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(en) Canada, Autonomy & Solidarity*, Upping the Anti #2 - Letters to the Editors: Two on "the three "anti's" and one from David Gilbert"

Date Sun, 22 Jan 2006 09:21:12 +0200

Letter to the Editors "On the three "anti's"
Comrades, I just finished reading your first issue of “Upping the
Anti” I think you are right to take anti-capitalism,
anti-imperialism and anti-oppression as the basis for a lot of radical
thought in Canada (and the US) right now. As someone who has
been involved with all three in recent years, I was interested to see
where you would take them. While I liked your starting point, I
would take them in a completely different direction, and come to
completely different conclusions. I think anti-oppression politics
need to be more or less completely rejected, and I am very skeptical
of anti-imperialism. The only way I see to move forward is by
deepening our anti-capitalist perspectives. Let me explain what I

Your panel on anti-oppression politics demonstrates the problems
with the way this perspective plays out. People see oppressions as
just stacking up in a more or less equivalent oppression count. These
identities are then recuperated fairly easily and made functional to
capitalism. They are used to create new elites who then speak for
their particular “communities” Nevertheless, the panelists
doggedly cling to the relevance of this perspective, against the
supposed threat of class reductionism. While I wouldn’t call
myself a “class reductionist,” I do think that most of what
matters about oppression and exploitation in modern day North
America boils down to class.

I am a white guy who works in a restaurant in a big city in the US. In
the restaurant there are all sorts of small privileges that different
workers get for different reasons: differentials in pay, in how often
we get yelled at or disciplined by the boss, in how many times people
can fuck up before they’re fired, in who gets to skip out early.
Some of these kinds of privileges and differentials fall down on
“oppression lines” and some of them don’t. The
Mexican guys working illegally mostly get paid less than me,
although the main floor manager is also non-status. The women
tend to get more shit from the boss, but they also tend to be allowed
to skip out early. The one queer guy (who is Colombian) gets the
best treatment of any of the workers – mostly because he sucks
up to the boss. All of the workers have a similar day to day
experience of dispossession, powerlessness, boredom, stress and

My point is that the privileges that different working people have
amount to almost nothing in terms of social power – none of us
have any real control over what we do everyday, and we all have the
same experience of trading our lives for our survival. A perspective
that speaks in terms of “giving up privilege” can’t be
useful to people wasting their lives away at pointless jobs (i.e. most
people). Class is not about privilege, it’s about exploitation. The
last thing I want to do after getting home from one of my 13 hour
split shifts is to be told how privileged I am. Anti-oppression politics
has nothing to do with my day to day experience. Worse, it is
moralistic. The “politics of responsibility” drift very easily
into the politics of guilt. Workers with some privilege don’t start
struggling side by side with less privileged workers out of some
feeling of moral responsibility (aside from a few activists). We do so
because we come to see that our interests are the same, and that by
fighting together we can get further. When we fight for ourselves we
begin to see who our real allies are. This process of working class
people identifying with each other, breaking down separations and
differences and creating a community in struggle is what we have to
be striving for. Perhaps a longer look at early “Autonomist
Marxism” would be a good place to start.

While anti-imperialism is more interesting than anti-oppression, I
think that it is also ultimately not a useful way of moving forward. I
have heard Canadian radicals use the term in a bunch of different
ways. You quite rightly critique the kind of anti-imperialism that sees
Canadian nationalism as something progressive against American
imperialism. But what about Quebecois nationalism? The anarchists
I know in Quebec have completely rejected the idea that Quebec
nationalism is something progressive fighting Canadian imperialism.
They have seen the arc of a strong national liberation movement
with a militant Leninist wing. It ends up with Francophone bosses
instead of English ones. A lot of anti-imperialism comes down to
supporting the nationalism of some group without a full nation state.
This is not just a problem of what happens when these groups get
their own government and then have to repress their own population.
Even those national liberation movements that don’t yet have
their own government act to break up working class militancy. Look
at the hostility of the Kurdish nationalists to the working class
organizations in Northern Iraq during the first Gulf War, for
example. Also, in a recent strike among Paris restaurant workers
(many of whom were Tamil), management secured the help of the
Tamil Tigers (who have bases in immigrant Tamil communities in
France) to help break the strike.

Nationalism is not on our side. The Gaza kid who grows up throwing
rocks at tanks and ends up becoming a suicide bomber does not
have the same interests and daily experience as the Muslim Clerics,
Fatah politicians or Saudi oil tycoons also supporting Palestinian
nationalism. Equally, the trailer park kid from Kentucky with an
eagle tattoo who goes over to die in Iraq is different from the
Christian televangelists, Republican politicians and Texas oil
tycoons also behind American nationalism. The kind of
anti-imperialism that supports one nationalism against another offers
us nothing but more capitalism. Some people try and redefine
nationalism. They claim that when certain oppressed people say
“nationalism” they mean something different than the whole
history of European and American nationalism. I suppose this
remains to be seen, but I doubt it.

Some anti-imperialism would better be called “Third
Worldism.” The general point of view is that the “Third
World” or “Global South” is where the real struggles are,
and the best thing for working class people here can do is to “be
in solidarity.” This kind of attitude is rampant among Canadian
and American radicals. This leads to things like the ridiculous
insinuation, made by Grace Lee Boggs, that the US working class
was just reactionary during the Vietnam War. The mass resistance
of working class soldiers in Vietnam, including outright mutiny and
“fraggings” was probably the single most important thing
that ended the war.

Most of anti-imperialist politics in North America, like
anti-oppression, comes from the class position of those advocating
it. It is significant that the Weather Underground started among
white university students. It would be a lot more difficult for people
stuck in dead end jobs to see the US working class as “bought
off,” and to think it’s a good strategy to try to create
“chaos in the metropoles” in solidarity with the Stalinists
claiming to represent the Vietnamese peasants. Which leads me on
to the last point: anti-capitalism. I mostly agree with your critiques of
the fetishization of certain tactics and the limits of summit hopping. I
would add that the anti-capitalist wing of the anti-globalization
movement largely didn’t have a thorough definition and
understanding of capitalism. Capitalism was largely seen as about
unfairness in exchange, about commodification, and about
repression. Rarely were production and wage labor talked about and
when they were it was usually understood in terms of
“democracy in the workplace.” Even the much talked about
critique of Leninism and of Social Democracy were mainly from the
point of view of how “undemocratic” or
“authoritarian” they are as opposed to how capitalist they
are. Following some of these lines of thought deeper could be very
useful. I think it is great that lots of people who were formerly
organizing busses to protests are now trying to organize in
workplaces and against evictions, gentrification and deportations.
Unfortunately the radicalism has not always carried over. Often we
see former black bloc kids now working as paid organizers for unions
and community groups, and people who previously advocated
violence against the cops now advocating tactical electoralism.
Arguing against these perspectives would mean deepening our class

In closing, I would just like to explain a bit what I mean by the
working class. The majority of the working class is female and the
vast majority of the working class world wide is not white. In the US
and Canada, most working people don’t work in
“industry.” Many of the most exciting working class
movements today are taking place in countries that are part of the
“Global South.” But the working class exists in every
country in the world, because every country is the world is capitalist
– even Da Silva’s Brazil, Chavez’s Venezuela and
Castro’s Cuba. As alienated proletarians ourselves we have to
realize that fighting capitalism is not mostly a matter of “showing
solidarity” or “being allies” with working people worse
off than ourselves. It is about fighting for ourselves. When we begin
to do this, we can take a step towards a communist (or anarchist)

In solidarity, Anonymous Working Guy

"Again on the three "anti's"

The editorial of the first issue of your journal put much needed
words to things I’ve long felt in not quite articulate ways. It
helped clarify the roots of and to historically situate our current
impasse, the challenges ahead, and what steps might be taken in
addressing them. As one of the “radical social workers” you
described, I am very grateful for this, because I am, for several
reasons, at a personal impasse very similar to the larger one you

As my critique has sharpened, the number of moments in which I
see liberatory possibilities has atrophied. This is at least in part due
to, as stated in your editorial, a sense that our activism consists
mainly of frantically jumping from tactic to tactic without spaces to
develop strategy and a systematic, integrative critique of capitalism,
imperialism and oppression that we can use to build our movements
in effective ways. Additionally, when we actually do create such
spaces we must constantly struggle against the tendencies to look at
issues solely on a systemic level (neglecting issues of process and
internal dynamics) or solely on a personal or interpersonal level
(neglecting the systemic).

Secondly, as the organizations I work with have lost touch with
larger social movement contexts and have had to fight to maintain
services in the face of funding cutbacks and cooptation by the state,
frontline and advocacy work has increasingly felt like trying to put
band-aids onto gushing wounds. My energy is consumed with
struggles to simply keep doors open, to help people find basic
resources, and to bring up issues of oppression, colonialism,
neoliberalism and so on in increasingly depoliticized and often even
hostile internal environments. I can rarely find opportunities to
examine the bigger picture or think strategically.

This all speaks to the need for balance in all we do: balancing
strategy with tactics, harm reduction with resistance and
dialogue/debate, addressing internal dynamics in our movements
with external critique/activism and so on.

There is one specific topic around which I feel we very much need
spaces of collective strategizing to explore: whenever we speak to
any of the three “antis,” whether through articles or
workshops or even informal discussions in mainstream,
semi-politicized or radical spaces alike, the most vehement level of
resistance comes up when we implicate ourselves and those with
whom we are in dialogue. However, confronting privilege and
complicity is absolutely crucial to the historical moment of struggle
we are currently in.

In a way, social justice work is still empowering, but in a deeper, less
immediately gratifying and affirming way than organizing solely
around one’s victimization and exploitation by a clearly defined
and identifiable enemy. We have more difficult questions than
simply to ask than how can we overthrow our common oppressor.

Rather, in anti-oppression work we are asking ourselves, how do we
enact privilege(s) in our daily interactions, who do our privilege(s)
marginalize, how can we learn to better recognize our privilege(s)
and ameliorate their effects? In anti-capitalist work we must ask how
we oppose a system from within and to which we lend our energy
and consent in myriad of everyday ways? And in anti-imperialist
work we must ask what it means to organize for social justice on
stolen land in movements in which Aboriginal people are still all but
invisible? How can we build solidarity that takes into account our
privileged location in a global system that funnels resources in our
direction, resources we in turn use in the course of our lives and
activism, despite our knowledge of the cost at which they are

Many people want clear questions and answers, clear rights and
wrongs, clear us’s and them’s, and we as “anti”
communities cannot offer that anymore, if we ever could. We cannot
offer the thrill of uncritical unity or the rush of collective
self-righteousness or the simplicity of defining ourselves as good
guys struggling against evil villains, as the hegemonic powers and
global right do by enforcing the dominant mentality. Therefore, one
of the most important questions we must ask ourselves is, where
from here? Thanks for getting the conversation started.

Danielle Gauld

Vancouver, BC

"Letter from David Gilbert"

Congratulations to the editorial crew for an excellent first issue of
Upping the Anti, which I found relevant and stimulating. I especially
liked the editorial which argued for theory in a very unpretentious,
on point way. And from that perspective, you provided a valuable set
of writings. The two roundtables really engaged me, especially the
one on organization since I myself am in a state of flux or limbo
between my old commitment to democratic centralism, which failed,
and my feeling that the anarchist alternatives are inadequate.

The other articles were good too – relevant without being too
long or convoluted. (Only the two book reviews seemed a little too
abstract). There are just two comments I want to make about some
differences of agreement I have. Gary Kinsman, on page 45,
discusses the changes of the 1960s and 1970s in a way that I think
separates North American capitalism much too much from
imperialism. In fact, it was a challenge from national liberation
movements that most pushed forward the crisis in this era, and it
was on the Third World that the most ruthless measures (structural
adjustment programs) to recoup surplus value were imposed.

Secondly, Selma James is right to stress how much nation, race,
gender, etc. are class. But I feel that she still concedes too much to
traditional (white, male) Marxism because in order to argue the
importance of those struggles she feels she has to equate them with
class. In truth, they overlap with and form class to a large degree but
aren’t completely coterminous. For example, certain class
alliances are valid parts of national liberation struggles. To me, we
also have to critique the reduction of capitalist “relations of
production” to wage labor. The occupation of whole countries as
well as work to reproduce labor power are both very much central
relations of production for imperialism.

Good going on Upping the Anti, and I hope you get some engaging
dialogues going.

David Gilbert

Dannemora, NY
* A&S - Autonomy & Solidarity is an anticapitalist antiauthoritarian
revolutionary network in Canada.
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