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(en) Northeastern Anarchist #7 - Developing a Cross-Race Class Consciousness: Strategies for BTR and NEFAC by Sabate Collective (NEFAC-Boston)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 4 Jul 2003 21:28:13 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

The debate between NEFAC and the national organization forming
as a result of the "Bring the Ruckus" (BTR) statement has raised
many important questions for anarchists as we try to make sense of
racism, both as a specifically "American" concept, and
internationally. This article is intended to bring to the discussion our
thoughts and to hopefully fill in important gaps, bring to light some
inherent contradictions, and find some commonalities, both with the
BTR articles and with the NEFAC articles.

We have found that while BTR attempts to address institutionalized
white supremacy as a step towards bringing about social revolution,
we feel that their strategy and theory falls short in a number of
ways. Specifically, there is little correlation between their theory
and goals (abolishing the white race) and their day-to-day
strategies and work (Copwatch, prison abolition, etc.). Further, their
reliance on a hierarchy of oppressions, placing race at the top,
serves to oversimplify the discourse around social revolution and
ignores important connections between patriarchy, race, class, and
capitalism. We also take issue with all participants in the debate as
they have forgotten one important detail - in order to discuss
political theories, there needs to be some common vocabulary.


No one has spent any time trying to establish common definitions of
"race," "racism," and "white supremacy." Obviously we do not
purport to have the perfect definitions of these words, but in order to
talk about these issues, we all need to be talking about the same
thing. It is clear from the preceding articles that different authors
are using different meanings. If we are to have a debate, we need to
at least have some common understanding of what we are talking

Race is a socially constructed category which changes in time,
context and geographical location. The social construction of race
is, for the most part formed by the ruling class and the changing
defintion of race has been dependant on social changes, such as the
enlightenment, the rise of capitalism, colonization and chattel
slavery in the Americas. These terms were created in a Western,
American social reality and largely reflect this.

In the US, "race" is most commonly used to refer to skin color, but
this is not always the an accurate use of the word. We can see
historical examples of the racialization of white immigrants, such as
the Irish, Scottish or Polish. As anarchists, we use the term "race"
as a social construct, not as a denotation of skin color.

"Racism" is used in many different ways; the two we want to spend
time distinguishing between are the more common liberal definition
and a definition we view to be more radical and lends itself more to
social change. The liberal definition of racism is found when any
race or more appropriately any ethnic group has a social prejudice
over any other social/ethnic group, regardless of socio-economic
conditions. This definition leads us to the liberal rhetoric of "reverse
racism." This liberal definition also fails to take into consideration
institutionalized oppressions, historical racism, relies heavily on a
vague concept of "education" as a method to end racism and feeds
into American philosophies of meritocracy.

The radical definition is found using the "equation" of power plus
prejudice equals racism. The radical definition understands that only
those with privilege and power according to socio-economic
conditions may in effect be racist and those that are oppressed can
be affected by racism. This definition goes on further to state that
social prejudices held by people of color are not "racist" but rather
an expression of anger towards the white hegemony. These
prejudices are also expressions of anger, misdirected towards other
ethnic groups who have been pitted against one another by
institutions in power either in the US or in the case of recent
immigrants, their home countries. This definition is also more readily
applicable to other countries, as there is often dominant ethnic
groups or religious groups that uses the racialization of minority
ethnic group as basis for oppression (eg: the relationships between
English and Irish, Anglophone Canadian and Francophone Canadian,
Spanish-descendant Mexican and indigenous Mexicans, etc.). We
largely agree with Ruckus' definition of white supremacy. However,
we would make some adjustments to the defintion: White
supremacy is a system that grants those defined as "white" special
socio-economic privileges in American society. Through these
privileges, many whites protect each other and police non-whites in
order to maintain their white status and the hegemony of the ruling
class. Therefore, the ruling class created institutional white
supremacy as a means to control the working class; white working
class members gain privilege and identify with the white ruling class
as opposed to other non-white or even white revolutionary members
of their own class. To dismantle the ruling class is to dismantle a
privilege for white workers. This alliance does have international
implications in that almost all of the white working class in the U.S.
identifies with a white national identity, which is a cross class
relationship, over an international class identity which unites those
who are oppressed along economic conditions.

We view white supremacy as a separate but intricately connected
form of institutional oppression from capitalism (this is also true for
patriarchy). These institutions come together to form the various
oppressions or privileges we face and in effect, alter, shape and
help (amongst other conditions) to equally create capitalism. As
these institutions change so does capitalism and vice versa. The
goal of our revolutionary work is to see institutional oppression
collapse so we may live in a new stateless, classless, and
oppressive free, society based on mutual aid and directly
democratic principles. Hence, we ally our selves with autonomous
social movements, which may also be fighting for such goals. Our
entry point to our work is a class analysis of society. This does not
prioritize class as the worst oppression or even the best oppression
for all oppressed people to organize around. It does mean that for us
as members of NEFAC, it is A STRATEGIC choice for us. Of
course we believe in our strategy and argue our theoretical
positions, but our basis of thought does not come from an absolute
understanding based in rationalism or empiricism.

While still on the topic, we would like to comment on the definition
of racism used by Ryan C. McCarthy in his essay "Reasserting
Anarchist Internationalism" [NEA #6, p. 42]. As outlined above, we
consider racism to be a specific institution established and upheld
by the ruling class that is related to specific socio-economic
conditions. By McCarthy stating that “[r]acism is therefore not
an institution that stands for itself, but rather a very usefull toll in
the hand of capital,” he fails to recognize that racism is more
than just a “tool.” Power and racism play out in many
different ways in society and through various channels, such as
sexual orientation, religion, gender, race, etc. Oppressions
expressed through such channels (and through countless others
which are not named) are inherently connected to economics, but
they are also connected to each other and everything else. Using
McCarthy’s logic would dictate that if capitalism fell, then
these oppressions would simply melt away and ignores the fact that
white supremacy is an institution. The oppressions that give way to
racism are shaped and influenced by capitalism and vice versa. In
giving an accurate definition of racism, we must recognize that
while racism is linked to economics, it also exists as a separate
entity, bringing with it a series of interconnected problems that we
need to combat.


Our disagreement with BTR does not rest in a difference between
race vs. class organizing. That is much too simplistic of an analysis
of oppression, as it reduces our class analysis and worldview into
separate dichotomies and reduces oppression and people's lives into
neat, finely established categories of race, class and gender, which
simply do not exist. The differences lie in the emphasis BTR places
on the importance of race in the maintenance of capitalism and
therefore, indirectly on the lack of importance other institutional
forms of oppression have in maintaining capitalism - such as
patriarchy - and in the fact that their strategy and actions (at least
those represented in the article) do not fully reflect, nor would they
achieve, the desired results of abolishing the white race.

The two primary strategies that have been proposed by BTR to
begin a movement with the goal of abolishing the white race are
Copwatch and prisoner solidarity/prison abolition. The reasoning
behind choosing these two projects seems to be that since people of
color are disproportionately impacted by the police state, are more
likely to receive a violent response from cops, and are more likely to
be victim of the prison industrial complex, one step towards
abolishing the white race is to abolish these institutions, or
significantly reduce their effectiveness in controlling communities
of color, thereby creating a crisis in whiteness.

Yes, most people who are abused by police, receive the worst jail
sentences and are disproportionately sentenced to death row are
people of color. Yes, communities of color are policed more heavily
than white communities. And yes, most people in prison are people
of color, specifically African American men. We fail, however, to
see how working on these two issues works to abolish the white
race. We can see that this is important, necessary work that is
invaluable to a revolutionary movement and to the victims of police
violence and state repression. But the BTR theory seems to rely on
the concept that just because many people of color are adversely
affected by the police and prison industrial complex, that abolishing
these institutions would create a crisis in whiteness and
simultaneously in capitalism.

There are also a number of other important factors - most people of
color in the US are poor. Most people of color in the US do not have
access to educational opportunities because of inadequate
schooling, racist busing systems, and racist school/neighborhood
zoning plans. Most public housing tenants are people of color, and
most of these housing units are inadequate. People of color have the
highest rate of new cases of HIV/AIDS and black women die of
breast cancer and ovarian cancer at a higher rate than white women
primarily because of inadequate health care (public and private),
racist health care facilities and insurance companies.

Our point is that nearly all institutions in the US have an adverse
impact on people of color and poor/working class white people when
compared to how they impact wealthy or middle class whites. Why
then would we think that the strategies of Copwatch and prison
abolition are somehow more suited to abolishing the white race than
effective housing organizing or struggling for adequate health care?

Our proposal is to take on strategies that build power within all
oppressed communities, that are devoid of a hierarchy of
oppressions, and recognize that in order to move towards a social
revolution, it is necessary to simultaneously create a crisis in white
supremacy, in patriarchy and between classes.

In the BTR essay by Roy San Filipo ["Build The Cadre, Abolish The
White Race"; NEA#6], it is implied or suggested that by white
people showing the police that they are defiant and that the
"enemy," "criminal" or "bad guy" cannot be determined by the color
of their skin, steps will be made toward abolishing whiteness. Is
this to suggest that white people should put themselves in
situations where they are risking arrest, being beaten by police,
arrested, serving prison time, etc. to prove to the cops that all
criminals are not people of color? How does this serve to build a
revolutionary movement? This does not build community, it
demonstrates a level of privilege held by the white participants that
has previously and continually been resented by people of color and
poor whites. Proponents of Race Traitor and BTR have stated that
"…the class bias of the law is partially repressed by racial
considerations; the removal of those considerations would give it
free reign. White poor would find themselves on the receiving end of
police justice as Black people do now. The effect on their
consciousness and behavior is predictable." (1) There are many
examples of white revolutionaries who risk arrest, challenge police,
and participate in direct action at mass demonstrations and at
smaller community demonstrations. These activists are generally
critiqued for their participation in demonstrations as they are
perceived as exercising their privilege. If it is the act of challenging
police authority by white revolutionaries that is an inherent affront
to whiteness, then why is a distinction made between white
revolutionaries risking arrest and challenging police during a
demonstration and white revolutionaries risking arrest and
challenging police under the pretense of Copwatch? Both strategies
have the same result - showing the police that white people can
challenge authority and are just as supposedly “criminal” as
people of color. By challenging the police and risking arrest at a
mass demonstration, haven’t white revolutionaries worked to
eliminate the racial considerations of the law? If no, why not?

If poor whites are going to actively challenge white supremacy it
needs to come from struggle and a political alliance with people of
color. The challenge must be revolutionary and must be framed in a
way that those participating receive direct, concrete benefits from
their participation. Building a cross-race class-consciousness is
precisely one way to build such political solidarity. Unfortunately,
though BTR's strategies are valuable in and of themselves,
Copwatch and prison abolition work do very little to build an
anti-racist white movement and do not align poor whites with poor
people of color; therefore it has little impact on white supremacy.

Secondly, the theoretical position of the importance of race and its
connections with capitalism and other institutional oppressions is
questionable and reeks of theoretical authoritarianism. It crudely
reduces our conceptions of oppression in society, and also those
institutions which create such oppression, into simplistic and
separate categories.

BTR claims that their focus on race is a strategic argument based
around the importance of race in connection to capitalism. However,
a closer look seems to point to a theoretical importance, emphasis
and value of race in current or even historical capitalism that
devalues other forms of institutional oppression and sets white
supremacy above and beyond, to a theoretical "end all be all" in the
various complex parts that construct an economic system. As BTR
has stated, their decision to focus on race is….

"...a strategic argument, based on an analysis of U.S. history,
designed to attack the American death star at its weakest point.
The glue that has kept the American state together has been white
supremacy; melting that glue creates revolutionary possibilities."

Capitalism, an economic process in society, is a complex ever
changing system, comprised of many social and economic
processes. These different processes combine to equally form the
monster we know as capitalism. To claim that race or white
supremacy is "the glue" that binds the whole economic system
together reduces the various processes and places emphasis on one
particular category. It is our opinion that each oppressive institution,
including capitalism, cannot be reduced so simplistically. In
reducing the existence of capitalism to one particular form of
oppression, such as race, you are inevitably valuing one process
over all others. By taking this position, BTR has, in effect, placed an
authoritarian theoretical importance on race over other forms of
oppression. San Filippo did state that they do not believe they
"posses any kind of truth or correct ideas about struggle", however,
their theoretical position surrounding race clearly contradict his

For instance, BTR claims the organization has an explicitly feminist
focus, but it simultaneously down plays the relative importance
patriarchy plays as opposed to race in relation to capitalism. To
continue the metaphor, is patriarchy not a glue? Is its binding power
too weak and is therefore, less important for revolutionaries to
struggle against in class based organizing. If patriarchy is not on an
equal footing with race or class, then it is easy to dismiss BTR's
argument. To simply say an organization has a "feminist focus" is
not enough especially when its main theoretical position downplays
the very importance of patriarchy in their work.

Since its development, capitalism has been intricately entwined
with patriarchy. Each process has largely benefited from the other
and has produced new forms of not only class oppression but gender
oppression as well; conditions which cannot be neatly separated
from each other. Unpaid "women's work", gendered class divisions,
privileging one gender in the work force over another, and all the
social controls that emanate from such an institution all work to
maintain patriarchy. Never mind the various social conditions and
responsibilities each gender has which are very much a part of the
conditions of existence of capitalism, such as the development of
the nuclear family and the gendered role of political decision making
in capitalist governments.

San Filippo states that "BTR is a class war document". Therefore,
BTR's race organizing is to establish class war. It is precisely to
"engender a revolutionary crisis in the existing system by attacking
the institutions of white supremacy" [San Filippo, NEA#6, p. 41].
This in and of itself we applaud. To combat white supremacy is
important and necessary to ending all oppression and
simultaneously important in any class based organizing, but it is no
more important in the demise of capitalism and the state than
patriarchy or class.


Sabate is a member collective of NEFAC; members are involved in
the Boston Angry Tenants Union, and in publishing The
Northeastern Anarchist.


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.


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

For a list of stores that carry the NEA please see:

For more information about NEFAC, visit us on the web at:

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