Sunday, October 28, 2007
On Uncle Tom's and Vendidos
By Joaquin Cienfuegos
It is important to understand who are your friends, potential allies and enemies, especially when your goal is to destroy the existing power structure and replace it with something very different. This system and people in power have built their state and have trained some people in society to maintain this way of life. Just how they use the state, like the police, the courts, the prisons and so on to repress us, they also use people that look like us, that might even live in your neighborhood or people who join your organization against the revolutionary movement.
We have in amerika the obvious sell-outs who are now white supremacists like Condaleeza Rice and Colin Powell. In Los Angeles we have people like the mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (who was in a Marxist-Leninist organization) and council-woman Jan Perry. These are the obvious people-of-color who are now working for this colonial system of white supremacy, capitalism-imperialism, and patriarchy. The people we have to look out for are the future Villaraigosa's and Perry's. The people-of-color who wish to climb the social ladder to "make-it" by any means, even at the expense of stepping over the people who are in the same fucked-up social position as them.
This is how this system operates, in order for one of us to make it, the rest of us have to stay at the bottom. In the words of H. Rap Brown, "There is no such thing as second class citizenship. You are either free, or you are a slave." One thing we have to deal with is the people who say they are activists, yet they still hope to benefit and cash in from the same system. There is no such thing as neutrality when there is oppression. You cannot talk about ending oppression, but still hope to create a long-range political strategy where you gain concessions from this system.
On the one hand you have the people like Bill Cosby and Ted Hayes (the Black Minuteman) and on the other you have the people-of-color who might be working in your organization one day but the next might be stabbing you in the back, snitching to the police, and moving back with their rich parents. This brings up the question of identity, and identity politics. If you're not looking and analyzing the class and race character of any movement, or in fact any individual, then you will never understand the world outlook, the politics, and interests that movement and/or individual has and represents. Those individuals who say they're activists/revolutionaries and always fall back on their identity (i.e.: "I'm a queer woman of color, and I only have 20 dollars in my bank account") without challenging/changing all the privilege that they have shouldn't be trusted. You never know, those people might have only 20 dollars in their bank account, but might own stock, have rich parents they can borrow money from, and might sell you out whenever things get too hot. Those same people who fall back on their identity as a person of color might have white-supremacist behavior, politics, issues, and outlook (they might as well be white people). I feel that those people should be treated as such, and we should be distrustful of those people.
Then we have the brown-black-yellow hipsters; the ones whose families left oppressed communities to move into the suburbs, or whose families have no roots at all in the neo-colonies. The people who now feel like they have the right or the self-entitlement to move back into communities like Echo Park, Boyle Heights, South Central (these are communities in Los Angeles in particular), without thinking of the repercussions that has in those communities. These same people have contributed to the process of gentrification of those communities. When they move in the rent goes up, and the working-class people of color get pushed out into the streets and into the prisons.
We also have the people of color who have roots in oppressed communities, who are working class, but whose mentality is that of an upper-middle class white person and will do anything to climb the social ladder. These people will rather side with the settler-colonialists than their own people. They will drop a dime on people, they will back-stab their neighbors and co-workers, cheat, lie, steal, sell-out and/or sell hard drugs to their own people.
It's important to understand where people are at, to understand who to align yourself with. For myself, it is important to work closely with those I trust, the people who come from the hood, who are working class-people of color, who are oppressed, but who also are willing to get down with the system and destroy the state while at the same time organize and empower their community to do the same. It doesn't mean we don't work to build strategic-alliances with other more privileged communities, but it does mean that we don't allow those people to come into our communities with their self-righteous attitude and impose on our self-determination.
I also understand that people change, but that change does not happen overnight and it is not in a straight line. "Class-Suicide" is an idea developed by Lenin to justify his own leadership that was imposed on the people of Russia. I believe that the only way people change is through real life struggle, not some made up ideas, surrounding your self with working-class people of color, or working for a non-profit organization.
I put these concerns out there because these have been my experiences. In the movement the people at the bottom get sold-out by those who come in and act like they want to be down with you. Then things get too hot for them, and the state repression gets too real for them, so they bail out, or snitch on other people. They create divisions, because they want the organization to revolve around themselves, or their own personal issues. They don't follow through with responsibility, or they straight out try to bring the organization down because things don't go their way. This is what I've experienced, and I'm just trying to add some analysis to that. I hope to put this out there to create dialogue. I personally feel that people who do these things should be exposed, and the movement in general should be made aware of those individuals.
by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
Yo soy Joaquín,
perdido en un mundo de confusión:
I am Joaquín, lost in a world of confusion,
caught up in the whirl of a gringo society,
confused by the rules, scorned by attitudes,
suppressed by manipulation, and destroyed by modern society.
My fathers have lost the economic battle
and won the struggle of cultural survival.
And now! I must choose between the paradox of
victory of the spirit, despite physical hunger,
or to exist in the grasp of American social neurosis,
sterilization of the soul and a full stomach.
Yes, I have come a long way to nowhere,
unwillingly dragged by that monstrous, technical,
industrial giant called Progress and Anglo success....
I look at myself.
I watch my brothers.
I shed tears of sorrow. I sow seeds of hate.
I withdraw to the safety within the circle of life --
MY OWN PEOPLE
I am Cuauhtémoc, proud and noble,
leader of men, king of an empire civilized
beyond the dreams of the gachupín Cortés,
who also is the blood, the image of myself.
I am the Maya prince.
I am Nezahualcóyotl, great leader of the Chichimecas.
I am the sword and flame of Cortes the despot
And I am the eagle and serpent of the Aztec civilization.
I owned the land as far as the eye
could see under the Crown of Spain,
and I toiled on my Earth and gave my Indian sweat and blood
for the Spanish master who ruled with tyranny over man and
beast and all that he could trample
But...THE GROUND WAS MINE.
I was both tyrant and slave.
As the Christian church took its place in God's name,
to take and use my virgin strength and trusting faith,
the priests, both good and bad, took--
but gave a lasting truth that Spaniard Indian Mestizo
were all God's children.
And from these words grew men who prayed and fought
for their own worth as human beings, for that
GOLDEN MOMENT of FREEDOM.
I was part in blood and spirit of that courageous village priest
Hidalgo who in the year eighteen hundred and ten
rang the bell of independence and gave out that lasting cry--
El Grito de Dolores
"Que mueran los gachupines y que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe...."
I sentenced him who was me I excommunicated him, my blood.
I drove him from the pulpit to lead a bloody revolution for him and me....
I killed him.
His head, which is mine and of all those
who have come this way,
I placed on that fortress wall
to wait for independence. Morelos! Matamoros! Guerrero!
all companeros in the act, STOOD AGAINST THAT WALL OF INFAMY
to feel the hot gouge of lead which my hands made.
I died with them ... I lived with them .... I lived to see our country free.
Free from Spanish rule in eighteen-hundred-twenty-one.
Mexico was free??
The crown was gone but all its parasites remained,
and ruled, and taught, with gun and flame and mystic power.
I worked, I sweated, I bled, I prayed,
and waited silently for life to begin again.
I fought and died for Don Benito Juarez, guardian of the Constitution.
I was he on dusty roads on barren land as he protected his archives
as Moses did his sacraments.
He held his Mexico in his hand on
the most desolate and remote ground which was his country.
And this giant little Zapotec gave not one palm's breadth
of his country's land to kings or monarchs or presidents of foriegn powers.
I am Joaquin.
I rode with Pancho Villa,
crude and warm, a tornado at full strength,
nourished and inspired by the passion and the fire of all his earthy people.
I am Emiliano Zapata.
"This land, this earth is OURS."
The villages, the mountains, the streams
belong to Zapatistas.
Our life or yours is the only trade for soft brown earth and maize.
All of which is our reward,
a creed that formed a constitution
for all who dare live free!
"This land is ours . . .
Father, I give it back to you.
Mexico must be free. . . ."
I ride with revolutionists
I am the Rurales,
coarse and brutal,
I am the mountian Indian,
superior over all.
The thundering hoof beats are my horses. The chattering machine guns
are death to all of me:
I have been the bloody revolution,
I have killed
And been killed.
I am the despots Díaz
And the apostle of democracy,
Who die with me
Depending on the time and place.
I am faithful, humble Juan Diego,
The Virgin of Guadalupe,
Tonantzín, Aztec goddess, too.
I rode the mountains of San Joaquín.
I rode east and north
As far as the Rocky Mountains,
All men feared the guns of
I killed those men who dared
To steal my mine,
Who raped and killed my love
Then I killed to stay alive.
I was Elfego Baca,
living my nine lives fully.
I was the Espinoza brothers
of the Valle de San Luis.
All were added to the number of heads that in the name of civilization
were placed on the wall of independence, heads of brave men
who died for cause or principle, good or bad.
Are but a few.
They dared to face
The force of tyranny
Of men who rule by deception and hypocrisy.
I stand here looking back,
And now I see the present,
And still I am a campesino,
I am the fat political coyote–
Of the same name,
In a country that has wiped out
All my history,
Stifled all my pride,
In a country that has placed a
Different weight of indignity upon my age-old burdened back.
Inferiority is the new load . . . .
The Indian has endured and still
Emerged the winner,
The Mestizo must yet overcome,
And the gachupín will just ignore.
I look at myself
And see part of me
Who rejects my father and my mother
And dissolves into the melting pot
To disappear in shame.
Sell my brother out
And reclaim him
For my own when society gives me
In society's own name.
I am Joaquín,
Who bleeds in many ways.
The altars of Moctezuma
I stained a bloody red.
My back of Indian slavery
Was stripped crimson
From the whips of masters
Who would lose their blood so pure
When revolution made them pay,
Standing against the walls of retribution.
Blood has flowed from me on every battlefield between
slave and master and revolution.
I jumped from the tower of Chapultepec
into the sea of fame–
my country's flag
my burial shroud–
with Los Niños,
whose pride and courage
could not surrender
their country's flag
to strangers . . . in their land.
Now I bleed in some smelly cell from club or gun or tyranny.
I bleed as the vicious gloves of hunger
Cut my face and eyes,
As I fight my way from stinking barrios
To the glamour of the ring
And lights of fame
Or mutilated sorrow.
My blood runs pure on the ice-caked
Hills of the Alaskan isles,
On the corpse-strewn beach of Normandy,
The foreign land of Korea
And now Vietnam.
Here I stand
Before the court of justice,
For all the glory of my Raza
To be sentenced to despair.
Here I stand,
Poor in money,
Arrogant with pride,
Bold with machismo,
Rich in courage
Wealthy in spirit and faith.
My knees are caked with mud.
My hands calloused from the hoe. I have made the Anglo rich,
Equality is but a word–
The Treaty of Hidalgo has been broken
And is but another threacherous promise.
My land is lost
My culture has been raped.
I lengthen the line at the welfare door
And fill the jails with crime.
These then are the rewards
This society has
For sons of chiefs
And bloody revolutionists,
Who gave a foreign people
All their skills and ingenuity
To pave the way with brains and blood
For those hordes of gold-starved strangers,
Changed our language
And plagiarized our deeds
As feats of valor
Of their own.
They frowned upon our way of life
and took what they could use.
Our art, our literature, our music, they ignored–
so they left the real things of value
and grabbed at their own destruction
by their greed and avarice.
They overlooked that cleansing fountain of
nature and brotherhood
which is Joaquín.
The art of our great señores,
Orozco, is but another act of revolution for
the salvation of mankind.
Mariachi music, the heart and soul
of the people of the earth,
the life of the child,
and the happiness of love.
The corridos tell the tales
of life and death,
legends old and new, of joy
of passion and sorrow
of the people–who I am.
I am in the eyes of woman,
her shawl of black,
deep and sorrowful eyes
that bear the pain of sons long buried or dying,
dead on the battlefield or on the barbed wire of social strife.
Her rosary she prays and fingers endlessly
like the family working down a row of beets
to turn around and work and work.
There is no end.
Her eyes a mirror of all the warmth
and all the love for me,
and I am her
and she is me.
We face life together in sorrow,
anger, joy, faith and wishful
I shed the tears of anguish
as I see my children disappear
behind the shroud of mediocrity,
never to look back to remember me.
I am Joaquín.
I must fight
and win this struggle
for my sons, and they
must know from me
who I am.
Part of the blood that runs deep in me
could not be vanquished by the Moors.
I defeated them after five hundred years,
and I have endured.
Part of the blood that is mine
has labored endlessly four hundred
years under the heel of lustful
I am still here!
I have endured in the rugged mountains
Of our country
I have survived the toils and slavery of the fields.
I have existed
In the barrios of the city
In the suburbs of bigotry
In the mines of social snobbery
In the prisons of dejection
In the muck of exploitation
In the fierce heat of racial hatred.
And now the trumpet sounds,
The music of the people stirs the
Like a sleeping giant it slowly
Rears its head
To the sound of
Fiery tequila explosions
The smell of chile verde and
Soft brown eyes of expectation for a
And in all the fertile farmlands,
the barren plains,
the mountain villages,
we start to MOVE.
Or whatever I call myself,
I look the same
I feel the same
Sing the same.
I am the masses of my people and
I refuse to be absorbed.
I am Joaquín.
The odds are great
But my spirit is strong,
My faith unbreakable,
My blood is pure.
I am Aztec prince and Christian Christ.
I SHALL ENDURE!
I WILL ENDURE!
I wrote a response and wanted to share it with people.
Response to the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade
I like to thank the RCYB for letting me in on the debate and for taking the time to discuss the piece I wrote on organizing and protests. I'd like to further discuss some of my arguments, because the essay could not go into my position overall -- it wasn't my intention in doing that anyway.
I think what tends to happen a lot with authoritarian leftists is the "all or nothing approach" -- and what ends up happening is that you don't accomplish anything. You end up as an arm-chair/ivory tower intellectual. I have a disliking for party liners who spend their time on theory and no time on actually developing new ideas through your practice (developing a praxis).
I think the question was posed by my friend Rolando, how are you going to develop a revolution through a newspaper?
That is a very good point, and I can speak to this with my own experience. I used to be a member of the RCYB, and was a maoist in name (and an anarcho-communist in my heart). In the four years, I had to take out the Party's line -- mainly through their newspaper. In the housing projects in Watts when we were organizing, what ended up happening was that the "masses" ended up viewing the revolutionaries as Jehovah's Witnesses. They didn't relate to what we were talking about. They hid from us when we were trying to talk to them about communism. We didn't build any real relationships with them first, or even realize that people will not make the leap or see themselves as revolutionaries overnight. People have to empower themselves through organizing, taking action, taking up theory, and being part of all decision making. You can't just talk to them in some old dogmatic rhetoric and expect them to join the "vanguard."
Even in Russia -- what led to the revolution wasn't Lennin and their party's newspaper. It was a multi-faceted strategy -- where people organized themselves in ther workplaces and in their communities. It had a lot to do with the Military Revolutionary Committee (where anarchists and socialists organized the military to overthrow the tzar). The Soviets (councils of elected delegates) had to do witht the development of the struggle in Russia and developing direct-democracy. The Bolsheviks' opportunism led to one party rule in Russia and the centralizing of power in the soviets and the repression of autonomous communities (in particular in the Ukraine).
We need better living conditions, we need dignity and justice -- that's the reality.
You can't expect somebody to eat theory to survive -- and these are small reforms that are desirable. These are problems that we face in our communities and we need to struggle to change these today as part of our overall revolutionary vision. We face: isolation, degradation, exploitation, oppression and so on.
On the other hand you have what you mentioned -- the reformists. The folks who have no intention in connecting our organizing today to an overall program for fundamental change locally and globally.
We need to fight for dignity and justice in our communities, in our workplaces, and in our schools. We can't just go after the "bourgeoisie" -- but we have to connect our organizing to our overall aims. Reforms at this point (depending on how you carry them out or how you pose them to people) are not necesarily a bad thing, and can empower our movement in different ways -- but it shouldn't be left up to reforms.
The RCP views Revolution as an event: where we get our army and the ruling class has their army and we go at it -- that's wrong for different reasons. For one, its bound to fail and two are you trying to build a party or empower the "masses" to organize themselves and take back what belongs to them?
Revolutionary change is a process of building dual power and defending/safeguarding what we create and have taken back. Dual Power basically means that we build the structures right now that will replace capitalism and the state with all its oppressive institutions. This is happening right now (today) in communities in Chiapas and occupied factories in Argentina. They're building direct-democracy, autonomy, and dual-power through their organizing and their actions. I agree with George Jackson of the Black Panther Party-- I think that if we organize and build dual power the state will come down on us eventually. He called for self-defense (in any way possible) of the communities, but organizing locally through programs and projects of the BPP. When the state comes down on the community they will be organized and prepared. They would be coordinating also with other communities and fighting for similar aims and goals. This would result in a civil war -- where conflicting futures will struggle against each other. I think that this is part of an overall strategy where "humanity fights for humanity."
I do agree in order to win we NEED TO HAVE the orientation of humanity fighting for humanity, and uniting with the majority to defeat the minority, but I think we need solidarity among the working class/all of the oppressed first before we can have solidarity with other classes (but I don't disagree with having support from the middle strata at this point or even including them in our organizations).
Anarchists are not opposed to developing political positions, but we see our positions as changing with time and relating your ideas and your strategy to your region's conditions (I think Mao had similar ideas -- having himself been an anarchist and coopting Chinese Anarchists' ideas). The RCP as well as other state-socialists have a tendency to implement ideas and strategies that are outdated (basing them on history they have romanticized). We feel that we need to develop our leadership skills, not centralize power in the hands of a few.
We can point to where power has corrupted and turn revolutionaries (no matter how well intentioned) into oppressors -- as in China, Russia, Cambodia and so on. Also where movements were decapitated because of the reliance on a few charismatic leaders (as in the u.s. in the 1960's).
Bob Avakian, in my opinion, is a great intellectual. I do think we can organize for the revolutionary process with out his "vision and leadership" (which I don't think is innovative -- just recycling old dogma). I think that to have the position that "without this man we won't be successful" is backward. You're telling humanity in general, but Blacks, Latinos, Women, and all oppressed people in particular, that we have to rely on another rich white male to rule over us and save us. Is that really revolutionary? How is he going to lead us from his self-imposed exile, just through his writings?
Last thing I would like to get into is the argument over "the correct line." I don't think a small group of people can know what's in the interests of humanity. I don't think that this party can tell all of us how to organize ourselves and what is best for us. What about when the RCP had a position on homosexuality that WAS homophobic. They thought that homosexuality was a product of capitalism and that it would be abolished under socialism through "re-education." Ofcourse, they've come out recently and said that this position was incorrect, and "they've never had a problem with homosexuality." Regardless of their new position, they thought for decades that they were right. Imagine if these people had power, they would of rounded up all homosexuals and tried to re-educate their sexuality -- same as Christian fundamentalists do (same as Mao did in China and his answer to dealing with different lines). They were criticized for many years but didn't change their position until recently. Was the party right back then? Imagine if the RCP made a mistake in your line if you had state power -- they would kill and oppress hundreds and thousands.
The way you arrive at a position is through the direct-democratic or consensus process; through debate, dialogue and popular participation.
The revolutionary process is one that has to be made by the people not a vanguard party. This is why I'm part of a federation -- where we learn as we teach, we develop ourselves as longterm organizers, support and build solidarity among our communities and oppressed people, build support among other classes and humanity, and help in the process of self-organization in our communities, work-places, and schools.
Anarcho-Communist and member of the Southern California Anarchist Federation -- Los Angeles
Oppressive Social Relationships and a Revolutionary Movement
I think we need to change the oppressive social relationships while we're building a revolutionary organization and a revolutionary movement.
Some anarchists do focus only on the organization and not on the actual politics, revolutionary vision, or challenging capitalist social relations.
They take on an obscure anti-statist position, without looking at imperialism and the specific conditions that have developed because of capitalism. For example, in the US, one cannot just take on the issue of class, with out discussing issues of culture, race, gender -- because this is how capitalism has developed -- on the backs of racially, culturally, and all oppressed people and with a white heterosexual male supremacist ideology.
These are the specific conditions to the US.
The solution to these problems and strategy should be always a topic and priority in revolutionary organizing. The overall strategy should come from our actual collective experience in struggle -- not from sitting in a room theorizing. Theory is complimentary to our actual experience in struggle. Organization I think is necessary to actually carry out the revolutionary process -- otherwise we will not be successful in defeating imperialism.
At the same time we cannot become whom we are trying to defeat in the process. We should not take on the oppressive social relationships that exist and we should not be a reflection of the capitalists. We should build the structures and relationships that we would like to replace capitalism with. This should not be confused with building more national bureaucracies that reflect the state or building a network that is too incoherent to be effective in anything besides within the activist subculture.
The issue of land and regional autonomy is important and I think in different parts of the world where feudal neocolonial conditions exist -- the question of land is key to revolution. The struggle for self-determination is part of the struggle of human liberation in general. In the US and other imperialist countries (there is a difference with countries like the US, Britain, France and other imperialist countries who exploit the people and the resources of the "Third World" through military force) the question of land is different -- because they do not have a peasantry who's livelihood is rooted in land (there's more industrialized agricultural regions in imperialist societies). There are however communities and regions that have developed historically and historically oppressed regions and communities. There is also unevenness between regions and communities -- where there is a lack of resources and great deal of state repression. Those communities are usually working class and people of color communities. Autonomy will give oppressed people, regions, and communities the opportunity to develop their way of life and culture that has been stolen and suppressed because of colonialism.
This though will require organization, and you cannot build revolutionary communities in isolation. These communities can connect, communicate, share resources, unite in tactics and develop a clear vision and strategy (program) to take on the capitalist and imperialist system through a federation. They can connect and build in solidarity with other regions nationally and internationally. A federation will also allow specific regions with specific histories and conditions, for example the South West and the history of the oppression of indigenous people, Chicanos and Mexicanos, the South and the oppression of Black people -- to organize around their own terms. Although people of color, women, queer people, working class people, immigrants, are oppressed everywhere there are specific histories and conditions in different communities.
Organizations that are built anywhere in the world should strategize around their own specific conditions -- there won't be one formula for the revolution internationally.
Our organization should have an orientation of humanity fighting for humanity, but within that we cannot eliminate people's histories and their own needs. Oppressed communities should be autonomous and be developed culturally and in other aspects as well.
Social relationships and inequalities will not be destroyed by just building an anarchist organization. Those inequalities and social relationships will still exist in the organization. There will be people who know more than others and have more experience (because people become politicized at different times in their lives) -- it wouldn't be a problem as long as those individuals do not use these inequalities to dominate (this happens in authoritarian communist organizations especially but some anarchists do this as well). This unevenness in understanding can also be rooted in privilege -- people who have more time to theorize and organize become politicized first and based on their socialization can dominate or empower others.
There are also inequalities in organizations between men and women (most organizations are dominated by men), between different classes (activists tend to be middle class), difference in race (issues seen as legitimate are ones where white people are dominant -- as in environmental, anti-war, animal rights issues), difference in sexuality (organizations alienate queer people and do not give room to discuss sexuality).
An anarchist organization specifically is relevant depending on the role of the organization. We shouldn't be trying to convert the masses into anarchists. Spreading our principles and organizing around our principles while building and helping in the process of the self organization of people and our communities is much more important. Our organization should play a role in helping give people experience in collective struggle, decision-making, direct democratic and consensus process, and in revolutionary organizing. As anarchists in particular and revolutionaries in general we still have a lot to learn and we can teach only what we've experienced and the knowledge we have acquired. Developing our theory and our praxis should also be part of the process. In the end, we also have to allow ourselves to experience defeat and not be demoralized by it but continue to develop so we can win and be free.
Building autonomous organizations of the oppressed is the foundation of the revolutionary process and these autonomous organizations cannot be isolated from communities but be integrated to people who do not see themselves as "activists" or as revolutionary anarchists yet. Class-consciousness has to be developed among the oppressed and other potential allies as well -- organization can help with this as well as a different form of education that helps people analyze their day-to-day struggles.
A revolutionary movement is needed and must be built in order for us to free ourselves and we need to build solidarity with each other and oppressed people everywhere -- with that being said, we also need revolutionary organization.
My personal vision is of a world that is organized based on autonomous regions, where those regions are organized around their own specific conditions. Regions are connected to other regions through general goals and they share resources. Within those regions there are community/workplace councils, elected delegates, mass assemblies that allow for them to organize themselves but in the end they choose how they organize themselves on the basis of free association and horizontalism. Regions would be connected through a federation, which would be a permanent non-hierarchical structure that allows for people to organize themselves and take control of their resources, and take part in decision making – without the need of state apparatus, national bureaucracy, or a vanguard party.
A region does not mean set borders in place it constitutes geographic conditions. For example, the Central Valley of California produces the most food and most variety of fruits and vegetables in the nation (because of its concrete conditions), and Los Angeles /Southern California has different conditions. The importance of mutual aid, cooperation, and support between region and region is the life of the federation.
Another important aspect of regionally based organization is building autonomy. Autonomy means building independence among people where they reclaim their resources, that also means that historically colonized people reclaiming their way of life, their language, and culture. Anti-colonialism, and national liberation is part of the process of human liberation, we have to support them whether they be in Bolivia, Ecuador, or in the South/New Afrika, Puerto Rico, among Chicanos, in Chiapas, Mexico, Ireland, Africa, Palestine and so on. Autonomy means self-determination in the final analysis, and people as a people having their own space to create and reclaim their own way of life. Women within autonomous regions, and all genders and sexual identities, will need their own space as well.
As anarchists and anti-authoritarians, is not just supporting these struggles, but learning from them, and fighting in solidarity with all oppressed people -- but also giving them their space to develop and grow (and supporting that).
So how do we connect this lofty idea to what we’re doing today, without becoming arm chair/ivory tower revolutionaries and without getting too focused on our immediate work – but finding the right balance and dialectical relationship between the two?
I think in Los Angeles we’ve gotten off to a good start so far, and have a lot of potential, yet we haven’t (to quote my friends from the chapter) we haven’t gotten our hands dirty yet.
The Southern California Anarchist Federation as an organization is new in general and has only three chapters in So-Cal, one in Orange County, one in Los Angeles, and one in the Antelope Valley. In a general sense a federation now is the process of building self-management, autonomy, and organization regionally and is united on common goals and principles. Each chapter empowers the members to become active participants in the decision-making, and builds accountability amongst its members. The chapters coordinate all the issues that affect the particular communities in the regions so therefore it develops organization and long-term projects around our conditions and our general principles as anarchists or anti-authoritarian socialists/libertarian socialists.
In Los Angeles we have collectives that organize around particular struggles and specific issues. Each collective is autonomous as well, and can organize independently, and choose its own membership, and can exist without the chapter. The chapter allows for coordination between different issues in the region, and builds long-term vision and organization projects for individuals and collectives who want to be part of that.
In Los Angeles the collectives we’ve begin to organize around and we hope to get off the ground (which became part of the federation through consensus or because members of SCAF wanted to build a collective project connect it to our chapter) are so far:
-Mujeres Libres – a collective of women and men building projects that empower women and fight patriarchy
-The Mutual Aid Collective – connecting neighbors to share resources, in a step to build community based action and collectivity
-Si Se Puede – a labor collective, empowering workers, building collectivity, solidarity and projects that challenge hierarchy in the labor union and focuses on those who are forgotten by organized labor
-Youth Liberation Collective – High School youth organizing in their schools and connecting other youth with each other who want to organize and challenge illegitimate authority
- Cop Watch – organized communities observing police as they go about their business as usual: harassing people in our communities – and take direct action to stop the brutality and murders that have become an every day occurrence in Los Angeles.
-Propaganda and Media Work Group/Collective (I consider this a work group because all the members of chapter will approve or support in some way the work of the Propaganda and Media Collective)
Our chapter is also seeking to build relationships with other organizations and enter in coalitions with other organizations that we feel, collectively, that they have similar goals that we do, which they don’t necessarily have to be anarchist in name but in a broader sense we agree in the short term or in the long term.
There are many benefits of organizing in a federation, which is a structured non-hierarchical organization. We set in place checks and balances from the beginning so that we don’t develop power relationships, and if they do develop they are ways to check them. All our positions are rotated, and no position is permanent – if a delegate or any other person abuses the temporary leadership they are given – they can be instantly recalled or even suspended or expelled from our organization. Also as mentioned, each collective can function autonomously, and there is no centralized power, so it makes it hard for the state to destroy the organization. We are conscious that we’re working in a repressive atmosphere – so developing ways to combat state repression is important. We don’t isolate ourselves from communities, which make it easier for the state to come down on us, but we seek to build strong roots broadly in the communities, the left, and society in general. Also we seek to support other federations in other regions, and support similar movements here and around the world – and learn from each other.
All that mentioned, I think that developing mid-term demands and aims is something that time will tell. I would personally like to see, along with other folks, SCAF helping develop community infrastructures that allow for particular communities to organize themselves. This relates to the idea of building Dual Power, where people again break dependencies from the state and the city and organize their own communities, their work places ant their schools – and build mutual aid programs, education, and organization that is capable of defending itself if the state comes down on them. Focusing on our projects is important, because that will enable us to actually outreach and build strong ties to our communities and our organization won’t become stagnant where the membership is exclusively anarchist (especially people who don’t do the groundwork but romanticize the anarchist identity).
How that would look:
In the communities of Watts, Pasadena, South Central, Compton, Pico Union, and so on, the infrastructure can be a community council, where they organize around specific issues that affect them and their neighbors as in Police Brutality, Rent control and Land Lords kicking people out into the streets, people not having food, single mothers having No Child Care and having to Work and Go to School. The infrastructures will allow people to organize on their own who actually live there and build their own vision and plan – along with that people will be welcome to join the organization, but our the role of the councils will not be to "develop the forces of the federation" in a vanguardist sense – we’re not organizing to recruit but to develop self-organization.
In our workplaces, it means "Firing the Boss", and organizing on the jobs for better living conditions, and empowering people who are targeted by the state or ignored by organized labor for example: domestic workers, women, day laborers, immigrants – this can mean building work centers that are run co-operatively by workers themselves, where they support each other, get work, organize themselves, and work the broader community projects
In our schools, it means student councils fighting the administration and student governments and building democracy and collectivity on the campuses where students even run their own co-operatives and community programs.
All that is the foundation of a movement that is capable of challenging the system of power, and building collective ownership of our communities. I think any revolutionary organization, that is serious and direct-democratic should seek to play a role in building that and not just waiting for the "Big Revolutionary Crisis" to happen while "Leading the Masses" – we seek to connect people with each other, empower them, learn from them, and educate each other to actually build the world we want to live in right now.
We don’t want to turn things upside down, where we’re at the top, we want to turn things sideways where there are horizontal relationships between all people.
Until then, always in struggle,
"I hold that, in the last analysis, the artist must bow to the monitor of his own imagination; must be led by sovereignty of his own impressions and perceptions; must be guided by the tyranny of what troubles and concerns him personally; and that he must learn to trust the impulse, vague and compulsive as it may be, which moves him in the first instance toward expression. There is no other true path, and the artist owes it to himself and those who live and breathe with him to render unto reality that which is reality's."
-Richard Wright to Antonio Frasconi, 1944
"Graffiti has been used to start revolutions, stop wars and generally is the voice of the people who aren't listened to. Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you down't come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they're taking a piss"
There is a repressive atmosphere in united states today. The government has unleashed a full attack on the people.
From South Dakota banning abortion, to police getting off for murdering innocent children, to people's home being taken away because of gentrification, to the new racist and fascist HR 4437.
These new attack on immigrants is part of the whole agenda of the people in power and the capitalist system. It is to drive working class people of color who were forced from their homelands in Mexico, Central America, and South America in particular, deeper into the shadows. These workers make up the back-breaking sector in the working class – working the jobs nobody will take up under the worst conditions for the worst pay. This economy lives off the labor of immigrants who pick the food, make the clothes, clean the houses, and basically run society. This new law will create an atmosphere where if they do find a job, it would guarantee them super exploitation, and anybody who assists, fights, and stand in solidarity with them will be criminalized.
Today thousands of High School students walked out of their schools in some of the communities that would be most affected by this bill, in East Los Angeles, and South East Los Angeles. People are stepping up and taking bold actions against the direction that this society is taking – and demanding something else.
We have to build a movement where the most oppressed are leading and in the forefront of their struggles – and where we're relying on ourselves. We have to build a movement where our tactics are not just to react to this unjust system, but to replace it and build something much more better in its place.
As anarchists we believe that no human being is illegal, and want to live in a society where one country does not dominate, exploits, and conolizes people. Where borders were a thing of the past – and still people's cultures and particular histories are upheld.
The Southern California Anarchist Federation will be at tomorrow's march against HR 4437.
Our contingent will be made up by our communities, and we will be marching with the Port Trucker Association and the Youth Justice Coalition (two organizations we work with)
We will meet on Olympic and Hope at 10am.
Report from the Los Angeles Walk Outs: Rebels and Cops
Collective Ownership and Self-Defense--Leadership and Distrust for those with Privilege (First Draft)
Collective Ownership and Self-Defense--Leadership and Distrust for those with Privilege (First Draft)
By Joaquin Cienfuegos
(Anarcho-Communist, Community Organizer, and member of the Southern California Anarchist Federation-Los Angeles)
In the United States the power structure that exists is complicated. To paraphrase bell hooks, its a white supremacist patriarchal imperialist system. This is our reality, and this is what the system of power is rooted in. Any real strategy for revolution has to be rooted in ones own specific conditions. Since we live in the United States and anybody who calls him or herself a revolutionary (or radical) has to seriously look at the situation here in the US (and also within different communities you have different conditions, and with different regions you have different conditions). We have to figure out how we can confront reality to change it, and rely on ourselves as oppressed peoples for that change -- not on the state and not on a vanguard party who claims to know whats in our interests.
So one cannot just talk about the class oppression but you have to look at the entire power relationships -- and how they affect us and you have to adapt those things into your organizing and strategy for social change.
The development of capitalism in the U.S. was based on white Protestantism and the progress of the white male protestant merchants and landowners. Their values, standards and the culture of the rulers are dominant in this society. Their agenda is guided by this culture and the preservation of their rule.
Then if you do not reflect the power structure of imperialism (which is white, capitalist, patriarchal, and heterosexist) you are subjugated by their rule. The power structure is set up to manipulate, control, exploit, imprison, murder, and even exterminate those who do not reflect them.
Oppression in the U.S. and the oppressed is also complex. While there are organizations out there whos rhetoric doesnt go beyond the proletariat (or working class) things are much more complex than that. The oppressed are people who are of color, working class, women, queer people, and young as well. This is because of the power relationships that exist in this country. Where white males through manifest destiny sought to conquer and dominate this land, and saw themselves as chosen people of god. Throughout the history of this country, they have systematically killed, tortured, exploited, exterminated people who did not reflect their power structure, who stood in their way of expansion and more power, and posed a threat to their power and way of life.
The state is used to enforce their system of power and to keep it in tact. The state is made up of the police, the courts, the prison system, their government, government agencies, and even their schools. So anybody that rises up or resists the power structure will be faced with repression and also will have to take on the enforcers of the state. Not only when people rise up, but also in their day-to-day life in communities with third world conditions, the state is used to maintain a culture of fear. They terrorize the people who live there, throw them in prison, and murder them. Historically, the state has been responsible for the extermination of indigenous people, the preservation of racial slavery, the theft of land and the colonization of people (in particular Mexico, Indigenous people, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii), the upholding of patriarchy (where women were and still are subjugate and seen as second class citizens -- to be child bearers and servants to men), and denied the right for queer people to not only marry but to love whom they choose.
The question is how do we organize around all these different and distinct forms of oppression to challenge and change the power structure. How do we allow for autonomy but still have a common plan and strategy for the liberation of the oppressed?
You say Identity Politics -- We call it Autonomy
What kind of organization and how does it look like?
I spoke briefly to how oppression exists in this society, but it is not as simple. There are very unique and specific forms of oppression but there is also intersection. Meaning that all these forms of oppression overlap and affect people in different ways. For example women of color have a different experience and different positions and/or demands than say white women, and working class people of color have a different experience than the white working class (but also people of color and women are systematically forced into a position of wage slavery -- where they work the worst jobs if they can even find a job, for the worst pay, under the worst conditions -- which includes immigrants of color).
In the 60s the idea was that we needed to break up into different camps (where white people organize white people, Black people, organize Black people, Chicanos organize Chicanos, Puerto Ricans organize Puerto Ricans) and when the revolution came we would all form a united front. I do not think its necessary to break up into camps based on your identity, since I spoke to the intersection of our oppression -- and our communities are diverse (especially with Black and Latino communities, in particular in Los Angeles). I do however think it is necessary for the oppressed communities to have autonomy (to have independence, to have self-determination - in terms of their organizing, their vision, their culture, their way of life, and their struggle for liberation). At this point it is important for the oppressed to rely on their own democratic organization to develop their own leadership skills, strategy, and give them practice and experience in self-organization.
Dogmatists and purists attack this position because they call it separatist or they say that to do this were creating divisions. In reality these divisions exist in society, lets be realistic, and we have to directly challenge these oppressive social relationships not avoid them. Society and this power structure has alienated us, it systematically dominates us -- we should not rely on this system for liberation. Revolution means changing the social relationships and power relationships that exist in this society that perpetuates oppression, and self-hatred. These social relationships are also carried over into our organizing or the left because we do not organize in a vacuum -- we are influenced by the dominant culture of the powers that be. In the left we suffer from what Frantz Fanon called internalized oppression (where we recreate and reflect the same oppressive social relationships that exist under capitalism). In the left there is also class-reductionism where all other forms of oppression are ignored except for class.
Class reductionism would attack the autonomous movements of the oppressed and call them identity politics when the privileged leadership of these organizations get challenged and their quest for ruling over the oppressed is threatened.
I think this all comes from whose leading and who is fighting to lead the movement. The politics of any organization will be influenced by who makes up the organization. If you have an organization where the majority of people are from a privileged background then your politics and the political positions of your organization will reflect the social position that is probably less genuine and more liberal. This relates to the left in general in the US today. The vanguard parties are led by people who have privileged positions in society, therefore there are going to want to gravitate to a leadership position and power -- the privileged (white, upper middle class men, who have had the privilege and the time to dig into politics) are usually the ones leading and calling the shots within these vanguard parties and also hold this notion that theyre going to liberate the oppressed which is all rooted in their social position. The same goes for anarchists, who in North America and in particular in the US are influenced by a white middle class male position because the political SCENE is made up of them -- and the ones who dominate within the anarchist organizations (especially within a structure less environment) are those same people.
So how do we organize ourselves, build autonomy, become self-sufficient while at the same time challenge power and change those relationships? These are the main tasks to carry out as revolutionaries: to empower ourselves and oppressed communities, build the structures that give people a glimpse of how things can be different and how we can organize ourselves, build our fighting capacity, integrate ourselves within the communities and mass movements, and build a political and revolutionary base within these communities -- and build the leadership skills, consciousness, and experience in collective struggle within these communities.
Who are these privileged organizations to tell the oppressed how they should organize and struggle? We have much to learn from the masses, as we have to teach the masses.
Although we know the revolutionary project to defeat the system of capitalism and enslavement requires millions of other allies who will help us, we will decide the agenda, the timetable, and the tactics of obtaining freedom. (Lorenzo Komboa Ervin. Anarchism and the Black Revolution. 1994)
The process of developing a praxis that is effective should be important, and we should always have as principal what works for us here while maintaining our autonomy and individual freedom -- and adapting ideas and theories that help guide our organizing to our specific conditions.
The question should be put out there though, why organize amongst the oppressed -- isnt everybody oppressed in a way? Yes in a way this is true, but also there are different social positions within this system and people have different privileges. The politics of the oppressed will always be more genuine if they are involved first-hand in facilitating the process of their own liberation. Anytime you have the majority privileged folks in your organization -- the politics of the organization will become watered down-- because consciously or subconsciously they have more at stake -- they have more to loose. I draw heavily from organizations like the Black Panther Party (where I disagree with their structure as well as other mistakes they made) were one of the most serious organizations in the 60s in terms of revolutionary praxis in their communities, building dual power, fighting for better positioning within the communities, political-and self defense training, and having an understanding/analysis of race and class politics (while seriously trying to deal with gender problems in the organization). They were an organization that was serious enough that it posed the biggest threat to the US government -- so much that the state prioritized smashing them. There are many lessons to draw from that experience and learn from mistakes as well -- but one thing that you can look at is that the organization was a form of self-organization of the oppressed (a top-down self-organization not a horizontal one though) where the politics were adapted to their communities and were more genuine as well. This posed a huge threat to the power structure and the state.
While were organizing for autonomy within communities there is a need to connect, communicate, coordinate and work along other communities for the same aims, platform, and/or demands. This is where federalism can help connect not only oppressed communities, but also privileged allies who are organizing within their own communities to link up and build a revolutionary movement that has clear politics, common vision, and strategy.
Collective Ownership of our Community and our Organization
When Bobby Seale and I came together to launch the Black Panther Party, we observed many groups. Most of them were so dedicated to rhetoric and artistic rituals that they had withdrawn from living in the 20th century. Sometimes their analyses were beautiful but they had no practical programs, which would translate these understanding to the people... Any action which does not mobilize the community toward the goal is not revolutionary action. The action might be a marvelous statement of courage, but if it does not mobilize the people toward the goal of a higher manifestation of freedom it is not making a political statement and could even be counterrevolutionary.
-Huey P. Newton
[On the Defection of Eldridge Cleaver from the Black Panther party and the Defection of the Black panther Party from the Community; April 17, 1971; taken from to Die For The People, by Huey P Newton; pg, 46]
Any organization or revolutionary movement in order to succeed has to be owned collectively by those who are involved in that revolutionary organization and movement. By that I mean, people are part of decision making, planning, and have a say so in what gets done.
A way for communities to build their self-organization is through independent community councils, where community members can meet with each other, and organize around issues that are directly affecting them in their community while (through a federation) building solidarity and working towards the same goals with other communities, and regions nationally and internationally.
The federation would be one that is specifically revolutionary -- this of course is hard to do (because realistically just because people come from oppressed communities does not mean they are revolutionary -- there a lot of backward ideas that exist within these communities). Its important for the revolutionary organization to be integrated into the community and develop collective leadership and collective ownership from within the community itself (the organizers would have to not only be familiar with the community but would have to come from within that community). There will always be people who become politicized at different times for different reasons (sometimes because theyre forced by history to step up and resist as in the Los Angeles High School Walk Outs that happened recently March 2006), the role of those people is not to form a new ruling elite within these communities but to organize, raise consciousness, and most importantly DEMOCRATIZE KNOWLEDGE to bridge the gaps as much as possible in understanding and organizing experience. The federation, as a specifically revolutionary organization, with clear principles, politics, vision and strategy (where these things are dynamic and will change through the experimentation of the organization or victories and failures) -- can work within popular movements.
Realistically revolution will not happen through a vanguard party. It will happen through the movement of millions of people. This has been the case in any popular social movement that has been successful anywhere -- the problem has been that the popular movements become co-opted by different interests that do not reflect those of the people in the long run (as in bourgeois nationalists, authoritarian socialists, fascists etc.). The role of the federation shouldnt be to try to place itself in front of the popular struggles, but have some influence within them, to raise consciousness, support, and help in the process of developing other revolutionary organizers for the long term struggle or the overall liberation process.
The community councils are a way where people can build dual power; basically build the structures that would replace this system and power structure within their communities. They would organize to rely on themselves for their needs (and eventually stop relying on the state -- the police especially because they act as an occupying army in our communities). People might look at this and say that why do this -- why not just fight to get state power? This is power -- its a collective distribution of power to those who run the communities -- were cutting out the middle men (the state as in the police, their courts, their schools, and other agencies that make us dependent on them). In a way were retaking the communities (which include the place where we work, associate, and go to school) -- which is where we live, and we could run ourselves anyway.
This is a strategy for social change, where communities are organizing themselves and building a base for the struggle -- and an example of how we can organize ourselves, associate freely, and live according the basic principles of human rights -- including to each according to his ability and to each according to his need. This is real communism in practice.
Where anti-authoritarian socialists disagree with Marxist-Leninists is in the transitional state (where the vanguard party will lead the masses through a stage where they have ultimate power -- into finally a stateless society where them along with the state will magically disappear and they would give up their rule). The underlying structure, and power relations that existed in the Soviet Union, and China set the stage for capitalism to not only be implemented but with a much more oppressive and repressive state.
In China, anarchists discussed the idea of social transformation, and the challenging of what was oppressive in the traditional Chinese culture, which Mao learned from and the Cultural Revolution was waged by students and peasants in China, but because of the power dynamics -- the revolution did not succeed. When Mao died in the mid-70s, the four other members of the central committee were put in prison -- the people were not empowered enough to distinguish between the different factions that were fighting for power, and afterwards the most feudal and oppressive social relationships returned to China.
This would have not of happened if there been different power relationships and power was distributed -- and the masses of oppressed people (the peasants, working class, women, oppressed nationalities) had real ownership of the struggle and were leading.
Self-Defense and Revolutionary Struggle
Our insistence on military action, defensive and retaliatory, has nothing to do with romanticism or precipitous idealist fervor. We want to be effective. We want to live. Our history teaches us that the successful liberation struggles require an armed people, actively participating in the struggle for their liberty!
-George Jackson (Blood in My Eye)
In the US we have what we call a low intensity war against poor people of color, women and queer people in particular but all people in general. The government is attempting to move society in more right wing fascist direction today, but since its inception they have been killing, terrorizing, imprisoning, and exploiting anybody who did not represent the power structure. Overall they are killing oppressed people everyday and they have been doing it for over 400 years. Not only that, they are destroying the planet that gives us life, that we need to live -- all in their endless pursuit of profit and power.
Since this country was founded on expansion and imperialism oppressed communities have always been a semi-colony or neo-colony. This is because they have historically and systematically (day to day from day one) have been kept in third-world conditions here inside the empire itself, within the richest country in the world. People from these communities face unemployment, instability in their living situation, homelessness, prisons, drugs, police brutality, gentrification, poor education, and the list can go on and on. In Los Angles in particular, which I can speak of from my own experience, we can see this in communities like Pico Union, Watts, Compton, South Central, East Los Angeles, and in other parts of this country we can see this in communities like Oakland, Fresno, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and so on.
It is important to realize that there is a war being waged against the oppressed and has been going on and it is intensifying here. It is important to get into the question of revolutionary struggle and what that means.
I personally feel that the revolutionary struggle in order to succeed would have to be made up by a multi-faceted approach and through different tactics and a strategy (that is being developed through our experience). The community councils will not win out on their own, especially if were concentrated in urban areas and have no support and allies from white radicals and revolutionaries and the middle class and other privileged sectors. Also from the forgotten rural communities where people are also isolated.
As we do this we have to build our fighting potential within our own communities and among ourselves. Theres also the real case of the state coming down on us and trying to destroy what were creating in our communities. It is a threat to them to create autonomous communities within their state. So what then, do we not fight back?
I have a lot of unity with George Jacksons (of the Black Panther Party) strategy. Where you build dual power within your community, at the same time while youre gaining popular support within these communities, youre preparing and training to defend yourself from the state -- because most likely they will try to smash us. Through the collective experiences of struggle of the people within the communities they would support each other and carry out a social revolution -- and this will probably turn into a civil war between the state along the enforcers and supporters of this system and the popular movements, and the federation of revolutionary community councils.
The idea of an armed people was also put to practice by anarchists in the Ukraine during the Russian Revolution through militias -- where they elected their own officers, who defended and were made up of people from the community councils. One of the organizers from that period was Nestor Makhno who later helped write the anarchist platform. At the end there were some failures with this as well.
In any military aspect of organizing theres a need for expertise (as in people who have experience and training in military strategy and other aspects needed for self defense), in Chiapas the EZLN makes up the military component of their autonomous communities, and the army is under direct control of the bodies of community decision making. I think learning from all these different things would is important.
Our movement has not yet reached the military stage yet, but that does not mean we should not discuss this question seriously or leave our guard down. Armed struggle, as in non-violence, is a tactic in an overall strategy for systemic change. We not only have to look at it when it comes to self-defense (which is the ultimate reason for militias and democratic military) but that armed struggle in opposition to US imperialism is justified not only because they are killing us on a day to day basis here (and it is a struggle for our survival -- as oppressed people in particular and humanity in general), they are also killing millions more around the world through its military and its free market.
At the same time we should not uphold and romanticize the culture of violence or the culture of the gun (but see it as a tactic to within the overall revolutionary movement). On the other hand oppressed communities will decide ultimately what kind of tactics they would take up and carry out. To paraphrase War Churchill, its chauvinistic for someone who is privileged in America telling colonized people how they should be fighting for their liberation.
On Leadership and Creating a Culture of Resistance
In terms of leadership, I feel that the best way to lead is by example. If your organization is truly integrated with the people -- and you're sincere in the revolutionary process, youre building solid relationships, building a base united in tactics and strategy, and building real structures that will replace this system -- then people will join the movement and revolutionary organization.
Illegitimate authority is people imposing themselves and self-appointing themselves as the leadership -- who act as representatives for the rulers of this political, economic and social system.
Theres also a need for specifically revolutionary organization to provide the individual development of organizers and raise the level of consciousness through different forms of education (in particular popular education). Creating a culture of resistance means creating an atmosphere in society where new ideas and new forms of relating to each other is being discussed and practiced and is not hidden from people. Doing this will challenge many people to change themselves in the process of changing society.
Creating a culture of resistance does not mean creating counter culture that is isolated from people. It means creating something new, while integrating ideas to peoples history and experiences. Many anarchists do not have an understanding of the importance of adapting the ideas of anarchism to culture and specific conditions -- again because of their position in society and because European anarchists historically have opposed the association of culture and anarchism. (wikipedia.org) They want to make anarchism out to be something that was just discovered by our founding fathers Bakunin and Kropotking, when in reality all of these socialists studied indigenous cultures who practiced communism without calling themselves communists, when successful revolutions and the most successful anarchists have been the ones where they adapt their ideas and integrate them to the indigenous cultures. While claiming that traditional anarchism is one thing and not really analyzing how not only things have changed, but why is it that the anarchist scene is dominated by privileged people. Anarchists or other organizations who do not take these politics seriously or dont want to develop an analysis on these questions, I consider no more than a historical re-enactment society and club (trying to relive history). I do not take them seriously, I see them as bourgeois and liberal anarchists who intend to make these ideas inaccessible to the oppressed today -- but that does not rule out the possibility for people to develop and grow through their own trials and failures.
In terms of building a culture of resistance there is a lot to learn from the Chinese anarchists. Mao Tse-Tung co-opted principles and ideas from the Chinese Anarchists. They promoted popular education -- where they broke down complex theories for peasants (of course we have to do it where we don't patronize people). To do this is much harder than to just regurgitate what you've read in a book. You need a real grasp an understanding of our vision, our strategy and our program. This is much harder than to just spit out dates and numbers to people -- and just repeat what you've read somewhere.
It was anarchists who first pointed to the crucial role that the peasants must play in any serious revolutionary attempt in China, and Anarchists were the first to engage in any serious attempts to organize the peasants. (wikipedia.org)
Chinese students studying in Tokyo formed a group rooted its anarchism in political traditions native to Asia and advocated a peasant-based society built around democratically run villages organized into a free federation for mutual aid and defense. (wikepedia.org)
There were some problems with a different Chinese anarchist group that studied in Paris which was influenced by European anarchism. Who took a traditional obscure anarchist position on the nation-state and that there wasnt a need to integrate your politics to your specific conditions and the culture locally. While consistent with the stance of the global Anarchist movement at the time, this position elicits mixed responses from modern Anarchists, many of who see revolutionary potential in the struggles of oppressed ethnic and racial groups. In terms of the Revolutionary project in China, Ward Churchill cites the declarations of support for ethnic self-determination for Chinas ethnic minorities which the Communist movement made as key to winning their movement the support of those groups; which was to prove decisive during the later civil war between the Chinese Communist Party and the Nationalists. It is ironic that Anarchist movement, which is based on the idea of local political and economic self-determination and thus fulfills the autonomist aspirations of those groups - was unable to articulate to minority communities how their desire for self-determination would be realized within the context of an Anarchist society. (wikipedia.org)
Distrust for those with Privilege
As far as Im concerned the only reasonable conclusion would be to first realize the enemy, realize the plan, and then when something happens in the black colony-when were attacked or ambushed in the black colony-then the white revolutionary students and intellectuals and all the other whites who support the colony should respond by defending us, by attacking the enemy in their community...
As far as our party is concerned, the Black Panther Party is an all black party, because we feel as Malcolm X felt that there can be no black-white unity until there first is black unity. We have a problem in the black colony that is particular to the colony, but were willing to accept aid from the mother country as long as the mother country [white] radicals realize that we have, as Eldridge Cleaver says in Soul on Ice, a mind of our own. Weve regained our mind that was taken away from us and we will decide the political as well as the practical stand that well take. Well make the theory and well carry out the practice. Its the duty of the white revolutionary to aid us in this.
-Huey P. Newton
[Huey Newton talks to the Movement about the Black Panther Party, Cultural Nationalism, SNCC, Liberals and white revolutionaries.; taken from The Black Panthers Speak, edited by Philip S. Foner.]
In oppressed communities there is what I feel is distrust for people who they see reflect the power structure or their direct oppressor. People of color distrust white people, women distrust men, and workers distrust middle management. Whether this comes from a place of consciousness or not it is something that has been built based on our own experiences. That is real, personally every authority figure I have dealt with has been white (and have had other forms of privilege as well). So this is ingrained in the psychology of colonized and oppressed people that we have to follow the white male capitalist authorities. This distrust is seen by oppressed people as a means for their own survival as well.
So how can we work together? I feel that people who have a privileged position in society have to gain the trust of the oppressed communities. They have to prove themselves through their actions not just their words that they are in solidarity and they are real allies.
What has been my experience is that some sincere white middle class person has done things that have unconsciously been racist. As in this one case, an ex friend was picking me up, from my neighborhood in Boyle Heights -- and she wanted to get some liquor. She was coming from Westwood, so she tells me I should just get it over there, usually they have liquor stores in the `bad areas. So I called her out on it because she was basically suggesting that Westwood is the good area and where I live in my community is the bad area. Finally she got defensive and called me a reversed racist -- not understanding that racism is institutionalize and has to do with power and white supremacy (so we stopped being friends after that).
I do not have the position that white people or privileged people are born evil or are devils -- they are socialized. The problem is the system of capitalism and these fucked up social relationships. Realistically though, this socialization of people is something that is real and that is ingrained in the psyche of the privileged. There are feelings of superiority and hostility towards people of color that is deeply ingrained into the minds of white people. With that white males have a self-imposed right to power.
Also its been our experience in anarchist organizations, working with privileged white middle class activists -- that when every time the situation becomes real for them, where the state comes down on the organization they pull out, or they do things which have repercussions within oppressed communities without having to suffer the consequences for their actions -- but people of color, working class and women do. Before they leave they had tried to position themselves in the leadership, which comes from the socialization of white males to lead in society in general.
White upper-middle class men need to take responsibility and challenge their privilege-- not just in words but also through their actions and their conscious participation and organizing other privileged people to do the same. Their role is to be in solidarity with the oppressed -- not to lead their struggles.
Through a federation we can organize with each other and have autonomy as well -- the responsibility falls on each other to organize within our own communities and support each other in fighting for liberation.These questions are huge and we need to dig into them more -- as in building a real movement for systemic change -- and the role that revolutionary anarchists can play in adding a revolutionary platform for the popular movement and organizations in our communities.
the Los Angeles Chapter of the Southern California Anarchist
Federation. I agree with a lot of what J. has to say, so Ill try not
to repeat the same points. Overall SCAF was a great idea, and Im
dedicated to building a revolutionary movement regionally, in our
communities and internationally. I think there were some problems that
existed in the organization in SCAF, and also have some self-criticism.
I think when we set out to start this organization; it
was JUST open to anybody who called himself or herself an anarchist to
join. One thing we did do though, is have an organization that was
diverse, and made up of oppressed people (in the majority). We did
however have some early squabbles. It was difficult for the people who
made this organization up to find political unity and a praxis to
organize from. We had some basic agreements which included: long term
organizing, building dual power institutions, helping in the process of
community, worker, and student self-organization.
The organization was also politically diverse; there
were people that came from different experiences in organizing, from
socialists, to green anarchists, Trotskyites, Maoists, individualists,
and people who were new to politics altogether. We all wanted to be
part of something different, that we werent being offered by liberals,
reformists, and top-down organizations.
SCAF-LA for the most part, gave us experience in
organizing ourselves, and for a lot of people helped figure out what
they wanted to do politically (and what are some mistakes and victories
we can learn from). None of us were burn out by this organization (at
least the core members werent).
Personally I think that I still want to build a
federation, that has more clear politics and isnt obscure North
American Anarchist politics. I want to organize with people who I DO
see eye to eye with and share common experience. I want to be part of
revolutionary organization. In SCAF-LA I think there was a divide
politically and practically between the people who wanted to be part of
a revolutionary organization and the people who wanted to be part of
another anarchist network. So there was a feeling of a constant tug of
war, of the organization in different directions (and I think I felt
into that as well). At one point I wanted to leave before, because I
did not want to waste my time being part of another activist group
only focused on actions with no clear strategy on fighting for
liberation, just jumping on whatever issue was hot at the moment, and
clear connection to peoples everyday lives.
I think in a revolutionary organization you have to
discipline and dedication from the membership, you have to be open to
challenged and challenge yourself in the process of changing the world.
There has to be a way to integrate new members more efficiently into
organization and to the community without just throwing them into a
collective that has no real strategic aims for the long term. SCAF-LA
didnt have any of these things, and in fact I think people struggled
against it, so this is one of the reasons why it failed.
In any organization who takes it self seriously, or
is serious about taking on the state and capitalism and all oppression,
you need a strategy and you need a praxis. The best way to do this is
collectively with the membership, so that the organization can be owned
collectively. Some members just argued for disconnected individual
actions without any coordination, which defeats the purpose of having a
federation. There was no foundation being built besides the rhetoric
some of the members (myself included in that).
There was no discipline around studying -- and discussion, to actually
formulate some analysis and political unity through. Studying was
included in the structure of SCAF-LA, yet we only had 2 study groups in
the year that we existed.
A revolutionary organization needs to have clear
political positions, even though this might sound rigid, this a
necessary way to outreach to people and let them know what were about
--- rather than just saying Im an anarchist and every person gives a
different definition for the organization.
There were a lot of liberal positions taken by members
regarding things like criticism. We would not call out members who
would take up responsibilities and not follow through. We would even
continue those people to take on more responsibilities and let us down
again and again. Other liberal positions included things around race,
gender, class, and sexuality in fact we never even discussed these
things in how they relate to us. We only talked about these things in
theory. One instance we argued with one of the white members who was
talking about reverse racism and how it was real. Oppressed people
not taking up leadership, within the organization you had white middle
class males attempting to or blatantly positioning themselves in the
I want to continue to grow and develop collectively
people who I trust and have ideas and experiences in common with. I
think that everybody that came out of SCAF-LA will continue to support
each other informally; there are some folks who will continue to
organize and fight for our freedom. This is all want and nothing less.
I dont want to be in an organization that connects me
to other anarchists, I want one that is building, and reflecting,
learning, making mistakes, building collectivity and autonomy and
destroying the system that is killing us while building the world we
dream of. I want to be part of an organization that is integrated and
comes from oppressed communities, is made up of the oppressed
specifically as in people of color, working class people, women, queer
and trans folks (and has support and allies from privileged communities
and people) because the politics will be real and more genuine. I
want to be part of a federation of revolutionary community councils,
where we dont have illusions about the police or the state. Where we
prepare and learn from each other, and train ourselves, and give
ourselves practice in organizing ourselves. Where we fight to retake
our communities, and overthrow imperialism and the neo-colonialism in
our communities. Some of us are already not just talking about that,
but looking to actually organize to make this a reality.
Im fighting for my liberation and looking for comrades and allies who
want to do the same.
Always in struggle until humanity is free,
Self-Organization, Horizontalism, and Leadership
by Joaquin Cienfuegos
(member of Cop Watch Los Angeles -- South Central)
"A strong people dont need strong leaders."
In organizing an important question that always comes up is the question over leadership: how should the leadership look like, who should lead, and why and if we need any. This question always gets some simplistic answers, when it is a complex thing. In society we have the traditional models of organizing, which is what we call vertical (top-down hierarchical structures) where a handful of people make the policies, and decisions and the rest of us (the majority of us) are kept out of the room and out of the process of decision making.
In the movement we want to build we will always need organizers and coordinators people who will take the responsibility to build a base in the community, and the foundation for the movement. Out of the social relationships and power dynamics that exist in society, where there is a hierarchy, those who reflect the power structure (white upper middle class straight males) are given the resources and the training to lead in society. This also spills over into any movement where you have many people with privilege, so those who have had the training will tend to lead and even position themselves to lead. This comes through the socialization of these people, where they are trained to seek power and do whatever it takes to get it (through the dog-eat-dog training, meaning having to do whatever it takes to beat others who they feel they are in competition with). Also because you have a situation where those who have privilege have a better position in society, they have less of an urgency to get free.
In popular movements led by the oppressed you have also had people who have stepped up and taken responsibility, and have been seen as coordinators, organizers and leaders. The government has systematically destroyed those movements by waging an all out war on oppressed people and their movements. They have gone as far as to murder people and put people in prison to squash and neutralize revolutionary movements of the oppressed (working class people of color in particular) because they posed a real threat to their white-supremacist-patriarchal-imperialist rule.
Even though it might seem, and those in power like to promote, that these movements were defeated and will always be defeated, they are not dead. Looking at organizations like the Young Lords Party, the EZLN, and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and their victories and how we can adapt these models to our communities and our times (as well as learn from the mistakes). Where oppressed people are organizing to build autonomy, self-determination, the self-organization, and the self-defense of oppressed communities. Where our movements can come up with our own vision, strategy, and platform. Where organizers are building, creating, and training more organizers and coordinators because this is what should be the end goal: collective ownership and the distribution of power to our communities, our workplaces, the schools and wherever we are. We dont need a handful of people to make decision for us.
Also people might say that it is strategic to keep our own organizers and coordinators in the backseat and give the spotlight to the privilege leadership (i.e. white upper middle class people), to safeguard our organizers. This may come from people feeling defeated. I feel that the strategy should be to change the power dynamics and the social relationships as we build a foundation for revolutionary change. Those with privilege should be allies to the movements of the oppressed and our communities. They should organize in their own communities, around their own conditions and be in solidarity and build with other communities as well. They shouldnt get the spotlight or get credit for a movement build by the people. We can organize and lead ourselves!