal, started by Noel Ignatiev
(These views are now supported by the Bring the Ruckus
organization in the U.S., of which the editor is a supporter.). The
exception is an L&R editorial, 'Building a
Multi-Racial/Multi-National Revolutionary Anarchist Organization'.
At the time, the editorial was something of a compromise and no
grouping in Love and Rage was really happy with it -- although I
continue to agree with the goal of the title, while the Race
Traitor/BTR people are against it.

San Filippo begins the dispute on this topic in his editorial,
criticizing a statement by the pro-anarchist faction that is actually
reprinted in the last section. He criticizes the statement because
"systematic white privilege was dismissed in [their] document as
'petty and apparent' privileges of white workers over workers of
color" (p.2). What we actually said in 'What We Believe' was, "We
call on white workers to give up their apparent, petty privileges over
people of color, privileges which tie them to the ruling class. This is
not so the whites will be worse off but guilt-free, but so that they
will be both materially and morally better off" (p.99).

This means that racism is bad for the whole working class, including
the white majority. Because of racism, the workers have few, weak,
unions and limited social welfare benefits, certainly as compared to
the Western European or even Canadian workers -- even in spite of
the famous U.S. high standard of living. Therefore, it would be in the
interest of the white workers to fight against racism. Anarchists
can appeal to them, not only on moral grounds but also on grounds of
material self-interest. Compared to what the workers could get from
the capitalists --even under capitalism -- the benefits the white
workers get from racism are only apparent (the psychological
wages of whiteness, as it has been called) and/or petty (real but
relatively small in comparison). This is a class orientation that does
not subordinate the interests of Black workers to whites.

In the RACE section the main pieces argue that white workers get
major benefits from racial privileges, benefits which must be
destroyed before the working class can unite against capitalism (as
opposed to advocating class unity against white racism). This
makes it hard to appeal to white workers, I should think, since
people do not like to give up benefits for themselves and their
families. It would also be hard to appeal to Black workers, since,
they said, it would be racist for a mostly-white revolutionary
organization to offer ideas to Black people (meanwhile white and
Black politicians and church people do not stop saying whatever
they want to the Black community). This leads very little for
radicals to say to anyone. Of the ending of racist and imperialist
privileges, Day, Jessica, and Olson declared of their program, "This
will mean a quantitative reduction in the standard of living for many
workers in the imperialist countries in general and for white workers
in the U.S. in particular. Winning privileged workers to this
necessity is a daunting but no less crucial aspect of revolutionary
work in the U.S." (p.90). Daunting indeed!

Similarly, Noel Ignatiev (founder of the Race Traitor concept),
wrote, "The abolitionists [i.e. advocates of the Race Traitor political
line] consider it a useless project to try to win the majority of
whites, or even of working class whites to anti-racism." (p.79).
Instead, he proposed to organize a minority of radical whites to give
up their privileges and thereby force the system to attack the rest of
the white workers, pushing them in a revolutionary direction. We
need "only enough counterfeit whites -- race traitors -- to undermine
the confidence of the police, etc., in their ability to differentiate
between their friends and enemies by color...The coming together of
a minority determined to break the laws of whiteness so
flagrantly..." (p.80).

It is not entirely clear what this means, but apparently these race
traitor whites would get into fights with the police so often that the
police would tend to beat up whites as frequently as they beat
African-Americans. This would, he thinks, radicalize the general
white working population. But what if the cops could distinguish
between the minority of radicals and the rest of the white
population? Or what if the other whites could see that it was a
minority of white radicals who were provoking the police, and blame
the radicals, not the cops? (He does note that some would turn to
fascism.) Frankly, it is one thing to reject racism but another thing
to propose an elitist trick to force white workers into racial justice.
We need a program which really can win the majority of white
workers to anti-racism, because it is good for them as well as being
good. A united, non-discriminating working class can win more from
the capitalist class even now than the whites can gain from racist
privileges. (In an appendix, some women objected to the sexist
implications of Ignatiev's claim that the state protected white
women.)

There is nothing wrong with reprinting these pieces, since they were
a major current in the Love and Rage Federation. It is wrong to let
them go almost unchallenged by any of the other viewpoints in the
Federation. This could have laid the basis for further discussions in
the movement. But this is not done. In this as in other ways, the
book is an attempt to use the reputation of Love and Rage to
support the views of a present-day political current.

The last section is labeled LOVE AND RAGE. It covers the final
faction fight and the end of the organization, just a few years before
the explosion of anarchism after the Battle for Seattle. It is as
biased as the rest of the book. Of five documents, one is the
founding statement of the pro-anarchist grouping, 'What We
Believe'. There are three statements by the anti-anarchist grouping
and one by a Race Traitor supporter who supports the anti-anarchist
grouping. The major documents of the anarchist tendency are not
included--just as the major documents of the anti-anarchists are not.
It is not mentioned that, after Love and Rage, the anti-anarchists
went on to openly embrace Marxism-Leninism, many joining the
Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

What We Believe' said, "Anarchism [is] central to our politics.
There are historical failings of anarchism, but they can be dealt with
from within anarchism. Anarchist mistakes occur within a basically
liberating vision [unlike Marxism]. We must learn from other
traditions of struggle, such as Black nationalism or feminism or
ecology, but what we learn must be integrated into revolutionary
anarchism." (p.97) This is what the editor denounces as "...a step
toward a dogmatic and purist brand of politics..." (p.3) What he
seems to object to is the commitment to anarchism in the first
place.

The difference between anarchism and Marxism-Leninism -- despite
overlaps in some areas -- is fundamental in their goals. Anarchism
seeks to replace a society of bosses and workers, of oppressors
and oppressed, with a self-managed society run by the direct,
decentralized, democracy of its working people. Marxism-Leninism,
whatever its insights, aims at a society run by a revolutionary
minority, a centralized party, managing a centralized state and a
centralized economy. The difference between these goals has
nothing to do with either side being more dogmatic than the other.

I am not going to argue the case for pro-organizational, working
class, revolutionary-socialist anarchism here. It was one current in
Love and Rage's politics, even if not the one that came to
predominate. Someday a more balanced book, reflecting the range of
political currents in Love and Rage, will be published. I look forward
to it.

- reviewed by Wayne Price, Open City Collective (NEFAC-NYC)




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