Originally titled “Anarchism and Racism,” this editorial was written in the early 1990s around the creation of a new publication focused on Black autonomist politics.
This is the first issue of the Journal of Anarchy and the Black Revolution, and although I do not think it will be the last, I do not know what form and shape it will take from here on out. This is very much dependent on the nature of the anti-authoritarian Black struggle which is developing and fermenting in our communities. We do not know precisely what our relationship with the North American Anarchist movement will be — one of fraternal relations, hostility or wary support.
Clearly, a movement which is all White, middle-class, self-absorbed, and naive about our struggle is not one we can unite with. In addition, it is a movement which can do very little for itself, let alone for our struggle. So it is time for some frank talk with Anarchists if we are to move forward from here toward the realistic possibility of a social revolution.
For over 15 years, since I have been in the so-called North American Anarchist movement, I have been at war with it. I have continually pointed out in my letters, articles in Anarchist publications, speeches, and personal conversations that the North American Anarchist scene is not what it must be if it is to be taken seriously. I even doubt that it is a social movement at all, but rather a White youth counter-cultural scene.
I am not the first one to have recognized this. Many other Black and non-white Anarchists I have spoken to like Juliana in Minneapolis, Greg in Seattle, Barbara in New York, Ojore in New Jersey, Shawn in Massachusetts, and others have recognized this. Also many black radical and community activists who I might be interested in Anarchism are turned off by an all-White middle-class scene. Who can blame them? The Anarchist movement has some of-the worst politics on the question of class and race in this society, and do not even pretend to be concerned with the plight of the super-oppressed Black masses.
Whenever I have attempted to call for reforms within the Anarchist movement itself, such as racial and cultural diversity, recruiting more Blacks and Third world peoples into the movement, building an anti-racist movement of a new type to challenge the white identity as well as the oppression of non-White peoples, I have been resisted at every turn by Anarchist “purists” and White radicals within the scene. I fought with the IWW, Social Revolutionary Anarchist Federation and other United States Anarchist groups in the 1970s, when I first came into the Anarchist scene. I most recently went through such a struggle with a group called the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, which has its headquarters in New York. So it is not just a matter of this being a new issue — this has gone on for years!
Anarchist Purism and White Supremacy
The question then arises: are the Anarchists consciously building a white movement, for what I call ‘white rights” issues that only the radical chic middle class are interested in? This is the case even when many of them live in cities which are majority-Black population centers, such as Detroit, Oakland, Atlanta, Philadelphia and others. They live in the Anarchist ghetto and look at the Black community which surrounds them with suspicion and muted hostility. Can this type of movement work toward a social revolution when, by the end of the decade it is predicted that half of this nation will be non-white peoples? I don’t think so!
Even the Republican Party recognizes that it cannot raise any hell or hope to build a capitalist governing coalition without the participation of non-white peoples, so what the hell is wrong with these Anarchists?
Anarchist purism is a form of ideological conformity, a method of keeping Anarchist ideals “pure” and to prevent any new movements from arising which violate cardinal principles of traditional European Anarchist thought and practice. This also works to ensure only white people will define, and will continue to dominate Anarchist theory, and that only white people will make up the ranks of the movement in the main.
Movements arising in the Black or Hispanic communities, which are influenced by revolutionary nationalism and the anti-authoritarian core of Anarchism, would be denounced as “not being truly Anarchist,” and thus denied support. I have seen this done historically — to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s; Martin Sostre (and myself) in the 1970s; MOVE in the 1980s, and to this very day. Without fail, this is a way of keeping the movement “right” [and white]. But it also keeps it in an ideological straitjacket which separates it from the social events outside the white radical community, which is where the real world is; so it helps of marginalize Anarchists when one demands conformity to the catechism that Bakunin or Kropotkin wrote over 100 years ago. How is this any different from the Marxists?
There is also the question of elitism and racism from those Anarchists like theLove and Rage group who feel they can think and speak for Black revolutionaries and the communities they are from. These people are from privileged households,have left home to play the big bad revolutionary and fake being poor. The truth is a pair of combat boots, ripped jeans, and a dirty t-shirt does not make one a poor person or an expert on American racial politics. This is nothing but missionary work to these people. They may have changed attitudes; they are arrogant,doctrinaire and condescending to the max. They feel they have the answer, and that everyone, especially Blacks, should follow them to the Promised Land. Only they are qualified to speak on questions of race and class. They know everything!
White radicals like this really irk me. This is why only an arrogant, self-centered movement will surface with this kind of prevailing social ethic at the core of the group.
But there is another kind of white radical within the Anarchist movement which needs to be taken to task. This is the type that claims not to know any difference between the conditions of Black and White workers, and argues we “are all in the same boat.” This type pretends not to see any racial oppression in U.S. society at all, and Blacks and other non-whites do not deserve any “special treatment.” This type of person is usually to be found in the Anarcho-Syndicalist movement in the United States. This is in fact an old line, an economist position, which sacrifices the struggle against racism to that of class peace among the Black and white workers. We are to unite around economic issues, and avoid “contentious” and “divisive” issues of race. But, as I will expose, this is in itself really a racist and escapist position, and shows one to have no moral backbone at all.
It is really a cop-out to try to claim that the “working class” is’ being oppressed without pointing out that there is no monolithic working class in America, and never has been. There has always been a brutalized and exploited African-American working class, beginning with slavery, through both agrarian and industrial periods of the economy, down to the so-called information age. Black labor has always been subjected to racial oppression in addition to that of the struggle as workers fighting the rule of capital.
It is reductionism of the worst sort to claim there are no differences in the social position of the Black working class, no special oppression, as a group like Workers Solidarity Alliance does. In an article published in Ideas and Action,the WSA political journal, one writer stated that he saw no difference or “nothing special” as he put it between left-handed persons and the plight of African-Americans. But the most infamous issue of the publication was in a full page article in issue #13, printed in 1990, called “White Workers and Racism” in response to the racist murder of Yusuf Hawkins in New York.
In the most sickening fashion possible, the article tries to equate “attacks against innocent whites by minority youth” with Hawkins’ racist murder. Neil Farber (a pseudonym for an unidentified member of WSA) talks about “racists and demagogues on both sides,” a classic white middle-class cop-out. He denied there is such a thing as white skin privilege, saying that it was just the creation of a number of left-wing sects in the 1960s. We must assume he was talking about the Black Panther Party or the revolutionary syndicalist League of Revolutionary Black Workers,although he tries to say he’s talking about white radicals.
He says that the relatively higher standard of living is due to “workers’ struggles”,as if the white workers had “earned” their booty by fighting the boss. Not true. The white middle class standard of living is only possible because of the super-exploitation of colonial countries and enslavement, and continued super-exploitation of African-American and other non-white workers.
This nonsense by Farber is crowned by a statement that the Anarcho-Syndicalist movement has “always” supported the struggles of oppressed workers. This is a lie. The Anarchist movement generally has never supported the Black struggle or engaged in anti-racist movements. The WSA is no exception. They are just now doing it.
The denial of white skin privilege is a type of obscurantism that the white Left in general, and the Anarchists, in particular, are guilty of. This obscurantism, or obscuring of the truth of Black oppression, has also been called the “white blind spot” by radicals like Noel Ignatiev, the longtime radical organizer and theorist on race and class issues.
But in addition to hiding behind economic issues, there is the kind of eclectic escapism within North American Anarchism which pretends that gender oppression,gay oppression, class exploitation other oppression, or some other contradiction among the white nationality is on a par with or even more important than white supremacy. This individual are usually people who also subscribe to compartmentalization, or attempts to neatly confine the dynamics of racism to a side issue or single issue politics, as just another “ism.”
This is reflected in their movements — almost all-white movements against “fascism” or what they call racism, usually crude KKK/Nazi organizing. They never deal with institutional racism or the white supremacy differential in the quality of life in this country. It’s all sophomoric, idealistic and emotional, and it certainly doesn’t do Blacks and other non-whites any real good. We are no safer from fascism because of these white radical do-gooders. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Who knows if it will be possible for the U.S. anarchist scene to coexist with, let alone work with a newly emerging Black anti-authoritarian movement? One thing that White Anarchists must understand it that is not merely a question of getting Blacks and other non-whites to join Anarchist associations, just to say they have a Black face. We must work to build a non-racist society and we must have principled unity.
At some point, I hope to come
At some point, I hope to come back to this.
Having been one of the first anarchists to be in touch with Lorenzo when he was still in prison (1970s), I have a personal respect for him. But I found this article to be one of the worst, throw all those who supported him under the bus articles he's written.
Edit: I've no problem with principled debate, challenges and discussion. But the arrogant tone of this piece and others which has come out is just that. In spite of this, we have continued to remain comradely and have been supportive over the decades.
This was written over 20
This was written over 20 years ago. Do you know if his views on the anarchist scene in the US are still as harsh and pessimistic as they were then?
Going off the more recent
Going off the more recent revolutionary 'plantation' pamphlet of his I read last year, it's worse. Starts off with a shitload of allegations about 'the white' anarchists/revolutionaries/radicals basically being largely racist and in the pay of the system. It's utter wank. Some privilegistas seemed to like it mind.
Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you for sharing this. It looks to be very informative. I did not know about the articles mentioned and criticized in the above article. One thing is weird though he (I guess) does not separate individualists/lifestylists with class based anarchists in his critique. I see why he does not do that but I think such way of speaking just alienates everyone. As all the audience will feel he is superimposing his "right" critique of other "anarchist politics" to their own. (I mean it is generally my experience on these debates) Maybe he could wrote his point more detailed and specified manner. However I think he gives good examples of co-optation to status quo in unexpected ways.
Now I wonder what happened to this so called "black anti-authoritarian movement"? Did this journal continued? Did it evolved to something else? If it failed why?
Serge Forward wrote: It's
I think this what the anarchist movement looks like to a lot of people, and it would be good to accept that's a reality instead of insulting the critics. The defensive reflex is pretty unbecoming when the anarchist movement is still overwhelmingly white - certainly a lot more white than the working class.
Isn't/wasn't Lorenzo a
Isn't/wasn't Lorenzo a wobbly?
kurremkarmerruk wrote: Now I
Possibly Black Autonomy Federation?
So I guess these are also the
So I guess these are also the same group
However it appears there is nearly half a year without new posts appearing in their blogs.
In wikipedia it is said that
"In June 12, 2012, the Ervins and other black activists held a conference called "Let's Organize the Hood", and there created the Memphis Black Autonomy Federation to fight the high levels of unemployment and poverty in African American communities, rampant police brutality, including the unjustified use of deadly force, and the mass imprisonment of blacks and other peoples of color by the United States government through its War on Drugs, which Ervin and other activists claim are unjustly directed to black/POC communities."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorenzo_Kom'boa_Ervin (Libcom linking system is confused about the sign ' I don't know why. But you can not proparly link an adress if the link has the sign in it)
I hope they are continuing their activities (This might support Joseph Kay's post I guess: This memphis section can be part of the wiser black utonomy federation I guess.)
The facebook is nice but I see no activity of them in facebook. Just posting news etc...
I found this from Wikipedia article. it is from 2012 well he seems to have still strong reservations related to wider "white left". The content of the interview made me thing they have a lot of organization affords are going on. I wonder whether they are still as powerful and active as they claim to be.
no1 wrote: I think this what
Do people have theories on why the anarchist movement is so white?
I don't think racism is the reason. I'm not saying that racism doesn't exist among white anarchists. But at least from what I observed, there is way less racism among white anarchists and way more support for anti-racist causes then there is in mainstream society or for example among the Democratic Party and other mainstream political parties, and these parties are far more multiracial in its composition than are anarchists.
Also, if racism was the main issue causing this, we'd see way more people of color getting involved in anarchist organizations and then dropping out after being put off by their experiences. But what happens is they generally aren't even joining in the first place to find out one way or another if the white anarchists are racist.
So what's going on?
(Note: At least where I am, Trotskyist groups and other anti-capitalist groups are also way too white.)
While I take No1's point
While I take No1's point about not getting defensive - and, Jesus, the anarchist movement is largely a subcultural joke - I think Boomerang's point is worth taking on board: more mainstream organisations that are far more racist, structurally and otherwise, have a much higher involvement from people of color.
From my point of view, I think anarchism's whiteness (and relative affluence) is reflected in the fact that most people come to anarchism from a largely ideological standpoint. And precisely because many anarchists seek to relate to potential "converts" on a political level, it's becomes a bit of cycle that anarchist ideas float around particular social groups.
If we can actually get our shit together and appeal the wider working class on practical, class issues I think we'll begin to pull in more people from a more sociologically working-class backgrounds and communities of color.
One final point: I think the argument in this article that anarchists have failed to reach out to black communities is a bit of a double-edge sword. I mean, as a white male from a middle income family, I think it could be really alienating and patronizing if I went, for example, door-knocking in largely black inner-city slums.
Does "race" have something of
Does "race" have something of it's own "spectral objectivity" that is, an operating social logic connected to the reproduction of capitalist society apart from the attitudes of individual actors per se? This means that even the most correct anti-racist attitudes don't necessarily translate into practical activity challenging relations of production that are constituted by race. Further "white surpemacy" as a concept then becomes sort of a shallow analysis, maybe comparable to "capitalist supremacy."
But what are these relations? Relations among owners of the commodity labor-power?
Chilli Sauce wrote: If we can
You make a great point here. The whiteness problem has multiple causes, but I'd bet this is probably the biggest one.
Although I see your point, I think that it's still better to reach out than to not reach out. The pros outweigh the cons. You've just got to be extra careful to avoid being a patronizing in the way you conduct yourself. Arguably just doing this in itself can come across as patronizing no matter how you conduct yourself, but I think that's better than just steering clear.
Pennoid wrote: even the most
Agreed. So what are the practical activities we should be doing to challenge that? Edit: Other than regular class-struggle organizing, I mean. (Or perhaps a way of doing class-struggle organizing that can also more specifically address racism at the same time.)
boomerang wrote: On
I mean, yeah, but I don't think anarchists are very good at reaching out to any communities. And, practically, I'm just not sure there's much we could offer any "outside" group.
Being aware of race and class and gender within our own organizing efforts as anarchists is surely important - but I think the best we can realistically do is to link up with black and immigrant and Latino struggles when they do break out, consciously seeking out common ground on practical activity.
no1 wrote: Serge Forward
Not really defensive as I'd agree, much of the anarchist movement is also utter wank. However, I don't think that's because of the skin colour of most anarchists but simply because the anarchist scene seems to attract a right load of total bellends.
Any road, I'll try and find the more recent Lorenzo text so people can make their own minds up about it.
Here you go, fill yer boots:
Here you go, fill yer boots: The Progressive Plantation
This is basically Lorenzo and
This is basically Lorenzo and his compa Jo Nina's gig:
Black Autonomy Federation
"Promoting class based grassroots anti-authoritarian struggle, Self Determination for The Black Community & Autonomy and Liberation for the oppressed world wide.
Nowadays this sort of view is
Nowadays this sort of view is only maintained by batshit crazy Maoist thirdworldists: "He says that the relatively higher standard of living is due to “workers’ struggles”,as if the white workers had “earned” their booty by fighting the boss. Not true. The white middle class standard of living is only possible because of the super-exploitation of colonial countries and enslavement, and continued super-exploitation of African-American and other non-white workers."
Higher wages were made possible by investment in labor saving equipment & thru taylorist forms of speed-up, but that did not ensure higher wages would follow. All we have to do is look at fact in USA labor productivity has gone up around 80 percent since '70s but wages only barely gone up if it all (in real terms, adjusting for inflation). So, as the employers worked to increase labor productivity, workers created unions, went on strike & forced higher wages. In the '50s and '60s workers were generally able to increase wages in line with productivity growth, thru strikes & also thru political pressure for higher legal minimum wage.
So he's just simply wrong. It was the "white working class is bought off" line that was so popular among radicalized college educated middle class youth in the '60s-70s period. That said, it is true that the labor movement in that period in USA was lacking in its concept of solidarity, with blacks often excluded from unions in earlier part of 20th century. Not to mention support for U.S. foreign policy by U.S. unions.
A lot of what he says about "White Workers & Racism" is simply not in the article. The author did not "equate" the murder of Yusef Hawkins with "attacks against innocent whites by minority youth." Rather, after describing terrorism against blacks entering the "wrong" neighborhood and the various murders of young blacks, the author goes on to say that he is not ignoring attacks that take place against other groups, such as against gays & lesbians...so is Lorenzo unconcerned about queer bashing? -- "Certainly it is not to disregard the continuing violence against women that permeates our society. Nor is it to downnplay or excuse the attacks against innocent whites by minority youth, who are directing legitimate anger against an illegitimate target." An example of the latter would be the beating of Regidnald Denny during the 1992 L.A. riot, which occurred in the period when this exchange took place. This is not equating these incidents with systemic race oppression.
I don't think Lorenzo's
I don't think Lorenzo's views, however, are as harsh as back then. He recently reached out to me to ask me some questions about unions & unemployed organizing. He's not so likely to just ignore unions as he did back then. That is, the mainstream unions or unionism in general. He didn't completely ignore unions back then. I remember him sending me a piece on the IWW timber workers organization in Louisiana.
Blacks don't seem to join
Blacks don't seem to join radical groups in general in USA, despite generally having views sympathetic to socialism, according to polls. They do support unions however. And you'll find a lot of black women front & center in the Fight for 15 protests for example. About 20 percent of workforce in fast food is black women so it is very relevant for them.
syndicalistcat wrote: I don't
I'm not so sure about that. He makes quite a list of dodgy allegations on the first page of his 'Progressive Plantation' pamphlet (see above link). Fair enough, I can see why he might possibly have reasons to be bitter about the anarchist scene in general (especially in the US) but some of his allegations are bizarre and he provides no evidence for these claims, just states things as fact.
He was a member, possibly the only black member at the time, and quit soon after:
The Progressive Plantation, pp 28-29
Lorenzo's main point here is correct, the standard of living in the global North depends on the super-exploitation of the cheap workforce, and resources of the South (peripheral and sub-imperial countries). Regardless of what Maoists say, this is central to world-systems analysis, and Marxist feminist theory. Of course, workers' struggles in the North have played a crucial part in winning gains, but this has always happened in relation to accumulation and class struggle elsewhere.
Hmmm...while there's no doubt
Hmmm...while there's no doubt a relationship there, super-exploitation in the global south has substantially increased while real wages have been stagnant or falling in the core capitalist countries. In fact, those jobs were initially outsourced precisely because of the strength of class movements in North American and Europe.
In other words, the super-exploitation of the working class of the developing world was instituted as a response to class power in the global north, not in order to prop up the living standards of those workers - despite whatever minimal benefit we may get from iphones or cheap t-shirts.
Chilli Sauce wrote: In other
apart from, you know, several centuries of colonialism.
(like, I agree that resources aren't plundered and plantations set up in the 'south' for the benefit of northern/western workers, but exploitation of global south labour/resources didn't start in the 1970s!)
I had the pleasure to meet
I had the pleasure to meet JoNina and Lorenzo when they came to Scotland last time on a speaking tour. Listening to them and reading their stuff made a big impression on me and a number of anarchists. He doesn't pull any punches, but for me that makes what he has to say all the more useful. The hostile reaction he tends to get confirms the very argument he's making: most anarchists have a superficial analysis of racism (it's something that fascists do, rather being a system, intertwined with exploitation), and our organisations have a long way to go. I don't think we should take the usual critiques seriously: 'where's your evidence?', 'this is only relevant to the US', 'this is sectarian identity politics'.
For me, what's important is that we genuinely support autonomous Black and ethnic minority struggles and organisations, like Southall Black Sisters, London Black Revolutionaries, the Black Autonomy Federation, groups springing up against police brutality. Involve ourselves in refugee solidarity, as the Unity Centre does in Glasgow. Educate ourselves by reading what people like Lorenzo and other black writers have to say. And try to make any organisation we're involved in genuinely inclusive, providing for caucuses etc., and relevant to anti-racist anti-capitalist struggle.
Lorenzo makes a number of points in The Progressive Plantation which anarchist groups in the UK and elsewhere should discuss:
The Progressive Plantation, pp 46-47
The Progressive Plantation
The Progressive Plantation
Anyone know what he means by this? Is he saying that class issues are a "white rights agenda", and if not what is he talking about?
Chilli wrote: In other words,
It's a big part in explaining the round of capital flight and dispossession in the periphery from the '70s on, but colonialism and super-exploitation goes back to the origins of capitalism. Although the benefits are minimal for the developed working class (and there's been significant pauperisation and attacks on the social wage), the unequal relationship to the rest of the working class is incredibly important. It's one of the biggest obstacles to internationalism, allowing for state reformism, nationalism, and structural racism which defuses and defeats class struggle organising.
boomerang wrote: "The
IIRC, he's talking about stuff like activist counter-cultural politics (summit hopping, various kinds of spectacular protesting, pacificism, reformism, middle class issues)* rather than the kinds of things that are immediately relevant to poor black workers: mass imprisonment, continuous police violence, survival programs, class struggle organising which is explicitly and meaningfully anti-racist/anti-white supremacist.
*He includes in that animal rights and environmentalism. I think environmental organising, over stuff like fracking in poor neighbourhoods or whatever, is tied up with control over resources and shouldn't be a middle class/reformist thing though it frequently is.
Thanks Quote: activist
None of this is "white rights" stuff and it's weird that he calls it that.
- Summit hopping and spectacular protesting is (for the most part) a diversion from effective action, but not "white rights", as it isn't any more helpful to whites than anyone else.
- Pacifism is just bad strategy.
- Reformism is just a dead-end for anyone.
- Environmentalism is an urgent issue for everyone, and people of color are usually more severely affected by environmental issues.
- Animal rights isn't even a human issue (white or not). It's an issue I care a lot about, but it's not for human beings it's for (other) animals.
Does he explain what he means by explicitly and meaningfully anti-racist class struggle? Does he give any examples? In theory I believe this is important, something I'd like to see more of, but I don't have a clear idea of what this means in practice.
doug wrote: Chilli wrote: In
The thing is, though, I think that's conflating the issue. Colonialism - and the mentality is creates - is no doubt a serious issue, but that's a fundamentally different issue from somehow assuming the Northern/Western working class actively participates in the exploitation/benefits from from the status of super-exploited workers is the global south - which seems to be the argument being made in Lorenzo's pamphlet.
Joseph Kay wrote: Chilli
Of course not, but colonialism has always been an internal and external process in which, fundamentally, the working class has been on the receiving end. And that's the point: capital always seek out the safest return on its investments. To suggest the northern/western working class at some point becomes complicit/benefits from this process is to ignore the basic logic of capital
EDITED because I wrote "capital" when I meant working class, although it doesn't seem like I'm making any friends on this thread in any case....