The A Word
First World Problems and First World Revolution By Mike Andrew
Don’t be deceived
When they tell you
Things are better now
Even if there’s no poverty to be seen
Because the poverty’s been hidden
Even if you never had better wages
And you could afford to buy
More of these new and useless goods
Which these new industries foist on you
And even if it seems to you
That you never had so much
That is only the slogan of those
Who still have much more than you.
Don’t be taken in
When they pat you paternally on the shoulder
There’s no inequality worth speaking of
And no more reason
Because if you believe them
They will be completely in charge
In their marble homes and granite banks
From which they rob the people of the world
Under the pretense of bringing them culture.
For as soon as it pleases them
They’ll send you out
To protect their gold
Whose weapons rapidly developed
By servile scientists
Will become more and more deadly
Until they can with a flick of the finger
Tear a million of you to pieces.
— Jean Paul Marat, in Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss
How many times have you heard someone brush off a concern with the comment “1st World problems”? On one hand, it’s good to remind ourselves of our relative privilege and the fact that issues that seem important to us don’t even arise in poorer and less industrialized countries. On the other hand, it’s always seemed to me that there’s an underlying defensiveness behind that expression, as if people somehow felt apologetic for living in a 1st World country. Maybe the assumption is that people in the 1st World don’t have genuine problems, don’t suffer genuine exploitation and oppression, and won’t ever make revolution. And that’s coming from 1st Worlders who call themselves as revolutionaries! That kind of inferiority complex is a big problem for the revolutionary movement, not only in the 1st World but internationally.
1st World revolution is a necessary condition for the long term success of revolutions in the rest of the world.
During China’s revolutionary war, Mao Zedong used to say “The countryside surrounds the city.” He meant that revolutionary armies operating in rural China could surround government armies based in the big cities, cut off their supplies, harass them, and ultimately force them to retreat or surrender. After the victory of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Mao claimed that the same strategy could be applied globally — that the 3rd World countries could surround and defeat the 1st World. This seemed plausible at the time, and the victories of national liberation struggles in many countries, Vietnam being only one example, seemed to prove Mao right.
Well, the countryside may surround and defeat the city, but global capital seems to surround and defeat everybody! In the 30 years since the end of the Vietnam war, not only Vietnam but even the People’s Republic of China itself has caved to global capitalism.
This isn’t surprising. Even where genuine revolutionary movements have been able to seize power, they have to try to survive in a world dominated by capital. And it isn’t easy. They have to start from the basis of national economies distorted by many years of domination by foreign capital, and often destroyed by years of revolutionary warfare. Global capital will use every means at its disposal — sanctions (Iraq), embargoes (Cuba), and covert destabilization schemes (Chile) — to wreck the economies of countries that refuse to go along with its program. Even without that kind of obvious economic aggression, global capital always seeks to penetrate local economies, to displace local capital, to disrupt and ultimately destroy economic relations not based on money.
The flaw in Mao’s strategic vision is that revolutions are made country by country. This leaves global capital free to deal with the challenges country by country, to its advantage. The problems encountered by revolutionaries who have come to power in 3rd World countries are, of course, only made more severe by the deep contradictions of nationalist revolutions and the weaknesses of the semi-Leninist, semi-nationalist Parties which have typically led them. (But that’s a subject for another discussion.) The only way to smash the matrix of capital is to defeat capital in its historic homeland — the 1st World — and in particular in the US which is the military and political base area of global capital.
For many movement people here in the US this is not welcome news. In the 60s many people were attracted to Mao’s “3rd Worldism” precisely because it let them off the hook. If those 3rd World people were the engine of global revolution, then all we (white people) had to do was “support their just struggles” and sit around and wait to topple the tottering corpse. Today many people call themselves “revolutionaries” but hope that revolution will be made by other people elsewhere.
To be very frank, many white “Leftists” in the US have used the discussion of privilege as an excuse to evade their own political responsibilities. It’s far easier to talk about why their material advantages make white male workers more conservative, than it is actually to challenge their conservatism with anti-racist anti-patriarchal class struggle politics. It’s far, far easier (and safer) to explain why revolution must begin in the colonies of US capital (external or “internal”) than it is to put your ass on the line and work to do it here and in this historical period. Even among real revolutionaries, many, many people are demoralized by the apparent strength of US capital as the Bush administration carries out its on-going war on the world. They want to see revolution here, but they can’t believe it will happen.
We should certainly support people fighting against the domination of capital, wherever they are. How could we not? Their enemies are our enemies. Their future is our future. And their victories — no matter how tenuous or temporary — are real victories that help to undermine the global hegemony of capital. But the best way, and in the long term the only way, to support others fighting against global capital is to defeat capital here in the US. And it’s entirely possible for us to do that.
The apparent strength of US capital is just that — merely apparent! Emma Goldman once wrote an essay, “War is the Health of the State.” Much as I love Red Emma, I think she’s wrong. War does not indicate the strength of the capitalist state. Just the opposite. War indicates deep political and economic crisis for capital. Given the choice, the owners of capital would very much prefer to control the planet thru contracts and treaties and loans and the exchange of currencies — business as usual. War is expensive. War is risky. War is unpredictable. And war requires them to arm a lot of working class kids and young people of color.
That fact in itself creates opportunities for revolutionaries here in the US, and other opportunities will certainly arise out of the economic and political crisis that gave rise to the war in the first place, or out of the further economic and political dislocation that results from war. Historically, imperialist wars have always brought periods of mass struggle. WW1 did, WW2 did, and WW3 will. That’s because people always resist oppression. They always resist the demands of the state. They always try to take advantage of the crises that affect their masters to fight for a better life. And they don’t need know-it-all “Leftists” to tell them to do it either.
Middle class Leftists, who themselves come from a situation of privilege, often fail to appreciate how thin the veneer of privilege really is in the US. The owners of capital like to brag that US workers are the “most productive in the world.” Well, in a capitalist economy productivity is a virtue that benefits only the owners of capital, not working people. “Most productive” means “most exploited.” So even though US workers have many material comforts 3rd World workers lack, they have no reason to be grateful to the owners of capital. Just the opposite.
Even among the most privileged sections of white workers, there are many, many people who are just one or two paychecks away from the street. Even the most privileged sections of the US working class have seen their real incomes decline over the past 30 years and continue to see deterioration in their wages, working conditions, and quality of life. Their ability to secure even basic medical services for their families, or a good education for their kids is slipping away from them. The consumer goods that they create, and that give the illusion of material privilege, sit on the store shelves and mock them.
For communities of color in the US (and for the poorest sections of white workers) even the illusion of material privilege is often inaccessible. Communities of color have been called “internal colonies” of US capital, and for good reason. The free labor (of African slaves) and free land (of Native Nations) that were stolen from them by white settlers formed the original basis for capital accumulation in the US. And since then the owners of capital have relied on the ideology of white supremacy — and on the occupation of communities of color by armed police — to extort even more value from workers of color than from white workers.
US capitalism in the 21st century relies on white supremacy, but also on patriarchy, heterosexism, and many other mutually reinforcing layers of domination and oppression. While many of these forms of oppression arose before capitalism, and many are likely to remain after the rule of capital is overthrown, they take on historically specific characteristics under capitalism, they support the rule of the owners of capital, and together with that class rule they add up to a whole culture of domination and death.
And they’re only made worse by the restructuring of international capital that is usually described by the word “globalization” and the accompanying political victory of Neo-Liberalism in the US and other 1st World countries. Neo-Liberalism is not just something the US does to other countries. The Neo-Liberal agenda will have very serious consequences for working people in the US itself — in particular for women workers and workers of color. Already the “structural re-adjustments” that mean misery and deprivation for 3rd World people are being paralleled by “structural re-adjustments” in the US economy, and this will only accelerate as more and more money needs to be devoted to financing US militarization.
Since Reagan’s electoral victory in 1980, and continuing at an accelerating pace over the past 20 years, US capital has consistently shifted the burden of paying for the corporate state onto working people. The “flattening” of federal income tax brackets, the shift in the burden of paying for social services from the federal government (financed by income taxes) to the states and municipal governments (financed by sales and property taxes which force poorer strata to pay a disproportionate share of the cost), privatization of essential services and public facilities — all these mean a deterioration in people’s conditions of life. In particular, they mean a deterioration in the already fragile life situations of the poorest strata (disproportionately people of color and working women) but also, and significantly from a strategic point of view, in the life situations of the more privileged strata of workers with respect to their rulers.
These are 1st World problems, but not ones that can be shrugged off as “1st World problems”! The prospects for human life under the continued rule of capital are not bright. Of course, no one can guarantee that a revolutionary situation will develop in this country in this period. That depends in part on factors outside of our control. In part it also depends on our ability to understand the oppression of 1st World people — our oppression — and the solution — revolution. And it depends in part on our ability to articulate that understanding in a way that the majority of people of all races who are oppressed by capital understand it, agree with it, and act on it.
There will be real opportunities for revolutionary action in the US in the coming period — even if these fall short of the opportunity to seize power and begin to dismantle the rule of capital and all the forms of oppression that reinforce it.
Our task is to prepare to take advantage of those opportunities as they arise, and to make the most of them. To do that, we need a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of our enemies. The situation of US capital is, in fact, marked by great tactical strength — they have a fuck of a lot of weapons — but great strategic weakness.
It’s the tactical strength of US capital that creates the illusion that it’s invincible. The cops can kick our ass when we go in the street. The US army can win a war in a week or two, with only a couple of hundred casualties, using weapons that can kill thousands of people from miles away. This tactical superiority is real, and we need to take it into account as we elaborate our action program in this period. But it’s also temporary.
The tactical strength of capital is only temporary because of capital’s greatest strategic weakness — it depends on the cooperation of millions of people who have no real interest in seeing it continue.
That doesn’t mean US capital will collapse overnight, and with out any effort on our part. During the 60s, many of us imagined that revolution in the US was actually on the agenda. As it turned out, US capital retained sufficient resources to make strategic economic and social concessions to key sections of the people, and to maintain civil order in this country (although it did have to retreat from Vietnam, if only temporarily).
But our enemies, the owners of capital, don’t have infinite resources. The concessions they were forced to hand out in the 60s are being withdrawn now. In fact, the whole “New Deal” compromise, which guaranteed social peace in the US since the 30s, has been unilaterally terminated. Their ability to make future economic concessions is compromised by the necessity to finance their program of global militarization. They have committed a huge portion of their military resources to warfare outside the US. They cannot sustain that commitment over the long term, and against determined opposition both in and out of the US. They will be defeated.
Part of our task, then, is to work out an action agenda that recognizes our enemies’ strategic weaknesses and uses them to overcome their tactical strengths. Those of us who were alive in the 60s often wished we were Cubans, or Vietnamese, or Chinese so that we could be on the front lines of global revolution. It may be that in this period we will be on the front lines — but here in the US — and we’ll be able to fight a really decisive battle against capital in its homeland. We just need to be ready for it.
Why aren’t they coming over to our side?: Building a Mass Base of Support by Chris Pollina
I don’t think there’s anyone that thinks a major change in the world order is going to come about with the number of people currently involved in the movement — many don’t even feel there is anything cohesive enough to call a “movement”. People know that we need bigger numbers to win bigger battles, but in practice, are doing very little to meet the problems we face head on. What it boils down to is that there is not enough strategic thought about how we are going to advance our plans, solve our problems, and ultimately win.
Let’s examine what constitutes outreach in many activist groups; leaflets, fliers, pamphlets, etc. Propaganda has a lot of potential to grab people’s attention and give them some information, an idea, or what have you. So when every flat surface of downtown is wheatpasted with fliers and extensive literature is available at every radical bookstore and other hip location in town, why aren’t more people getting involved? Sadly, this question doesn’t even get asked most of the time and we’re not even considering whether or not our outreach will be effective.
When making fliers, writing up leaflets, face-to-face talking with folks, or in any way trying to attract people to the movement, we need to remember what we are doing; marketing. We’re saying “Hey, we have something that you want, and if you don’t want it, after you see this you will!” Now obviously marketing a good cause is a lot different than selling tampons or cars, but there’s a lot of similarities too. Activists are living in a fantasy world if they think they can just put their version of the truth on a bunch of telephone poles and all different kinds of people will start spontaneously getting involved in the movement. The most important rule of marketing is to know your target audience. Most people are scared off by molotov cocktails and the word “Anarchy”. Most people just plain don’t give a shit about what happens in other countries. Most people are bored when stuff gets too long (for example, a coworker of mine recently told me that although she was interested in the topic, she didn’t want to read a ½ page article on the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit because it was “too long”...) If this kind of stuff is too prevalent in propaganda, the only kind of people who will more than glance at it will be people who probably already know about the issue.
But let’s say you’ve got the perfect propaganda, propaganda that could convince even the most tepid liberals to show up to your meetings. John Smith from down the street reads it, thinks about it, gets interested, and maybe (that’s a big maybe) goes to a meeting. And when John Smith from down the street takes his monumental first step to becoming politically active, what does he find there? A bunch of people that seem to talk a different language, wear different clothes, eat different food, and are different from him in a million other ways. Too often, he is put off from the group right from the start. This isn’t to say you have to make yourself completely “normal” and trade in your facial tattoos for dockers to interact meaningfully with middle americans (though it wouldn’t hurt) — the point is that John Smith needs to be approached very differently than all of your already radicalized friends. The more different you look and act from someone, the more you are going to have to prove to them that you are an alright person. Step outside yourself and think about what an average American is like, and try to connect with that. If you can’t, or find you have nothing but negative feelings for them, maybe you need to reconnect with the reality of average Americans.
Many class privileged white activist/anarchist individuals and organizations have developed a real knack for doing just the opposite — alienating themselves from as many different kinds of people as possible — especially the mainstream. When Ernesto Aguilar was asked if the Anarchist People of Color organization has ties to any specific anarchist ideology, (anarcho-communism, primitivism, etc.) he responded, “we don’t have the power or privilege to start dividing up by ideology”. In this respect, white anarchists are swimming in a sea of privilege, splitting themselves off from other activists and anarchists, but the middle class environment which they mostly came out of, as well. Not to mention groups people of color! Many activist/anarchist groups, while trying hard to maintain that their groups are open, are really the furthest thing from it.
Basically, a lot of privileged white activists/anarchists don’t consider what it takes to make the movement larger and more effective because they don’t really care about making a change. People that become politicized by reading a book rather than lived experience often start out with lofty ideals, but once they have food, shelter, and a group of friends that are on the same righteous wave as them, don’t push to go outside that comfort (unless something is directly threatening them). People of color, on the other hand, are on the receiving end of oppression. They don’t have the option to ignore or hide out from oppression — if a campaign for affordable housing or police accountability doesn’t find results, they will try something different, because the problem isn’t going away for them. But when the WTO or the FTAA leaves town, so do many white activists. Why? Because, they can afford not to win. Revolution, class war, freedom, anarchy — all these things are pushed off to the side and become abstracts while symbolic gestures and circular discussions which never end in action take center stage. To have social justice be a hobby (and a half-assed one at that) rather than a struggle is a reflection of white activists’ immense amount of privilege.
The most preliminary step for white people looking to make social change should be to make sure you want to win. If the desire to win is there, then it’s time to get strategic. But if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or you can’t seem to get the motivation to do all the shit you wish you could, try some/all of these things: Step back and think about what your group is really doing — are you taking a step towards a victory or are you just spinning your wheels in the air? Read some books by people that have won victories, large or small. Get out of your “white zone” and ask how you can help groups led by people of color, people that have a real tangible stake in what they are working for. Track down and talk to experienced organizers. Ask yourself if you really value the ideals of anarchy enough to do what it takes to realize them. Be honest. Get out of your comfort zone and start getting down to the business of building a movement.
Rules for Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky
Reveille for Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky.
Detroit: I Do Mind Dying by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin
Anarchist People of Color website — www.illegalvoices.org/apoc
Colours of Resistance website — colours.mahost.org
Hamas Interview with Jamal Abu Alhija by Andrew C. Kennis, Independent Media Center of New York City
[Andrew Kennis] I am here with a leader from Hamas in the middle of the Jenin refugee camp, and my first question was going to be, what is Hamas? This is an especially important question because most Americans have one idea of Hamas, and that is crazy, terrorist, Islamic people. I wanted to hear from him a more accurate and comprehensive picture of Hamas.
[Jamal Abu Alhija] In fact, Hamas is a Palestinian movement and it was founded to help the Palestinian people here, to help them realize their rights. It is a movement that has introduced many activities, not only political activities, but also educational activities, sanitation projects, sports programs and social projects. In terms of cultural activities, Hamas has been active in maintaining sports programs. Hamas has contributed to many activities in the Palestinian society. We have also participated in many workshops, conferences and conventions in calling for the peace process. During this Intifada, Hamas has done excellent work and has distinguished itself from other Palestinian movements and groups.
We are against the occupation because we see our friends and our sons killed by the Israeli army...
[AK] What are the differences?
[JAA] A lot of people belong to Hamas — it is a mass movement. Hamas has organized mass demonstrations and the people have reacted positively to such demonstrations, which have been against the Israeli occupation. They have also reacted positively to the other social and cultural activities that Hamas has engaged in.
The first phase of [this second] Intifada, was to engage in peaceful demonstrations. However, the Israeli army killed our sons, our brothers and wounded thousands of our people. And they killed a lot of people. I want to clarify that Hamas is against the occupation. We are against the occupation because we see our friends and our sons killed by the Israeli army...our trees and our lands have been taken by the Israelis in light of this aggression and with these victims, we have found ourselves obliged to fight and struggle against the Israeli soldiers.
...we have found ourselves obliged to fight and struggle against the Israeli soldiers. We are obliged to undertake operations inside Israel, to stop the Israeli aggression. We don’t like to do this, but we have found ourselves obliged to do as much, to defend our sons, our lands, our people in our struggle against the occupation. The Hamas movement wants to find a strategy as to how to fight the Israelis. The strategy that we have found to work now, is to sneak our people into Israel and to undertake operations. The last strong operation was near the Haifa airport, which was very successful against Israeli politics. Another successful operation was undertaken in Jerusalem by Azardine Amazray, which killed 22 or 25 people or so. Actually, we don’t know exactly how many people were killed, but whatever the numbers may be, we want to match the same level of Israeli aggression.
We also organized our members to fight against the last Jenin invasion and many other previous invasions by the Israeli army. You can visit many houses inside the camp and you will discover that Hamas has a lot of martyrs and brave fighters that Jenin depends upon.
[AK] He means that there have been a lot of resistance fighters from Hamas who have defended Jenin?
[Translator] Yes, exactly, they have defended Jenin in resisting the occupation.
[AK] But something that some people criticize is that resistance should only be inside the green line. These people say if they only resisted within the green line that their cause could look better, less terrorist and more legitimate and that they could then get more support.
[JAA] In the first year of the second Intifada, Hamas did not undertake any operations inside Israel. In the previous Intifada, the first one, in 1987, Hamas also did not undertake any operations. At the same time, the Israelis killed many of our people. Hamas has been obliged to do this for many reasons.
The first reason is that the people here have been repressed by Israeli politics. If you remember, during the first Intifada, they followed the breaking of arms politics by Yitzhak Rabin. This is during the first Intifada. The second reason is that the Israeli government refused to comply with any important United Nations resolutions. For example, Israel failed to implement 242, 338 and 198. Another reason is that the investigation committee from the United Nations that was supposed to investigate the recent invasion was blocked by the Israeli government.
[AK] Everybody agrees that the UN resolutions should be implemented, everybody agrees that Israeli aggression is wrong. For one, Palestinians die, the bombers. Secondly, they have the terrorist excuse, they can more easily accuse the Palestinians of being terrorists. So they question whether it is tactically effective.
These people are often dismayed about the fact that these bombers are often young — young kids.
[JAA] Let me give you some good examples. For instance, Hezbollah. The Israeli soldiers withdrew from these lands [southern Lebanon] not because of the UN resolutions, but because of Hezbollah being successfully able to scare the Israeli soldiers out of Lebanon, only through strikes. Also, if you want to wait for the world to solve this problem and to ask Israel to leave our land, this will not work. The Israeli government does not care, they just want to continue to occupy our land. Another example is the Golan Heights, Syria’s land. This has been occupied territory by Israel since 1967. And what has the world done about this problem? Nothing. If we wait for Israel to do something, or for the world to force it to do something, we cannot solve any problem. If the Israeli government does not want to obey or to implement the UN resolutions, what can we do? In Judaism, in Christianity and in Islam there are scriptures that allow for self-defense. We are only defending ourselves. In response to the point on young people: Yes, most of the young men that did these operations inside of Israel range from about 18 to 20. These people did these operations because in their previous experience, they had done good work and have excellent enthusiasm.
[AK] Are they volunteers or are they chosen?
[JAA] Both volunteers from inside and outside the organization have done these operations. They do these operations as a result of the Israeli aggressions. When they hear that the Israelis have killed two Palestinians, or 10 Palestinians, or when Israel commits crimes such as the invasion of the Jenin refugee camp, they volunteer. The members of this movement want to do something, because they want revenge; because the Israelis killed their brothers and their sons.
[Raheb, another Hamas member who sat in on the interview] I want to make a point about the operations against “innocent Israelis.” They are not innocent. They are not innocent because when Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, called auxiliary soldiers, they are not official soldiers. They are [not?] innocent because as you know, military work is obligatory in Israel. When he called upon the auxiliary soldiers, within one hour, they arrived with their tanks, their planes and started to kill our sons and brothers inside Jenin camp. Lastly, there are scriptures for self-defense in three major religions. In Judaism, in Christianity and in Islam there are scriptures that allow for self-defense. We are only defending ourselves.
[AK] I wanted to ask Jamal what he thinks the meaning of Jenin is, that is, what people can learn about the Israeli government.
[JAA] The first thing I want to mention is that from this battle in Jenin, against the occupation and the Israeli soldiers, that from this battle in Jenin, Sharon will learn that this land belongs only to Palestinians. Even if he does a lot more criminal acts, more attacks against our people, I will not respond with telling our people to leave our lands, to leave their lands. As he puts it, the “transfers.” This state terrorism from Sharon and the Israeli soldiers will not make the people here inside the West Bank and Gaza leave their lands. We will stay here. We will continue to stand and sit down, to sleep and to grow, and to live in our houses. For example, in the last invasion of Jenin, the Israeli soldiers asked the people to leave their houses. They asked the civilians to leave their houses so that the Israeli soldiers could destroy our camp. But they refused. They want to stand with the people who are struggling against the occupation. They don’t want to leave us alone. Because they are part of us. And they believe that these are our lands, and not for Sharon or the Israeli people. So, the first lesson from this battle, that the Israeli people and Sharon learned is that this land belongs to Palestinians, not to Israel, and that we will not leave this land. We will stay, forever! Sharon and the Israeli people should not ignore the results of these invasions. Sharon entered and invaded the Palestinian lands to kill and to destroy the infrastructure of the people in the struggle against the occupation. Not to destroy terrorism, because it is [not?] terrorism, but instead a struggle against the occupation. After Sharon finished the invasion, the struggle responded to this crime and we undertook more activities against state terrorism. So I want to point out to the American and English people that they look out only from one eye. ... The support of the US and Europe has killed innocent people. So it is a cycle that Sharon cannot win. If Sharon will return here again, we will respond with more operations. It is useless, these kind of politics that Sharon engages in.
[AK] So what do you think people from outside of Palestine and Israel can learn about Sharon from the invasion?
[JAA] The first lesson from the Jenin battle that the Arab people should learn, is that little persons struggled alone against the occupation and the Israeli soldiers for about 10 days and we killed Israeli soldiers. We did what all the other Arab countries did not do and should have done. I have a message for the European and American people. It’s hopeless, I suppose, to transmit this message to them, but here it is. I will clarify first though, that the Palestinian people were expelled by Israeli forces in 1948 to camps, such as here, in Jenin refugee camp. And then they came in 2002, in this new century, they came again to fight again against people that were expelled by Israeli forces. So I want to point out to the American and English people that they look out only from one eye. They close the other eye and both of their ears. The support of the US and Europe has killed innocent people. Most of the people who were killed inside the camp, were killed by untrained Israeli soldiers, by auxiliary soldiers. That is, the people of the Jenin camp were mostly killed by “innocent” Israeli people.
[AK] Would Hamas end all operations inside of Israel if it had a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and a right of return, a limited right of return and East Jerusalem as the capital? Would that be enough to satisfy the demands of Hamas?
[JAA] We can accept and be satisfied with this solution, that is, with the ’67 lands and to have some people returned as refugees to their houses. We can be satisfied with this. In this scenario, we will then be a peaceful political party that object to our government in peaceful means, not by force, like now. So as a phase one, we can accept. But that is as a preliminary phase and not a permanent solution. You see, this man, [looking to his left at another Hamas member] this man’s village is inside of Israel. And I cannot convince this man that his village will be finished and will always belong to the Israeli people. One day, they should return our lands.
I Want a Twenty-Four-Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape by Andrea Dworkin
This was a speech given at the Midwest Regional Conference of the National Organization for Changing Men in the fall of 1983 in St Paul, Minnesota. One of the organizers kindly sent me a tape and a transcript of my speech. The magazine of the men’s movement, M., published it. I was teaching in Minneapolis. This was before Catharine MacKinnon and I had proposed or developed the civil rights approach to pornography as a legislative strategy. Lots of people were in the audience who later became key players in the fight for the civil rights bill. I didn’t know them then. It was an audience of about 500 men, with scattered women. I spoke from notes and was actually on my way to Idaho — an eight-hour trip each way (because of bad air connections) to give a one-hour speech on Art — fly out Saturday, come back Sunday, can’t talk more than one hour or you’ll miss the only plane leaving that day, you have to run from the podium to the car for the two-hour drive to the plane. Why would a militant feminist under this kind of pressure stop off on her way to the airport to say hi to 500 men? In a sense, this was a feminist dream-come-true. What would you say to 500 men if you could? This is what I said, how I used my chance. The men reacted with considerable love and support and also with considerable anger. Both. I hurried out to get my plane, the first hurdle for getting to Idaho. Only one man in the 500 threatened me physically. He was stopped by a woman bodyguard (and friend) who had accompanied me.
I have thought a great deal about how a feminist, like myself, addresses an audience primarily of political men who say that they are antisexist. And I thought a lot about whether there should be a qualitative difference in the kind of speech I address to you. And then I found myself incapable of pretending that I really believe that that qualitative difference exists. I have watched the men’s movement for many years. I am close with some of the people who participate in it. I can’t come here as a friend even though I might very much want to. What I would like to do is to scream: and in that scream I would have the screams of the raped, and the sobs of the battered; and even worse, in the center of that scream I would have the deafening sound of women’s silence, that silence into which we are born because we are women and in which most of us die.
And if there would be a plea or a question or a human address in that scream, it would be this: why are you so slow? Why are you so slow to understand the simplest things; not the complicated ideological things. You understand those. The simple things. The cliches. Simply that women are human to precisely the degree and quality that you are.
And also: that we do not have time. We women. We don’t have forever. Some of us don’t have another week or another day to take time for you to discuss whatever it is that will enable you to go out into those streets and do something. We are very close to death. All women are. And we are very close to rape and we are very close to beating. And we are inside a system of humiliation from which there is no escape for us. We use statistics not to try to quantify the injuries, but to convince the world that those injuries even exist. Those statistics are not abstractions. It is easy to say, “Ah, the statistics, somebody writes them up one way and somebody writes them up another way.” That’s true. But I hear about the rapes one by one by one by one by one, which is also how they happen. Those statistics are not abstract to me. Every three minutes a woman is being raped. Every eighteen seconds a woman is being beaten. There is nothing abstract about it. It is happening right now as I am speaking.
And it is happening for a simple reason. There is nothing complex and difficult about the reason. Men are doing it, because of the kind of power that men have over women. That power is real, concrete, exercised from one body to another body, exercised by someone who feels he has a right to exercise it, exercised in public and exercised in private. It is the sum and substance of women’s oppression.
It is not done 5000 miles away or 3000 miles away. It is done here and it is done now and it is done by the people in this room as well as by other contemporaries: our friends, our neighbors, people that we know. Women don’t have to go to school to learn about power. We just have to be women, walking down the street or trying to get the housework done after having given one’s body in marriage and then having no rights over it.
The power exercised by men day to day in life is power that is institutionalized. It is protected by law. It is protected by religion and religious practice. It is protected by universities, which are strongholds of male supremacy. It is protected by a police force. It is protected by those whom Shelley called “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”: the poets, the artists. Against that power, we have silence.
It is an extraordinary thing to try to understand and confront why it is that men believe — and men do believe — that they have the right to rape. Men may not believe it when asked. Everybody raise your hand who believes you have the right to rape. Not too many hands will go up. It’s in life that men believe they have the right to force sex, which they don’t call rape. And it is an extraordinary thing to try to understand that men really believe that they have the right to hit and to hurt. And it is an equally extraordinary thing to try to understand that men really believe that they have the right to buy a woman’s body for the purpose of having sex: that that is a right. And it is very amazing to try to understand that men believe that the seven-billion-dollar-a-year industry that provides men with cunts is something that men have a right to.
That is the way the power of men is manifest in real life. That is what theory about male supremacy means. It means you can rape. It means you can hit. It means you can hurt. It means you can buy and sell women. It means that there is a class of people there to provide you with what you need. You stay richer than they are, so that they have to sell you sex. Not just on street corners, but in the workplace. That’s another right that you can presume to have: sexual access to any woman in your environment, when you want. Now, the men’s movement suggests that men don’t want the kind of power I have just described. I’ve actually heard explicit whole sentences to that effect. And yet, everything is a reason not to do something about changing the fact that you do have that power.
Hiding behind guilt, that’s my favorite. I love that one. Oh, it’s horrible, yes, and I’m so sorry. You have the time to feel guilty. We don’t have the time for you to feel guilty. Your guilt is a form of acquiescence in what continues to occur. Your guilt helps keep things the way they are.
I have heard in the last several years a great deal about the suffering of men over sexism. Of course, I have heard a great deal about the suffering of men all my life. Needless to say, I have read Hamlet. I have read King Lear. I am an educated woman. I know that men suffer. This is a new wrinkle. Implicit in the idea that this is a different kind of suffering is the claim, I think, that in part you are actually suffering because of something that you know happens to someone else. That would indeed be new.
But mostly your guilt, your suffering, reduces to: gee, we really feel so bad. Everything makes men feel so bad: what you do, what you don’t do, what you want to do, what you don’t want to want to do but are going to do anyway. I think most of your distress is: gee, we really feel so bad. And I’m sorry that you feel so bad — so uselessly and stupidly bad — because there is a way in which this really is your tragedy. And I don’t mean because you can’t cry. And I don’t mean because there is no real intimacy in your lives. And I don’t mean because the armor that you have to live with as men is stultifying: and I don’t doubt that it is. But I don’t mean any of that.
I mean that there is a relationship between the way that women are raped and your socialization to rape and the war machine that grinds you up and spits you out: the war machine that you go through just like that woman went through Larry Flynt’s meat grinder on the cover of Hustler. You damn well better believe that you’re involved in this tragedy and that it’s your tragedy too. Because you’re turned into little soldier boys from the day that you are born and everything that you learn about how to avoid the humanity of women becomes part of the militarism of the country in which you live and the world in which you live. It is also part of the economy that you frequently claim to protest.
And the problem is that you think it’s out there: and it’s not out there. It’s in you. The pimps and the warmongers speak for you. Rape and war are not so different. And what the pimps and the warmongers do is that they make you so proud of being men who can get it up and give it hard. And they take that acculturated sexuality and they put you in little uniforms and they send you out to kill and to die. Now, I am not going to suggest to you that I think that’s more important than what you do to women, because I don’t.
But I think that if you want to look at what this system does to you, then that is where you should start looking: the sexual politics of aggression; the sexual politics of militarism. I think that men are very afraid of other men. That is something that you sometimes try to address in your small groups, as if if you changed your attitudes towards each other, you wouldn’t be afraid of each other.
But as long as your sexuality has to do with aggression and your sense of entitlement to humanity has to do with being superior to other people, and there is so much contempt and hostility in your attitudes towards women and children, how could you not be afraid of each other? I think that you rightly perceive — without being willing to face it politically — that men are very dangerous: because you are.
The solution of the men’s movement to make men less dangerous to each other by changing the way you touch and feel each other is not a solution. It’s a recreational break.
These conferences are also concerned with homophobia. Homophobia is very important: it is very important to the way male supremacy works. In my opinion, the prohibitions against male homosexuality exist in order to protect male power. Do it to her. That is to say: as long as men rape, it is very important that men be directed to rape women. As long as sex is full of hostility and expresses both power over and contempt for the other person, it is very important that men not be declassed, stigmatized as female, used similarly. The power of men as a class depends on keeping men sexually inviolate and women sexually used by men. Homophobia helps maintain that class power: it also helps keep you as individuals safe from each other, safe from rape. If you want to do something about homophobia, you are going to have to do something about the fact that men rape, and that forced sex is not incidental to male sexuality but is in practice paradigmatic.
Some of you are very concerned about the rise of the Right in this country, as if that is something separate from the issues of feminism or the men’s movement. There is a cartoon I saw that brought it all together nicely. It was a big picture of Ronald Reagan as a cowboy with a big hat and a gun. And it said: “A gun in every holster; a pregnant woman in every home. Make America a man again.” Those are the politics of the Right.
If you are afraid of the ascendancy of fascism in this country — and you would be very foolish not to be right now — then you had better understand that the root issue here has to do with male supremacy and the control of women; sexual access to women; women as reproductive slaves; private ownership of women. That is the program of the Right. That is the morality they talk about. That is what they mean. That is what they want. And the only opposition to them that matters is an opposition to men owning women.
What’s involved in doing something about all of this? The men’s movement seems to stay stuck on two points. The first is that men don’t really feel very good about themselves. How could you? The second is that men come to me or to other feminists and say: “What you’re saying about men isn’t true. It isn’t true of me. I don’t feel that way. I’m opposed to all of this.”
And I say: don’t tell me. Tell the pornographers. Tell the pimps. Tell the warmakers. Tell the rape apologists and the rape celebrationists and the pro-rape ideologues. Tell the novelists who think that rape is wonderful. Tell Larry Flynt. Tell Hugh Hefner. There’s no point in telling me. I’m only a woman. There’s nothing I can do about it. These men presume to speak for you. They are in the public arena saying that they represent you. If they don’t, then you had better let them know.
Then there is the private world of misogyny: what you know about each other; what you say in private life; the exploitation that you see in the private sphere; the relationships called love, based on exploitation. It’s not enough to find some traveling feminist on the road and go up to her and say: “Gee, I hate it.”
Say it to your friends who are doing it. And there are streets out there on which you can say these things loud and dear, so as to affect the actual institutions that maintain these abuses. You don’t like pornography? I wish I could believe it’s true. I will believe it when I see you on the streets. I will believe it when I see an organized political opposition. I will believe it when pimps go out of business because there are no more male consumers.
You want to organize men. You don’t have to search for issues. The issues are part of the fabric of your everyday lives.
I want to talk to you about equality, what equality is and what it means. It isn’t just an idea. It’s not some insipid word that ends up being bullshit. It doesn’t have anything at all to do with all those statements like: “Oh, that happens to men too.” I name an abuse and I hear: “Oh, it happens to men too.” That is not the equality we are struggling for. We could change our strategy and say: well, okay, we want equality; we’ll stick something up the ass of a man every three minutes.
You’ve never heard that from the feminist movement, because for us equality has real dignity and importance — it’s not some dumb word that can be twisted and made to look stupid as if it had no real meaning.
As a way of practicing equality, some vague idea about giving up power is useless. Some men have vague thoughts about a future in which men are going to give up power or an individual man is going to give up some kind of privilege that he has. That is not what equality means either.
Equality is a practice. It is an action. It is a way of life. It is a social practice. It is an economic practice. It is a sexual practice. It can’t exist in a vacuum. You can’t have it in your home if, when the people leave the home, he is in a world of his supremacy based on the existence of his cock and she is in a world of humiliation and degradation because she is perceived to be inferior and because her sexuality is a curse.
This is not to say that the attempt to practice equality in the home doesn’t matter. It matters, but it is not enough. If you love equality, if you believe in it, if it is the way you want to live — not just men and women together in a home, but men and men together in a home and women and women together in a home — if equality is what you want and what you care about, then you have to fight for the institutions that will make it socially real.
It is not just a matter of your attitude. You can’t think it and make it exist. You can’t try sometimes, when it works to your advantage, and throw it out the rest of the time. Equality is a discipline. It is a way of life. It is a political necessity to create equality in institutions. And another thing about equality is that it cannot coexist with rape. It cannot. And it cannot coexist with pornography or with prostitution or with the economic degradation of women on any level, in any way. It cannot coexist, because implicit in all those things is the inferiority of women.
I want to see this men’s movement make a commitment to ending rape because that is the only meaningful commitment to equality. It is astonishing that in all our worlds of feminism and antisexism we never talk seriously about ending rape. Ending it. Stopping it. No more. No more rape. In the back of our minds, are we holding on to its inevitability as the last preserve of the biological? Do we think that it is always going to exist no matter what we do? All of our political actions are lies if we don’t make a commitment to ending the practice of rape. This commitment has to be political. It has to be serious. It has to be systematic. It has to be public. It can’t be self-indulgent.
The things the men’s movement has wanted are things worth having. Intimacy is worth having. Tenderness is worth having. Cooperation is worth having. A real emotional life is worth having. But you can’t have them in a world with rape. Ending homophobia is worth doing. But you can’t do it in a world with rape. Rape stands in the way of each and every one of those things you say you want. And by rape you know what I mean. A judge does not have to walk into this room and say that according to statute such and such these are the elements of proof. We’re talking about any kind of coerced sex, including sex coerced by poverty.
You can’t have equality or tenderness or intimacy as long as there is rape, because rape means terror. It means that part of the population lives in a state of terror and pretends — to please and pacify you — that it doesn’t. So there is no honesty. How can there be? Can you imagine what it is like to live as a woman day in and day out with the threat of rape? Or what it is like to live with the reality? I want to see you use those legendary bodies and that legendary strength and that legendary courage and the tenderness that you say you have in behalf of women; and that means against the rapists, against the pimps, and against the pornographers. It means something more than a personal renunciation. It means a systematic, political, active, public attack. And there has been very little of that.
I came here today because I don’t believe that rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever or with the economic degradation of women on any level, in any way. It cannot coexist, because implicit in all those things is the inferiority of women. I want to see this men’s movement make a commitment to ending rape because that is the only meaningful commitment to equality. It is astonishing that in all our worlds of feminism and antisexism we never talk seriously about ending rape. Ending it. Stopping it. No more. No more rape. In the back of our minds, are we holding on to its inevitability as the last preserve of the biological? Do we think that it is always going to exist no matter what we do? All of our political actions are lies if we don’t make a commitment to ending the practice of rape. This commitment has to be political. It has to be serious. It has to be systematic. It has to be public. It can’t be self-indulgent. The things the men’s movement has wanted are things worth having. Intimacy is worth having. Tenderness is worth having. Cooperation is worth having. A real emotional life is worth having. But you can’t have them in a world with rape. Ending homophobia is worth doing. But you can’t do it in a world with rape. Rape stands in the way of each and every one of those things you say you want. And by rape you know what I mean. A judge does not have to walk into this room and say that according to statute such and such these are the elements of proof. We’re talking about any kind of coerced sex, including sex coerced by poverty. You can’t have equality or tenderness or intimacy as long as there is rape, because rape means terror. It means that part of the population lives in a state of terror and pretends — to please and pacify you — that it doesn’t. So there is no honesty. How can there be ? Can you imagine what it is like to live as a woman day in and day out with the threat of rape? Or what it is like to live with the reality? I want to see you use those legendary bodies and that legendary strength and that legendary courage and the tenderness that you say you have in behalf of women; and that means against the rapists, against the pimps, and against the pornographers. It means something more than a personal renunciation. It means a systematic, political, active, public attack. And there has been very little of that.
I came here today because I don’t believe that rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever wondered why we are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.
We do not want to do the work of helping you to believe in your humanity. We cannot do it anymore. We have always tried. We have been repaid with systematic exploitation and systematic abuse. You are going to have to do this yourselves from now on and you know it.
The shame of men in front of women is, I think, an appropriate response both to what men do do and to what men do not do. I think you should be ashamed. But what you do with that shame is to use it as an excuse to keep doing what you want and to keep not doing anything else; and you’ve got to stop. You’ve got to stop. Your psychology doesn’t matter. How much you hurt doesn’t matter in the end any more than how much we hurt matters. If we sat around and only talked about how much rape hurt us, do you think there would have been one of the changes that you have seen in this country in the last fifteen years? There wouldn’t have been.
It is true that we had to talk to each other. How else, after all, were we supposed to find out that each of us was not the only woman in the world not asking for it to whom rape or battery had ever happened? We couldn’t read it in the newspapers, not then. We couldn’t find a book about it. But you do know and now the question is what you are going to do; and so your shame and your guilt are very much beside the point. They don’t matter to us at all, in any way. They’re not good enough. They don’t do anything.
As a feminist, I carry the rape of all the women I’ve talked to over the past ten years personally with me. As a woman, I carry my own rape with me. Do you remember pictures that you’ve seen of European cities during the plague, when there were wheelbarrows that would go along and people would just pick up corpses and throw them in? Well, that is what it is like knowing about rape. Piles and piles and piles of bodies that have whole lives and human names and human faces.
I speak for many feminists, not only myself, when I tell you that I am tired of what I know and sad beyond any words I have about what has already been done to women up to this point, now, up to 2:24 p.m. on this day, here in this place.
And I want one day of respite, one day off, one day in which no new bodies are piled up, one day in which no new agony is added to the old, and I am asking you to give it to me. And how could I ask you for less — it is so little. And how could you offer me less: it is so little. Even in wars, there are days of truce. Go and organize a truce. Stop your side for one day. I want a twenty-four-hour truce during which there is no rape.
I dare you to try it. I demand that you try it. I don’t mind begging you to try it. What else could you possibly be here to do? What else could this movement possibly mean? What else could matter so much?
And on that day, that day of truce, that day when not one woman is raped, we will begin the real practice of equality, because we can’t begin it before that day. Before that day it means nothing because it is nothing: it is not real; it is not true. But on that day it becomes real. And then, instead of rape we will for the first time in our lives — both men and women — begin to experience freedom. If you have a conception of freedom that includes the existence of rape, you are wrong. You cannot change what you say you want to change. For myself, I want to experience just one day of real freedom before I die. I leave you here to do that for me and for the women whom you say you love.
Self Defense: If not now, when? by Lore Axe
“If we are sitting upon a dying earth, and consequently dying as a species solely as a result of the nature of our society, if the technology we have developed is indeed depleting the earth, destroying the air and water, wiping out entire species daily, and steadily weakening us to the point of extinction ... then is it not time — long past time — when we should do anything, indeed everything, necessary to put an end to such madness? Is it not in fact an act of unadulterated self defense to do so?” 
For those concerned with radical economic, political, and social change, it should be apparent that ecologically speaking time is very short. Scientists estimate that as many as 137 species disappear from the Earth each day, which adds up to an astounding 50,000 species disappearing every year.  While movements of the past may have had the luxury of putting off an idealized Revolution far into the future, those who are oppressed now and those who desire an ecologically sustainable world certainly feel the need for immediate action.
Fundamental change requires that the means to achieve the desired end challenge the extreme violence of the present system. Mike Ryan’s assessment on the efficacy of nonviolent resistance is poignant: “Do we really believe the state allows small groups to engage in openly planned and publicized protest actions because it is somehow powerless in the face of our truth, superior morality, or whatever? Clearly, the state allows us to engage in these actions because they are harmless, or worse, because they reinforce the popular myth of ... democracy.”  While nonviolence can be an effective tactic in some circumstances, strict pacifism by itself will never threaten the current system.
In modern civilized culture, the term “violence”, when applied to the actions of the oppressed struggling against the oppressors, is loaded with negative moral connotations beyond the simple definition of “using great physical force.” 
The institutions controlling the media further manipulate the term, as it pertains to protest and other forms of struggle, by ignoring the violent acts committed by people and institutions in power, demonizing acts of self-defense by protesters, and justifying the force used by the authorities. This tactic infers that those who are oppressed have no business being disruptive or violent (completely obfuscating the violence perpetrated by the state) and that the police are justified in defending private property and suppressing free speech with violence.
The people in power are waging war against the poor, women, children, people of color, and the environment. This is nothing new and by now it should be clear to all that those in power are not going to end their oppression simply by being asked, or because it is the rational and ethical thing to do. Non-violent protest is simply a way of begging those in power to voluntarily change behavior that they directly benefit from. This groveling reinforces the hierarchy structure, promotes the illusion of democracy and has never resulted in any fundamental social or political change. The inherent contradiction of a strict pacifistic strategy for revolutionary change, in the words of Ward Churchill, is:
Any nonviolent confrontation of state power must ultimately depend either on the state refraining from unleashing some real measure of its potential violence, or the active presence of some counterbalancing violence of precisely the sort pacifism professes to reject as a political option. Absurdity clearly abounds when suggesting that the state will refrain form using all necessary physical force to protect against undesired forms of change and threats to its safety. Nonviolent tacticians imply (perhaps unwittingly) that the ‘immoral state’ which they seek to transform will somehow exhibit exactly the same sort of superior morality they claim for themselves.” 
Those who control the state and capital must essentially suppress their ethics in favor of adopting the principles necessary for being successful in an exploitative system. To wage war against humanity, and the rest of the biosphere, explicitly reveals that those in power lack ethical compassion; to paraphrase Craig Rosebraugh, appealing to the moral conscience of the ruling class is flawed because they lack a healthy functioning conscience. 
Those struggling against oppression desire a less violent, more just world. It is not wanting more, but less, aggression and destruction that leads people to challenge the violence of the present system. To do nothing, or to engage in action that does not change the present conditions, only allows the current atrocities to persist and increase. Che Guevara put it best when he said, “the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”  Che’s understanding of the revolutionary is similar to Morihei Ueshiba’s belief that the true purpose of budo, translated as “the way of the warrior,” is love.  The apparent contradiction between love and fighting actually demonstrates the balance necessary in the life of a warrior. Lack of compassion can lead to the life of a thug, while the absence of martial skills will result in the inability to defend one’s self and community. The similarity between the revolutionary and the martial artist is centered in the principle of self-defense. There is no place within either set of ethics for violence based on selfishness or personal gain; however, it is recognized that violence is at times necessary to defend lives and rights.
The martial art Aikido is often referred to as nonviolent, which sounds like an oxymoron; however, nonviolent conflict resolution in Aikido is rooted in the ability to kill the opponent, and only when the option to do harm is present, can the true choice between a violent and non-violent end be made. A non-violent result also requires that the opponent desires to live and that they are placed in a position where the only way to survive the confrontation is to yield. If the opponent has no concern for their own safety, or cannot recognize that they are in a situation where they will be harmed if they continue to attack, then a non-violent resolution is not possible. Only when the power to take life is present, does the real choice not to take it exist.
If we take the above principles and apply them to a large-scale revolutionary movement, certain things become evident. If there is no intent or ability to do harm to the system, then any attempts to do so without the necessary skills will be fruitless. Even with the skills to do significant harm, it’s evident that the system is willing to sacrifice those employed in its defense, and therefore not committed to the long-term survival of all of its components. Nonviolent (sic) principles, when applied to revolutionary strategy, look nothing like moral pacifism; rather they appear as coercion by threat of violence, which when applied to the state and capitalism are generally labeled by the ruling class as terrorism. Another aspect of this parallel which needs to be addressed is that there should be no interest in having the system survive the encounter in the first place. While individuals within might yield and allow the power structure to be destroyed, there are those whose identities are so tied into it that they will do everything possible to stop the revolution.
When the rich and powerful exploit the rest of world by use and threat of violent force, the only way to achieve a relatively nonviolent world is through violent means, while attempts to use a nonviolent strategy to achieve these same ends would only result in catastrophe. The maxim that violence begets violence is transformed into revolutionary (sic) nonviolence begets violence, while revolutionary violence may result in a less violent world. This appears to be somewhat of a koan; however, unlike the Zen riddles without rational answers, there is an obvious answer to this apparent contradiction. Violence is already being perpetrated on an extreme level by the controllers of the state and capitalism. A nonviolent response to this institutionalized violence in no way threatens or challenges it; if anything, it only leads to increased violence. What is needed is self-defense that protects against current attacks and removes the ability for those in power to continue their assault on humanity and the rest of the biosphere.
One argument put forth to discourage militant action now is that the state is too powerful. Waiting only gives the state time to increase its power. The biosphere is being destroyed at an apocalyptic rate. Telling the oppressed that they should wait to defend themselves is siding with the oppressors. The state’s response to the radical militant actions of AIM, the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, the George Jackson Brigade, is often used as evidence of what the state will do to those who take up arms against it. Ward Churchill provides an excellent example of how pacifism can be divisive and aid the enemy:
As the Panthers evidenced signs of making significant headway ... the state perceived something more threatening than yet another series of candlelight vigils. It reacted accordingly, targeting the Panthers for physical elimination. When Party cadres responded (as promised) by meeting the violence of repression with armed resistance, the bulk of their ‘principled’ white support evaporated. This horrifying retreat rapidly isolated the Party from any possible mediating or buffering from the full force of state terror and left its members nakedly exposed to ‘surgical termination’ by special police units. 
What is needed is not an avoidance of militant tactics, but rather organized solidarity between different groups organizing to abolish oppression. Without the necessary cross-community support required for revolutionary acts, militants will continued to be isolated and neutralized.
As long as the state is ignoring a method of resistance, it isn’t being effective; however, directly engaging the enemy on their terms, when they have superior numbers and firepower, is suicidal. What is needed for victory is effective strategy and tactics that recognize some of the points Churchill puts forth:
The tenets are: (1) the Napoleonic credo that ‘victory goes to the side fielding the biggest battalions’; (2) that sheer scale of force can be offset through the utilization of the element of surprise; and (3) even more than surprise, tactical flexibility (i.e. concentration of force at weak points) can often compensate for lack of numbers (this is a prime point of ju jitsu). 
Considering the US military budget is larger than all other countries’ military budgets combined gives it the advantage of resources against any opponent. However, the military is comprised primarily of people from the lower economic classes, as well as people of color, who have more in common with revolutionaries than with the government whom they serve. Tenets two and three are the key to taking on a superior force and that is where the path to victory lies. While legal political protest has its place as a tactic, it completely nullifies any element of surprise or flexibility when the time, place, and methods are revealed to the police.
Ignoring the oppression, exploitation and destruction will not make them go away, and neither will pleading with those who directly benefit from it. What is required for revolutionary success is long term strategy, including an escalation of tactics that is proportional to the strength of the movement, as well as the amount of support and solidarity provided by our allies. Self-defense is a right, and to be effective it not only requires the acquisition of technical skills, but on the larger scale, real community organizing. There is no time like the present to begin working on both.
Smash Imperialism, at Home! by Brady McGarry
Author’s Note: This piece is written by a white person, for white people. The aim is to expose how white activists ignore and neglect the struggles of people of color, and thus only damage their own chances for liberation. The hope is that it helps develop ideas about how white people can try to be accountable to communities of color, and do their part in the struggle against colonialism... right here at home.
In June 2003, two significant events happened in the United States. One was a labor stoppage of a big city construction project in Seattle. The other involved urban insurrection, a small Michigan community in revolt. You didn’t hear much about these events in most news sources, not even on left-oriented or activist-oriented web sites. Both events involved people of color and only people of color. These acts of resistance passed without any public support or outreach from white activist communities. The incidents are qualitatively different, but highlight the same principle of white supremacy and the lack of support (or even notice) given to communities of color from white communities. These two incidents are clear examples that white people, even working class white people, neglect the continuing struggles of people of color in America.
There was seldom mention of these two events on their respective city’s Indymedia web site. During the riot in Benton Harbor, and until at least the next day, there was only one post on the Michigan web site. If we remember back to any riot or militant action that involved white people, internationally or in the United States, there was always a flurry of analysis praising the “insurrection,” claiming that these isolated events were evidence that “the movement” was growing. There are dozens of armed conflicts between the Federal Government and Native Americans, occurring right now on their land (like the struggle of the Shuswap Nation in British Columbia, Canada.) But these issues are rarely (if ever) talked about in white activist circles. Most white activists tend to focus on International Trade Summits, and the international implications of them, instead of focusing on the local or domestic effects of Neo-Liberalism. An embarassing yet ongoing example of this kind of ignorance is the pervasiveness of the “Black Bloc” debate in white circles. Certainly militant tactics, and movement strategy are important to discuss, but when there are armed conflicts involving people of color, and the focus is on white kids who wear black and smash windows, the contrast is clear. White activists often inflate the importance of their own actions (or other white people’s actions) even if they are strategically insignificant. These same white activists, who tirelessly analyze and write about exclusively white activism, ignore and thus make invisible the resistance of people of color — even when that resistance is in fact more important, more militant, more widespread, more community-oriented, and more rooted in concrete social struggle.
Benton Harbor is a small town of 12,000 residents, 92 percent of whom are African American. It is also one of the poorest communities in Michigan and has a staggering 25 percent unemployment rate. Its white and upper class neighbor, the town of St. Joseph, has a miniscule two percent unemployment rate. Whirlpool and Bosch are the two largest employers in the area, maintaining a stranglehold on any community-driven economic development.
On June 18, 2003, a riot erupted in Benton Harbor after white police officers killed a black man. Terance Shurn, 28 years old, was allegedly speeding on a motorcycle, which was the officers’ justification for the ensuing chase. The white policemen involved left their jurisdiction, the wealthier neighborhood of Benton Township, and continued their pursuit into Benton Harbor. Since the facts are disputed in this case, it is hard to tell what actually transpired. What is known for sure is that in their pursuit, the police officers did hit Terance’s motorcycle from behind. Many residents of Benton Harbor say that Terance was afraid to pull over, because he feared for his life. The chase finally ended with Terance losing control of his motorcycle, which ended his life. He crashed into a building and died on site.
The riot lasted two nights prompting the Governor of Michigan to declare a State of Emergency, which allows the National Guard to be used if needed to maintain “law and order.” During the riot, Benton Harbor residents looted businesses, burnt down several buildings, and even fired shots at riot police.
Reverend F. Russell Baker, pastor of Benton Harbor’s First Congregational UCC, bluntly stated, “Riots have reasons.” He pointed to abandoned and boarded-up housing, police brutality, adult illiteracy, and extreme economic segregation as the main causes of community unrest. “What we have witnessed in the recent riot was the rage, anger, and frustration of the victims of abuse in this poor African American community that goes far deeper than we may have ever imagined.”
On June 3, 2003, a City of Seattle construction project was shut down to protest the lack of racial equity in the city’s selection of construction contracts. The targeted project was road maintenance on Rainier Avenue South in a largely black neighborhood. When the construction crew that showed up was all white, it added insult to injury. President of the Seattle NAACP Carl Mack said, “We’re seeing millions of dollars being awarded in contracts on a constant basis and now they get the audacity to bring one of those huge contracts down in the heart of our area [the south end of Seattle]. People are fed up and we needed to send a message.”
Organizers of the event, the Black Contractors Coalition, highlighted that their struggle is for all African Americans, especially African American youth, to be employed in living wage jobs. The protest also exposed the inherent class component in this racial justice struggle. Of all Seattle construction contracts for 2003, which total about $475 million, only $400,000 goes to “minority” owned businesses. There was support given by other prominent African American community leaders, including numerous leaders from local Black Churches.
On the day of the protest, there was no mention of it on Seattle’s Indymedia web site. Imagine if there had been a wildcat strike involving a white dominated labor union. Envision workers shutting down a store or a factory for an entire day. It would be on every single labor-oriented email list, web site, newspaper, and magazine in existence — but the Black Contractors Coalition wasn’t, because it was black workers. The entire spectrum of (white) labor-oriented groups were either unaware, or ignored the protest. Everyone from the hard-line dogmatic Marxist-Leninists all the way to the mainstream labor unions. Often, white groups will be silent to or worse even refuse support of groups led by people of color, because “that’s a black issue” or “we are working on our issues”. What these white groups don’t understand is that unless sufficient unity can be achieved among white people and people of color, the chances of cross-race solidarity are minimal, if non-existent. United class action across racial lines could help in the reconciliation between people of color and white people. As solidarity develops, the movement towards common goals could develop and escalate. When white workers fail to support the struggles of people of color, they are in fact siding with their own class enemy — by falling into the trappings of racism, and thus helping to perpetuate oppression for both parties respectively.
The task at hand is to begin to link the broad anti-capitalist movement with grassroots organizing efforts focused on the local effects of capitalism. Neo-liberal economic policies are being implemented around the world, through institutions like the World Bank, IMF, and the WTO. But we have to remember that neo-liberalism isn’t just something that happens around the world, or in “Third World” countries. It also happens right here at home. It can be in the form of cutting social services, raising tuition, or privatizing public industries. These global institutions are guided by the United States, and the same policies we see being forced onto “developing countries” are being pushed onto working class people here in the United States. So why aren’t more activists focusing on the local assault of neo-liberalism? Most white activists focus on justice struggles that are based outside of the United States — which is fine, but if that struggle is not linked inextricably to the struggle of poor people here, then an incredible opportunity is being missed. It might make sense to show people here how they are exploited by capitalism, and not just try to expose the injustices of U.S. International Imperialism. One idea would be to focus organizing efforts on people who are most clearly being exploited by capitalism, racism, and all other forms of institutional oppressions.
For the anti-capitalist movement to succeed, it’s going to need more than guilt-ridden middle class “activists” or lifestylist white punk rockers to fundamentally change society. The anti-capitalist movement will need to strategize about who it is focusing its efforts on, and probably abandon much of the generalized and idealized “educational work” that most activists focus on. If campaigns are conceived of only as education work, and not tied to community organizing, then true concessions and struggle will never be achieved. White people must take responsibility for the position in society we have been granted. That means acknowledging the job ahead, and committing ourselves to being allies with community organizations led by people of color. That means organizing in the white community against racism, that means pushing the issue in places where it has never been advanced. It’s about creating humanistic relationships with people of color based on solidarity, community, and respect.
The struggle for self-determination of people of color has been an ongoing and unending fight since Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue — hell, it’s as American as apple pie. The Civil Rights movement rocked the foundations of our society; by demanding that their basic rights be recognized, people of color opened up new avenues of struggle and advanced the possibility for a truly equitable society. Historically Seattle has been home to groundbreaking anti-racist labor organizing. Tyree Scott, an amazing man and organizer, is sadly a similar case to the events mentioned above. Tyree became a prominent organizer by bringing together electrical workers of color to demand equality in job accessibility — the same issue the Black Contractor’s Coalition is currently engaging. He will never be fully recognized for his lifetime of struggle and he will never be on television. Tyree was at the forefront of labor organizing in Seattle in the late ‘60s, and at that time in America, not only were certain jobs off limits to people of color, but even most labor unions upheld racist values and excluded people of color from equal access to jobs.
Tyree Scott died June 19, 2003, one day after Terance Shurn died in Benton Harbor. The date is ironic, yet fitting. It is symbolic of the continuing struggle of people of color which is completely foreign to white people. Across the board, in almost every imaginable arena of American society, people of color are treated worse than whites, they are persecuted, and actively attacked. This is not a coincidence, but a direct result of institutional racism stemming from the very foundations of American society. It’s not about individual cases of oppression, but across the board oppression. White people are therefore only dealing with part of the exploitation dealt out by capitalist society. This division is deeper than just ignorance or insensitivity on the part of white people; white people are benefiting from this separation. Most people of color know this, and see it every day of their lives. Until this resentment can be healed, and historical injustices rectified, our collective struggle will not advance beyond infancy, and justice cannot be won.
Who’s Buried in Lenin’s Tomb? Reinventing the Left by Mike Andrew
Part 1: Finding Our Own Voice
“Hegel remarks somewhere that all the events and personalities of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
Lenin won. The Bolsheviks managed to consolidate state power in Soviet Russia over the dead bodies of “Whites” and rival “Reds” (anarchists and Socialist Revolutionaries). After Lenin’s death, his pupils seemingly defied the laws of economic development and built an advanced industrial economy in what had been a largely peasant country. The Bolshevik (later Communist) Party became the international model for revolutionary parties, even in those countries that had very little in common with Soviet Russia. After World War 2, the USSR became, briefly, the center of a whole “socialist camp” and the rival of the US for global hegemony.
Like the old saying goes, nothing succeeds like success. The apparent practical successes of Lenin and his Party established the credibility of Leninism as a theory of revolution, and made Lenin’s belief in the centrality of the Russian Revolution to world politics the dominant “Left” analysis of these events. Even the non-Leninist Left by and large accepted Lenin’s views, and came to define their own politics in relation to the USSR. This was true in the US just as much as in other countries. The fact that the US Left before the 1940s was based to a large extent among European immigrants, who brought with them all the political assumptions (and the rivalries) of their home countries, also helped give credibility to Lenin’s own interpretation of the Bolshevik revolution.
These circumstances led the Left to ignore the really hard question posed by the events in Russia:
What if the Russian Revolution of 1917 was not — as Lenin believed — the first revolution of a new world-historical era of proletarian revolution and socialism? What if it was, instead, the last (bourgeois) revolution of 19th century Europe, occurring when and how it did because Russia was the most backward of the major European countries, and Russian capital the least capable of asserting an independent political program. In other words, what if the Russian Revolution of 1917 has no special significance for our movement then, now, or in the future?
It may seem self-evident that no one should ever have taken Lenin’s ideas seriously, especially after the collapse of the USSR and the Communists’ sudden loss of state power there and in its Eastern European dependencies. After all, if Leninists want to take credit for the successes of Soviet Russia, they should certainly take responsibility for its eventual collapse as well. Still, the idea that the central task of the “Left” is to replicate the Russian Revolution of 1917 continues to guide almost all “Leftist” formations, even explicitly anti-Leninist ones. And the dominance of this idea has been — and still is — a huge obstacle to revolutionary politics, both in the US and internationally.
Anarchists and Russia
Anarchists were disarmed (literally as well as figuratively) by the Bolshevik victory in Russia. While anarchism as an ideological tendency had a significant following in Russia, dating back to the 19th century “Populist” organizations Land and Liberty, People’s Will, and Black Repartition, and while anarchists played an important role in organizing the Soviets in both 1905 and 1917, the Russian anarchists lacked a coherent political program and effective organization. Many anarchists supported the Bolshevik coup in October 1917, and some subsequently joined the Bolshevik Party (many of the Workers Opposition group which Lenin suppressed at the 10th Party Congress in 1921 were former anarchists). The suppression of the Kronstadt Commune and the defeat of Nestor Makhno’s forces in the Ukraine (also in 1921) marked the end of organized anarchist political activity in Soviet Russia.
In exile in Paris in 1926, Makhno and Peter Arshinov analyzed the reasons for their defeat. In their “Platform” they put forward a specific program to correct the organizational and political weaknesses they believed had led to the collapse of anarchism in revolutionary Russia. Had the “Platform” been taken as a starting point for a new analysis of anarchist aims and methods, the anarchist movement might have been able to move forward politically and theoretically even in spite of the defeat in Russia. However, the “Platform” was almost immediately rejected by other anarchists, most famously by Errico Malatesta and Alexander Berkman. Unfortunately for our movement, Malatesta, Berkman, and the others really failed to address Makhno’s very concrete analysis. They dismissed the “Platform” out of hand as an attempt to “Bolshevize” anarchism. Consequently anarchists were left with nothing better than nostalgia for the soviets of February-October 1917 and the Kronstadt Commune of 1921 — institutions that had already proved themselves incapable of leading the revolution forward, or even defending themselves against the Bolsheviks. Worse yet, sentimental attachment to these institutions became enshrined as an anarchist “principle.”
Speaking for myself, I’m not interested at all in “principles” that lead us to defeat. If we’re revolutionaries, our job is to win. And I don’t care whether the supporters of those “principles” fly a red flag or a black one. At the same time, I’m also not interested at all in platforms or programs that speak to an historical moment and political conditions that are not our own. Rather than endlessly repeating what Makhno said, it would be much more productive to do what he did — to make a specific analysis of the actual conditions that we face, and of what we need to do to move forward under those conditions.
As anarchists, one of our greatest theoretical strengths is that we’re not compelled by our ideology to try to replicate other people’s revolutions. The ability to analyze our immediate conditions, to formulate an action agenda, and to take specific direct action to change our situation ought to be second nature to us. If it’s not, this is a weakness in our movement we need to correct. In part, this weakness comes from the fact that many US anarchists are young, white, and from middle class backgrounds. What they know about revolution comes from books, newspapers, and the ideas of others rather than from personal experience in struggle. This is a weakness that can be overcome if our young comrades stick around long enough to get some practical experience, and if we’re all able to analyze our collective experience in a way that helps us formulate an action agenda based on our own needs and conditions. To be able to do so, the first thing we need to do is to forget about Russia, and think about what revolution means in and for the US.
Class and Race
In other words, we need to learn to speak in our own voice and in a political language specific to the US. By that I emphatically don’t mean a nationalist one, or one that romanticizes a history that is in fact awash in blood, but I emphatically do mean one that speaks to the common experience of US working people, and not to the experience of the Bolsheviks or the Kronstadt sailors. This will be a complex — and painful — task, because the common experience of the multi-racial US working class includes at least as much mutual suspicion, hostility, rage, and fratricidal bloodshed as it does struggle in common for common goals. And this is not just because of “errors” or “misunderstandings” on the part of working people and their leaders, or of conscious attempts by the owners of capital to divide the working class along racial lines — although both have occurred and continue to occur. It’s because of the historical origins of the US as a white settler state. A white settler state, moreover, that for the first half of its history was dominated by slave-owners, and for most of the second half has been dominated by white supremacists who regretted the defeat of the slave-owning southern aristocracy in the US Civil War.
Race is the central problem of US history. By saying that, I don’t mean at all to negate the fundamental importance of class. Class and race have been so completely intertwined in the historical development of US capitalism that we can’t deal with either problem separately from the other. Capital formation in the (colonial era) US depended on the free labor extorted from African slaves and the free land stolen from Native Nations. Even in New England, where slavery was never institutionalized because plantation agriculture was not economically viable, capital accumulation depended on the institution of slavery. Most of the Africans transported to plantations in the South were carried in the holds of Yankee ships out of Boston, Newport, or Providence. And when these Yankee ships were not bringing African slaves to America, they were taking the products of slavery — cotton, tobacco, sugar, molasses — to markets in Europe.
The westward expansion of the US (and also of the institution of slavery) which resulted in the extermination of indigenous peoples and the dismemberment of Mexico, resulted also in a kind of “social safety valve” that allowed capital to accommodate (in part) the demands of a surplus population of white workers and successive waves of European immigrants. Remember that Thomas Jefferson, who acquired the Louisiana Purchase and sent Lewis and Clark to explore trade routes and settlement opportunities in the west, was terrified of the landless workers of the northeast and convinced that only universal land ownership could guarantee social peace in the US. And where would the land come from, if not from the Native Nations of the west? The bankers and merchants of New England and the slave-owning aristocrats of the south said to the lower classes “Don’t take our land and our gold. Go west and take land and gold from the Indians. Oh, and by the way, send the gold back east for deposit in our banks.” (Jefferson sometimes described the institution of slavery as a “moral evil.” Nevertheless, he was economically dependent on the labor of his own slaves, and he was firmly convinced that Africans were his social and intellectual inferiors, and needed to be ruled by white people.) Remember also that Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, the first US President who lived outside the original 13 States and the political heir of “Jeffersonian democracy” as the presidential candidate of western small farmers and traders, was both a slave-owner and a notorious “Indian-killer.”
The defeat of the southern aristocracy in the US Civil War, and the defeat of Reconstruction less than 20 years later left African Americans free, but on the most disadvantageous terms — without land, without access to political power, and without the protection of federal troops to guarantee enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments. Both US political parties played out cynical race politics in a way that pitted the lowest strata of workers against one another — the Republicans posing as pro-Black and anti-Irish, the Democrats pro-Irish and anti-Black, both of them anti-Chinese — to the benefit of US capital. Under the circumstances, the growth of the organized labor movement in the late 19th and early 20th century could only benefit white workers, and only the most privileged of them — the most skilled and the native-born. Even CIO unions (the “Left” wing of the labor movement in the 1930s) accepted the idea of unequal pay scales for white workers and workers of color. While the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World, a union influenced by anarchist ideas) did promote racial equality, their views mostly reflected a straight-up syndicalism and they did not develop any analysis of race or a specific program to combat racism in the US working class.
My grandparents came to the US from Greece in 1923. Possibly they never even realized that slavery and genocide against indigenous peoples ever happened. After all, they arrived here barely able to read Greek, much less English, and the English language skills they acquired were intended for practical matters like finding work and buying food, not for studying history. (Their children, my parents, would go to school here and study a sanitized version of US history that glorified the “founding fathers,” capitalism, and white protestant culture.) Still, my grandparents — like the other European immigrants — chose to come here (as opposed to some other country) exactly because of the immense social wealth created in large part by the labor of African slaves, and the opportunity to settle and buy property in a huge country taken by force from the indigenous peoples. And although they were ordinary working people, and they were exploited by the owners of capital, they were still exploited under much better conditions than they would have been in Greece, or than working people of color would be even in the US.
All of this tended to work against the development of any sense of class solidarity — let alone revolutionary class consciousness — and impeded the growth of revolutionary organizations. It contributed to the myth that the US is a “middle class” country without the social antagonisms that characterized Europe or pre-revolutionary Russia. Of course this was a self-serving myth promoted by the owners of capital, but even when events like the Crash of 1929 and the global Depression which followed seemed to reveal the true nature of capitalism, this myth (and the pervasive racism which it partially concealed) retained enough credibility among some sections of the US working class to remain a real obstacle to revolutionary politics.
The “Left” and Race
Obviously, this is just a sketch of some aspects of US history, showing how class and race have tended to play themselves out in the past. Just as obviously, I’m writing now mainly to other white Leftists — nothing I’ve said here should be news to people of color who’ve directly experienced the historical circumstances I’m just sketching out for others. But if we white Leftists are going to move forward along with our friends and comrades from communities of color, we need to think and talk to one another about what this history means for us.
US capitalism is inconceivable without white supremacy. Therefore class struggle in the US is inconceivable without struggle against white supremacy. Anti-racist organizing strikes at the heart of US capitalism, even if it’s not explicitly anti-capitalist. Anti-capitalist organizing, on the other hand, will always fall short if it’s not explicitly anti-racist.
Class struggle in the US is inconceivable without struggle against white supremacy, and yet the dominant tendencies on the “Left” — both Leninist and anti-Leninist — have historically been white supremacist in fact if not in intention. How many times have white “Leftists” called a meeting to begin an organizing project, and then looked around at a room full of white faces and said “Why don’t people of color want to work with us?” But a more pertinent question might be “Why would they want to work with us?” given the sorry history of the US “Left” and given that a lot of us still want to talk to them about Russia and the soviets rather than how to overcome the dead weight of racism in the US. Not that the US “Left” was ever explicitly racist. On the contrary, all US “Leftist” formations have developed critiques of racism. In fact, that’s been part of the problem. Most of these “Leftist” critiques of racism have been based in large part on theoretical categories derived from the experience of revolutionary Russia. First time tragedy, second time farce, as Marx said.
This was not only because the leadership of so many of these “Left” formations was — and still is — white. Where white people were in leadership of these organizations, they adopted a particularly patronizing attitude towards communities of color. Because there are more white workers in the US than working people of color, and because people of color tend to be concentrated in agriculture or unskilled (and therefore low-pay) domestic and/or service occupations as opposed to manufacturing industries — which are supposed to be the strategically crucial sectors for proletarian revolution — many “Left” formations didn’t even want to talk about race much less promote anti-racist politics. The whole history of struggle by people of color against US capital, which began even before there was a US, and which continues to this day, tended to be dismissed as secondary to “workers’ struggles.” As if people of color did not work? Even when the Black Liberation Movement in the 60s gave rise to a number of revolutionary organizations led by people of color and inspired by the revolutions in China, Cuba, and Vietnam, the US Left as a whole (and particularly the white “Left” at that time) was never able to free itself from the ideological straight jacket of Leninism and the “workerist” model inherited from Russia.
Leninists might claim to be “dialectical and historical materialists” but when dealing with the specific conditions of struggle in the US they have been uncompromising idealists (in the philosophical sense that they identify their own ideas as real reality).
I’m not going to repeat the mistakes of the past and try to outline what their political agenda and demands of communities of color ought to be. That’s up to my comrades in those communities. If we white Leftists want to eliminate the institutions of white supremacy, as we say we do, the first thing we need to do is to stop claiming to be supreme. That means (among other things) to stop talking and acting as if our own experiences, our own programs, and the history of the European revolutionary movement — which is our inheritance as white Leftists — are the only things that matter.
We’ve all encountered people who can (and will!) tell you word for word what Lenin wrote to Plekhanov in 1902, or what Stalin did at the 16th Party Congress in 1929, or what Trotsky had for dinner on October 23rd 1932, but if you talk to them about John Brown or Thad Stevens, about General Baker or Reies Lopez Tijerina, their eyes glaze over and they don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. This indicates a highly intellectualized and abstract political movement, cut off from its historical roots in the actual struggles of US working people — and cut off from any possibility of organizing real working people for real change in power relations. (And by the way, it’s no better to be able to recite what Malatesta said to Makhno, or what Emma Goldman liked with her tea.)
(In subsequent issues of “The A Word,” I’ll continue this article, and talk more about the goals, methods, strategy and tactics of revolution in the US, and about the global struggle against US capital.)
How to Burn Out and Fuck Everything Up by Brady McGarry
A reflection on three years of being radical, and still not knowing everything
Living My Life
It all started with the WTO protests. Or, at least that’s what I thought. In reality, it started long before those fateful days in late November of 1999. For me, it started with my childhood. I inherited a vague yet firm Feminism from my Mom. She raised my sister and I almost exclusively, and that instilled some very clear lessons in me. She suffered a lot because she was a single mother, but she persevered and did an amazing job. I remember this one time going to the car dealership with her, on her request, so the guy wouldn’t try and scam her. She thought if another male was there, she wouldn’t get ripped off. I think that was the first time I was an official ally to a woman.
I grew up pretty typically. My parents divorced when I was seven years old, and my Mom couldn’t afford the mortgage on the house, so we moved to a small, at that point still developing suburb 15 miles north of Seattle. The house we moved to, the one she still lives in, cost $90,000 at the time. Since then, the entire area has skyrocketed in value, coming with it a plethora of strip malls and fast food restaurants.
Although I would consider myself solidly middle class, perhaps lower middle class on a bad day, not all my friends growing up were as fortunate. I used to envy my friends who lived at the trailer park, because they lived so close to their friends. That was the first time I saw a poor community up close and personal.
Spark to the Flame
In the Summer after my Freshman year, I found myself in the Emergency Room with Alcohol poisoning. I remember vividly looking up at the ceiling and wondering “What the fuck happened to my life?” I later found out that I had a BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) of 30%. I had consumed about 25 shots of vodka. I luckily realized the stakes, and decided not to gamble. The deep despair and pain I felt after that experience, and almost dying was definitely “hitting bottom” for me. I got into AA and checked into Drug and Alcohol treatment. It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. Climbing back up out of that ditch, and trying to stay sober, at age 16 is something I can’t really explain. I grew up pretty quickly after that. I slowly but surely got my life back together, and began to try and be “normal.”
Most of my life has been like that — just on the edge, but not quite falling. Always at the extreme and never in the middle. If I found something I liked, I not only ran with it — I sprinted. Anything from comic books to card games, from sports to girls. I was always on the move.
My junior year of High School was 1999. The year of the now famous WTO protests in Seattle. On November 30, I was watching TV, and my friends and I were all shocked by what we saw. Police fighting with kids our age, and thousands of people in the street. We all rushed downtown and actively participated in the festivities. Within 10 minutes of being downtown, I saw Niketown’s windows get smashed, a hippy white guy get socked in the face for yelling at a black kid who was engaging in more “outgoing” activities which all culminated together turned out to be the most significant and influential moments of my life.
I was exposed to a culture of people that were not only disillusioned with the system, but were (seemingly) determined to do something about it. I instantly loved it. I had no idea that other people felt the same way I did about everything. I felt like I had finally found my niche.
After the N30 Anniversary demonstration a year later, I reunited with my childhood friend Emily, who was doing organizing at the community college. I officially began to identify as part of “the movement.” I got involved tabling, passing out flyers, and even organizing a few demonstrations at the GAP store downtown. I didn’t even know what I was doing at the time. I knew I was trying to “make a difference” and “change the world”, but beyond that, I didn’t know I didn’t know much else. My attendance at AA began to dwindle, and eventually faded to zero. I began to be a full time professional student activist. Doing nothing but activism at my campus. I stopped hanging out with my “non-political” friends as I referred to them.
For the next two years I lived, breathed, ate and slept activism. My mental and physical health were rarely taken into consideration, much less how the work I was doing was actually going to lead to societal change. I don’t blame myself entirely, as I was new to things. I just knew deep down that things were fucked up, and I “had to do something.” The only problem was that the “something” wasn’t very well defined.
After September 11th, I dove even deeper into politics and student activism. I had problems holding jobs because I was so obsessed with politics, and would debate all my co-workers, and usually cause a scene.
In the Spring of 2002, a few friends and I started planning a massive and “militant” demonstration against the IMF and World Bank. We organized a large solidarity protest with a national demonstration simultaneously in Washington, DC. Months of endless work coalesced in a big street party, where a 25 foot tripod was erected. There were arrests and police beatings of my friends, but I was untouched. After the event, accusations of sexism and reports of hurt feelings came my way. I never dealt with it, as I was “too busy” and “too important” to deal with “stupid shit” like that. I thoroughly disrespected and hurt my female comrades during that process by not listening to what they had to say.
After that, I moved into a collective house, and was now even more immersed in radical culture. It was literally a part of almost every aspect of my daily life. I loved it. Since all my housemates were into politics (at least in theory), they could now be debated 24 hours a day, with small breaks for sleeping and eating. During that time, I was exposed to anti-racist work through my friend Vanessa. It was a completely new set of ideas to me. The groups she worked with focused on localized organizing, local issues, and emphasized fighting for concrete and clear goals at home. This was a stark difference to the political work I was used to, which usually involved vague and unclear goals, if any goals at all. Most of the issues I had worked on involved injustice in other places in the world, never at home. I didn’t even know that there were organizations doing localized community organizing.
Short Stories With Tragic Endings
In late 2002, President Bush started publicly planning on bombing Iraq (again). I immediately threw myself into a fever pitch of enthusiasm, and an unsustainable workload. I started to organize against the potential War in Iraq. I started to sleep less, and work even more. Most of my relationships that didn’t immediately involve the political work I was doing began to suffer. I burned a lot bridges, in and out of politics, simply because I valued “the work” more than I valued my comrades. I was one of the main organizers of the N30 protest of that year, and my workaholism and sexism had reached new heights. Although there were attempts at trying to reconcile some hurt after that experience, it fell apart. I once again was not accountable for my behavior, and for the second time hurt numerous female comrades with my behavior. A person that was involved with the big protest that garnered myself with prominence in the activist community the Spring before, had just been victim to more ego-inflating counter-productive organizing from me. During the entire N30 organizing drive, many women in my community stepped up and supported the women who took shit from me (and the other men involved), and they were the only reason the project didn’t self-destruct.
As the War with Iraq loomed closer, my insistence that work needed to be done “right fucking now” intensified. I worked tirelessly on one-off demonstrations and actions, desperate for attention and effectiveness. I began to feel powerless as an organizer, and began to publicly argue that more militant tactics needed to be implemented in our movement if we were ever going to succeed. My life began to spiral even more out of control.
In the Spring of 2003, organizing against a Law Enforcement Intelligence conference began, and myself and a few others spearheaded the effort. Even more of my relationships began to suffer. I was beginning to be very out of control. The main romantic relationship I was in started to suffer, and I neglected the person entirely. As that relationship starting to go down the toilet, I threw myself into a new one. My workaholism continued, and most of my housemates began to openly call me out on unaccountable behavior almost daily. My housemates organized meetings to discuss conflicts in the house that I was usually at the center of.
I kept telling myself I needed to “take a break”, and promised myself that after this demo was done, I would “calm down.” The demonstration went off much different than envisioned, and luckily no one got seriously hurt. I looked around at the white anarchists I knew, and began to realize just how stupid the whole thing was. White people’s Racism and militant rhetoric had ruined any chances of effective action against the Conference, and I started to seriously reflect on my effectiveness as an organizer. The period of reflection didn’t last long though, because I was gearing up for a two month road trip. I told myself that I would process and reflect on the trip. What was planned as a vacation, and a break, ended up being the breaking point. My main romantic relationship was disintegrating, but I insisted on trying to “work it out” even though I was being treated worse by the day.
The trip ended up an utter and complete disaster. I withstood abuse of all kinds. Here is a big announcement I am making for the first time publicly: I was sexually assaulted/raped (I still don’t know what word is accurate for me) on the trip. Recovering from trauma like that is an intense experience to say the least. When concretely dealt with, trauma attacks the very fabric of your psyche, and makes it almost impossible to function. I survived, and the nightmare trip-from-hell finally ended with me being ditched and left alone at a truck stop in New Jersey by my “partner.” Walking up Route 1 North, alone at 3am, I once again thought to myself: “What the fuck happened to my life?”
Looking to the Future
My experience these last three years has been hectic and insane. Anyone that knows me can vouch for that. This piece isn’t a total condemnation of me or my behavior. It’s a reflection of my experience, no more — no less. Much of the last three years I wouldn’t change for a million dollars. I will cherish the memories of staying up all night chain smoking with my friends. Making political banners until 5am. Sneaking around places we weren’t supposed to be. Whispering softly into a beautiful girl’s ear. Those are important moments. The point is that I need to learn from my past. I did a lot right too, and it’s important to acknowledge that as well as all the things I would change.
This is perhaps an extreme example of “burning out”, but the point is clear. We all have issues, we all are far from perfect, and we all need to work on our emotional health. This is far from a complete autobiography, or an entire list of bad/good shit I have done. I wanted to, without concern for my ego or reputation, be open and clear about my thoughts and feelings regarding my experience here in Seattle. I owe that to people I have fucked over, as well as myself. I left a lot of examples out that probably should be in here. But this isn’t about my regrets, it’s about moving on. An important part of political work for me is self-critique, and this was just a more public version of that. I hope you took something from my experience, and can apply it to your own life.
I always heard about activists “burning out”, but I never thought it could happen to me. I did make it longer than the usual two year hallmark, but that’s not much of an accomplishment, considering the wake I left behind me. As a mentor of mine told me once: “This is going to be a long war, don’t think you have to do it all at once, or all by yourself.” I am trying to figure out a sustainable workload of organizing for myself. I, like many other white activists do, harbored an extremely unrealistic and ultimately counter-productive sense of urgency. Instead of making the revolution come quicker, it killed my spirit, and the spirit of those around me. We need to be acknowledging that this is a lifelong struggle. Build community while making revolution in the streets. Have fun, laugh. It’s not counter-revolutionary, I promise. Don’t take on too much work for yourself. You might think you are the only one who can do the work — but don’t flatter yourself. If you are overworking yourself, then that means you probably aren’t building leadership within people who aren’t as experienced as you. And what is organizing if you aren’t helping to instill confidence in those who could learn from you? Slow down, think strategically about the future, and then do the work.
Thank you to all those who put up with me, nurtured me, or otherwise helped me through tough shit. I look forward to a vibrant future fighting this system. A special thanks goes to Emily for loving me so honestly and true. You know I got your back. “DON’T FUCK WITH THE INTERLAKEN BLOC.”
The Education Trap by Chris Pollina
I was excited. This speaker was talking to a room full of 40 year old liberals, basically calling George Bush Hitler. He wasn’t talking about the need for “justice” or “peace” or denouncing Bush for lying — he was throwing out some scary as hell stuff. The guy had obviously done his research and he had pretty solid evidence that Bush’s regime had a good idea that 9/11 was going to happen before it did. Just as his speech was reaching it’s climax, everyone in the room seething with emotion, he pulled out an AK-47 and screamed “LET’S RUN UP ON THIS MOTHERFUCKER TONIGHT! AHHH!!!”
Well, at least that’s what I was hoping he’d do. For someone that had convictions in what they were saying, that would seem like a more sensible reaction than what he actually did; after speaking in a dead pan about the most serious issues imaginable for at least half an hour to this crowd, he recommended that 300 people stand on street corners with signs and tell people that walk by that Bush lied about 9/11. Once enough people are educated, as the theory goes, there will be a critical mass of dissent and the current order will, for some unexplained reason, not be able to continue. While imagining launching a full-out AK-47 assault on the government may be merely wishful thinking at the present moment, at least it would get results if it had popular support in its favor. But this fantasy that we need only to learn and teach to get free seems to have little grounding in reality. It’s an idea I like to call “The Education Trap”.
A Question of Tactics
It seems like no matter what group, cause, or movement you’re involved with, you will be very likely to hear that education, perhaps of “the masses,” perhaps of “the community,” is of utmost importance in your campaign. Of course, there’s no way anyone could contest this. Many people have a feeling that something is wrong in the world but don’t have the words or ideas to understand the root causes — without an understanding of a problem you can’t start to fight it. Many people get involved with social justice movements because someone bothered to write an essay, copy some literature, or most often, just sit down and talk with them, myself included. But I’ve seen many different groups, liberals and radicals alike, misunderstanding the importance of education. It’s not that people don’t have faith in education. Quite the opposite — people have put all of their faith into it.
This kind of wishful thinking manifests itself in many ways. One recent example is the protest put on by the liberal anti-war group Not In Our Name (NION) in Seattle on October 5th. When I first heard about this protest I asked someone involved in the organizing what the purpose of the protest was, what specific demands they were making. She told me that it was a protest to call for an end to harassment of immigrants, taking civil rights away under the guise of security, an end to the occupation of Iraq by the US and an end to the occupation of Palestine by Israel. “Whew!,” I thought, “That’s quite a list of demands!” I asked what exactly they hoped to accomplish by coming out to march and rally. Her reply was that it was more of a symbolic thing, meant more to raise awareness (educate) than to petition for any particular change. This kind of thinking is pervasive in social justice work, especially that done by groups of privileged individuals. Again, you see the idea that if enough people are educated about a problem it will either just disappear or people will spontaneously overthrow the American government. If you think about it in the context of recent protests, it doesn’t make any sense to do an action of this nature. The worldwide rally on February 15th in which millions and millions of people opposed the war on Iraq specifically didn’t work — good ol’ Bush Jr. simply said “I respectfully disagree,” effectively giving the finger to the huge masses of people around the world. If marching in the streets proved ineffective in eliciting even more than a sentence from Bush, why would anyone want to attempt it again, but with 4 times the number of demands and with less than 1% of the people? This is a question that had it been asked in the planning of such an event may have funneled valuable time and resources to more concrete projects.
Another example is the highly limited tactics espoused by various individuals under the CrimethInc banner. Many young, white, class privileged CrimethIncers spread propaganda almost exclusively as a means for change. Examples of the bulk of CrimethInc’s repertoire can be found in their DIY Guides, and include such fun tricks as making stencils, wheatpasting, and silk-screening. How do these arts and crafts activities relate to revolution? Well, it seems that once enough of these shenanigans take place and enough punk bands are formed, people will obviously begin to realize that the petit bourgeois lifestyle is a pathetic replacement for an authentic existence and will then spontaneously identify and rise up against their common oppressors. Or, to quote one CrimethInc publication: “Our project is to push you over the imaginary lines and out of the (self-constructed and self-decorated) cages of this society.” Hmm. Interesting. I’m not saying that marching in the street never does anything, or that wheatpasting fliers has no place in organizing for social justice, or that people shouldn’t sing their hearts out in a punk band — as far as I am concerned, when it comes to tactics anything goes, whether it be taking up arms or writing to your senators. But there’s a right place and a right time for everything. For example, when the Martin Lurther King Jr. and the SNCC started marching in the streets during the Civil Rights movement it was a radical and effective act — black people congregating in the streets in Alabama in 1968 means a whole lot more than white people marching around in Seattle in 2003.
One main reason I see for this coming up is that for many politically active people (most especially middle/upper class white people), everything we learned was learned out of a book. I know when I was growing up and first began finding out about all the injustice in the world, I always wondered “Why do people always talk about all the problems in the world? Why isn’t there a book on what to do about all this?”. This is a question that I struggled with for a long time, reading more and more books to hopefully find an answer. It took a while to realize that the answer isn’t in a book, and that I’d have to sit down and take on problems of my size rather than try to focusing on giant scale things like “capitalism” and “the state”.
This kind of intellectualizing makes us ineffective in our work. Organizing means creating something relevant to your unique time and place. Simply repeating actions that have worked in the past shows a lack of understanding of the current conditions, and confuses tactics for a strategy.
At Least They’re Doing Something!
Oftentimes I will hear “so what’s the problem? — at least the liberals and the punks and the intellectuals are doing something!” And I would say that that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing: they’ve got good intentions. They could just be off somewhere gambling or browsing an Ikea catalog. But it’s also a bad thing: they’re just doing something. Not the thing that will work specifically in the current historical conditions. It’s like saying “Man, I really think the war in Iraq sucks.” I do too — but merely recognizing there’s a problem is not the same as recognizing a good solution. If we’re really down to make a change happen, there’s going to be some level of discomfort that comes from honest self critique, and there’s going to be hard work to do after we evaluate where we’re at. Or we can just do “something” and hope that our efforts will eventually add up to a Revolution. Personally, I don’t trust that anything less than a combination of analysis and practice (aka “praxis”) will get us to the big R. The yield of activist work not informed by an analysis of current social conditions is slight. So why do people continue to fall into this trap? Lots of reasons: they feel less guilty if they just do something whether it’s effective or not, it makes them feel better than people that aren’t doing something, it puts responsibility on others to make actions happen, they just don’t know a better way to do things — when you get right down to it though, the only thing that’s important to understand is that random shots at victory will find few victories and without victories people get demoralized and go home.
When’s the Last Time You Read Z Magazine Cover to Cover?
When then is education an appropriate and effective tactic? Simply put: When people can relate to it. When people relate to what you’re saying they have a reason to get involved. Too often anarchists/activists talk at people instead of talking with them. Rather than engage in a discussion about what people in our communities care about, we are telling them what they should care about. This is where many people reach a stumbling block in activist/anarchist communities — they are many times so enveloped in their own small world that they do not know what problems oppressed people around them are facing. To do any kind of work well, we need to know what’s going on right now where we live, even if that means picking up a mainstream newspaper every now and then. Or better yet having real human relations with people around you!
For instance, if you’re at work and you’re trying to talk to people about water being privatized in third world countries while a thousand jobs within your company just got shipped to Mexico, people might not care what you have to say about free trade. But they would care about free trade if you show them that it is effecting them in a very concrete way. Political education doesn’t always have to start from pure self interest...but that’s when it will have the most impact. When people can feel how the issue relates to them, they will be much more serious and passionate about fighting and winning struggles. History confirms that the largest struggles in recent history — civil rights, feminism, nationalist groups — were all movements whose membership was mainly comprised of those affected by the problems they sought to end.
It’s unrealistic to expect people to want to know everything about every country’s situations. Honestly, when’s the last time you read Z Magazine cover to cover? It’s hard. Chechnya, Iraq, Bolivia, animals living and dying in factory farms, people being murdered and tortured — it’s hard to deal with this stuff when it’s not right in your face. In terms of mental health, it’s much easier to just forget about it. And while some people get some satisfaction by reading up on every bad situation in the world, it’s not something most people enjoy doing. Why would you want to? It’s hard stuff to confront when you don’t feel powerful enough to stop any of it.
Service, Advocacy, and Power: Educating for Action
This is another major point that activists often fail to address when doing “education” work — is there anything we can do about it? Even if you can relate to people, and you can get them interested in learning more about the problem, you still have to address the matter of the huge struggle it will take to get ourselves free. The point when the organizer makes the pitch for their social change group is where most people decide not to get involved.
There are three different kinds of social change organizations — service, advocacy, and power. Service groups are things like soup kitchens and shelters — they make no effort whatsoever to change the power dynamics. In fact, they serve to enforce the power relations (poor people wouldn’t have any food if it weren’t for the service groups of people with resources).
Advocacy groups are one step better when it comes to making meaningful change — groups such as ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) are a good example of this. While they may work for meaningful change, they are still primarily composed of organizers (paid organizers, in the case of ACORN) that are oftentimes not people directly affected by the problems. Groups in this category are also sometimes characterized by meeting new problems as they arise rather than taking an offensive posture.
This is where power comes into play. Power building organizations are groups most often made up of people directly under the gun of oppression, working to take power away from the people who are abusing it. For instance, a union (or a good one, at least) is a power organization — workers gather together to seize power, bit by bit, from the boss who rules over their lives. Another good example of power building organizations is OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty). It should be obvious why this kind of work is most suited to us anarchists, and is what will most inspire people to actually get involved!
People that have had to face any kind of oppression have good bullshit detectors, much more than most activists. That’s the reason more people aren’t involved in SNOW, CrimethInc, or the groups I mentioned earlier — they have enough connection with the real world to still know that spray painting walls won’t change who’s in control of the world or anything else, but it will put you at risk of getting arrested. Why not just drink beer if you want a rush? Normal people know that candlelight vigils don’t change a damn thing because politicians and bosses don’t really listen to the people. Why bother standing outside getting all cold when the people who are in control aren’t even gonna listen to you? This kind of innate knowledge often seems to be filtered out in the process of entering activist circles. And this is why we need to come to the table with something real, something more than words and ideas.
LET’S RUN UP ON THIS MOTHERFUCKER TONIGHT!
I hope that it is glaringly apparent why advocating education and propaganda to the exclusion of almost any other tactics is doomed to failure. This practice rests on either the assumption that those in power are listening to the voice of the people rather than trying to dictate it, or that people will miraculously rise up simply from learning an injustice exists. Either assumption is naïve and a dead end road.
Saul Alinsky espoused the idea that it is the organizer’s first and foremost job to sow the seeds of discontent — then when there is enough discontent it’s time to organize. Without this second aspect to our work, the first is useless (as if you could even call it work without the second). We need to remember that everything we do should be aimed at winning victories and building a revolutionary movement. This sounds cliché, but it’s easily forgotten that revolution isn’t something that just happens, or only took place in other countries long ago — it’s something that is slowly and steadily built by people.
It’s for this reason that when doing educational work, we need to be conscious of our goals from the start, not just hoping that something will come out of it at some point down the line. We have no way of evaluating whether or not that kind of scattershot approach is successful. Educational work should not only explain the problems people face, but also show that there’s a vibrant and important fight going on — a fight that anyone can get involved in, and most importantly, a fight that can be won.
Of course, simply having good propaganda rather than shoddily thrown together propaganda does not make a revolution! We can’t bullshit about there being a vibrant and important fight if we’re not in the midst of one already or aren’t willing to start one. And we sure as hell shouldn’t talk about it being a fight people can get involved in and win if there’s not a real chance of that happening. This is our challenge as anarchists and as organizers — to step up to the plate and agitate the situations, build the organizations, and fight the struggles that we so often expect everyone else to.
Would You Shoplift “Days of War, Nights of Love”? by Butch Lee
“What ‘insurance’ could you buy that would keep you safer than living in a world where people actually cared for each other?” (page 260)
Get the uzi!
Some MAN i’d never met before handed this book to me at a meeting, and mumbled something about reviewing it. Lucky wimmin get to review six course dinners or new CDs, but i get to review a fucking polish sausage. Which is to say i’d rather be talking about women’s armed struggle against men & their insane and inane cultures. But there it is. And then again, i’m something of a maoista.
Let’s get to the point. There’s bitching about this book, but no airline ticket is good for all times and all places. There is no all-day sucker, only suckers. The subtitle on this book is “Crimethink for Beginners” and that’s just what it is. So if you know someone young trapped in the suburban box, this is pages that might get them to see life from a different doorway. If you know someone young and suburban who has heard the word “anarchism” but knows nothing else about anything, lay this on them. “Days of Blah, Nights of Barf” is for beginners. An introduction that’s not too heavy and might be a gust of fresh air. Maybe they’ll get a subversive laugh, a hint of rebellious spirit, maybe a seed planted in their mind.
And “Days” is real easy to slide into, since it’s not really a long book. It’s like fifteen short essays on breaking with boring, regimented capitalist life. There’s tons of pictures, funny sarcastic cartoons, little boxed examples of this or that from what some rebels actually did. And you don’t even have to take it that reverentially (it isn’t as though the authors were doing something real, like fixing the brakes on your truck). Start reading it anywhere, skip pages, go backwards, don’t worry, it’s all the same. The CrimethInc people who put this together really designed a clever “book”, that’s a contrast to the usual thick books loaded with information that we’re supposed to learn from. Here there’s almost nothing to learn, which is so liberating.
To me, the thing I like best about “Days” is that it brings out how barren the life of the spectator is. It challenges the spectatorism, the viewerism of passive virtual life in middle class capitalism. With its passive anti-sports (ten chemical-saturated dicks play, ten million overweight dicks sit and watch) and video game “challenges” and televised “relationships”. At its best, “Days” is provocative and thought-provoking, happily starting trouble for straight, middle class goal-seeking suburban youth.
“Whatever each [of] us may be looking for, we all tend to pursue our desires by purchasing images: symbols of the things we desire. We buy leather jackets when we want rebellion and danger. ..When we want to live in a different world, we buy political pamphlets and bumper stickers. Somehow we assume that having all the right accessories will get us the perfect lives. And as we construct our lives, we tend to do it according to an image, a pattern that has been laid out for us...At our jobs, we exchange our time, energy, and creativity for the ability to buy these symbols...Rather than satisfying our needs, these products multiply them: for to get them, we must sell our lives away.”
What I dislike most about the book is that as a woman, as a trans-person, there’s no ability in it to fight back against being obliterated. It’s as though they’re saying that if you just switch your little mind to a different mental station then you can be free and running. That’s just bullshit. In fact, that’s just the empty pursuit of symbols and images that they put down. You can’t be free in a world that isn’t free, and we have the fucking scars from the mine fields to prove it. Though they don’t say it, these aren’t new ideas in their book. Mined out of seventy year old dada and surrealism, but could dada defeat the nazis? Here’s some free advice: Let someone else test that — don’t you bet your life on it.
You can see what I mean by checking out their heavy advocacy of shoplifting. “Days” really blasts off on this: “...shoplifting makes me feel liberated and empowered”. Or “Everything changes when I shoplift.” Or “Shoplifting says NO to all the objectionable features that have come to characterize the modern corporation.” And on and on. Dumpster diving is also a big deal in the CrimethInc ideology. I think only superprivileged people talk this phony way, folks sitting on top of the rest of the human race but playing at being someone else.
Hey, we should entertain the really revolutionary far-out daring novel idea of...shoplifting? Hel-lo! Earth to CrimethInc! Wake up! Any of you ever worked for a living at a store? Oh, I forgot, working is giving in to the corporations. Well, then, let me tell you the news that in real life millions and millions of Americans of every class, age, race and genders are shoplifting like mad weasels. It’s the fucking national sport. My roomate once had a richass white grandmother stuff a baby carriage with a baby in it full of shit and race full speed out the store shouting, “If you try and stop us and my baby granddaughter is injured we’ll sue you!” Hostage shoplifting.
And you think the oppressed should shoplift what they need? Oh, they’ll really appreciate your teaching them, kemosabi. Hey, ever been in an inner city corner store with its bulletproof plexiglass inner walls, where you point out the canned soup or soap you want and the clerk hands it out to you through the revolving tray — after you slide your money in? The oppressed have been shoplifting and stealing and ripping since long before any of you were conceived of. And guess what, they aren’t “liberated” or “empowered” yet.
Talk of subverting the system is cheap, but other people are being run over by the reality of it. The families who literally live their entire lives in the giant garbage dumps in the Philippines, living off of sifting for the scraps of cloth, metal, bottles or food, they’re the pros at dumpster diving and the white people here who do it are just posers at worst and amateurs at best. But those Filipino families aren’t “subverting the system” at all, they’re just struggling to survive. Life isn’t a spectator game for most wimmin in the world. It’s all too real — AIDS, malaria, rape, being really sick and still having to labor twelve hours a day on your feet. Dying young knowing that no one is going to take care of your kids. Sometimes this book is itself a spectator sport, privileged folks having the thrill of playing at life. As that possum said, “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”
Revolution, Sustainability, and Civilization: Exclusive Interview With Derrick Jensen by the Lore Axe
Lore Axe: What do you believe are the origins of hate and oppression in our culture?
Derrick Jensen: We can take that from a number of different directions. One direction I took in A Language Older than Words was that we have an entire culture suffering from, what Judith Herman would call, complex post traumatic stress disorder. In a nutshell the entire culture has been traumatized through the violence that manifests through its child rearing and educational practices, as well as through killing the planet. We are so traumatized that we are too terrified to enter relationships.
I examined another level of what could be an origin in The Culture of Make Believe, which is if a culture is based on competition, it will lead inevitably to hatred and atrocity. If you believe you need to out compete everyone, that the natural world is red in tooth and claw, and basically the meanest survive, then you are going to be mean.
Another level, which will be in a book I am going to write, takes a different direction, one informed by Jack Forbes’ book Columbus and Other Cannibals. He believes that the nature of the problem is a spiritual illness with a physical vector. It’s not a metaphor. It’s a real thing where, if I get the flu and I cough, the little aerosols go through the air and you inspire them, then you could end up with the symptoms of the flu: cough, fever, upset stomach, and chills. If I have the cannibal sickness when I cough and you inspire it, you could end up needing to consume the souls of others and become a capitalist. It’s a very contagious disease and I’m going to explore that possibility in a book down the road.
The problems of our culture originate in civilization. In a book I’m currently working on, I realized I’ve been bashing civilization for many years, and finally decided I better define it. The short definition is the one Stanley Diamond gave, which is that “civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.” I define civilization as a way of life characterized by the growth of cities. I define a city as a collective of people living in numbers large enough to require the importation of resources. This means the people who lived in Tu’nes, the Tolowa name for the place I live which is now called Crescent City California, were not civilized. They didn’t live in a city; they lived in villages or camps and they didn’t require the importation of resources. They lived on the salmon, deer, elk, huckleberries, clams, salal, salmon, lampreys, salmon and salmon.
Two things happen when you require the importation of resources. One is that your way of living is not and can never be sustainable. Because you require the importation of resources you are using more resources than the place has. That means you have denuded that area and as your city grows you will denude a larger and larger area and for obvious reasons that can never be sustainable.
Although in this culture it’s not so obvious and we can’t take this for granted. We are made so stupid by our denial and enculturation that we believe the stupid notion that natural selection — presuming it exists — is based on competition and the way to survive is to out compete all your neighbors. The reason we can show that’s bullshit is in two sentences. Those creatures that survive in the long run, survive in the long run. You don’t survive in the long run by hyper-exploiting or damaging your surroundings; you survive in the long run by actually improving your surroundings. So if you take more than you give back, then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist — it takes anybody but a rocket scientist — to figure out that way of living won’t be sustainable. The only way of living that can be sustainable is by giving back to your surroundings at least as much as you take.
The need to import resources also means the culture is based on violence, because if you require the importation of resources trade will never be sufficiently reliable. If I require fish from the next watershed over and the local people there don’t want to give me those fish, I’m going to take them if my collection of people requires that we have them. We could all become junior Bodhisatvas at this point and it wouldn’t really matter because the U.S. government would still need to important resources and would still need a huge military.
I don’t know what the original source of it was, but what is the thing that needs to be unmade right now? Civilization. At the very least we should be honest with ourselves and recognize this way of living is not and can never be sustainable and recycling or a little bit of legislation is not going to make it so.
LA: Do you believe civilization will collapse on its own or must it be actively fought against?
DJ: It seems clear to me that civilization can’t continue. The oil age is almost over and there are those — Ted Kaczynski among them — who believe that civilization can limp on for hundreds of more years. I pray that’s not the case. It needs to be actively fought against, but I don’t think that we can bring it down. What we can do is assist the natural world to bring it down. I think we can help. The natural world is way stronger than we are or could ever be.
In some ways it doesn’t really matter whether or not civilization comes down through ecological collapse or through our efforts. It doesn’t matter to whether we make the effort because what is happening now is wrong. It’s wrong to drive salmon extinct. That’s grotesquely immoral, I can think of few things that are more immoral. The next reason deals with selfishness. The longer civilization goes on, the worse things will be for the people who come after us. If civilization had come down — whatever that means — a hundred years ago there would still be passenger pigeons and Eskimo curlews for people in the Midwest to eat. There will be people twenty or fifty years from now, when civilization comes down, who will sit next to the Columbia River and say “god damn you! I’m hungry. There are no salmon here because you wanted cheap electricity to smelt aluminum to make beer cans.” More to the point, it’s because you didn’t stop those who did.
At the same time it does make a great deal of difference what you believe. Whether you believe it is going to come down on it’s own or not makes a great deal of difference to your tactics. If civilization is going to come down in ten years your tactics will be one thing and if civilization comes down in five hundred years your tactics are going to be something else. Most of the environmentalists I know are basically just hanging on by our fingernails hoping and praying that grizzly bears, salmon and whomever else we love survive until civilization comes down.
Basically it’s all really simple. People say, “what should we do?” My answer to this is that we need to dismantle everything around us and we need to do it now.
LA: What are the obstacles keeping us from doing that?
DJ: Our biggest obstacle is that we identify more closely with the culture than we do with our own bodies and our own land-bases. I had a conversation with a guy a couple weeks ago at the post office. It’s very warm where I live and he said, “the interesting thing about global warming ...” and I said, “yeah 14,000 or 19,000 died from the heat and the damn newspapers don’t even mention global warming.” He nods and says; “did you see those pictures of the glaciers melting in Europe?” “The climate is changing,” I say “and those in power won’t do anything about it.” “The culture has too much momentum,” he says, “those in power have too much power and money to stop them.” “That’s why my next book is how to take down civilization,” I say. He looks at me for a moment; “you can write about it but you can’t make it happen.” “I can push in the right direction at the right times and I think that can make a difference.” “It’ll come down all right” he says, “and pretty soon, but it won’t be your doing. It will be the system collapsing in on itself.” “I can hurry it up,” I say. “It’s going to be nasty,” he says. “It’s already nasty,” I say. “The nastiness is why I bought a gun, a .38,” he says. I’m about to say that’s why I bought a gun a few years ago but he carries my packages to the big bins in the back. When he comes back he says, “it’s for myself.” I don’t know what he means. He says, “I don’t want to live like that.” I say, “I don’t want to live like this.” He says, “I don’t want to live like an animal.” I say, “I got news for you Jim you already are an animal.” He says, “I need my electricity, I can’t live without it.” I don’t say anything, I think; is it worth it to you? He looks me straight in the eye and says, “I’m going to retire in January, don’t do this right now. Give me a few years to enjoy my retirement.”
He identifies more closely with his need for electricity than he does with his need for a livable planet. I think that is really common. People more closely identify with all this machine culture. We are living inside a machine. Look around right now, how many machines are within ten feet of us? How many wild animals are within a hundred yards of us? How often do you interact with machines on a daily basis, or on a minute by minute basis? How often do you interact with wild animals? How many wild animals do you know? How many know you?
What will it take for people to fight back? I’ve asked people at talks before, “how many people have loved someone who’s died from cancer?” Virtually everybody raised their hands. Why is it when cancer, a disease of civilization, is killing people they love, they don’t fight back? Part of it is that they identify more closely with the culture. They want the culture to survive more than they want their loved ones to survive, and even — with dioxins in their own bodies — more than they want their own selves to survive. They identify more closely with the “survival” of the machine than they do with their own survival. That’s part of the problem.
One of the things I try and get across in my talks is that the dominant culture is a culture of occupation and the government is a government of occupation. Just last night I was driving and talking with my mom; she said, “so how long do you think we’re going to be in Iraq?” I said, “I’m not in Iraq, are you in Iraq?” She said, “ok, how long are the sol-diers of the U.S. government going to be over in Iraq?” Later she said, “did we have any casualties today?” I say, “I didn’t have any casualties, did you?” I do that all the time.
People get so jazzed about 9–11; you know we were attacked. Well, I wasn’t attacked. I’m attacked on a daily basis from carcinogens. Would we react differently if instead of our government — to which we pledged allegiance — doing this to us, it was space aliens putting dioxin in every mother’s breast milk? What would we do? We’d fight like hell, and we’d kill the motherfuckers. The reason we don’t do that is because we identify with them, because we are members of the oppressors. We believe in law and order, we believe that the strictures of those in power carry moral weight. We believe that because it’s a law, we should follow it. Stealing is bad.
I wouldn’t take this tape recorder from you; but then again, I have a relationship with you. But I can’t see why I shouldn’t take food from a grocery store. It’s crazy; a guy at one of my talks said, “I don’t think I’m particularly violent. Where is the violence in my life?” The first thing I said was “where was your shirt made?” He said, “Bangladesh.” So that’s obvious. The next thing I said was “why do you pay rent?” He said, “because I don’t own.” I said, “what happens if you don’t pay rent?” He said, “I get evicted.” I said, “by whom?” He said, “by a sheriff.” I said, “What happens to you if when the sheriff comes to your home to evict you, you say, ‘come on in for dinner’ and after dinner you say, ‘I’m getting kind of tired, you should go now, I need to go to bed.’ The sheriff says ‘no you have to leave’ and you say, ‘no this is my home, I live here.’ What would happen?” He says, “the sheriff would take a gun and forcibly evict me.” I say, “so the reason you pay rent, is because if you don’t, someone with a gun will kick you out. What would happen if you went to a grocery store and you’re hungry so you start to eat?” “People with guns would come and take me away.”
It’s really strange that we actually have to pay to exist on this planet. We have to pay to sleep somewhere and we have to pay to eat. I can understand — if you are going to have a cash economy — paying for a luxury. I have no problem with someone paying for something. But it’s really extraordinarily strange to make someone pay to simply exist. My point is, I’ve got no problem with people paying rent, if that is what they want to do that’s fine — I pay rent for crying out loud — but at least let’s be honest. Let’s work our way through it, and don’t just pay rent because that’s what we do. Instead let’s examine the premises underlying it.
Another reason we don’t fight back is because we’re addicted. It’s all the logic of addiction. I asked some of my students when they get out of prison would they use again? Most of them said yes even though they were in for drugs. I said why? They said it’s hard to break the physical addiction, harder to break the emotional identification, and harder still that your whole support system, all of your friends, are part of it. One guy said, “my courtship with my wife is all bound up in drugs because we took drugs together. So if I change that, and she doesn’t change? I have to leave her.” Let’s think about this and not talk about drugs but talk about capitalism and civilization. Where will your support system be if decide you don’t want to be a member of the wage economy, and that you don’t think it’s appropriate to pay rent? That you instead think it’s appropriate to fight against the system? You’ve got to find a new support system.
Then there’s the question of those in power having tanks, guns and airplanes and show no hesitation to use them. There are members of the Black Panthers still in solitary confinement since the early 1970’s. Jeff “Free” Luers in Eugene, Oregon torched four SUVs and got twenty-two and a half years in prison.
LA: Leonard Peltier was just up for parole and denied yet again.
DJ: Even though everybody, even the parole officers, said the case was bogus. Which is another reason why we participate, why we don’t fight back: because we believe in law and order. I’ll say this again, we believe that laws carry moral weight. I want to be clear. I’m not talking some kind of moral relativism where anything goes. I think that it is often immoral to kill people. I would include in that through the toxification of their total environment. I think there are many things that are immoral to do circumstantially. I will say that morality is not relative. It is always circumstantial, because there are circumstances in which it’s absolutely moral to kill someone. I can think of very few acts that are never moral to do. Rape being one, I can’t conceptualize a circumstance that would make it moral. My point is that just because something is a law doesn’t make it moral. We all know that in our heads, but we don’t know it in our guts. It’s much easier to deal with not resisting because we’re afraid of cops, than not acting because we perceive the cops as good guys.
LA: If we’re a culture of traumatized individuals, addicted to the system, who only see relationships being based on power or competition, how can we break the cycle?
DJ: I ask people all over the country if they believe we are going to undergo a voluntary transformation into a sane and sustainable way of living. Almost nobody ever says yes. The next question to ask is what that means for our strategy and tactics? The answer is, we don’t know because we don’t talk about it.
I’ve worked like hell to recover from the effects of my childhood and my coercive upbringing. I think I’m reasonably sane at this point. I know a lot of people who have not been able to make that transition and who are really fucked up. I don’t think there’s hope for most of them and I don’t think most people are reachable. A lot of people say if we just get the information out there about environmental problems then people will change and that’s bullshit. One reason we can know it’s bullshit is because one out of four women in this culture are raped in their lifetime and another one out of five have to fend off attempts and all the women I know say those figures are very low. That’s only if you include criminal definitions of rape, it doesn’t include routine objectification and abuse of women. No matter what’s in the newspapers, the truth is most of the men committing those rapes are fathers, brothers, uncles, lovers, friends, those who say they love those women. 565,000 American children are killed or injured by their parents or guardians each year. My point in bringing that up is that if men are raping the women they purport to love, if they’re raping and beating their sons and daughters, there is no hope for the salmon.
It’s not just the culture as a whole — whatever that means — that’s crazy. Most of the people in this culture are crazy. Once again if it’s 565,000 American children who are killed or injured, that’s a hell of a lot of parents that are abusing their kids. With all those women getting raped, it’s not one guy. A good portion of men are active rapists.
If we talk about addiction the statistics are so burning on relapse. Relapse is a part of the process of recovery and most addicts don’t make it to get clean. The statistics on domestic violence are even more burning. England quit giving money to programs for domestic violence perpetrators because their recidivism was so high. There was maybe only one person who had ever benefited from those projects. Instead they give the money to battered women’s shelters. They’ve given up on trying to fix the men who are like that. Those men aren’t reachable. I think what needs to happen is women need to stay away from them. I’m not going to blame women for that.
Those of us who really care about salmon or grizzlies don’t need to appeal to fence sitters or to the culture at large. We need to act to defend the salmon. What would salmon do if they could take on human manifestation? What would children three generations into the future do if they could take on human manifestation now? Would they try to convince a senator who is never going to be convinced?
Your question has to do with healing. Part of that has to do with finding a community. I don’t have many friends who don’t want to bring down the system. Everytime I open my mouth I don’t want to repeat civilization is bad 101. I don’t want to have to recover that ground. What I want are people I can talk to, cry with, and fight with against the system. I want people who have my back covered emotionally. I can’t emphasize too much the role of supporting and loving communities for healing.
LA: Since civilization is all around us so many people consider themselves culpable to the damage being done, and because the system is so complex, how do we know who the enemy is? Certain individuals and institutions are obvious ...
DJ: That’s a good place start.
LA: Do you think there will be a polarization as things get worse?
DJ: There already is a polarization. People say, “Derrick your rhetoric is so divisive and militaristic.” Shit, the war is going on already, and has been for a long time. I’m just acknowledging it. It’s funny, when I give talks about violence the response by the audience is really predictable. Mainstream environmentalists and peace and social justice activists will put up what I’ve taken to calling a Ghandi shield and mutter “Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Dalai Lama” repeatedly to keep evil thoughts out. Grass roots environmentalists will do the same thing, but then come up to me afterward and whisper in my ear, “thank you for bringing this up.” Prisoners, family farmers, victims of domestic violence, American Indians, and radical environmentalists all have similar responses to each other which is “yeah, so tell us something we don’t know. Let’s go bro.” The difference for all those latter groups is that violence is not some theoretical question to be dealt with abstractly. It’s instead a part of daily life that you respond to. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be violent, but that you respond to it viscerally. You deal with it. You don’t put it out here and say I’m not even going deal with this question.
One of the beauties of the whole machine system is that we’re all cogs in it. It’s real easy to just go “oh nobody has any responsibility”. Adolf Eichman just ran trains, but he got hanged. Goering said he was “following orders.” He got sentenced to hang. Kaltenbruner was “following orders.” It’s a pathetic response.
I’ve written a novel that doesn’t work yet about some teenagers who kidnap a CEO and put him on trial for poisoning the area. I’ll rewrite the book in a couple years. There is a part where the CEO says, “It’s not my fault, it’s the system. If I didn’t act in the financial best interests of this corporation I would get fired and somebody else would do it.” One of the kids says to him “So what your saying is ‘if you didn’t do it, somebody else would.’ You know my mom wouldn’t let me get by with that when I was seven. So why should I let you get by with it now?” The fact that “somebody else will do it,” or that somebody is “following orders” or not questioning assumptions, is no excuse.
That said, I think we need to not get lost in the kind of solipsistic pretension that lifestyle change equals social change. I’ve known some people who get so tied up in knots because “oh my god, I use toilet paper, which means I’m just as culpable as the CEO of Weyerhaeuser.” That’s just silly. Just because I drive a car, I’m responsible for global warming? That’s bullshit. If I die tomorrow global warming will proceed apace.
I use domestic violence as a lens to look at the larger violence of the culture. One of the things abused children often do is take on responsibility for things that they have no control over. They say, “If only I would’ve washed the dishes better I wouldn’t have been beaten ... if only I would have parked the car differently ... if only I would have not made any noise ... if only I had done this or that.” It’s incredibly important for those children to take on that responsibility because they’re powerless and they need to take on power. If they recognize how utterly powerless they are they would go more insane than they already do. But, when you are no longer powerless it’s really absurd to do that.
Our culture specializes in toxic mimics. That’s when you take the form of something and change the content. Rape is a toxic mimic of sex. It takes the form of sex and perverts the content entirely. People who say, “I am just as responsible for all of the destruction — as much as anyone else is — because I participate in the system” are creating a toxic mimic of our real responsibility. It’s an acknowledgement of powerlessness because it’s still falling into that childhood trap where if I’m just perfect enough, pure enough, then the system will stop. It’s magical thinking; it’s the same magical thinking as that child. It’s a mask, a toxic mimic of the real culpability. Yes, I am culpable for deforestation, not because I use toilet paper, but because I don’t stop Weyerhaeuser from deforesting. That’s my real responsibility. I need to shut them down.
What should people do? I think they should first stop identifying themselves as a cog in the machine. This is a classic trick of abusers; it’s known by pimps and CIA torturers everywhere. It says in the CIA handbook on torture that it’s more effective to force someone to stand against a wall for days at a time than it is to beat them, because you force them to torture themselves. If you can get them to take on responsibility then you’ve won essentially. It’s the same with the idea that I’m supposed to feel guilty or responsible because I went to Albertson’s or to Safeway. You have forced me off land, systematically destroyed stocks of wild foodstuffs, and now I’m supposed to feel responsible for that? Bullshit, I refuse to take responsibility for that, because I didn’t do it. What I can do, is attempt to take responsibility for my own actions and I can further, attempt to shut down the system that is doing this.
LA: How do you feel about the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) actions? Are they symbolic? How can they be more effective?
DJ: As you know, I’ve done a number of benefits for Earth Liberation prisoners, so I strongly support those kinds of actions. I would never criticize their actions. It would be like someone criticizing me because I don’t write something else besides what I write. I’m good friends with the former tree-sitter Remedy and she would get notes from people saying; why are you sitting in that tree as opposed to some other tree? The only person who could criticize Remedy or her choice of trees at all would be another tree-sitter and they wouldn’t. The only people who can criticize what I write about would be other people doing that work and once again they wouldn’t.
I have no criticism of the ELF or ALF. That said, I would like to see further actions that move up the infrastructure, because they are doing what I would call endpoint sabotage. I see a difference between symbolic and non-symbolic actions; and certainly symbolic actions can be also be non-symbolic, and vice versa. When the ALF liberates some cats from a lab, sure there is the symbolism of sending out the press release, but primarily what they’re doing is those particular cats are liberated. I would not call that a primarily symbolic action. When you burn four SUVs — and this is not pejorative at all, I want that explicit — that’s a symbolic action, because four SUVs doesn’t make that much difference. Of course you could say ten cats doesn’t make that much difference. Of course it matters to those cats.
I’ve got that line: “every morning I wake up and ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam.” A few people have written to me and said: “that’s not the best way to get your message out.” I always respond to that if I were to take out a dam it would not be to send a message; if I want to send a message, I’m going to write a book. Taking out a dam would be to help a river liberate itself and to help the salmon. That would be a non-symbolic action. We, in the environmental movement, are far too fond of symbolic action. That’s all we do. Recently I read about the big environmental organizations’ response to the Healthy Forest Initiative, which was to take chainsaws and cut up pumpkins on Halloween, with the slogan “carve pumpkins not the forests.” It’s pretty fucking stupid. The symbolism is even stupid when you consider loggers often call big trees “pumpkins.” Do some fucking research for something.
Symbolic action still is based on the notion of sending a message. It’s based on the notion that people are reachable. I’m not saying that people aren’t reachable, but who’s your audience? If you are burning some SUVs in order to attract other people to burn SUVs, that’s one thing. If you’re burning SUVs in an attempt to send a message to the manufacturers of SUVs it’s a waste of time, I think.
When I say it’s a government of occupation and a culture of occupation, I’m not speaking metaphorically. What did Russian partisans in World War II do? What did members of the Dutch underground do to try and undermine the Nazi Army? Did they hold up banners? What did they do? How did they do it?
Why do I write? I’m a recruiter for the revolution. I think all the ELF actions are great for that because you get “oh my god, somebody else did this. It’s a great idea.” It encourages other people to do it too. This kind of stuff happens all the time, we just don’t hear about it very much.
I asked some hackers, maybe a year and a half ago, do you think that people could cause major damage to corporations through hacking? The woman looked at me and said, “you’re presuming people aren’t already doing that.” The corporations don’t want people to know how easy it is, so it never gets publicized.
How would we act if we really wanted to shut down the economy? How would we act if we really wanted to save salmon? I get so tired of the environmental movement because basically what we want is to feel good about ourselves for having fought the good fight; but we have not made any effective difference. The bottom line is it’s a complete failure. Not only do we not slow deforestation, we don’t even slow the rate of acceleration of deforestation.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be fighting like hell. I think palliative work is really important. I know so many people who do it and I have done so much myself. We’re just giving everything we’ve got to attempt to save some piece of ground. The thing we need to remember is the line by Red Cloud who said of the dominant culture: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they never kept but one. They promised to take our land and they took it.”
That’s part of the problem too, we don’t know what we want. The timber industry knows what they want; they want every fucking tree. The mining industry knows what they want. The dominant culture knows what it wants; it wants to destroy life on the planet. It wants to convert everything into cash, which is dead. What do we want? Do we want smaller or fewer clear-cuts? Do we want sixteen salmon that come from hatcheries? Do we want animals in zoos? Do we want a few less women raped? What do we want? I think that is one of our barriers to action too. We don’t know what we want.
Many people don’t know what they want, but I know what I want. I want civilization brought down and I want it brought down now. People say that’s a negative vision. Well, frankly we live in a pretty fucking negative situation. You want me to put that positively? I want to live in a world where every year there are more wild salmon than there were the year before. I want to live in world where there are more migratory songbirds, more ancient forests, more prairie dogs, more wild tigers, and less dioxins every year than the year before. Is that positive enough for you? So how do you want to get there, how is that going to happen? I don’t see any way of that happening other than civilization coming down.
This brings up something else. I don’t believe that people in general are reachable. I don’t believe that the culture is going to have a voluntary transformation. I think that fathers are going to continue to rape daughters for a long time into the future. I have reduced what I want to do at this point to stopping their reach. So that you can have some abusive person and I don’t know how to stop them, it’s not my job to try and stop him from beating his children. There are people who work on domestic violence issues and I’ve done a lot of work on domestic violence. I care about that; but, what I’m working on right now is trying to figure out a way to at least make sanctuaries and refuges. So if those in power want to destroy the center of the ocean, they have to go out in a masted ship like they did once before. I want to shorten their reach so there are at least some places that survive.
The rest of this interview will appear in issue seven of The A Word.
Gangstarizing a Movement by Duwan Tyson
This article is not meant to be a call to action for the white or just middle class movement, but truthfully is just a jittery black dude’s view on it. If you don’t know what I mean or you think that this is negative then this really isn’t for you.
Once again I return home late in the evening soaking wet, tired, and mentally fed up. I’m tired in every way — I’m tired of political maneuvering, tired of long conversations on personal opinions, tired of eating tasteless corn chips with cold dip, tired of cheap generic food. When I get home I’m surprised how fast home life is going, it seems for the last few hours I’ve been in mental time warp oblivious to reality. Can you guess where I’ve been? Yes, you guessed it; a meeting. Doesn’t really matter what organization, doesn’t matter what were talking about, I’m bored. Even when I learn a lot, even when I have an epiphany about internalized racial oppression or when I understand at a deeper level “What globalization is all about” I still feel drained after an organizationally successful meeting.
Why? I ask myself this all the time. Why can’t I sit still at an anti-war rally? Why can’t I be interested in what the speakers are saying? I know it’s important, but for some reason I can’t. I’m sure you’ve ran into me before at sometime or another, or someone like me. I’m the kid who knows shit’s fucked up but you still can’t get me out to your meeting. I know you probably hate me but you need people like me, and this is your chance to get into my head so don’t zone out yet.
Think about how a lot of people understand what’s going on but are too busy being oppressed or too apathetic or both. I’ve been on both sides of the equation coming from the point of view of the organizer and organized, I still struggle with this every day. Tell you the truth, I’ve never felt so disempowered in my life as when I’m doing the most empowering work on the planet (ending governmental oppression through community self determination). Why is this? I’ve thought of every reason my Negro mind could conceive. There was never one concrete answer, always a litany of pre-programmed responses, quick explanations and write-offs, but never somthing concrete with a plan of action. I usually felt more confused and distraught after I hear all the answers then before I asked the question. This movement lacks clarity as much as it lacks...well, movement. Not internal clarity — no, not at all, people communicate great in esoteric meetings — but when it comes to events, I’m bored as hell. I’m sick and tired of the over-intellectualization ingrained in the way we organize, it seems like once you join an organization you lose all ability to speak real English — everything turns into a jumbled mess of ism’s, which the average person doesn’t really care to hear. You can’t come to someone talking as if you watched 20 days straight of PBS.
I’m probably offending a lot of people but think about it how often do you see the average teenage colored kid in your rally? How many gangbangers show up to you protest?? If you’re in Seattle probably little to none. Why is this — when we are the people who suffer the most from war, globalization, and such, why does it seem that we don’t care?? Truth is we do, but the problem is the fucking movement is corny, entirely too corny! For Christ sakes La Rouche drones pull more people than most organizations! Because when they talk to you they have energy and charisma, they talk to you as if you have a brain. That my be due to the fact that they’re fuckin wackos, but still, when are people gonna understand that marching around Broadway chanting shit that’s older than me IS NOT INTERESTING, nor is it empowering.
It’s the year 2003, kids like me have an attention span of 2 seconds — you can’t expect people to come out cause it’s the right thing to do! If people did get involved for this reason, the movement would be 10 times the size it is now. It’s time to start meeting people where they’re at. If peoples lives aren’t filled with esoteric BS then organizations shouldn’t take it upon themselves to start dumping it on them. I’m not saying education and reading are bad, but when I hear the word education, to me it usually means masturbation. “We’re all gonna read this essay, then discuss what we thought of it”. This is what a lot of meetings I’ve been to are like, that’s what most anarchist circles are like. I swear to god if I hear one more punk anarchist talk about armed struggle in Greece, or some revolution 100 years ago in some country I can’t pronounce I’m gonna flip.
I’m not trying to say that this kind of stuff isn’t important, but it does have it’s place, and one thing I’ve learned is when it comes to organizing, a starving child can’t eat a book. Anarchist zines don’t stop cop bullets and marches don’t stop wars. So what does?? If we want gangsta outcomes (ending an imperialist war) then we’re gonna have to start taking gangsta action. We need to start focusing on what’s the most effective way to get shit done and do it. We need to start standing up for ourselves!! No more Nazis at anti-war rallies! You know our movement is getting punked when Nazis can openly come to antiwar rallies with signs that read “no war for Israel”. This shit can’t go on any longer it’s time we start organizing like and start bein G’s.
World War 3: Two Years In by Mike Andrew
Notes on the War, the Anti-War Movement, and Our Tasks
March 20, 2005 marks the two-year anniversary of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and therefore of the Iraqi resistance and the anti-war movement here in the US.
The anti-Iraq-war movement in the US began at a relatively higher level than the movement against the war in Vietnam did, both in terms of numbers of people engaged and in the breadth of anti-war sentiment. This was due in part to the fact that the social and political ideas of the Vietnam period have become (to some extent) a part of US popular culture, and in part to the fact that many veterans of the Vietnam-era movement are still politically active. It was also due in part to the declining economic situation of US workers and the consequent political difficulties in mobilizing their support for US policy. And in part it was due to the almost total global rejection of the US administration’s policy, even among key US allies.
Nevertheless, two years into the war there seems to be a sense of frustration in the movement. The war is still going on. The Bush administration seems to be on the brink of extending the theater of operations to Iran and/or Syria. Many activists are disillusioned with the typical marches and rallies, yet they are unable to envision and organize alternatives. This has led to the conclusion among many people that the anti-war movement in the US has been and continues to be “ineffective” — and this sentiment has given rise to demoralization and cynicism.
To raise the issue of effectiveness begs the question “effective at what?” In other words, what are the strategic political objectives of the anti-war movement? Early on, in the run-up to war, the movement set itself the goal of actually preventing the US invasion of Iraq. In retrospect, this goal was both too ambitious and too narrow.
In the title of this piece, I’ve described the on-going war as “World War 3” and I mean that very precisely. The invasion of Iraq is not a “mistake” of an otherwise humane and responsible country. It is not an historical aberration. It is not even the result of a conspiracy among a small cabal of rich and powerful white men who coalesced around Dick Cheney, Donny Rumsfeld, and Daddy Bush — although that cabal is certainly helping to direct the war. The invasion of Iraq is a logical consequence of the growth of the US empire in the 20th and now the 21st century.
The Spanish-American War and World War 1 made the US a global power. Alone among the Western Allies, the US emerged from World War 2 in a strengthened position. In the 20 years following World War 2, Britain and France — ruined and exhausted by the war, even though they ended up on the winning side — lost their colonial empires. The US absorbed them, not as colonies tied to the US constitutionally, but as neo-colonies dominated by US capital and US military bases.
None of this happened without opposition, both inside and outside the US. But even though the US was forced to retreat from Vietnam and other countries, and even though it was also forced (in the 1960s and 1970s) to make political concessions especially to communities of color within its own boundaries, still the US has been able to reverse those losses to a large extent. Having now defeated and dismembered its main rival for global hegemony — the Soviet Union — the US is proceeding to reorganize the whole planet in its image and likeness.
The “peaceful” side of this empire-building is usually called “globalization” and is going forward through trade treaties meant to remove obstacles to US economic penetration of other countries. The bloody side is clearly visible in Iraq. But “peaceful” or bloody, the intention is clearly global domination. Look at Bush’s second inaugural address. Stripped of all the pretty language about “liberty” it is nothing but a claim that the US has the right to re-organize the government of any country to suit its own interests.
In the wake of 9–11 2001, policy makers in the Bush administration came to believe (if they didn’t think so before) that the Saudis were unreliable allies. Important members of the Saudi royal family and their allies among the wealthiest families of the kingdom clearly supported the Islamists who claimed credit for 9–11, giving them protection, political cover, and a vast amount of money. Under the circumstances, it seemed to many people in Bush’s entourage that it would be prudent to secure alternative oil reserves and alternative locations for US bases in the Persian Gulf. Hence the invasion of Iraq.
Again, none of this is happening without opposition, but it’s precisely the failure to recognize the terms and stakes of this opposition that is holding back the anti-war movement in the US. No demonstration or series of demonstrations the anti-war movement could have organized would have been sufficient to deter the invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, no demonstration or series of demonstrations the anti-war movement is likely to organize in the future will be sufficient either to force the exit of the US from Iraq, or to deter future US action against Iran, Syria, or any other country.
Specifying the prevention of war as the goal of the movement — within the context of an international system that requires war — is a mistake that sets people up for subsequent disillusionment and demoralization. Even the formulation “anti-war movement” itself is an indication of a narrowness of political vision that is unhelpful now, and could be even more so as events develop.
What, then, is the way forward for the movement in the US?
First of all, there is much more at stake in this present period than Iraq only. There is more at stake than even the issue of whether US policy will be “peaceful” or bloody. The stakes really are whether US capital will be allowed to dominate the planet militarily and economically. Therefore, it’s necessary for the US “anti-war movement” to redefine itself as a global “opposition movement” in alliance with everyone everywhere struggling against domination by the owners of capital here in the US.
Second, this war concentrates all the major problems that arise out of the rule of money in the US, especially the pervasive racism that underlay original capital formation in North America, and that now results in young people of color bearing a disproportionate burden in fighting the war and dying for their own oppressors. I’ve observed that African Americans in particular feel a real affinity for the Arab people, especially Palestinians and Iraqis, who are living under an occupation that differs only in degree of severity from the occupation of African American neighborhoods by alien police forces. In building this “opposition movement” we need to pay particular attention to supporting the on-going resistance of communities of color, and doing so under their leadership.
Third, it’s futile for us to try to prevent wars when war is the logical consequence of the whole trajectory of recent (and not so recent) US history. War is the foundation of the US empire, both within and outside US borders. Therefore, our task has to be to render the US incapable of fighting the wars US capital needs to fight, or at least incapable of winning those wars.
Fourth, wars can’t be won or even fought absent willing soldiers. No “anti-war” or “opposition” organizing strategy is more important or more useful than one specifically targeting the US armed forces and their potential recruits.
Not that mass demonstrations are useless. In fact they’re very good at showing the breadth of anti-war sentiment, which is an important thing. The problem is that the breadth of anti-war sentiment doesn’t mean shit to the Bush administration. The war aims of the administration (the real ones, not the ones they fed to the public) are simply too important to them to be set aside. And this raises the question whether all the resources (including people’s time and energy) that now go into producing huge one-shot demonstrations might not be better applied to smaller but more targeted organizing projects that directly interfere with the war-making capacity of the US government.
The prospects for such organizing are actually quite bright. Maintaining morale and discipline in the armed forces and keeping them properly staffed are problems the corporate state faces under all circumstances (because the army is full of kids who have no real or lasting interest in taking a bullet for other people’s money and property), but they become especially critical in war time, and even more so if the war is being lost and is, in any case, unpopular.
And in fact, the US is losing the war in Iraq, both militarily and politically. It is also unpopular, and nowhere more so than among young people of color who are required to fight the war in disproportionate numbers. The desire of the Pentagon to fight the war “on the cheap” with a cruel disregard even for the safety of their troops, much less their comfort in the field, only compounds morale problems. So too does the fact that so many of the troops posted to Iraq are not regular army at all, but reservists and National Guard (who were quite literally defrauded into combat with promises of a free education and easy service).
All these circumstances naturally give rise to resistance within the armed forces themselves, just as they did during the Vietnam war. For the most part, the troops’ desire to resist the demands of the military command has manifested itself individually, in desertions and a few fragging incidents, but in at least one case an entire supply battalion refused orders as a unit. The significance of this incident is multiplied by the fact that the Pentagon felt politically unable to take disciplinary action against that unit.
So obviously, one potential area of action for the opposition movement is to link up with and support resistance within the US armed forces. Part of this work will undoubtedly involve facilitating the exit of serving soldiers from the military, but that’s not all that could be done. This area of work presents certain risks, because it’s likely to involve actions that are illegal as well as legal ones, and organizing inside as well as outside the armed forces, so it seems best not to write about it too explicitly, but to trust the people who want to take up this work to determine their own methods (including good security practices).
Another area of action is to organize among military families. It’s striking that so many families of casualties express opposition to the war when interviewed in the mass media. This is quite different from the situation in Vietnam, when military families, especially the families of those killed or wounded in action, could be counted on to be reliably pro-war (at least until the Tet offensive in 1968). Families can be a crucial element of support for resisting troops, as well as organizing around their own specific demands (the precarious economic situation of families who have had a wage-earner called up for active duty, for example).
Anti-recruitment organizing is a third potential area of action, which is already under way in many areas including here in Seattle. I’d invite anyone interested in anti-recruiting work to look at the article by one of my A Word comrades in this issue, and contact us.
Obviously, I’m only sketching out some potential areas of action for people who are interested in actually helping to bring about the military and political defeat of the US in this 3rd World War. The specific tactics and methods of work will need lots of thought and discussion, but if we have the imagination to re-envision our purpose, our prospects are very bright.
Forget Chiapas Emily Reilly
The failure of white activists to acknowledge and address institutional racism has undermined the power and longevity of every major progressive social movement in US history. Currently, we as white activists fail to evaluate and challenge how our race and class privileges affect the way we conceptualize the world and its problems. As a result, many of the ways that we organize actually reinforce the status quo, and are largely ineffective. This continues to be one of, if not the most significant barriers to building an effective movement for social, economic and environmental justice in the US.
We know that we have all been raised in a society that remains deeply stratified by both class and race. What most of us white activists don’t realize is how our conditioning as whites is impeding effective social justice work. While our causes are linked to poverty, most us have never actually struggled for material resources: our families never had problems putting food on the table or getting housing; In fact many of us have never even really thought about what it would be like to be poor in the United States.
Additionally, we have had both access to and acceptance from the institutions of society: education, jobs, stores, hospitals, transportation etc. Also most of us have had little or no negative contact with the police, the prison system, or the need to enlist in the armed services, or take low-wage jobs. Our privileges prevent us from seeing that the very same institutions that have had their door open and helped us, have been closed to and hurt people of color and poor whites. As progressive as we are, most of us fail to see our status of privilege, and that it rests on the backs of others in our very own communities.
Our blindness to the privileges we have is one of the most important factors that keep the system in place. We feel entitled to our higher social and economic status; we have internalized it so much many us have never even questioned it- its natural.
Unfortunately with this we also subconsciously assume that those below us deserve their status as well. Thus, by internalizing our entitlements as whites, we legitimize the poverty of poor whites and people of color in our own communities. We don’t even see it. That’s why we love Chiapas.
As whites we easily see the poverty of the Global South, the injustice in the treatment of animals, and of the environment, but we fail to see the very same injustices in our own communities upon poor whites and people of color. We sympathize with sweatshop workers in Indonesia, but we care little about the farmworkers in our own state who work under similar conditions. We sympathize with indigenous people all over Latin America, but we certainly are not true allies to indigenous people in our regions. We decry the war in Iraq, but do not have the same concern for the local communities who have lived under US militarism for generations. And this phenomenon — of seeing injustice toward human beings as largely outside of our borders — perpetuates the great lie of American history: that everything here is pretty much OK.
We love Chiapas because we can. Our politicization as not come from a direct experience with injustice, poverty, or repression, but rather through intellectual channels; books, lectures, films etc... This is fine — and it is great that we are dedicated activists — as long as we realize that our position is very different from those who have no choice but to struggle for the immediate protection of their communities. We have had the luxury of “shopping” for which issue appeals to us — and we have the freedom to change whenever we feel like it. Thus we have no accountability to the communities most impacted by the intuitions we oppose, but we build our identities as activists around them.
We love Chiapas because it we are supposed to. Our over fascination on the Global South is a logical effect of our privileges; in order for the maintenance of our society and government, we needed to be complacent with the hierarchy of our communities and society. We love Chiapas because it allows us to avoid challenging our upbringing, our family and our selves. By seeing and focusing oninjustice as primarily outside of the United States we are complacent with the brutal race and class divides on which the global economy has been built, and which continue to be deeply imbedded every aspect of society today. By ‘loving Chiapas’ we romanticize the struggles of activists in the Global South, while paternalistically assuming that they lack the skills to make decisions about their own lives. We do not see them as human, as capable of making change on their own, and we certainly don’t see the role our own personal ideologies play in upholding the legacy of imperialism in poor communities across the world.
If we care about change the devastating social and economic relations in our country and the world, we have to get serious about building a powerful movement here that can challenge the US government from within. To do this, we as white activists need to get serious about challenging our race and class privilege.
The Art of War All the Time by Brady McGarry
“All warfare is based on deception.”
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Our enemy is a worthy one, and we need clarity about what this struggle will require. This essay is an introduction to thinking strategically about our movement against the “War on Terrorism”. It also seeks to refute the common arguments that assert only “reformist” or “liberal” goals can be achieved in this period. The US Government is not invincible, and has concrete and clear weaknesses. This paper aims to highlight those weaknesses, and suggest ideas about how we can maximize our effectiveness in this period.
“The art of war is of vital importance to the State.” (The Art of War, Chapter 1)
The Bush Administration has promised Global War for the next 20 years, until “Terrorism” has been defeated. What this really means is that the US Government wants to exploit the current political climate of fear to achieve it’s goals of “liberalizing” foreign economies, and subverting them to it’s own goals. This, surprisingly, should be viewed as a blessing in disguise, as Sun Tzu reminds us:
“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” (Art of War, Chapter 2)
Instead of the War being a reason for sadness, or desperation, it should instead be viewed as a prime opportunity to mount an attack on our enemy, when it is weakest. It’s doubtful that the US can indeed follow through on it’s grandiose plans for Global War, as the military campaign in Iraq is already running into “problems” (such as the population resisting it’s “democratic” occupation). Currently, almost all of US Ground Combat forces are committed to Iraq. That’s why they are calling up reserves and extending tours of duty. They can’t sustain that level of commitment over the long term, especially if they have to deal with other disobedience in other countries and/or with an insurgent population at home. The basis for an insurgent population already exists and is intensifying — the racism inherent in recruiting young people of color, the strain on the domestic economy arising from the war, and the long-term decline in working people’s standard of living.
“Hence, to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” (Art of War, Chapter 3)
As mentioned earlier, the US Government has committed to 20 years of Global War. It’s primary goal is to ensure that Middle Eastern Oil is flowing abundantly to the West, so it is creating contingency plans if the Saudi’s aren’t consistent and obedient. Specifically this means conquering or otherwise forcing every country in the Middle East to comply with the agenda of the United States. To fulfill even the preliminary stages of this goal, there will have to be an increase in active duty military, specifically infantry and ground troops. A major weakness of the US Government’s situation is that it primarily relies on young people to fill the ranks of it’s military — young people who risk more than they gain if they join the military. One of our major strengths is that a large portion of our movement is compromised of the same young people that the Military is trying to recruit. A potential mass base of resistance is already in formation...
“It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.” (Art of War, Chapter 2)
It’s often implied that the US Government is invincible, and cannot be defeated in any sphere. Although we should never underestimate our enemy, what this analysis is forgetting is that going to war in itself is a sign of weakness; it is a sign of losing control politically and economically. War is not the “health of the state,” it is in fact the opposite. The US Government would much rather rule the world with Treaties, Tariffs, and Secret Death Squads than openly declare war.
“If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.” (Art of War, Chapter 6)
When our enemy goes to war abroad, this is in fact a strategic benefit for our side. Too much time is spent lamenting over the supposed strength of the US Government, (which is something we don’t have control over) and not enough time is spent analyzing our own weaknesses — something we do have control over. Only after we have done this, will we be able to perform effective action.
“Such is the art of warfare.” (Art of War, Chapter 7)
The United States is losing power internationally; it’s economy is weakening, it’s international legitimacy and relations with other countries is also deteriorating. The Vietnam War was planned as a quick operation, and extended over two decades. It seems that a similar situation is occurring in Iraq.
The United States is imposing War on the world. If they really want a war, let’s give them one. Can you dig it?
Goodbye, Arafat by Mike Andrew
When I told my younger comrades I wanted to write an obituary for Yasir Arafat, they couldn’t understand why. They’ve only known him as a rumpled old man, the besieged President of a besieged nation. I remember Arafat as a guerilla general who re-configured international politics with the assault rifles and grenades of his fighters.
Before Fatah (which Arafat founded in 1959) and other Palestinian resistance organizations began their military operations no one in the world gave a shit about the Palestinians. Not the US, not the Europeans, not even other Arabs. The Zionists even denied that the Palestinians existed (the Zionist slogan was “A land without a people for a people without a land” as if Palestine was empty when they got there!).
Even supposedly sympathetic Arab states turned their backs on Palestinian national rights. After the 1947 war Egypt occupied Gaza, and Jordan occupied and later annexed the West Bank. Arab governments herded Palestinian refugees into squalid camps in Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon, where many of them and their descendants still live. The four wars fought by the Arab states against Israel were never struggles for Palestine or the Palestinians, but wars for control of local strategic points — the Golan Heights, the Jordan river valley, the Gulf of Aqaba, the Suez Canal and Sinai.
Today however, Palestinian national rights are universally acknowledged to be at the heart of politics in the Middle East (if not global politics), and even the relations between Israel and the neighboring Arab states are conditioned by the Palestinian problem. This is due entirely to the military successes of Arafat and the Fatah fighters.
I’ve deliberately called Arafat a “general.” His nation’s enemies called him a “terrorist,” but in fact he did what any military commander would do in his situation, what Norman Schwarzkopf or Tommy Franks would do...what Moshe Dayan or Arik Sharon would do, for that matter. Arafat analyzed Israel’s defenses, found the enemy’s weak and undefended points, and — relying on tactical mobility and surprise — concentrated his own forces precisely there to achieve local tactical superiority (however briefly) and a tactical victory. What difference does it make if the forces Fatah could assemble were 10 or 20 fighters instead of 10 or 20 thousand?
In actual fact there is only one important difference for the guerilla commander, and that is a strategic difference, not a tactical one. Guerilla fighters can’t win a purely “military” victory over enemy forces who are superior in every way — in numbers, weapons, training, international alliances, etc. If the enemy forces can catch the guerillas they can certainly kill them all, but no matter how many tactical victories the guerilla forces win they’re not likely to be able to kill enough of the enemy to put them out of the war.
Instead, a guerilla fighter aims at winning a psychological victory over the enemy, not a physical one. Guerillas must convince their enemies that the cost of continuing the war long enough to kill them all is too great to bear. In other words, the guerilla fighter attacks the enemy’s will rather than the enemy’s military forces.
In such a struggle, the enemy’s apparent strengths become weaknesses and the guerilla’s apparent weaknesses become strengths. All the soldiers, arms, equipment, and infrastructure of a large army and a rich country are merely targets for the guerilla fighter. The bigger the army and the richer the country, the more vulnerable they are to guerilla attacks and the more resources they must expend to defend all their assets.
Guerillas, on the other hand, are invisible. They assemble quickly, carry out their operation, and then they’re gone. They have no assets to speak of, so they don’t have to worry about defending anything. Because there’s only a few of them, they don’t need bases, barracks, supply depots, or other structures that might provide targets for the enemy. Their weapons are simple and portable. Because their units are small, the members are all well known to each other, and communications can be face-to-face, it’s hard for enemy intelligence to penetrate them (and this is especially true in national liberation wars, where the guerillas are usually ethnically, culturally, and linguistically distinct from their enemies).
Guerilla forces are often able to inflict losses out of proportion to their small numbers and simple equipment, and for this reason, their enemies become convinced that their numbers are far greater than they actually are.
Of course the cost of war includes human lives as well as money spent and equipment destroyed. In spite of Fatah’s stated intention not to attack Israeli civilians inside (pre-1967) Israel, their operations resulted in civilian casualties on the other side. Casualties among Israeli civilians were used to support the accusation that Arafat was a “terrorist” but the Israelis themselves never shrank from killing civilians and destroying their property. In fact the Zionist Irgun and Stern organizations adopted a deliberate strategy of killing Palestinian civilians in the 1947 war, hoping to drive them off their lands which would then be available to Israeli settlers.
Arafat, in contrast, typically practiced a theatrical “terrorism” which aimed at being seen by the greatest number of people rather than killing the greatest number. Arafat’s audience, in the first place, was the Palestinian people themselves. He aimed to convince them that they were not a beaten and homeless people, but a resisting people who could and would make their enemies pay for the invasion and occupation of their country. Fatah fighters humiliated the IDF — which had crushed the armies of every Arab state they’d fought against — by raiding Israeli settlements seemingly at will.
In the second phase of the guerilla war, after “Black September” 1970, Arafat’s audience became the international community as a whole. Fatah and other resistance organizations devoted considerable attention to seizing airliners, and to attacking Israeli assets abroad (where they lacked the security protection available to them in Israel itself). The aim of this campaign was to demonstrate that no country would be secure from attacks on its own soil until the Palestinians were secure in their own country. Again, Arafat was completely successful in achieving this objective.
Arafat was not always a successful military commander, however. Three times he led the Palestinian armed forces into historic disasters — “Black September” 1970 when Fatah forces were massacred by the Jordanian army, the siege of Beirut in 1982 when Arafat was forced to flee to Tunisia to save his own life, and the final siege of Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah (which Arafat left only to go to Paris to die).
Ironically, these defeats happened precisely because Arafat departed from guerilla methods, and sought to construct the infrastructure of a Palestinian state-in-exile complete with offices, military bases, prisons, radio stations, etc., and also with a visible hierarchy (both military and civilian). All these things gave his enemies targets to attack...so they did. Fatah’s armed forces, which had been developed for guerilla combat, were unable to defend this infrastructure against the Jordanian army or the IDF.
Arafat’s errors were not the result of a mental lapse, but of the contradictory nature of middle class nationalist revolutionaries — the historical category of which he was, arguably, the most important recent example. Middle class nationalists dream of liberating their countries from foreign domination, but they envision their countries free with themselves in high public office. For almost all of them, the temptation of elaborating a state apparatus (and everything that comes with it) is too great to resist.
Unlike some of his colleagues in the Palestinian National Authority, Arafat was never greedy for money. He died without ever having owned a house, a plot of land, or (apparently) a change of clothes. And although he devoted considerable energy, especially in his old age, to re-constructing and defending the state infrastructure which had been destroyed twice previously (1970 and 1980), he never finally abandoned the principle of armed resistance to Israeli occupation. This was why he remained wildly popular among the Palestinian people to the day he died.
Revolution, Sustainability, and Civilization: An Interview with Derrick Jensen (part II) by the Lore Axe
Derrick Jensen is an author, anarchist, and environmental activist. While he was in Seattle recently I had the opportunity to talk with him about his analysis of the dominant culture and revolution. The first half of this interview appeared in issue #6 of The A Word.
Lore Axe: How do you define revolution and how do you see one unfolding?
Derrick Jensen: One mistake many revolutions of the past made was attempting to seize the means of production. Which is exactly why the mass of people ended up meeting the new boss, who was of course the same as the old boss, because resources have to flow toward the producers. It doesn’t matter whether they are horny-handed workers, Maoists, capitalists, or Bill Gates, it’s meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Production within our culture really is the conversion of living to the dead. I want to shut down production. I would like to see people go after the electrical infrastructure, the oil infrastructure and all the means of production, finding the bottlenecks, the weaknesses and shutting them down. Which is what I think Ward Churchill meant when he said we need to make the system unworkable. Attack the system; make it unstable.
I’ve asked third world activists, if the US economy disappeared tomorrow would the people of India be better off? They laugh and say “of course.” One of the reasons given — in this example it’s the European not US economy — is there are former granaries in India that now export dog food and tulips to Europe. People are starving in India because they export those goods, because of the rules of global trade. The government of India wanted to dump almost sixty million tons of grain into the ocean because they were no longer allowed, due to international trade regulations, to sell that food at subsidized prices to the poor. Somebody sued the government over that and the Indian Supreme Court said they couldn’t dump the food into the ocean. So they’ve left all those tons of grain in warehouses to rot and be eaten by rats. People are dying right now because of international trade.
We need to be smart about bringing down civilization. There are things people can hit that would have no moral consequences whatsoever. You can’t make a moral argument for leaving a cell phone tower up. You aren’t going to kill people by taking them out. On the other hand cell towers kill between five and fifty million migratory songbirds every year. I think somebody blowing up a hospital is really fucked up. Whether that’s done by an anarcho-primitivist or the U.S. military. I’m not talking about senseless destruction. One can be smart and moral. That’s one of the problems with our culture. If someone mentions the “V” word people freak out. If some guy bursts in right now and is going to chop us into little bits with a machete, I think it would not be unreasonable for us to grab a chair and bop him on the head.
That said, there are some groups of people that would be better off if the U.S. economy disappeared tomorrow. The rural poor, all over the world, would be instantly better off. The urban poor would be really fucked; they’re already fucked, and would be even more fucked. The urban rich are probably fucked, but I don’t care about them, because they are the problem anyway.
I don’t mean to blithely say we need to bring down civilization. There are some premises and if we agree with them, we’re going to go a certain direction. First off, civilization is not sustainable — someday it will crash; second, this crash will be messy and lots of people will die; third, the longer civilization continues, the messier this crash will be, because there will be less of the natural world to support us. If you agree with those three things and if your main concern is the survival and comfort of the humans who live during and after that crash, but don’t want to mess up your own conscience or spiritual purity with actually taking it down, then what you — or whomever — need to do is to stop complaining because I’m simply stating the obvious. Instead, work like hell to make things as survivable as possible for the people that live through the crash. Instead of railing at me for taking things down — since your acknowledging they’re going to be nasty — start pulling up asphalt and putting in community gardens. Start teaching people to identify local edible plants, and what insects they can eat. Start working to save habitat so when things do get nastier there will be some calories for people. Salmon deserve to live for their own purposes, but people are going to want those calories. We can all work together. Those people who want to take out dams have a responsibility to support the people working to learn about local medicinal herbs. The people learning about medicinal herbs to increase survivability during the crash have a responsibility to support people who want to take out dams. It has to go both ways.
That is frankly the problem I have with pacifists. I don’t have a problem with pacifism, if somebody wants to devote their life to that. The problem I have is they need to give us the same respect and support that we’re supposed to give them.
LA: I’d like to hear more about the situation of the urban poor. Especially because this often includes people of color and I’ve heard the Green-Anarchist/Primitivist movement has been criticized for being predominantly white.
DJ: I don’t think that’s true. I’d say the best anarcho-primitivists in the world are all the indigenous peoples still living. I think that’s actually crap and really racist to say that most of them are white. Among the civilized, sure it’s probably true. But that’s just the same silencing of the indigenous anyway. For an anarcho-primitivist to silence the indigenous is even more ridiculous than ever.
I think we — whoever we are — need to reach out and make alliances in ways we don’t. I was corresponding with a former member of the Dutch resistance in World War II and what he said blew me away; “of course the resistance was made up mainly of prostitutes, murderers and thieves.” I was like “shit that’s not the way it was in Casablanca. I always thought it was upper class British officers.” It never occurred to me.
Many of my students at the prison were among the most politicized people I had ever met. A lot of them don’t suffer from the belief in the system like we do, or are squeamish about laws. Obviously, or they wouldn’t have ended up there. They don’t believe the system has any more validity than what comes out of the point of a gun. I think a lot of the revolution is going to come out of the so-called criminal class. I’ve met family farmers who understand way the hell more about these issues than a lot of environmentalists. Of course a lot of Native Americans, victims of domestic violence, and others understand as well. Yes, some are as stupid as we are, but some of them aren’t. There are all sorts of reaching out that need to be done.
At a talk I gave recently I said a lot of the revolution is going to come out of the so-called criminal class. A guy in the audience said “I’m a public defender and I don’t agree with you, because most of my clients simply want to get off and when they get off they want a tiny bit bigger piece of the pie.” I was talking with someone else who pointed out that we’re actually both right and we’re seeing these people at different stages of the process; but I see them after they’ve been run through the system. The big difference is the students that I had at the prison realized they don’t have anything left to lose.
You want to know why we don’t rebel? We still think we have something to lose. That’s what’s stopping us. As soon as we realize we have nothing left to lose we’ll be dangerous. Until we get there and reach out to other people who are too, the Green Anarchist movement is going to be nothing but theoretical and sporadic action.
At what point do we resist? That is the point I try to make with dioxin. Every mother’s breast milk in the world is contaminated with dioxin. My grandfather died from pancreatic cancer. I have Crohn’s disease, a disease of civilization. How close does it have to get before we realize we don’t have anything left to lose? When the salmon are gone? Ok, well that’s fine, but they can’t take the redwoods. Well, ok, they can’t take clean air. We draw a line in the sand and say they can’t cross it. Well, ok you can’t cross this one and ok now you can’t cross that one. Well, ok you can have all my clothes. Well, you can rape me but you can’t make me say I like it. Ok, I’ll say I like it but you can’t cut off my foot. Ok, just don’t cut off my other foot. “They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they never kept but one. They promised to take our land and they took it.” [Red Cloud]
Somebody asked me at one of the talks I gave recently, “at what point do you think we’ll reach the point where people should use any means necessary?” The first thing I thought of was we should probably start to fight back when the last passenger pigeon is killed. The point I tried to make was the point has passed. I realized it was a really bad answer. Maybe we should’ve fought back when the last indigenous person, living traditionally, was forced off their land in Massachusetts? Why not Germany? Why not Italy? The real answer is we should fight back when we realize the other tactics aren’t working.
Back to the urban poor. We need to reach out. That doesn’t mean reaching out blindly. There are plenty of family farmers who get it, and there are probably family farmers who are anti-environmental assholes. There are prisoners that I talk to who are really politicized and really get it and there are ones who I would never turn my back on because they’re psychopaths or sociopaths that I don’t trust. I didn’t care if some students walked behind me, but there were a few students I’d watch if they walked behind me. I’m not saying we need to talk to every prisoner or talk to every family farmer, or every poor person of color in the city, but talk to some of them.
LA: What kind of foundation is necessary to make the struggle effective? Do you think actions by individuals and small cells are going to be enough or do we need something more? What kind of foundation is necessary to prepare for post-revolutionary situations?
DJ: I got in a big disagreement with some young anarchists not very long ago, who said they couldn’t see the need for a larger, more hierarchical organization system than the leaderless cell. I disagreed. Part of the problem with our notion of authority in this culture is the assumption that all authority is oppressive. That’s a toxic mimic of real authority. You can have authority and leadership that are fluid and based on effectiveness. You can do small-scale actions with leaderless cells, but you can’t do a large-scale one. You can’t do actions spread out all over the country and the world with leaderless cells. You have to have people who are making decisions like those.
They also said there shouldn’t be any coercion at all. I agree that no one should be coerced into joining. Nonetheless, if five of us are committed to do some action (to the feds who are reading this: my role in this is to write and that’s what I’m doing right now) and at the last minute one of them decides they don’t want to do it — just for the hell of it — and that endangers the rest of us? That’s not acceptable behavior. Say their choice to bail out kills my best friend? That’s not a way to have an effective resistance movement.
Concerning after the revolution — whatever that means — no, I wouldn’t want a large-scale organization. People ask me what kind of culture do you want? I say, I don’t want a culture. I want a hundred thousand cultures based on the needs of each particular land-base. I don’t want to establish something large and I would fight against that.
We’re in a hell of a corner and it’s going to be nasty no matter what happens for the next five hundred to a thousand years at least. I once said to an indigenous friend of mine, “you obviously live on the same land your people have lived on for ten thousand years or more, so I can understand how you’re indigenous. But what about somebody who lives in Colorado, whose people are originally from what is now the Carolinas, his people have a reservation in Oklahoma, and he grew up in LA? How is he that much more indigenous than me?” She said she considered them half-indigenous. Also she would say that many hill people of the Ozarks and Appalachians are half-indigenous, because they’ve lived in place for two hundred years. What will come afterwards won’t be indigenous. A lot of my indigenous friends say they will help us learn how to live once civilization goes away and the land itself will teach us how to live, if we are willing to listen. Yes, there will be a period of upheaval, but eventually there will be people living in place again. Simply recognizing that if you eat more salmon than is sustainable you won’t have the salmon and won’t survive. People recognizing that reentering face to face economics, relationships with the natural world and even with enemies are necessary. I’m not saying people are going to be happy and agreeing with everything all the time.
So I would not want higher level structures. Once again, indigenous peoples have an entirely different relationship with authority. It doesn’t mean that there is no authority. It’s different because there aren’t what we consider bosses. I don’t want to speak for all indigenous peoples, because there are as many kinds of authority relationships as there are indigenous peoples. Some of which are pretty nasty.
LA: So, you use the word authority to refer to someone who is an authority on a subject reflecting that they have some kind of experience in a particular area being different from arbitrary authority, or power over someone?
DJ: Well, it’s generally fluid, and that is an important feature too. I’m a terrible hunter and the two guys I used to go hunting with are really good. They would tell me what to do and I would do it. Then when we were done hunting, they wouldn’t tell me what to do, and if they did, I would tell them to fuck off. The very first time one of them took me out to shoot target practice, he showed me how to not cross someone with a gun. He said “if you ever once cross me with a gun I will never go with you again.” That is an example of a really good authority figure, very straightforward.
LA: Do you consider yourself a Primitivist?
DJ: Sure, if somebody wants to put me in a box I don’t care; but I don’t identify myself as one. If somebody says, are you a writer? Ok, sure. Are you an Anarcho-Primitivist? Sure. In a review I once read someone said I wasn’t enough of an anarchist.
LA: That’s pretty common among anarchists.
DJ: Yeah, there’s a joke one of my students at the prison told me: “if you go to a party how do you recognize the anarchists? They’re the ones wearing the same uniform.” I don’t have any patience for that.
I don’t care; you want to call me an anarchist? You want to not call me an anarchist? You want to call me not enough of an anarchist? I don’t care about any of that shit. I’m just doing the work. What I care about is living in a world that has salmon in it. Living in a world that has not been dismembered. I care about living in a world where women are not being raped, children are not being beaten, and indigenous peoples aren’t being forced off their land.
If that makes me an anarchist, great, if that makes me not an anarchist, great, I don’t care. Besides which, I’ve been called an eco-terrorist, an environmental extremist, an enviro-technie — whatever that means — and a green weenie. It doesn’t matter. What is important is what is happening on the ground.
LA: You’ve called John Zerzan “the most important philosopher of our time.” How do you feel about his analysis of language, art and symbolic thought?
DJ: Actually, I don’t understand it. When many of John’s ideas were first presented to me they didn’t make a lot of sense. It was only after a lot of thought that they started to come together. Numbers and time are good examples of that.
I’m still not there with language. I see how language can be used to deceive and used to distance us from our experience. Language is not experience, but I don’t know if language necessarily has to separate us from our experience. I don’t know if that is the point he is making, but if it is, then I don’t think I agree. I used to think that way and then one day I was driving off an interstate; as I came off it, suddenly there was a stop sign and I realized that the stop sign is not supposed to actually stop your car. Language is not supposed to be experience, but instead is supposed to point us towards, incorporate and make sense of our experience. So, in it’s proper role I have no problem with it. Similarly, I have no problem with counting, so long as one recognizes that counting inherently objectifies. So long as you realize that words aren’t experience, I wouldn’t have a problem with them.
I think it’s the same with art; but a few years ago I was watching aborigines dance in the movie Baraka and I suddenly understood a question that has bothering me for a long time. Some people will tell you since humans are natural that everything humans create is natural, like atomic bombs. That never made any sense to me. I finally got it when I saw that scene in the movie. Unless that particular dance was a dance for the movie camera — which is entirely possible — I can guarantee what it was about. It was about helping them to understand their place and imbeddedness in the natural world. I realized any technology is natural to the degree it reinforces our understanding of our imbeddedness in the natural world and it’s unnatural to the degree that it separates us. So if a piece of art or language can remind us of our place in the natural world then I would say that it’s natural and if not then its unnatural. So I don’t know exactly what John is saying but I may disagree with him slightly on that, or I might not, I don’t know.
As far as symbolic thought, I don’t know if I can comment on that, because I’m not really sure what he means.
LA: You mentioned earlier the need to take advantage of civilization’s bottlenecks or weak points. What are some of these — physical and otherwise — that can be used to bring civilization down? You’ve already mentioned the electrical and oil infrastructures, but can you expand on those or talk about others?
DJ: I think that there are weaknesses on every level. On the personal level the weak point is people’s fundamental dissatisfaction with their exploitation. Talking to people about how much they hate their jobs and helping them to understand that the system isn’t serving them well is one way the contradictions of the system can be used to our advantage.
One of the great weaknesses of the system is that it requires raw materials from around the world to make the thing function. I don’t know if it’s true for you, but something that’s really frustrated me for as long as I can remember is that it takes a thousand years for some tree to grow into an elder, and some moron can go cut it down in six minutes. In some ways it’s much easier to destroy than to not destroy. But that’s all wrong and I realized this a couple days ago. The truth is, cutting down a tree is an incredibly intricate and complicated act requiring assistance from all over the world. What I mean by that is you’ve got to get the oil, refine the oil, get the materials for the chainsaw, manufacture the chainsaw — or axe whatever — it requires this from all over the world. Go try cutting down a redwood tree by yourself, with no assistance from the global economy. Good luck.
So, it made me realize that all this destruction is actually really difficult. We can use that to our advantage. Something to remember and think about in terms of stopping raw materials.
Years ago I asked George Draffan if you could change one thing about the culture, without getting rid of civilization, what would it be? He said he would stop international trade, because that is a huge engine for the destruction of the planet. So that’s something else we can think about, how can we effectively disrupt international trade?
Another thing I’ve thought about lately is most people aren’t ready for this discussion because they still identify with the system. The truth is the technical questions for the most part are really easy. I write and talk a lot about how much I care for the salmon; but the truth is if I really care about the salmon in the Klamath River it would be really easy to stop their extirpation. What would you have to do? You have to remove the dams, stop logging, and stop industrial fishing. Which actually is not a difficult technical task. Even if you had a fair number of people to do it. All of those are imminently doable tasks. The same is true if you love prairie dogs: you find out what the threats are and you remove the threats. The problem is that we don’t do it. One of the reasons we don’t is because those in power will kill us if they catch us. Fear is stopping us, but what else? We identify more with the system than we do with our landbase. I had a conversation ten minutes ago with someone who was saying that “violence is bullshit; nothing good ever comes from violence.” I said, you know what? We’re all in the midst of violence; it’s not that simple.
Transportation is another big ones weak points. I was stuck on Interstate 5 several years ago when four lanes of the highway were closed off where two hazardous trucks had flipped over. It took probably three or four hours to go about five miles around that, cause everybody had to pull off and get on two lane roads. That made me think (I’m not going to take out bridges or anything) what would happen if the 520 or I-90 floating bridges in Seattle — or east to Snoqualmie pass — came down, whether through earthquake (like the one in San Francisco), or through hazardous trucks blowing up on them?
I interviewed someone who said he’s been studying the movement of raw materials for years and the thing that amazes him is how fragile the system actually is and how it hasn’t collapsed already. He pointed out that the U.S. economy almost ground to a halt a couple years ago within two or three days of a dock workers’ strike on the west coast, because all these manufacturing plants couldn’t get their raw materials. What happens if GM shuts down their assembly lines? It costs them millions of dollars a minute. That is why the strike had to be brought to an end. It was dock workers not environmentalists or anyone else.
The whole system is really fragile on every level. One of the heads of security in the South African regime under apartheid, said the thing that most scared him about the ANC was not the sabotage or the violence but the knowledge that if they could get the mass of people to no longer believe in law and order no security force in the world could deal with them. They can’t catch all of us. If you are really in love you do what is necessary to protect your beloved. We are policing ourselves. The biggest chink in the whole armor of the system is the reliance on us to believe that their laws carry moral weight and that there is something immoral about acting outside of the desires of those in power.
LA: How do you envision bringing down civilization? Do you think it will be a single event, a short series of events, or perhaps in a way that is less visible in the short term, like the fall of Rome?
DJ: The bad news is that the way I honestly see that playing out is: nobody wins. Because I think if those in power find their power threatened enough they’ll blow up the world. Nukes really scare me. Even if we totally stayed in line and no environmentalist or anarchist does anything, those in power will still use nukes because their power will start slipping. Wes Jackson said years ago that “Wal-Mart is keeping people from rebelling in this country; so long as people can get cheap disposable diapers they’re not going to rebel.” You want to start a revolution? Pop the price of gas up to ten dollars and watch the fun begin. If people who go to Wal-Mart to get their disposable diapers — not environmentalists — started to rebel those in power would have no problem using nukes. They’ve used nukes on the United States already; can you say Nevada? Can you say the Shoshone? Or all the experiments done on U.S. soldiers or U.S. civilians anyway?
A few years ago, I talked with some really good hackers and asked, “could you stop that possibility?” They said, “no there are too many. We could probably hack our way into maybe a half dozen sites and stop a half dozen missiles from launching, but there is no way we can counter thousands. No matter how many of us there are.” I don’t know what to do with that information.
Setting that possibility aside, I don’t see it as one big act. One of the things those of us who really want to bring it down need to be aware of is we need to have staying power. I asked the hackers, “would a number of hackers be able to bring down civilization?” They said, “yes” and that if you are going to take the electrical grid or whatever through hacking — and I need to say by the way that I know nothing about hacking, and I’m not just saying that for the feds. I know even less about hacking then I do about explosives. Computers give me the heebie jeebies — they would need to be “the last one standing.” What they meant was if you are going to take out the grid using computers you need to have your own electrical site so you can keep hitting it and hitting it.
I think a lot about Wee Willy Keeler who was a baseball player early last century who, when somebody asked him how he got so many hits, he said “hit them where they ain’t.” I think also about what Nathan Bedford Forrest the confederate general — who was a horrible racist by the way but an excellent general — said when someone asked him how do you win so many battles, he said “you get there first with the most.” That means you need to find where you can get local superiority in forces.
A complaint I have of black block type actions is that those have usually taken place where the cops have already massed anyway because of some other protest. I understand the point of them breaking windows is not to break windows but to send a message. If you’re really interested in doing some sort of damage you “hit them where they ain’t.” That’s another huge weakness that we can find our way into. There is a sense in which defenders have an advantage in any sort of battle. I’m using military language intentionally because war is what we are talking about. Those in power have never had any illusions about that. It’s only those of us who are pretending to resist who ever question that language or that reality. Being the defender has the advantage to just sit and wait for the other person to act; but there’s a big disadvantage too: if you are attempting to cover and defend a lot of ground they’ll be able to find places where you’re not, because you can’t protect everywhere. There is a tremendous cost associated with protecting every bit of the infrastructure, especially all around the globe, especially with people who aren’t happy with what you are doing to them. That is a huge advantage we have if we don’t police ourselves.
LA: Assuming Civilization comes down, what’s to stop it from “rising” up again?
DJ: I wish that we had the luxury of trying to figure out how to keep it from coming up again. I would say this is analogous to you are lying in bed at night at home and somebody bursting in with a gun and trying to shoot you, while you’re thinking hmm how can we make sure nobody breaks in again? That’s a question that future generations find answers to, it’s not my job. That won’t be the job of any one particular person, it will be the job of everyone, because one of the things we want to do is decentralize. It will be the job of all the local people to fight and make sure that the power structures don’t start to rebuild themselves. I’m sure that they will. Presuming nukes don’t happen, I think that Mad Max is probably reasonably accurate at least until for a while until the gasoline decomposes, which is I think is pretty fast, maybe a year or two. There will be just as much rape and domestic violence, just as many local assholes trying to kill the last of the salmon but you’ve reduced their reach. One of the things I’m hoping for with the collapse of civilization is that there will at least be sanctuaries where those in power can’t reach.
I was at a talk where somebody gave me a photograph of salmon in Alaska. A week before that I’d seen about fifteen salmon spawning where I was again just yesterday and it’s totally covered with silt from the logging up stream, and god knows if any of those salmon eggs will survive. I’ve read about how the salmon used to be so thick that horses were afraid to get in and that you could walk across on their backs, but I’d never seen it. The picture shows a river full of fish, it’s no hyperbole to say it’s full of fish. You could not step into this water without stepping on a fish. I showed the picture to my mom, and she said “we’ve got about ten years to take down civilization, because that’s not going to last. It’ll be gone in ten to fifteen years.” If civilization comes down those salmon can make their way back and it would probably only take four or five hundred years for them to re-inhabit. It will take that long for the streams to clean themselves out, and be ready to welcome the salmon.
After civilization comes down there will still be people who don’t know what they hell they’re doing but it will take them a thousand years, or fifteen hundred, or two thousand years to figure out how to live on that land and be indigenous to that landscape. But, at least this way there will still be reserves. There will still be the center of the ocean where fish can survive. There will still be forests recovering and there will still be streams that can recover with the salmon and their neighbors. That’s one thing that I hope for with the collapse, that there will be those sanctuaries in place.
Civilization rising up again is not our primary concern. On the big scale, it won’t rise up because the easily accessible reserves of iron are gone. There will never be another Iron Age. There will never be another Bronze Age. There will never be another Oil Age; that’s for sure.
Recently on the derrickjensen-discussion list someone said that he would hope that people could make it so people are too ashamed to restart civilization. That makes a lot of sense to me. Will we have learned our lesson? Some will and some won’t. The people in this watershed might end up being pretty bad — not as bad as this culture because they won’t have the technology — but the next watershed over they might not. One of the lessons I hope people will learn is that if the people in this watershed try and steal from the next watershed over, the people in that watershed will learn to resist effectively and don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can reason with an abuser.
LA: You have a book on surveillance that will be out in June. What are some of the technologies and tactics the government presently has, and will most likely have in the near future that should concern us most?
DJ: It’s the scariest book I’ve ever written. It’s really scary what they are capable of doing already.
Something that not the feds, but corporations have — and the isn’t science fiction it’s already being put in place — are RFID (radio frequency identification) chips which right now are about the size of a grain of rice and they are going to be the size of a speck of dust. They want to put individual ID tags on every consumer item made. That doesn’t mean every pair of shoes of a certain sort will have an ID tag; it means every particular shoe will have an ID tag. There will be receivers all over. The town of Tulsa was already wired for this and they ran a test of the receivers so that the items could be tracked everywhere. They say the reason is for inventory control so if you want to know where your load of toilet paper is you can tell that it’s on the highway between Redding and Arcata. That’s small potatoes, cause they also talk about having these little chips in your pill bottles in your medicine cabinet that will remind you to take your pills and let the pharmacy know when your pills are low so they’ll have your pills ready for when you need them. When they’re in every consumer item in the next year or so and I walk into a store the store clerk can say “hello Mr. Jensen would you like to see some sweaters the same price as the sweater you are wearing?” The point is they’ll be able to track you everywhere if you are wearing any consumer item. Which is pretty scary.
Wal-Mart, International Paper, Gillette, Michelin and other companies are all in the process of implementing RFID technology. The European Union is putting them into the Euro bank notes, so they can literally follow the money. If you have money it will be traceable and every place you take your money it — meaning you — will be tracked.
The book started because a guy sent me a zine that was filled with outlandish technology and I didn’t believe any of it until I started following back his sources, which were original sources like the department of defense. They have microwaves that they can beam into one spot, like into people’s brains, beaming words into your head and make you think you are thinking them. You read this, and it’s like “yeah, yeah, bullshit. This is science fiction stuff;” but it’s not.
Another technology that scares me and makes me sad is one the feds are in the process of creating: what they call a morning after pill for regret. They want to give it to soldiers so they can go in and slaughter a village and afterwards won’t develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it will guarantee even more than boot camp that they’ll never develop a conscience. That’s the end of all humanity and animal nature.
There’s also “Smart Dust,” little receptors that are tiny, which they are already putting out, they can detect movement. They can put these into a forest and detect when somebody is there. So far — wink, wink — they are using them for bird counts and to monitor forest fires, but the military is already talking about putting them on the battlefield so that they can see everything. That’s really what this is about; there is no limit to their psychopathological urge of those in power to control and destroy.
LA: Do you see any way we can counter some of those technologies and strategies?
DJ: I’m sure that there are a lot of people who can come up with better ways than I to counter particular strategies. Somebody at one of my talks suggested that people microwave their sweaters to destroy the RFID tag, and George Draffan pointed out the tags are metal and we all know what happens when you put metal into microwaves. I don’t want to see them blow their faces off. I don’t want to recommend something I haven’t done myself because I don’t know if it’s a good idea.
LA: Someone on the derrickjensen-discussion list posted an article that mentioned RFID tags being used in microwavable food, and receivers in the microwaves would be able to read the tag and know how long and at what temperature level, to cook the food. So I don’t know if microwaves would even effect the chips.
DJ: Well that’s handy! The answer seems pretty obvious to me at this point. We can come up with technical solutions to all of this but what we need to do is stop the capacity of those in power to do it because I don’t think they’re reachable and they’re not going to stop because we ask nicely. So we need to find out a way, using our own gifts individually and collectively, to figure out ways to stop them, to shut down the whole system.
Do you think that if we vote and elect the right people they’ll say, you’re right we won’t allow RFID tags? It ain’t gonna happen; but you know that.
LA: What kind of advice can you offer potential revolutionaries in the first world, particularly in the U.S.?
DJ: The first thing that comes to mind is figure out what you want. I just wrote a long essay for Adbusters (I don’t know if they’re going to use it or not) which talked about why our resistance is so ineffective, but part of what I said in it is that we don’t know what we want. Those on other side know what they want: every last tree, every last fish, every last bit of resistance crushed, control everything turned into products, kill everything and they want it right now. We don’t know what we want. Do we want a few smaller clearcuts? Kinder gentler clearcuts? The first advice I would give is figure out what you want. I think I’m clear, I want a world where there is more wild salmon, ancient trees and migratory songbirds in the world than there was the year before. Do I? I ask that question because: am I doing what it takes to save the Klamath River salmon? I don’t know.
I read a really good essay by Eduardo Galeano not very long ago and I love his work. In this article he attacks writers by saying that they aren’t actually doing anything. Maybe I am doing something to help the salmon, but it’s really frustrating because it’s acting symbolically as opposed to doing something tangible to help the salmon. It’s incredibly frustrating. What do you want? Then figure out what to do to get that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about pacifism for a long time and one of the problems I have with pacifism is that — as Philip Berrigan said before he died — when someone said that pacifism doesn’t actually achieve anything, it doesn’t get results, he said your god doesn’t want results, your god doesn’t need results, god requires faith. He was acknowledging there that pacifism and much of our so-called resistance really is based on magical thinking: that if we’re just nice enough God will take care of everything or the Easter Bunny will, or the great mother, or somebody. My point is that I can give advice to people if they figure out what they want to do. Figure out what you want to protect and then go ask the creature or place itself, ask them “what can I do to help you” and then act. Then ask what are the biggest problems that I can help resolve using the gifts that are unique to me in all the world? Like I said, I don’t know how to act, I don’t know anything about explosives, what I do is know how to write and for now that is the way I can serve best.
I have to say — and this blasphemy among some places — I’m really sick of all the pacifists, protesters, or whatever, doing something symbolic and then standing there waiting to get arrested. What’s that about? I don’t understand. There is this whole perverse thing where we have our resistance — which is dada-esque — the cops get off on beating people up and the protesters seem to get some sort of pride getting arrested. I don’t understand what any of that is about. What really ultimately is accomplished? The advice I would give them is what do you want to accomplish and do it. Take care of yourself.
The consequences of not acting are real. Real salmon are really going extinct. I just read a couple days ago in The Ecologist (volume 33 #10 page 4) about Chemical Induced Puberty. In 1997, 1% of the girls under 8 were developing breasts and pubic hair from the way that chemicals have been pumped into the natural world. By the end of the survey — now — it rose to 27.2% for black girls and 6% for white before the age of 8. Worse, the doctor reported that 1% of the 3 year olds they examined had developed breasts or pubic hair. 57% of the carcasses of deer in Montana had severe genital abnormalities. The majority of lakes in the state of Florida contain alligators that are unable to breed because their testes have become shriveled. There are real consequences to this.
What will it take for people fight back? The answer unfortunately is that for most people it won’t take anything because they won’t do it, no matter what. So the consequence of that is forget them. People say you are going to scare away fence sitters. I don’t give a fuck, they’re going to be scared away anyway.
At the same time there are real consequences to getting caught. A very cool kid came up to me after a talk and said “I want to go blow up a factory.” I asked how old he was and he said 17. I said “have you ever had sex?” He said “no.” I said “just remember if you get caught you aren’t going to have sex for twenty years at least. That’s not saying that one person having sex is worth the salmon. I’m not saying it’s a reason not to act, I’m saying don’t be stupid.
The Abolition of Activism by Noose Papier
Seattle has a rich history, from the point of view of revolutionaries as well as the vantage point of the capitalist families that are in charge. During the Aerospace boom in the late 60’s and early 70’s, there was the Black Panthers (the second largest chapter on the West Coast), the American Indian Movement, much of it active in the Puget Sound region, and of course the anti-war movement. During the Lumber and Shipbuilding boom around World War I, there was the Socialist Party, the Sailor / Soldier’s council, the IWW, and even a left wing dominated AFL. In both of these eras, people were building toward a new world, a total transformation of society in a tangible way, and not just reacting against the old society, against those who were trying to realize the robber baron’s dream.
Some will argue that for the recent boom (and now bust), WTO protests were a worthy comparison. It was an important event, a wake up call, but was not the same thing as what has happened in the past. The WTO did illuminate the wrongs of the ruling class on a global scale, as well as the pathologies within the “Activist Community” which had been in hibernation for many years. Much of the fallout has yet to be dealt with, from the liberal revisionism in many books and articles about the protests to unhealed grudges and unspoken agendas.
Much of the blue collar was kicked out of town in the 1990’s. The dive bars and greasy cafes. The cheap studios downtown; the warehouse space inhabited by struggling working artists; venues to see music and experience all types of grassroots (alternative) culture vanished for a time. Space to simply exist and not be hassled by some security guard, cop, or property owner became an anomaly. Even things that people in other cities take for granted, such as hanging out in your neighborhood with a few friends on the street at night, putting a poster on a telephone pole, or even sitting on the sidewalk — became effectively criminal acts. One would think that all this, exacerbated by a massive acceleration of wealth division, at the expense of us who struggle just to pay the rent would produce a movement that if not capable of overthrowing this power, that would at least alter it some or even challenge its policies, and not merely its ideology. In spite of all of the rhetoric we see five years after the WTO protests, this has never materialized. In fact, it has been marked by the continued cultism and splintering on the left, opportunism by career activists, and the inability for seasoned and experienced activists to deal with their personal issues. What we should be concerned about is the state of the “movement” now, and most important, what can be done about it.
The Social Atomization of Activism in Seattle
A community is defined as a grouping of people who share a common interest and culture and have a cohesive social structure that encompasses these things. For example, we hear about the “business community”; their goals are to make money, and members of this community will collaborate in many ways to make even more money (and suppress opposition), through political lobbying, forming of associations and clubs, especially informally. When we hear about the African American community, we can understand that we are talking about people who share a common heritage, history, culture, and experience in a white controlled society. Same goes for the GBLT community; people who share a common interest and culture and have a cohesive social structure. Or, cultural subcultures of artists, artisans, musicians, and economic communities, such as coops or some labor unions; all of these aforementioned communities are the components of all political and economic institutions.
Every institution that has been perceived as a restriction of free will, individual or collective, has been rightfully pinpointed as something that needs to go, to be abolished. In the last three hundred years, institutions such as the church, monarchies, economic systems — capitalist and state socialist alike, patriarchy, white supremacy, homophobia, and other systems that support these structures have been the target of the disenfranchised, the prisoners, the wage slaves, and anyone else that has felt the pressure of a privileged class of people above them getting social or political perks. Rarely will members of such institutions call upon their own abolition.
This is especially true of the Activist Scene; note the use of an uppercase letter.
We can accept that you don’t have to be a Carpenter to build something. You don’t have to be a Politician to understand politics. You don’t have to be a Rock Star to play an instrument, an Artist to produce art, nor a Priest to have spirituality. You do not have to be an Economist to manage your money, a Lawyer to understand law, nor a Philosophy professor to understand ethics. Some may argue that such titles might be a barrier to the craft of understanding. So why on earth do we assume that we have to be an “Activist” to struggle?
We hear the phrase “Activist Community”, and many roll their eyes, because it is a misnomer. Nonetheless, this self-definition of Activists elevates a scene into a class of people that have a set of interests that are different from those that struggle against authority on a daily basis who are not Activists. Individually, these interests may include the desire to be noticed, to act as a leader of others, to assert an opinion, to have a specialized knowledge on the meaning of “struggle” and even to gain some amount of fame or notoriety. When there is a community of people in competition for so many things, and in the activist scene the competition is something fierce — there is something that cannot be attained in spite of the rhetoric to the contrary: unity. And while a person’s social status within larger society does play into the inter-turmoil of many groups, it is virtually impossible to have a meaningful discussion about any of it because of the inherent contradictions within the “Activist” scene.
What is lost in this lack of unity is our ability, and in some cases desire, to win struggles and control our own lives. It is not apathy; it is demoralization. Such demoralization leads to a scene that develops, that is disconnected with the concerns of people at large, and as a result, Activism takes on a cult like character. In general, the fettishization of intense conflict and martyrdom attracts unhealthy people, and repels those who are capable; you must be a martyr, lest you not be “down” with the “cause”. These expectations destroy personal lives, physical and mental health, personal relationships, and our ability to effectively challenge power. It also creates an intermediary role for the “career Activist” to pass judgment upon “the masses” and negotiate on behalf of them for personal gains.
There are no words in the English language within Activism which describe the desire of someone who is trying to get into, but hasn’t quite made it to an intermediary role between “power” and the “people” as an activist; we have them in other aspects of life: tattle tail, teacher’s pet, brown noser, ass kiss, and the list goes on. This class of, dare we say — Activist bosses, create a condition of competition for the title, the prestige, and often the pay that goes with being a “leader” in the “Activist” community, deriving power not from below, but from the next strata in the hierarchy dealing with whatever issue — be it an NGO, a foundation grant, or a promotion higher into the bureaucracy. Often, it is as simple as fulfilling an unmet psychological need, at everyone else’s expense.
Like any social class, “Activists” have progressive and conservative elements within their own context. The battle within this continuum is over what issue shall be the flavor of the month to appeal to the “masses”. The discussion is often moot, because the issue will always primarily appeal to the Activist class, who will then go out to “educate” the “community” on why the issue is so important. Every once in a while, the issue will strike a chord with those who are not Activists, but because the leadership and direction of the struggle is always controlled by the established
Activists, the energy fades from a struggle not being taken to the next level — as the (mis)leadership collapses and blames one another for the “masses” not buying in. It is for this reason that “the people” rarely show up to the meetings, unless the pain of tolerating the problem outweighs the pain of listening to blowhards pontificate about various isms and phony unity. As a result, the Activist Scene, by its inability to connect with the uninitiated and through its internal competitive and reactionary behavior, is inherently conservative, and is in fact more damaging then bona fide conservatism, because it is cloaked in left ideals. All of this may sound vague, and so I will provide an example of how this power works outside of activist scene circles, to remove the emotional attachment that some might have to this criticism and create an understanding.
A few years back here in Seattle, a single mom was assaulted brutally by her boyfriend in her apartment. This took place in a neighborhood where blatant assaults like these are not public, and the entire neighborhood was in shock over the brutality. The woman was forced to relocate, pay medical expenses out of her own pocket, and deal with the trauma (both hers and her child’s) in isolation, while having to quit her job. The condition that led to this was a neighborhood of people who generally got along, but were not used to communicating on such complex issues.
Having experience in organizing people, I decided I would do so in this case since it was literally next door, and that the main goal would be to simply get the neighbors to organize themselves around the issue and raise some cash to benefit the victim. I purposely left politics out of the equation, not using the opportunity to promote anything, even implicitly, and asked the employees of a local cafe if I could post leaflets advertising a rummage sale, to see if I could secure their parking lot for the sale, and if she would get the word out. Of course, the employees (and even the owner) quickly agreed to this and the idea caught on quickly, and before I knew it, my living room as almost full to capacity to the ceiling of used goods donated by the neighbors. When the sale was rained out, we quickly secured a parking lot of an apartment complex for the next weekend, and in six hours, $1400 had been raised. It was not surprising that even though a male had initiated this, about 90% of those donating time and goods were women, and toward the end, my role became superfluous; the community had taken leadership on an issue that they cared about, and it happened because someone took the initiative, without trying to control the outcome.
Since this was a neighborhood “thing”, I contacted the adjoining neighborhood association on e-mail to ask for donations, and sent them an e-mail explaining the purpose and needs of the event. At this point, the story of the tragedy itself was somewhat public and in the local news. I received an e-mail from the community association: an exact copy of mine, with the header removed, and a claim that they had organized the sale! My concern was to get the job done, and so I only criticized them privately. The people who claimed jurisdiction over the neighborhood on all issues were trying to use the publicity as a means to promote their name and take the credit for things they did not do. Now one asks, so what it the point?
This is what many see as Activism from the outside: crass opportunism. How many times have we seen people and groups try make a name (or a paper sale) for themselves on an issue, rather then providing a vehicle or material support for the realization of a struggle? How many times have we seen left parties strategically insert themselves into roles of visibility in a struggle though group manipulation, only to represent themselves as the leaders? Can we remember when many activists came to town for WTO, and the ones with the power and the money and the prestige denounced locals for fighting the resulting oppression: our newly militarized police force and clueless city council — while promptly leaving town? How many times have we seen organizing around a political issue, only to have the same people step in the spotlight without having done a lick of work? And finally, how many times have we seen leaders in movements who are pure grass roots bullied back out of the movement by self proclaimed experts on radicalism?
The abolition of Activism is the abolition of a class of people who wish to tell us what to do, once the immediate goals of a struggle are achieved — be it an electoral issue, or a revolution in some form. In any class system, there are those who want to be the engineers of it all — from Lenin, to Walter Lippman, to the CEO, and the rest who refuse to get their hands dirty. What will replace activism, in order for us to succeed, is self-managed struggle, where we choose our leaders based on our respect for their experience, and not because of a cult of personality, political manipulation, party line, or a desire to be seen as “legitimate” by those we are struggling against.
This struggle over our identity as people who are challenging power is not an easy task. We may want to get our own people into intermediary roles to displace those who are only there for their own enrichment, so that we can have a firmer grip on the levers of pressure to make those in power make decisions they otherwise will not. We will have to cast off our identification under a political label or ideology, while understanding the areas of struggle where aspects of different ideas can be applied based on conditions as they present themselves. Our label should be what is it that we are building, not what we say others should build. Most important: we have to walk away from trying to recruit each other out of the “Activist scene” and into our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and other aspects of our lives, organize our peers, and with them collectively learn how to advance struggle. If each “activist” in town stopped trying to organize, co-opt, dominate, compete with, harass, bully and outshine one another, and instead spent energy organizing people in all other aspects of life — in real life, instead of the imaginary political scene, then we might have a movement. The relationships of people who are engage in this work are built through informal social networking and trust; saying “thank you” or “I’m sorry” might be the fist simple step for some.
And if an Activist doesn’t know anyone else besides other Activists, then that person has even more work to do.
Wars End: Blacks and RITA in the Vietnam War by Andrew Hedden
“Our Troops,” Our Tactics
A white peace activist explained the reasoning behind her organization’s anti-Iraq war signs. Their slogan — “Support Our Troops, Bring Them Home Now” — was meant to correct an error of the Vietnam War era: the callous demonization of war veterans by anti-war activists. And it’s true, the G.I. got shortchanged — but not by the activist, by the Brass. Where there was oppression, there was RITA — the military officials’ acronym for “Resistance In The Army.” By 1971, the Pentagon noted at least 14 military dissident groups, with 6 or more veteran groups to boot, all “attempting to subvert the armed forces and the war effort in Vietnam.”
Whether its troops grilling Rumsfeld or increasing desertion rates, recent headlines concerning the war on Iraq highlight what history shows us to be imperative. If one is looking to build a movement parallel in strength to that of the 1960s, the role RITA has to play can scarcely be overstated. We always have to look back on history to learn the mistakes of the past — but our white peace activist only had it half right. So far as the vantage point is one of privilege, the mistakes of the past become mistakes of the present. Asked what role anti-racism played in her organization, the woman pondered aloud whether communities of color could be made to understand that “peace” was in their interest. “Our Troops” had a place in her account of the armed forces as an institution, but without a larger social depiction — drawing in both class and race, for instance — her “troops” remained but a caricature. Following from such a faulty image, the white peace activist — much like her counterparts across this county — drew up equally faulty tactics that, in practice, are less maps for social change than they are symbols of good conscience. Peace is possible, to be sure, though that depends on what one’s idea of peace is. Even given that, though, the sign-holding vigils of this one activist’s organization — a thirty-year old tradition — haven’t done much to achieve peace by anyone’s definition.
Good conscience only goes so far — not far enough to end a war, by any means — so it’s of utmost importance to study what does end wars. In the Vietnam era, at least, that was, first of all, the struggle of the Vietnamese themselves; but second of all, the struggle of G.I.’s within the army, and Black G.I.’s most of all. Contrary to our peace activist’s assumptions, “peace” has been a demand of people of color for centuries — and if RITA owed itself to any one struggle, it was the struggle for black self-determination and freedom.
RITA — Born in Flames
Stateside, what began in the rural South fighting segregation had by the end of the 1960s erupted in the supposedly integrated urban North — first as spontaneous violence and riots, then as organized self-defense, in organizations like the Black Panther Party. The resistance of black G.I.s followed a similar trajectory. Since Harry Truman’s executive order for desegregation of the armed forces in 1948, the Army had seen itself as a racially progressive institution. Officially colorblind, there were no black marines, or white marines, only green marines. Or so it thought. By 1968, racial violence had disrupted the integrated consensus on such a scale that by 1970 “had begun to hinder the fighting effort” in Vietnam. What had at first spontaneously erupted began to coalesce into organized efforts like the American Servicemen’s Union, Movement for a Democractic Military, and the Black Berets — and as occurred with the Panthers, the strength built by these groups was met with systematic repression.
From induction to discharge, institutional racism was a fact the black G.I. had to deal with throughout his military career. For many, it was the very reason they were there in the first place. Whatever its intention, this was the function of “Project 100,000,” an experimental program which inducted 100,000 men a year who would have otherwise been screened out of the draft due to low educational scoring. Given that only 5 percent of black males held college degrees at the time, Project 100,000 translated into more black combat troops, which inevitably meant a disproportionate amount of black casualties in Vietanm. Lest the statistics reflect negatively on themselves, government officials made quick to put a civil rights spin on the whole thing. “History may record,” declared Johnson’s secretary of labor, Daniel Moynihan, “that the single most important psychological event in race relations in the nineteen-sixties was the appearance of the Negro fighting men on the TV screens of the nation. Acquiring a reputation for military valor is one of the oldest known routes to social equality — from the Catholic Irish in the Mexican War to the Japanese-American Purple Heart Division of Word War II.”
G.I. Joe, meet Black Power
Blacks were busy navigating their own route to social equality, despite the repeated attempts of government officials to map it for them. “Blacks found community not in the service,” explained Lawrence Baskir and William Strauss, “but among themselves.” Symbols of black power emerged: flags were designed, leather “slave bracelets” were made and worn as signs of solidarity, and dapping — elaborate rituals of hand shaking — was invented. Yet no matter how flagrant racial inequity was — as in the dearth of black officers or the lack of black commissary goods, for instance — almost every sign of black solidarity was interpreted by whites as, at best, self-segregation, and at worst, outright rebellion. While some white soldiers displayed the Confederate flag freely, a black power flag was a sign of insubordination. Afro hairstyles, black power salutes, and dapping too all signified to white officers a large measure of indiscipline. Military justice had come to mean compliance to the white standard of culture and conduct: blacks received more infractions, harsher sentences, and showed a “disproportionately high percentage of the military prison population through the war years.”
These were the roots of RITA — in Vietnam stockades, on naval vessels, to stateside Air Force and Marine Corps bases, riots erupted as they had in the U.S.’s inner city ghettos. As James Westheider observes, “Because the underlying factors truly responsible for the violence were so intense and widespread, almost anything could trigger a racial gang fight.” The existence of underlying factors made the problem an institutional one — but the military, at least at first, refused to see it that way. Instead, the blame was deflected. “The immediate cause of racial problems in Vietnam is black people themselves,” explained black Navy Lieutenant Owen Heggs. “White people haven’t changed.” But that was the problem — white people hadn’t changed. Officially colorblind institutions were “still essentially white-controlled and dominated.” The situation left many black G.Is wondering if the Vietcong were really the enemy.
Government officials soon realized the potential fix they were in, as Sol Stern explained in a March 24, 1968 New York Times feature “When the Black G.I. Comes Back from Vietnam.” With blacks training in military skills, accruing combat experience, then returning to impoverished inner city ghettos, it was feared “some returning black Vietnam vets may become ‘destabilizing’ elements rather than a force for civil-rights progress:” that is, the ex-G.I. would join a militant group such as the Panthers, and turn the gun back on the government itself. The Pentagon responded with Project Transition, which aimed “to reach black G.I.’s headed back to big explosive urban ghettos and train them for jobs which will take them out of those ghettos.”
Though the entire article had a ense of urgency to it, Stern allowed the fearful white reader a momentary breath of relief. “Although black militants are looking hopefully toward the Vietnam vets as allies,” he consoled,” they have so far made no attempts to organize them.” It was true, black militants were not organizing the vets specifically. But any breath of relief was false — many vets were busy organizing themselves. While many organizations were small and limited to one base, based on rap sessions and discussion groups, others were larger, with much more ambitious goals. The American Servicemen’s Union (ASU), for instance, in 1970 boasted of more than 10,000 members with several hundred chapters, and had its own newspaper, The Bond. The ASU had ten demands, listed in each issue of The Bond, which were at once anti-war, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, pro-labor and pro-rank-and-file.
The right to refuse to obey illegal orders — like orders to fight in the illegal, imperialist war in Southeast Asia.
Election of officers by vote of the rank and file.
An end to saluting and sir-ing of officers
The right of Black, Latin and other national minority servicemen and women to determine their lives free from the oppression of any racist whites. No troops to be sent into Black, Latin or other national minority communities.
No troops to be used against anti-war demonstrators.
No troops to be used against workers on strike.
Rank-and-file control of court-martial boards.
The right of free political association.
Federal minimum wages.
The right of collective bargaining.
Though it was an independent organization, the ASU — along with other groups like Movement for a Democratic Military (MDM) — worked closely with the Black Panther Party (BPP). Begun in 1967 as an armed legal observation patrol of police in the Black community of Oakland, California, the popularity of the Panther model spawned hundreds of chapters across the U.S. in but a matter of years. Thanks to their success, the BPP also drew the ire of the U.S. government. Claimed the House Committee on Internal Security, “the BPP, through its deliberately inflammatory rhetoric and through the actual arming and military training of its members, has contributed to an increase in acts of violence and constitutes a threat to the internal security of the United States.” True, the BPP did not mince words; nor did they hold back on the question of Vietnam. Letters from G.I.s were a frequent sight in the Party newspaper, as were chronicles of the ASU and MDM. One of many Panther appeals to the black G.I. appeared in the newspaper in 1970, written by Communications Secretary Kathleen Cleaver.
Right inside of the U.S. imperialist beast’s Army, you are strategically placed to begin the process of destroying him from within... You don’t have to wait... to begin to fight... Sabotage from within until you get into a position to destroy without! We need you, your military skills, your military equipment and your courage for our own struggle.
Despite the machinations of Project Transition, many Vets heeded the call, putting their skills to use in the struggle at home. Groups like MDM and the Black Berets “stole weapons from the military and stockpiled them for use in the coming revolution” while some military authorities suspected they were responsible for arsons and bombings. But as far as individual capacity was concerned, no one was more important in this respect than Vietnam veteran Elmer “Geronimo” ji Jaga (then known as Geronimo Pratt). With Party Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton in jail awaiting trial for the murder of a police officer — he was later acquitted — ji Jaga took on Newton’s position. “I went through every ghetto,” explains ji Jaga, “every swamp, every one-horse town that they sent me to, teaching people how to defend themselves, what I had learned in the military.” As FBI repression heated up against the Panthers, the necessity of ji Jaga’s teachings became more and more evident. When the Los Angeles Police Department attempted to raid the LA BPP office, the largely teenager staff was able to hold off the attack for five hours, despite the LAPD’s use of a SWAT team and the detonation of a bomb. “While ji Jaga was not present during the raid,” writes Akinyele Omowale Umoja, “the preparations and militarily [sic] training provided by him was decisive to the survival of his comrades.”
The Brass Brings Their Boot Down
The success of L.A. proved difficult to sustain, and the Panthers eventually met their demise after years of severe FBI repression. At the same time, military officials were beginning to strike back against the movement in their ranks. In 1969, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird passed down a new directive for “Handling Dissident and Protest Activities among Members of The Armed Forces.” Thanks to Laird’s directive, commanders were given sweeping restrictive powers against personnel. Virtually all alternative literature was banned, and rallies, demonstrations, as well as off-base G.I. coffee houses — from which much of the resistance was organized — were declared off limits.
Coupled with the racist perceptions of white officers, this directive meant double the repression for the black G.I. According to James Westheider, “Most in the command structure considered any display of black pride or unity to be inherently dangerous and used their newfound powers to suppress virtually all black-oriented activity in the military, regardless of whether it advocated outright revolution or just a more militant type of black pride.” Those perceived as radicals were sometimes transferred to remote military outposts, but were most often submitted to military justice, resulting in harsh sentences of hard labor and bad conduct discharges. While eliminating radical influence on the one hand, the military officials also sought to contain it. By the late 1960s, reform programs were already being implemented to enforce the official equal opportunity policy, and race relations boards and committees were becoming common place.
“By February 1973,” Westheider writes, “the armed forces had not totally eliminated radical influence in the services, but they had successfully contained it, and its strength was definitely in decline.” 1973, of course, saw the end of the draft, and soon after occurred the end of the war itself. Much of the impetus for RITA was then gone — due in part to its success. Bernard Nalty notes that, as early as 1970,
the outbreaks of racial violence and the frequency of drug abuse could be seen as manifestations of a general collapse of morale and failure of purpose that permeated the armed forces, especially the units in South Vietnam. At root of the problem was a loss of confidence in the military as an institution, its officers, and its values. Mistrust gave way to contempt, and contempt to disobedience and revenge.
If anything indicated the breakdown in discipline, it was “fragging” — the killing of military officers by disgruntled privates. Between 1969 and 1972, a Congressional investigation found that more than 1,016 such incidents had occurred.
To Mitch Smith, writing in the American Servicemen’s Union newspaper The Bond, fragging was “just the most dramatic example of a general ‘breakdown in discipline’ taking place in the military.” This breakdown is often portrayed as the demoralization stemming from low troop morale — and for the most part this was the case. The next step, at least as is so often taken in popular culture, is to blame the anti-war movement for sapping the morale of the troops. But this not only takes the blame off the decision-makers and those in power; it also serves to strip away the agency of those troops who themselves chose to fight against the war from — in Kathleen Cleaver’s words — “right inside of the U.S. imperialist beast’s Army.”
Our Tactics Bring Them Home
It says something about who is ghostwriting the story of history when popular culture casts flower children and college radicals — that is, the white middle class — as stars of the 1960s, despite the plot having been developed through the struggles of people of color — RITA and the struggle of the black GI included. Today, even as white radicals seek to build a new anti-war movement, the same ghost still dictates the present, leaving some whites to wonder when communities of color will finally get on board their peace train. What so many whites can afford to ignore is that the tracks their train rides on were laid by the struggles of people of color. Not only does this slight the struggles that today’s movements are built upon, it also misconstrues the very nature of the wars we fight against, in all their racist and imperialist dimensions. The extent to which we have no idea what it is we’re up against is the extent to which our movements remain at the thirty-year old peace vigil, holding signs, out in the cold, feeling good but more or less leaving essential questions unanswered about “peace.” Peace by plea? Or — as the late New Afrikan anarchist Kuwasi Balagoon wrote — “peace by piece”? Will our tactics bring them home? The answers will ultimately come from those waging the struggles for empowerment themselves, not those on the sidewalk rooting them on (however useful that solidarity might sometimes be).
Between Whiteness and a Hard Place: The Liberal’s Dilemma by Andrew Hedden
In 1970, self-described middle-class white liberal Don Schanche found his liberal conscience in a dilemma. Such a dilemma, in fact, that he felt it demanded an entire book: The Panther Paradox: A Liberal’s Dilemma. Schanche’s dilemma? Oakland, California’s Black Panther Party, the revolutionary black nationalist organization known to liberals like Schanche mainly for their guns. With bemused interest, he watched “their haphazard close formation drill on a makeshift parade ground;” listened to their “banal, adolescent chatter;” read the “Jew-baiting Black Panther weekly;” and shuddered “as they go through precisely coordinated public demonstrations of ferocity with clearly implied goals of assassination and guerilla warfare.” The diagnosis, he declared, was clearly insanity. But of course, such a diagnosis Schanche dared not deliver without a qualifier of liberal compassion. “They have been driven by white society to their insanity,” he explained, “they have not marched to it by choice;” not to mention “what clearly appears to be an unuttered, unwritten police conspiracy to deprive the Panthers of their civil liberties.”
While Schanche insisted this situation had him morally “pinched between a rock and a hard place,” an elementary fact eluded him — that the Panthers had him exactly where they wanted him. Black leaders spoke in a voice which shot past white ears with a swiftness — all the better for the black masses to hear it. The consequence of this — fortunate or unfortunate depending on one’s place along the revolutionary continuum — was that, as scholar Arthur L. Smith relates in his 1969 study Rhetoric of Black Revolution, “to the unsophisticated white audience, these terms suggest[ed] unique seperateness, maybe even prejudice.” Schanche can’t imagine himself as belonging to the “unsophisticated” party. Yet what struck Schanche’s ears as “ineptly constructed doctrine” was not without its sophistication; in fact, it was the very essence of sanity.
While it appeared that what the liberals said never amounted to more than the linguistic equivalent of wringing hands, Black Power spoke direct and to the point — and the point for the Panthers was action. That’s what distinguished the Party: it provided the organization through which the linguistic could facilitate real — and revolutionary — struggle: “When the party says ‘power to the people,’” asserted one Panther captain, “we ain’t jiving a pound.” As Party chairman Bobby Seale explained, elemental to this process was the Ten Point Program, “Just a basic platform that the mothers who struggled hard to raise us, that the fathers who worked hard to feed us, that the young brothers in school, who come of school semi-literate, saying and reading broken words, that all of these can read.”
In their stress on the basic, it’s important to note that the Panthers did not shirk complexity so much as disdain perplexity. As Assata Shakur recalls, “Panthers didn’t try to sound all intellectual... They simply called a pig a pig.” While New Leftist icon Herbert Marcuse saw in the language of black militants “a systematic linguistic rebellion, which smashes the ideological context in which the words are employed and defined, and places them into the opposite context;” Party founder Huey P. Newton hadn’t needed a Marcuse to describe the same “negation” one year prior, in a much more straight-forward — if not theoretical — fashion.
Matter of fact, the omnipotent administrator along with his security agents are less than a man because we define them as pigs! I think that this is a revolutionary thing in itself. That’s political power. That’s power itself. Matter of fact, what is power other than the ability to define phenomenon and then make it act in a desired manner?
When, two years later, Newton found himself at Yale — on a national speaking tour to promote his “intercommunal” theory — psychoanalyst Erick H. Erikson was quick to pick up on this facet of the Panther method. “Huey Newton’s main deed... and one powerful reason for the appeal of the Panther’s stance both here and abroad, is in the turning of a negative identity into a positive one, in the sense in which a cornered animal turns on the attacker. This is what the Black Panther imagery stands for, after all.” Only after Erickson saw the need to distinguish between “a new Newton, the radical theorist” and “the earlier Newton, the radical activist,” did his Ivy League tenure really begin to show. Newton was quick to retort that “there hasn’t been any kind of qualitative leap, any real change,” and as to his goals, nothing really did. It was only after the vocabulary had changed, only after Newton had begun to sound off in an academic arena, did Erickson even think to take Newton seriously.
Some would say that this change in relation went both ways. As Newton began to think himself an organic intellectual, all that was once “organic” about Newton was subsumed under “intellectual.” Assata Shakur felt she wasn’t alone in the feeling that “his rambling for three hours about the negation of the negation was sheer disaster. People walked out in droves.” To some, then, this was one indication of the beginning of the end for the Black Panther Party. Even so, the reputation they had accrued over their short history was still so potent that the very presence of Newton was enough to import Schanche’s “liberal dilemma” beyond the walls of the Ivory Tower to an entire generation of privileged white collegians. “It seems to me,” admitted a white student at Yale, “that just your presence here, Mr. Newton, forces me to some kind of subjective analysis: there are certain things I am going to have to do sooner or later, certain conclusions that I am going to have to reach for myself about this society and whether I want to fit into it or try to effect some type of change.”
Bobby Seale was but one Panther among many unafraid to declare, as he did, “Liberal, I’m gonna force you to support the black liberation struggle, whether you like it or not.” Given this student’s testimony, it would seem Seale, and the Black Panther Party, achieved their objective, at least in this respect. Indeed, Don Schanche’s problem — and the essence of the “liberal dilemma” — was that he didn’t like being forced. In a cheap attempt to escape this support, Schanche assumed the role of doctor, diagnosing “insanity.”
We might wonder what credentials a liberal such as Schanche must prove before playing psychologist. We might wonder, until we turn the check-up back on the liberals themselves — in this racist society they require no other credential but their whiteness. Following this, Schanche’s final prescription proved as perplexed as his diagnosis. “Unlike the madness of the Panthers,” whom he deemed both “politically and socially unsalvageable,” Schanche concluded that “police behavior is subject to citizen control.” This claim in itself is enough to prove Schanche didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about. Maybe Schanche spilled white-out on this section of his notes; whatever the case, there is some sort of white-out going on here. Schanche misses that the very premise of the Black Panther Party was “citizen control” of the Black community, especially citizen control of the police — hence the original name Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
The Panthers just found that sometimes the bullet is more effective than bureaucracy. Schanche and liberals like him couldn’t believe it, because they’d never known an institution that didn’t work in their favor. What their “dilemma” really goes to show is how far white Amerika — 30 years later — is yet to come in terms of racial consciousness. Like any white person, Schanche should have gotten down off his liberal high horse and taken a good long look at the privilege he rode in on. “If Americans were not so terrified of their private selves,” James Baldwin once wrote, “they would never have needed to invent and could never have become so dependent on what they still call ‘the Negro Problem.” Schanche was so terrified that he wrote an entire 200-page book on the subject without asking a single question of himself. Most white people have a similar narrative in their head, even if we never get around to publishing it. What was needed in 1970, and what is still needed now, is for us to turn that diagnosis on ourselves, not some racialized Other. It’s the least that we can do to prove our case isn’t a hopeless one. Because it wasn’t the Panthers who were sick. Physician — heal thyself.
I Love Paris in the Spring Time, I Love Paris in the Fall... by Mike Andrew
Twice in my lifetime Paris has exploded in insurrection.
I was 16 in the spring of 1968 when the students and young workers of Paris rebelled against the petty repressions of the De Gaulle regime. Every evening in that May and June my friends and I would turn on the network news, first of all to see the Viet Cong take on the US army, and then to watch the student rebellion spread from city to city throughout France.
Today’s rebels are different from those of 1968. They’re just as young, but they are not students this time, and not factory workers. In fact almost all of them are unemployed — even the ones with certificates from the Sorbonne — and many have been all their lives. They are not white this time, they are Arabs and Africans, the children of French colonialism. Most of them were born in France to immigrant families from former French colonies, but France has nothing to offer them but welfare checks, housing projects, and police records.
The young rebels of 2005 are not children of privilege acting out the Marxist or Anarchist or Situationist theories they got from books. They are not in the streets because “another world is possible.” They are in the streets because their lives in this world are impossible.
Unlike the generation of 1968, they have no line of retreat. They can’t get a haircut and buy nice clothes and become lawyers or accountants or stockbrokers. Their skin marks them off as unquestionably people of the lower class, not privileged, not even truly “French” in the eyes of many French citizens.
For precisely these reasons they are much more dangerous to the French state than the rebels of 1968. For the same reasons they’re very much like young people of color here in the US. No one who was alive in the ‘60s, as I was, could fail to be reminded of Detroit or Watts or any of a dozen other US cities where young African Americans rebelled against the institutions of racism and the state under very similar circumstances.
Yet it is the French students of ’68 that have a romantic appeal for the “Left” even today, 37 years later, both in Europe and in the US. These new rebellions have been watched in relative silence by a US “Left” that is otherwise all too chatty. True, Paris 1968 was an iconic event for my generation and remains, in a way, an international symbol of the whole decade of the ‘60s. Still, there’s more to it than just nostalgia for the ‘60s. I suspect that it is the covert racism and Euro-centrism of the “Left” — especially in the US — that makes the rebels of ’68 appealing and leaves those of ’05 politically isolated.
So I see Paris in flames on CNN and I think back to 1968 with mixed feelings.
All the images my friends and I saw in those days...Paris...the student strikes here in the US...the Black Panthers whose members, many of them, were our age and whose leaders were only 10 or so years older...the Red Guards in China...all of that convinced us that our generation would be in the vanguard of a global transformation of political power and culture. And we imagined we could bring it off before we turned 30.
Things didn’t work out quite as we envisioned them.
By the end of summer 1968 the French students were defeated. We didn’t know it at the time, but 1968 was high tide for the mass movements of the 1960s, after which the struggle would ebb — although things would never go back to the way they were before. There were many reasons for this, some of them crystal clear, some of them not.
The French students were defeated in 1968 in part because they were inexperienced — as we all were — in part because they were betrayed by people who should have been their allies and their leaders, and in part because global capitalism turned out to be much tougher than we thought it was.
De Gaulle understood state power much better than the rebels. The first thing he did, once he realized that he was facing something more serious than mere campus turmoil, was to go to the French army stationed in Germany and ensure that its officers were willing to fight for him if it came to that. As it turned out, De Gaulle didn’t need the army. The police were sufficiently brutal. And De Gaulle was sufficiently cunning to mobilize all the established political tendencies — “Left” as well as Right — against the students and their worker allies.
The students who talked so readily about empowering the imagination lacked practical intelligence. They imagined they would occupy campus after campus and factory after factory, making revolution by attrition, until the Gaullist state simply became irrelevant. They didn’t understand how dangerous and how determined their enemy really was.
Of course it was not their fault. Every one of those students, if they’d been asked, would have said they renounced and rejected absolutely all the privileges and attitudes of their middle class origins. So would we all. But mental habits we’d acquired from our earliest days are not so easily renounced. For white middle class students, French or American, the police were at worst a petty nuisance. None of us, there or here, imagined they could be as brutal as they really were. And no one gave any thought at all to how students would deal with the army, if Gen Massu’s paras had landed at Orly Airport. How do you defend a school or a factory when veterans of the Battle of Algiers come marching down the street? It was too far outside of anyone’s day-to-day experience.
Yet those were precisely the terms of the struggle — and they will be the terms of the struggle whenever revolutionaries confront the state in a serious and determined way.
The student revolutionaries did not understand those terms, at least not at first, but there were plenty of people on the “Left” who should have understood them. The French “Left” knew the army very well. All of them had lived through the military coups and counter-coups centered on Algiers that brought De Gaulle to power 10 years before. Many of them had been activists in the Resistance when Marshal Petain and the French High Command were collaborating with the Nazis. These veterans could — and should — have taken the lead in building actual organs of resistance to the Gaullist state. They could and should have taken up agitation against military intervention in politics — inside the armed forces as well as outside. Or failing that, they could at least have mobilized public support for the immediate demands of the students and striking workers.
But as it turned out, the French students were betrayed by the old Communists and trade union leaders who preferred to protect their monopoly on “The Revolution” rather than actually leading people in revolutionary action. Apart from some intellectuals like Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, the adult leaders of the French “Left” were tacitly — and sometimes quite openly — hostile to the students. These “leaders” had spent most of their adult lives rising to positions of power and influence in their unions or party organizations, in civic society, in some cases in the state itself. They were not at all sympathetic to people they saw as young upstarts and troublemakers, and they were not willing to risk everything on an alliance with them.
As the rebellions spread across France, the old “Left” became increasingly uneasy. The situation was out of their control even more than it was out of De Gaulle’s. After all, they had no army and no police to back them up, they had only the prestige of their party and union offices, and none of the young rebels feared or respected them. They were undoubtedly relieved when the Gaullist state reasserted itself, and they could resume their roles as the proper spokespeople for “The Working Class.”
Like the older generation of rebels, the generation of ‘05 will be betrayed by today’s Communists and trade union leaders who feel even less responsibility to them than they did to the students of 1968. They will also be betrayed by their own sheiks and imams who are issuing fatwas against the risings even now as I write this. This is sad but entirely predictable. However, it would be absolutely criminal if they were also let down by anarchists, and doubly so if that happened only because they’ve failed to adopt a vocabulary and symbols we find comfortable or acceptable.
It’s only natural for people to express themselves in language familiar to them. It was obvious that the generation of ’68 would dress up like Che or Mao and speak in the vocabulary of Frankfurt School Marxism. It is equally obvious that the generation of ’05 will not. So far they have not shown the appetite for publicity, not to say self-promotion, that characterized the generation of ’68, and to my mind that’s an advantage, but it also makes it more difficult for those of us not on-scene to know what their political agenda really is.
The French government has hinted they are Islamists, or at least dupes of Islamist agents. Most of the young people in the streets of Paris are in fact from Muslim backgrounds. How many of them identify primarily as Muslims, and how much those that do might or might not identify with revivalist Islam of the al Qaeda brand, is not clear at this time. In any case, it should be no surprise that people from a Muslim background express their grievances against colonialism — whether French or North American — in language derived from Islam. They have done so before, at least as early as the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
Absent a coherent revolutionary program grounded in their own experiences and expressed in terms accessible to them, how could they not?
It is pure racism, and intellectual snobbery besides, to suggest that people actually fighting the corporate state have to speak in the vocabulary of Marx or Bakunin, let alone Marcuse or Baudrillard, in order to be taken seriously. I don’t care if they are Muslims or whatever, they are fighting the enemy. Nevertheless, absent a revolutionary program, and absent a political vocabulary that allows people of color and potential allies who are white to speak to one another, I doubt whether the rebellion of 2005 will be any more sustainable than that of ’68.
So this is the challenge for anarchists. How do we develop a revolutionary program that speaks to the experiences of communities of color in their struggle against white supremacy and all the ugly legacy of colonialism, and fuses that revolutionary impulse with the desire of working people of all races to control their own lives and the products of their own labor? And how do those of us who are white ensure that our comrades from communities of color are heard with attention and respect when they talk to us about their experiences, which after all are not the same as ours and may not be understood by us?
When I pose these questions I’m not suggesting we have anything to teach the young people of Paris. On the contrary, we have a lot to learn from them.
Tactically they are brilliant. Within a couple of days, entire suburbs of Paris were no-go areas for the police, and the head of the national police force was begging for the army to intervene in what he openly called an “insurrection.” A couple of days more, and the insurrection had spread to just about every city in France.
In 1968, the students were hampered by their own sense of entitlement. They thought of the campuses as somehow “theirs” and they felt they had to defend “their” schools from the police. In this way they surrendered the initiative to the state’s forces, and almost guaranteed they’d be beaten. Storming a prepared defensive position is hard work, but it’s something any law enforcement officer can be trained to do and it’s made a lot easier by the chemical weapons and concussion grenades police have at their disposal. And in the end, if the police can’t do the job, the state can call in the army with even heavier weapons.
On the other hand, if you don’t own anything you don’t have anything to defend. That frees you up to take the offensive, to dictate the location and the terms of combat, and it forces the police to respond to you. Insurgents fighting in small and mobile teams who can attack when and where they want to, and then disperse, force the police to try to defend all the state’s assets everywhere and at the same time — which is impossible. Even mass arrests of the kind French police are carrying out now are ineffective against a tactically mobile enemy. If rebels strike a target where the police aren’t, it’s quite likely they can be gone by the time the police get there, and arrests of innocent people are seen by the community as a confirmation of the oppressive role of the police. So both militarily and politically the state loses.
Having said all that, I want to end by saying that it’s not my place to agitate for — or agitate against — similar uprisings here in the US. For the last 40 years — at least! — it’s been a source of tension between white revolutionaries and our comrades of color that white people romanticize rebellions in communities of color, then stand back and applaud from the sidelines while people of color take all the casualties. So I won’t say what should or should not happen here. I will only say what I know. I know that there are many, many young people of color here in the US living very much like young people of color in France do, and I know they’re just as angry. I also know that white people here in the US are even less likely to be sympathetic to rebellions of people of color than the French are, and therefore any rising here would be even more isolated and vulnerable to police reprisals. And I know as an absolute certainty that the revolutionary forces of any race here in the US have not achieved a level of organization sufficient to sustain resistance at that level.
Once again, Paris presents us with opportunities and with unfinished business.
Feminist Domestic Violence Shelters: From the Battered Women’s Movement to the Battle Against Bureaucracy by Anna Lee Preyapongpisan
The civil rights, anti-war, and black liberation movements of the 1950s and 1960s gave the nation a whole new way to look at people, power, and the struggle for equal rights in our society. In a time of political unrest and social upheaval, these movements paved the way for a new women’s liberation movement. This movement, which mobilized thousands of women across the country to fight against a dominant and oppressive social system, also set the stage for further movements to develop out of it — the anti-rape movement, as well as the battered women’s movement.
The problem of the battered woman is nothing new. It has been around for centuries. However, before the 1960s, wife abuse, intimate partner violence against women, or domestic violence, as it is often referred to as, was not a public issue. It was something that occurred behind closed doors, within one’s own home, and it was not discussed with others. Women were forced to bear this burden in silence and shame. The emergence of the women’s liberation movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s changed this. The battered women’s movement grew out of the realization by women that domestic violence, as well as public and state violence against women was an all too common occurrence. Awareness of domestic violence did not grow out of social workers, sociologists, government bureaucrats, or other professionals stating that is was a problem, although they later recognized that it was in fact an enormous problem. It was feminists and other grassroots activists that first used the term “battered women” and raised public awareness around this issue — they are the ones who turned the private and personal into the public and political. This public knowledge made it easier for abused women to speak out and seek help.
In 1971, some women in a consciousness raising group in St. Paul, Minnesota decided that they were tired of sitting around and talking about the problems that were facing women, and wanted to do something about it. Three years later, in 1974, these women opened Women’s Advocates, one of the first domestic violence shelters for battered women in the United States. Many early shelters had small staffs and volunteers made up primarily of working-class women without professional degrees; most operated as collectives with a consensus model as their primary decision making process. These shelters were often old, run-down houses with many bedrooms and funding to rent the house came from the women organizers and their friends and allies. Needless to say, most shelters were not able to operate on steady funding and it was not uncommon for shelters to have to shut down and fire its staff rather abruptly.
While many organizers’ long-term goals were to make fundamental changes to the systems that oppress women and perpetuate violence against them, the goal at hand was to simply survive as an organization and maintain shelters. In addition to funding, other problems included overcrowding, inadequate community services and referral networks, and shortages of staff. As the problem of domestic violence was further forced into the public eye, however, more and more shelters were able to receive public support, which included major grants from nonprofit, state, and private sectors. These grants provided a tremendous amount of stability to the organizations that accepted them. Many were able to build new shelters, have a separate office in the community, hire most staff, and have more funding to develop various programs to support the women who came into shelter.
While State funding significantly increased organizations’ ability to address their clients’ needs through safe shelter and services, many feminist organizers were a bit weary of this new funding. They felt it was a threat to the ideological and political cohesion of the movement. With the acceptance of public funding came more control from forces outside of the organization. Along with a variety of other new guidelines, shelters with state funding were now required to keep very detailed records of finances, submit clients’ case histories, and regularly evaluate the success of the programs. Failure to meet the expected requirements sometimes meant a loss of funding for a shelter. These new policies and procedures also began to change the structure of many organizations. Positions became more specialized and hierarchical. Credentialed mental health professionals and social workers were hired to fill positions within shelters and more formal means of communication and decision-making were implemented. Many organizations created a board of directors that included prominent figures in the community, such as lawyers, judges, and teachers. In some cases, what once were grassroots, community-based, collectivist groups, became bureaucratic, professionalized, and institutionalized organizations.
State acquired funds brought with them a division of labor within organizations and increased inequalities in pay rates, power and authority. These often reflected divisions along lines of ethnicity, region, and class. In such a shift in power, it is important to consider who is gaining control and how that reflects upon the organization. As mentioned earlier, many feminist organizers’ values are compromised when they receive state funding because often times, they become part of the system that they are trying to resist.
When working class women have struggled for years to build a movement and a safe space in their communities for women who have been abused, what message are we sending when we go and replace them with “professionals” and “experts” with degrees and hierarchical structures? What happens to the movement? Where does the agenda for social change lie in all of this? How can feminist organizations maintain the stability that comes with state power and funding without compromising their values and integrity? How can we resist the co-optation of the battered women’s movement and feminist shelters? It’s not always an easy task, but it can be done.
Many organizations did not entirely give up the collectivist model when state funding came into the picture, but rather developed a “modified collective.” On paper, in documentation and whatnot, these organizations looked like hierarchical organizations, but in practice, they shared information, were not as formal with communication, and practiced consensus decision-making in many situations. In addition to these methods, some organizations have attempted to maintain much of their autonomy by limiting the amount of funding they receive from the state, instead drafting contracts that ensure that primary funding comes from community resources.
One of the most important aspects of resisting co-optation is to work collectively towards common goals. As Claire Reinelt has written,
“The effects of state funding are mitigated when the movement’s leadership has feminist vision and engages in feminist practices that challenge the bureaucratic and hierarchical practices of the state’s decision-making structure by empowering movement participants to work collectively towards common goals.”
Despite involvement in bureaucratic institutions, feminist organizations can still practice the values of equality, participation, and empowerment, which the first shelter organizations were built upon. These values and goals are often written into mission and philosophy statements, and organizations usually require all their members to honor them. When it comes down to it, however, people who get involved with this kind of work/activism and wish to work with feminist shelter organizations bring with them a common goal or purpose. As Ann Russo puts it in her book Taking Back Our Lives: A Call to Action for the Feminist Movement,
“The strengths of grassroots feminist theories and activism, to me, are the passionate anger, astute analyses, and resilient resistance of women who have been willing to speak out about the truths of our lives and call for an end to violence against women.”
This is the purpose of our work, and if we can always try and remember this without letting the bureaucracy get in the way of this work, then we will be able to accomplish our goal.
Dispatches from Europe by Aaron Leaf
January 28, 2005
It’s during the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz that I find myself on a plane full of Germans bound for Frankfurt. It’s quite creepy really. I’m glad for the presence of the few Middle Easterners on board, it makes Germans easier to bear.
The old woman beside me speaks no English or German. She’s wearing two headscarves, not one hair is showing. She looks nervous. I smile at her whenever I get a chance. The sort of look that says “I know how you feel.”
She is intent on flagging down a stewardess, but none notice her. One walks right pass as the woman feebly waves her hand. I try to help. When a steward does notice her, he seems quite put off by her lack of language skills. The old woman, holding a piece of paper with a Frankfurt address on it, simply wants to confirm that she is on the right plane.
After an uncomfortable dream filled sleep, we land. The landscape around Frankfurt is a stark brown and white this time of year, leafless trees, drab buildings and snow. It reminds me of the Sepia tinted holocaust photos that are in all the papers today. Concentration camp victims, big eyed, fleshless, surrounded by barbed wire and snow.
I can’t help thinking how Lufthansa, Germany’s national airline, sounds like Luftwaffe.
February 9, 2005
Last night the bar we were at was overrun by skinheads, not the nice type either. Well actually they were Dutch, so kind of polite, but fascists nonetheless.
I had arrived in Europe expecting to come across virulent xenophobia. Reading accounts of immigrants being beaten up, mosques burned and Muslim women harassed about their head scarves made me very wary. My first two weeks in Holland, however, had been fairly tame.
It was the bar’s really popular international student night, standing room only. Just after midnight I saw about five or six bald headed types standing by the bar. I jokingly told my friend, “hey look at those skinheads,” assuming their haircuts were just a coincidence. He gets serious and tells me to stay well away. Apparently these guys are known around town for starting fights, some of them are in the military.
On my way downstairs to the bathroom I noticed that their numbers had tripled. In the men’s bathroom there was a heated debate going on in English between a Spanish guy and a skinhead. There were five other skins in there, blocking the toilets. I was drunk enough, and needed to piss enough, that I bravely pushed through them and found a free urinal.
They were dressed not like the skinheads I knew from movies, but more like football fans in track pants and trainers. Some had polo shirts on, you could easily mistake them for Hip-Hop fans. A few were nodding their heads to Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Like It’s Hot.” The debate had something to do with the European Union. I only remember snippets of the conversation. “You guys will overrun our country... The Netherlands will be dominated by France and Germany just like we were by Napoleon and Hitler... We want a strong Holland...”
The Spanish guy, surrounded by fascists, didn’t put up much of a fight, mostly agreeing with what the other guy was saying. The Spaniard responded by saying that the European Union made a stronger Europe in the world, making the Skin stop to think for a bit.
At this point I became suddenly very self conscious, aware that I was standing amidst a gang of skinheads in a poorly lit basement bathroom.
Upstairs, many people had already left on account of the skins but quite a few people, mostly Dutch students, were friendly with them. One bald headed jerk had rudely shoved my friend, a black woman, at the bar. A friendly Dutch student recommended that we leave, “for our own good.” It was unbearable. We left before they got any drunker. The weirdest part was that a lot of people seemed quite oblivious.
A group of Spanish students asked me to take a picture of them just as we were leaving. While taking it, five more skins started yelling at me “Photo, take photo!” and arranged themselves into a pose. I gave them a look, something between a “what the hell?” and a “you worthless turds,” which I think embarrassed them. They were kids, really.
March 24th 2005
I took a Eurolines bus from Utrecht to London via the channel ferry. This is the cheapest way to go and is usually quite crowded. The passengers are mostly black or South Asian, most are middle aged, with the occasional backpacker or family.
For the overnight trip I sat next to a middle aged man named Ibrahim. He had come to Europe with his wife from Khartoum in 1992 to escape the general poverty and violence of Sudan. He was very friendly and eventually we were talking like old friends.
“Khartoum is very beautiful. It’s where the two Niles meet, one coming from Ethiopia, the other from who knows where. The desert is all around.”
He works at a Turkish Mosque in Rotterdam as a caretaker and security guard. His wife and two children live in Birmingham England. He visits them once a month.
“Holland is much better than England: cleaner, the busses run on time and the people are nice. England is a very old country, it’s dirty and falling apart. Sometimes the busses don’t come. Rotterdam is much better.”
Regardless, he wants his children to be educated in English. When I ask him about violence against Muslims he smiles and shakes his head. He is not worried about the latest wave of attacks.
“In Rotterdam, we are all from somewhere else. Everyone is peaceful.”
He tells me that he is overjoyed when Dutch schoolchildren come to visit his mosque on school trips. He gestures excitedly when talking about his own children, two girls.
Before working in the mosque, Ibrahim was a sailor working on oil freighters coming from the gulf. He would go for many months at a time without seeing his family. He prefers his situation now better.
“The Dutch,” he says, “went to Indonesia, Suriname and took what they needed. Now they have all this.” He gestures towards the surrounding countryside and industrial buildings.
“Now I’ve come to take what I need for myself and my family.”
Crossing the channel by bus is a reoccurring nightmare for him. He is often detained by the French authorities, kept in a little room in Calais and interrogated. As the passport office nears, he takes off his embroidered muslim scullcap and stuffs it into the pocket on the seat in front of him. Today he is lucky. There is only a luggage scan and he is free to go.
Two Malaysian students are not so lucky. One is detained, the other one, furious about the treatment of his friend stays with him. The bus boards the ferry to Dover without them.
Ibrahim hopes to return to Khartoum for a visit sometime in the next year. It’ll be his first in twelve years. He believes the political situation in Sudan, except for the Darfur region, is very good right now and he is dying to see the Nile again.
February 8, 2005
I discovered a really interesting market. It’s mostly Turkish and Morrocan owned shops and produce stands with a few African, Caribbean and Indonesian snackshops in the mix. Oranges here are half the price they are at the supermarket.
It’s funny because just the day before I was thinking how few minorities I’d seen riding around central Utrecht. It didn’t occur to me that Dutch cities are as, or more, segregated than North American cities. Crossing the train tracks into Lombok (the neighborhood with the market) was like entering a different world. The same beautiful old canal houses had boarded up windows and were falling apart.
Women with chadors and kids with shiny black curls bustled down the main street. It took me over two hours of wandering without cash to realize that the neighborhood didn’t have a working bank machine. Funnily enough, the streets here are named after former Dutch colonies. Sumatrastraat, Balistraat, Lan Van Neiuw Guinea, even Malakka, my mother’s birthplace and the site of an eighteenth century Dutch fort.
2 April 2005
Tariq Ramadan is being interviewed on the BBC world service. He speaks with conviction and without the arrogance typical of European intellectuals. This Swiss academic of Egyptian descent is the leader of a new European Muslim movement. He’s trying to build a consciousness that is inclusive of both identities.
He is a proponent of integration which, he explains, is a two way track. The problem today, he says, is that European legislation regarding muslims and immigrants in general is based on feelings of fear rather than equality and justice. Not satisfied only to condemn European xenophobia he believes that Muslims must reach out to their western neighbors, to teach and to integrate themselves into the European community.
April 5, 2005
Last night I had a rather uncomfortable dinner with my European room mates. The conversation kept coming back to Turkish people and how awful they were for ruining European culture.
“Oh we’re not being racist” my room mates said when i challenged them. My Macedonian roommate explained, “those immigrants who come here are social outcasts at home already. Why would they have been kicked out of Turkey in the first place?” The others nodded in agreement.
Being the only male in a house with four women I was a bit intimidated so I just nodded sagely and quickly finished off my bottle of 2 euro Spanish Wine...
The Importance of Supporting Prisoners by Harold H. Thompson
Harold H. Thompson is an anarchist prisoner serving life plus sentences in Tennessee, USA. Behind the walls, Harold is well known for his work as a “jailhouse lawyer,” and as a result has been the target of petty harassment, including the confiscation of his anarchist literature and law books and deliberate damage and theft of his personal belongings by prison guards. Literature sent in to Harold was even withheld by the prison mailroom because it contained “narratives of anarchy.”
The following is taken from a zine of Harold’s writings, They Will Never Get Us All! that was released in 1996. A second edition is now available, and can be acquired by contacting the A Word Collective, or writing Harold, who welcomes all correspondence, at
Harold H. Thompson #93992
West Tennessee High Security Facility
P.O. Box 1150
Henning, Tennessee 38041
First, it is important to stress that none of us is immune from arrest and prosecution for any number of alleged crimes. Especially once we have placed ourselves into the eye of the storm of struggle against the masters of capital, who believe their station in life gives them the legitimate power to enslave us in whatsoever form they choose, to use us up, throw us away and profit by the blood and sweat we shed in their wage slave shops, factories and mills of capitalism. Once we step out in any form of protest then the power of the state may fall upon us with unrelenting force. We are subject to arrest and imprisonment at any time, most of us, simply because we choose to be who we are because we want to live the lives we choose in spite of the plans others make for us; because we dare to be different; or because our eyes are open to the realities of our likely future, wearing the yoke of capitalism around our necks like beasts of burden, not equal human beings, unless we throw off the weight on our back to stand in the sun in our rightful place. Look at the person beside you, across the way from you and then fully realize that individual may one day be arrested and so may you because you dare to be different, threatening to those who seek to control us, especially if your life is governed by the principles of anarchism or you believe in/have undertaken direct action against your oppressors. Getting arrested is no joke, so without getting too paranoid, find out what to do in such a situation and also wise up about the police. I am often blunt to the point of pain so I do apologize if my words have made anybody uncomfortable, but I think one sobering thought really needs to bring a wake-up call, feeling of discomfort with it. That thought is I am here today sitting in a steel and concrete, tomblike cage writing these words to you but sometime in the future it might actually be you behind prison walls, writing comparable thoughts to the outside. If they come for you in the morning...
The ‘system’ and mainstream media portrays those of us within the ever-increasing number of jails and prisons as being the equivalent of the proverbial biblical ‘unclean people’, to be feared, less than humans, and not to be bothered with or worth any degree of outside concern or support. It amazes me how many intelligent people, including anarchists, active in political struggles, have to varying degrees bought into the disinformation put out by the system. The majority of the unfortunate residents of the gulags are for the most part just like other working class people on the outside, only through a twist of their destiny they were arrested, stood trial and were imprisoned. The system provides the sensationalist image of those behind gulag walls being a bad lot, best steered clear of because the system fears association between those inside and outside. Inside is a potential army waiting to happen, which needs education, direction and support. The system desires nothing more than to maintain a wall of silence around the gulags isolating prisoners to break their minds and spirits. I have seen bodies broken and minds fragmented forever by the brutal hands of the keepers and their clever use of weak, inmate lackeys. I have seen many men reach out to the struggles outside with heartfelt letters, eager for information about the various movements, education about them. Prisoners seeking compassion and comradeship. I have seen only a few of those who make contact, who are encouraged to learn, to grow, to realize who they are, their potential value to themselves and to the communities outside gulag walls.
I have seen far many more give up and sometimes even gravitate towards the hate groups which are now in abundance within the gulags as they are out there. These eventual recruits to the ranks of the extreme right could have been soldiers within our ranks but those who claim to be revolutionaries outside chose to ignore their very existence.
I myself tried in vain for over a decade ‘inside’ to make contact with like-minded people embracing anarchist politics. I was determined to reach out and refused to give up, unlike a lot of other prisoners around me. I reached out at every opportunity and continued to reach out when there was no response, through many letters requesting political literature and anarchist books but above all, comradeship with other anarchists. My unanswered letters began in the late seventies, continued throughout the eighties and into the early nineties. Finally a first anarchist solidarity letter was handed to me by a faceless clone of a guard at a Tennessee gulag in 1992! That letter and letters since has been like a welcome breeze of fresh air blowing through a place where the air and life stands dormant. The mere fact a fellow anarchist bothered to write brought tears to my eyes, eyes I was long convinced would never feel tearful moisture again. I’ve worked hard since that first communication to break down the walls between us, you and I, to reach out, to show those who write I’m not different except for my circumstances of being within the belly of the beast.
I am not saying the gulags do not hold their fair share of social predators but many prisoners do become politicized within gulag walls often due to their own learning efforts. Through direct experience of the system itself, which generally treats prisoners with such blatant injustice that many soon feel only resentment, contempt and anger towards it. Repression breeds resistance. I am merely trying to point out the obvious pitfall of not supporting those seeking the tools to become politicized.
Sadder still than these social prisoners ignored by the revolutionary movements are those souls captured during direct or other political actions only to discover once in captivity that they appear to have somehow not been deemed worthy of support and are hence soon forgotten by their so called ‘comrades’. One conceptual truth screams out in my heart to be voiced so I will state it now. Any political movement or people’s struggle which fails to provide support to fallen comrades is doomed to failure as certain as day follows night. Prisoner support should be considered as a top priority within all political movements and with all activists, as we, you or I never know when gulag gates will slam shut behind us or when those gates to the outside will open again to allow our passage back out once the system has us in its grasp.
I have endured many hard years, over two decades and a half, within the gulags of this state. As I’ve already said I spent the first decade banging my head and heart against a wall of silence, attempting to reach out to ears that appeared to be deaf and eyes which appeared to be blind to my existence in hell. I never gave up and have earned the right to point these issues out now. I have earned the right to speak out with the shedding of my blood, the pain of this, in past beaten, tired body, and my spirit of anarchism has never been broken by my keepers and never will be! It has only been in recent years that I have been acknowledged by my anarchist brothers and sisters out there. From my heart I state to you that I love you all! I will close now with these final words. Take care of each other, keep each other safe in the struggles which you face and never forget those in captivity because tomorrow’s captive of the monsters of this earth may well be you. Our common enemies are the same from country to country being only different in name and face. They represent the same ideology, which sees this planet and its populace as throwaway commodities. They threw away their humanity in exchange for Power and profits. Stay strong and know in your hearts I am with you in revolutionary spirit in every act you undertake against those who oppress us. We only want the earth, they will never get us all!
Written April 18 1995
Revised July 18 2005
 Ryan, Mike; On Ward Churchill’s “Pacifism as Pathology”: Toward a Consistent Revolutionary Practice, pg. 161–162; 1998, Arbeiter Ring Publishing
 Ryan, Mike; On Ward Churchill’s “Pacifism as Pathology”: Toward a Consistent Revolutionary Practice, pg. 140; 1998, Arbeiter Ring Publishing
 The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary; Oxford University Press, 1991
 Churchill, Ward; Pacifism as Pathology, pg. 44; 1998, Arbeiter Ring Publishing
 Rosebraugh, Craig; talk on Political Violence, Seattle Independent Media Center, March, 2003
 Morihei Ueshiba was the founder of the Japanese martial art Aikido. Aikido can be translated as “the way of harmony” or “the way of love.” Budo can be translated as “the way of the warrior.”
 Churchill, Ward; Pacifism as Pathology pg. 59; 1998, Arbeiter Ring Publishing
 Churchill. Ward; Pacifism as Pathology pg. 87–88; 1998, Arbeiter Ring Publishing
 Schanche, Don A. The Panther Paradox: A Liberal’s Dilemma (New York: David McKay Company, 1970), p. ix.
 Ibid, p. xx
 Smith, Arthur L. Rhetoric of Black Revolution (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1969), pg. 8
 Schanche, p. xi
 Major, Reginald. A Panther is a Black Cat (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1971), pg. 58
 Seale, Bobby. “Free Huey” in Rhetoric of Black Revolution, pg. 176
 Shakur, Assata. Assata (Lawrence Hill & Co., 1988), p. 203
 Marcuse, Herbert. An Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), p. 35
 Erikson, Erik H. and Huey P. Newton. In Search of Common Ground (New York: Norton & Co., 1973) p. 49
 Ibid, pg. 61
 Shakur, p. 226
 In Search of Common Ground, p. 86
 Transcribed from a recorded speech, circa 1968.
 Schanche, p. 230
 Baldwin, James. No Name in the Street (New York: Dell, 1973), p. 54