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(en) The Northeastern Anarchist #6 - Race And Class: Movement Debate Between BTR And NEFAC

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 13 May 2003 11:40:22 +0200 (CEST)


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> by Roy San Filippo & Ryan Chiang McCarthy
In the last issue of 'The Northeastern Anarchist'
(Fall/Winter 2002) we printed a series of essays from
both the Bring The Ruckus cadre group and members
of NEFAC, debating revolutionary strategy and
methods of organization. In response, Roy San
Filippo, a member of the newly formed national
organization intiated by the Bring The Ruckus group,
has continued the debate, further elaborating the
positions of the original Bring The Ruckus statement
and taking NEFAC to task on a number of key issues.
A reply on behalf of NEFAC by Ryan Chiang
McCarthy follows.

Although key political differences continue to exist
between our respective organizations, we recognize
that we each have much to learn from one and other,
and welcome this opportunity to continue this
important debate around questions of revolutionary
praxis. - NEA Editorial Brigade
from 'The Northeastern Anarchist' #6

Build The Cadre, Abolish The White Race
by Roy San Filippo, (BTR-Los Angeles)

I was happy to see the series of essays by NEFAC in
response to the Bring the Ruckus (BTR) political
statement. BTR was written, in part, to generate
political discussion and I am glad NEFAC took the
time to engage us. We would welcome and encourage
continued discussion of these or other ideas publicly
or privately.

I am not one of the authors of the statement, but I am
in general agreement with the politics, analysis, and
strategies it puts forth. On that basis I would like to
respond to Wayne and Nicolas' articles. First, I would
like to attempt to define the analytical and strategic
positions that I feel BTR and NEFAC have principled
differences on. Let me clarify one point: BTR is a
class war document. NEFAC and BTR do not
disagree on the revolutionary potential of the working
class nor do we disagree that white workers are
exploited and oppressed as workers or that white
privilege offers relative benefits compared to
non-white workers. In fact a central feature of BTR is
precisely to highlight the contradictory role whiteness
plays in working-class consciousness.

We have significant disagreement on important
questions of theory, strategy, and organization. We
disagree on the significance of white privilege and the
role whiteness plays as a contradictory and
counter-revolutionary force within white
working-class consciousness. We believe whiteness
to be of central strategic importance, not "so-called"
privileges, as Wayne characterized it. We disagree on
the role of revolutionary organizations and the
relationship between conscious revolutionaries and
mass movements. We have reached our conclusions
based upon our experiences as activists and through
careful study of past struggles. We recognize that
other groups and individuals whose opinions and
analysis we respect will reach different conclusions.

Open, honest, and critical debate within and between
organizations and individuals is crucial for the
development of revolutionary politics. There are
substantive differences between the politics of BTR,
the politics of NEFAC, the Alliance for Freedom and
Direct Democracy (AFADD) and other anarchist
organizations. A critical debate between ideas and
strategies is crucial, but in order to be effective, we
need to base that dialogue on what each other's ideas
actually are instead of distorting them into straw men
to be easily knocked down. While it might be
rhetorically useful, this does little to advance a
substantive and useful exchange. So first we should
clear away all of the straw...

Wayne's World

Wayne's characterization of our politics as a
two-stage process is a cartoon reduction of the
Ruckus document and the politics of white
abolitionism. So much so that I wondered if it were
simply a rhetorical and sectarian attack rather than a
genuine attempt to critically engage our ideas.
Nowhere in the BTR document is there a claim to first
abolish the white race, establish class unity, and then
move on to the fight a class war. Rather BTR argues
that in the United States, a crisis in capitalism and the
state must be precipitated by a crisis in whiteness.
While we do not expect that the white race will be
abolished before struggles to smash the state and
capitalism can effectively begin, it is essential that
enough white workers be won over to the struggle
against institutionalized white privilege so that the
state can no longer rely on skin color as an effective
predictor of who is a friend and who is an enemy of
this society. This is not a two-stage process by any
means. We propose a strategy to engender a
revolutionary crisis in the existing system by
attacking the institutions of white supremacy.
Wayne's rhetorical characterization of this as a
supposed strategy is a backhanded dismissal of our
ideas and discourages folks from actually considering
them. After all, if it is "supposedly" a strategy and not
an actual strategy, why bother engaging it at all? BTR
does present a strategy; NEFAC simply disagrees
with that strategy. An honest assessment of our ideas
would acknowledge that fact.

The Real World

Wayne insinuates the BTR analysis is not rooted in
"real life"-again inviting a dismissal of our ideas. BTR
analysis is rooted in our analysis of past struggles
and our participation in current ones. Take the
examples of the Civil Rights movements and the
Reconstruction period after the Civil War. In both
instances, social struggles grounded in attacks
against institutions of white supremacy precipitated
broader social struggles. In the case of
Reconstruction it brought the United States to the
brink of social revolution. We believe that challenging
white supremacy today can lead to another
revolutionary crisis, opening the way to struggle not
just against white supremacy, but all forms of
oppression. One may disagree with our analysis, but
to dismiss it out right as not being grounded in "real
life" is disingenuous and gets us nowhere. Nor do the
attempts to paint us with the brush of Stalinism.
Wayne states, "Those who invented this theory (Noel
Ignatiev and the Sojourner Truth Organization) were
Maoists at the time‚EUR¶" This is wrong on both
counts. My Mao-dar may not be as fully developed as
Wayne's, but as I recall, STO was avowedly not a
Maoist organization. However the point is moot; the
claim that STO "invented" these ideas is plainly
incorrect as anyone who has read the writings of WEB
Du Bois, James Baldwin and other Black theorists
upon whom these ideas are based could tell you.
There are more productive lines of discussion that
could be engaged, instead of pointlessly redbaiting
an organization that has been defunct for fifteen
years.

The Role of Revolutionary Organizations

In addition to our disagreements on analysis and
strategy, NEFAC and BTR disagree on the role of
revolutionary organizations and their relationship to
mass movements. A cadre is a revolutionary
formation of individuals who come together around a
set of common politics to develop revolutionary
strategy and theory based upon study, debate, and a
consistent analysis of political practice. A cadre is
defined not by this process, but by the commitment of
its members to building revolutionary struggles and
waging class war. As Nicolas points out,
‚EURoecadre‚EUR? presupposes that there are
‚EURoenon-cadre‚EUR?. I would also add that
revolutionaries presuppose that there are
non-revolutionaries. There are significant differences
between cadre and non-cadre just as there are
significant differences between revolutionaries and
non-revolutionaries. Though I would stress that this
difference does not imply a hierarchy, if we are to
successfully confront the challenges revolutionaries
face in participating in mass movements composed
largely of non-revolutionaries with reformist goals, we
must acknowledge this and understand the
contradictions it poses for the revolutionary process.
Nicolas states that NEFAC participates in social
struggles as "members of the class not as outside
agitators." Surely, this is not entirely true; NEFAC
members are both "members of the class" and
"outside agitators." It is incumbent upon
revolutionaries to confront this contradiction, not
pretend that it doesn't exist.

It is true that we argue for our politics within broader
organizations that we participate in. However, I could
not disagree more with Nicolas's claim that this
amounts to undermining the capacity of mass
movements to develop their own politics. There is a
difference between groups and individuals who make
principled arguments for their own politics and ideas
within organizations and movements and those who
seek to undemocratically dominate those movements
and organizations. NEFAC seemingly sees no
distinction between the two. What would be the point
of developing a strategy if we refused to argue for it
in broader movements? Indeed, what would be the
point of having an organization or even politics at all?
How does NEFAC relate to broader movements and
organizations if it does not argue for its particular
positions, strategies and politics? Nicolas argues that
our desire to develop our own politics and strategies
is evidence that we are not interested in broader
movements developing their own autonomous politics
and strategies. Are we to presume from this that
NEFAC doesn't develop its own politics and
strategies?

Every organization I have worked with-anarchist or
not, cadre or not, revolutionary or not-has developed
a set of politics, and then argued for their positions in
the context of broader organizations and movements.
Not only does this NOT undermine the capacity of
movements to develop autonomous politics, it is a
central part of the process by which they will develop
them. Not only is this not indicative of a belief that
ordinary workers are "too dumb to develop politics," it
embraces the idea that workers are smart enough to
distinguish bad ideas from good ones. We do not
believe that we have "oh-so perfect ideas" nor do we
believe we possess any kind of truth or correct ideas
about struggle. We do believe that we have useful
ideas, however flawed they might be. As a cadre
organization, we seek to develop an internal,
democratic, collective process by which we can
develop, test and apply these flawed but useful ideas
through study and debate, and to disseminate those
ideas in broader movements so that they may in turn
be tested and developed through struggle and
debated amongst other ideas and tendencies.
Through this process, we hope to develop ideas that
are less flawed and more useful.

The Problems of Knowing; The Importance of Acting

At play here is more than a critique of a cadre
organization but a deeper problem of anarchist
epistemology. Anarchists have rightly critiqued the
notion embraced by many Marxist-Leninists that
there are 'scientific principles' of revolutionary
struggle and through their application one can arrive
at 'correct' forms of struggle and absolute Truths.
(The best articulation of this is Ron Tabor's A Look at
Leninism.) The authoritarian implications of this are
obvious and should be rejected by anyone interested
in promoting democratic principles. The mistake
made by many anarchists is to apply this critique of
the Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge so broadly
that advocating any political position or strategy is
tainted with authoritarianism. Though NEFAC as an
organization thankfully does not argue this, the
temptation to implicitly embrace this position can be
seen in Nicolas' argument against cadre
organizations. He argues against the notion of a cadre
group internally debating politics and strategies and
then fighting to enact them in mass-oriented
organizations because doing so implicitly prevents
mass movements from developing autonomous
politics. This view does more than undermine our
capacity to act; it provides us with an excuse not to. It
is all too easy to blame this or that "authoritarian"
tendency for the failures of anarchist struggles,
especially when we continually ignore our
responsibility to fight for our politics and take
leadership in broader movements and struggles. Such
a position on organization relegates anarchism to the
role of perpetual gadfly that offers no more than
passing critiques of existing movements and
struggles rather than being an essential force in
shaping a new and better world.

******************

Reasserting Anarchist Internationalism
by Ryan Chiang McCarthy (NEFAC-Philadelphia)

The essential disagreements between NEFAC and
supporters of the BRING THE RUCKUS (BTR)
statement have been outlined in the previous issue of
'The Northeastern Anarchist'. Briefly, the main points
of contention are BTR's call for white abolitionism as
a priority for a US anarchist organization, a cadre
style for said organization, and a "dual power"
strategy.

Roy San Filippo's response has both helped to clarify
the issues at hand and highlighted the contradictions
of the BTR positions. BTR is a "class war document,"
and at the same time it prioritizes the destruction of
white supremacy for a revolutionary strategy in the
US. Responding to criticisms of BTR taking a
"two-stage" approach (first, abolish the white race,
then abolish capitalism), Roy argues that "In the
United States, a crisis in capitalism and the state
must be precipitated by a crisis in whiteness." This
position, while it may be simplistic to label it
"stageism" implies that within the class struggle the
anarchist organization must prioritize raising
anti-racist consciousness rather than anti-capitalist,
class consciousness. If the BTR comrades would
deny this, then they must explain what it means to
prioritize "white abolitionism".

NEFAC does not deny that combating racism right
now is a necessary aspect of the unification of the
proletariat. Racism and other divisions exist to drive
workers into thinking only of the limited interests of a
particular, a classist group pitted against other
groups in the same category. Aside from race, these
divisions can arise around other issues such as
gender or industry. For example, in the US, the recent
west coast longshoremen dispute put port truckers,
who are paid by the trip, temporarily out of work.

In the logic of wage-labor, the interests of truckers
and longshoremen were opposed; the longshoremen
were preventing truckers from feeding their families.
Racism enters into similar situations, such as when
bosses manipulate immigrant workers to force native
workers to accept lower wages or lose their jobs. The
conflict then is presented as one between immigrant
and native workers - the former are "stealing" the jobs
of the latter. The real case, of course, is that the
bosses are manipulating workers so as to better
exploit them all. Racism is therefore not an institution
that stands for itself but rather a very useful tool in
the hands of capital.

White supremacy is not an immutable institution.
Nothing is sacred under capitalism, and peoples who
are vermin one day may be respectable the next.
Consider the oppressive conditions Irish immigrant
workers were subjected to in constructing the US
railroads from the east coast. To the capitalists, it was
more cost-efficient for an Irish worker, paid in meager
wages, to be killed in dangerous working conditions
than for a black slave to suffer the same fate. Today
however Irish are considered white, largely by virtue
of their utility in enforcing white domination over
black workers after the American Civil War.

Nor is white supremacy the only form of racism
existing in the US. For example, though there is little
distinction made between "Asian-Americans" in white
supremacist eyes, there are distinct tensions between
various Asian immigrant communities. Chinese and
Japanese Americans, who have long been established
in the country, hold substantial privilege over
southeast Asian immigrants, such as Cambodians
and Vietnamese, who arrived more recently as
refugees and many of whom live in extreme poverty.
In Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Seattle,
Cambodians are currently being deported under
flimsy pretexts and have depended largely only on
their own communities to offer them support. Many of
the East-Asian dominated "Asian-American" groups,
pretending to represent all Asian communities, have
been more concerned with offensive t-shirts from
Abercrombie and Fitch; the livelihoods of Cambodian
workers being less important than deepening the East
Asian niche in American society.

Divisions of labor are the substance of imperialism,
which diverts the proletariat from class struggle by
forcing it into national conflicts and relative
hierarchies. Less dramatic divisions follow the same
process on a smaller scale. So, if we are to advance
the unification of the proletariat, we can't merely
focus on combating one particular division (white
supremacy) within one country (US). The United
States may be the leading world superpower at the
moment, but this status is dependent on the
cooperation of numerous lesser states, some with
white supremacy within their borders, others with
homogeneously non-white populations. NEFAC
embraces internationalism as a basic principle of
anarchism; we are a federation of anarchists from
northeastern US and eastern Canada and we contend
that an anarchist revolution must extend
internationally or else it will be crushed.

It's not enough to foster a "crisis in whiteness" in the
"American working class" (a contradiction in terms) to
precipitate this revolution; white abolitionism isn't
even an adequate strategy for fighting racism in
conjunction with class struggle. It will be necessary,
for instance, to overcome the dominance of
anglophone Canadians over francophone Quebecois,
which, as Nicolas Phebus indicated, is a more central
issue than white supremacy in Quebec. The
dominance of Han Chinese over Tibetans and ethnic
minorities in China will have to be demolished, as well
as the oppression by Ethiopians over the Oromo
population. Above all, what's needed is a crisis in all
national identities, and a spread international class
consciousness in the proletariat. To prioritize the
destruction of white supremacy is to move decisively
away from a class struggle perspective to an
American one.

BTR's position therefore pigeonholes it into a national
program that may help explain the advocacy of a
"cadre" organization. When the entire focus is on
American workers and not the international
proletariat, the lines become blurred between a class
struggle and national-oriented movement that is not
particularly class oriented. Roy defines the cadre as a
"revolutionary formation of individuals who come
together around a set of common politics to develop
revolutionary strategy and theory... to building
revolutionary struggles and waging class war." Roy
presents NEFAC's position as stating that we should
not openly advocate our politics within organizations
of the wider working class, which is untrue. What is
objectionable in the BTR program is this notion of
"building revolutionary struggles" to constitute a "dual
power" which suggests that the anarchists are saviors
who start revolutions.

The assertion that the anarchist organization is a part
of the class and not an outside agitator is based on
the fact that anarchism is not a fancy idea coined by
philosophers but the programmatic expression of the
interests of the working class. Revolutionary
struggles therefore cannot be built by a cadre but
arise within the class war with the anarchist
organization as the programmatic reference but not
as the sole initiator.

The meaning of this is perhaps best illustrated in the
question of the proletarian power that arises with the
revolution. BTR concerns itself primarily with those
struggles that have "the potential to work toward the
building of a dual power." It then gives Copwatch as
an example, so it seems clear enough that BTR
aspires to build the "dual power" before the revolution
by constructing associations that anticipate it. The
problem with this strategy is that the revolutionary
power, which we perhaps could better refer to as the
Soviet, can't be defined by any particular
organizational form but by the act of the proletariat
violently overturning the rule of the bourgeoisie and
establishing its own power to the exclusion of all
non-proletarian elements. As the Friends of Durruti
declared, "the revolution needs organisms to oversee
it, and repress, in an organized sense, hostile
sectors... such sectors do not accept oblivion unless
they are crushed... we must proceed with the utmost
energy against those who are not identified with the
working class." The Soviet therefore is a stage of
class consciousness and class war coinciding with the
revolution, and therefore any organ that aims to
anticipate it can only be an imitative formality. An
institution such as Copwatch may help stem the
excesses of police brutality, produce a sense of
security within a community, and give this community
some control over itself, but none of this is
necessarily revolutionary. The real Soviet will arise
largely from struggles that previously were not
consciously striving to establish such a power, which
learned by hard fights that the only way to end the
misery of capitalist society is revolution.

Revolution, therefore, is not built by the anarchist
organization but arises with the class struggle in
which the anarchist organization operates as the
theoretical pole. Because of this, we must work with
the actual manifestations of class consciousness
today and aim to push them towards revolutionary
internationalism. The central point of this process
must be considered the workplace, where the
proletarian condition is defined, and then from there
radiate struggles such as poverty and immigration
which are intimately tied to the workplace. It is
important to understand the working class not in an
abstract sense of poor communities that will form
popular assemblies but in the full sense of a
propertyless class subjected to wage labor, which can
in no way escape its misery except by the destruction
of capitalism.

===============

The Northeastern Anarchist is the English-language
theoretical magazine of the Northeastern Federation
of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), covering class
struggle anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate
and analysis in an effort to further develop
anarcho-communist ideas and practice.

ORDERING INFORMATION:

Current issue is $5ppd ($6 international) per copy,
back issues are $2ppd ($3 international) per copy.
Subscriptions are $15ppd for four issues ($18
international). For distribution, bundle orders are $3
per copy for three or more copies, and $2.50 per copy
for ten or more.

Checks or money orders can be made out to
"Northeastern Anarchist" and sent to:

Northeastern Anarchist PO Box 230685 Boston, MA
02123, USA email:
northeastern_anarchist@yahoo.com



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