A central figure in an autonomist Chavista organization talks about grassroots organization in Venezuela.
A central figure in an autonomist Chavista organization talks about grassroots organization in Venezuela.
In response to the industrial, capitalist model of food production that has decimated rural lifeways and our mother earth, social movements around the world have identified agroecology as their alternative proposal for rural development. Grounded in peasant and indigenous knowledges, struggles for food sovereignty and agrarian reform, agroecology is understood by social movements as “a tool for the social, economic, cultural, political and ecological transformation of communities and territories.”
This interview that Black Rose conducted in the Summer of 2020 with a militant from The Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro’s (FARJ) Peasant Struggle Front, explores their work with some of Brazil’s social movements struggling for agroecology and food sovereignty. Coming from a context with highly developed peasant social movements, FARJ shares important insights for anarchist militants to learn from.
BRRN: Can you first give an overview of the kind of social work that the militants of FARJ’s Peasant Struggle Front are involved in? What are the movements and organizations the FARJ’s militants participate in/collaborate with? Who are the protagonists of these movements & organizations?
FARJ: Initially the Front was called “Anarchism and Nature”. Some of the members were students from the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro. Starting from a university agroecology group, the GAE (Ecological Agriculture Group), they sought to do social work in Agrarian Reform settlements in the state of Rio de Janeiro and with families of small farmers. And the space that articulated these activities was the Rio de Janeiro Agroecology Articulation.
Starting from this process and frequent contact in the settlements, the MST (The Landless Rural Workers Movement) got to know the working style of our militants, until one of them was invited to join the movement, contributing mainly to the processes of organizing cooperative work in the Baixada Fluminense region. One of the results of this work was the contribution to the organization of a sales and distribution cooperative for an MST settlement in the metropolitan region of the state of Rio, around 2008. As time went on, more militants joined the Front; some from rural areas, from the MST, or students in the field of agronomy.
Around 2012 the MPA (Small Farmers Movement) arrived in Rio, and we have militants from our front contributing also to the movement and its development in the state. We also have a comrade who works in the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).
Our work in rural movements and spaces is related to themes such as rural education, political training [formação1], communication, production, sales and distribution, and human rights. We always seek to maintain a link with the bases of the movements, even those militants who live in the state capital or in the city. We seek to contribute to the accumulated knowledge of FARJ and the historical experiences of organized anarchism in peasant struggles, with our concept of social work and militant style, pursuing the development of popular power. We stimulate the political participation and the protagonism of the grassroots in the processes of movements’ daily struggle. We also seek to encourage alliances and joint actions between rural and urban movements where we also operate or which we support, such as solidarity actions, actions for exchanging experiences between the movements’ bases, visits, and campaigns, among others that enable contacts between the bases.
Today we have militants in the MST, MPA and CPT. The protagonists are landless workers, small farmers, and quilombola [maroon descendant] communities. Many in the settlements, for example, come from the sugar cane industry, from work analogous to slavery, from slums, or were precarious workers. A good part of the movements’ bases are black folks, youth, and women.
BRRN: Can you talk about how you personally came to be involved in peasant movements and movements for food sovereignty & agroecology? Why do you think it is important for anarchists to be engaged in these struggles? What is the importance of these struggles in this moment of the global Covid-19 pandemic in particular?
FARJ: My militancy was in the Community Front, in the Base Organization Movement (MOB), which currently works in the Center of Social Culture and in the Morro dos Macacos community. Since 2013 I supported the MST with graphic design for the Cícero Guedes Agrarian Reform State Fair, a 3-day annual fair in the center of the city of Rio de Janeiro with the produce from the state, the southeastern region, and partners in the city and other movements. Around 2014, MPA and MST started a biweekly farmers market on the Praia Vermelha campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which I also support with communication and other activities. So from these relationships and contacts presented the possibilities of contributing from the capital, either with the tasks of communication and propaganda, or contributing to the organization of spaces for the sales and distribution of products of the movements in the city and always trying to maintain the connection with their bases.
MST members sell their products at a farmers market.
Historically, anarchism has been, and still is, present in peasant struggles: China, Ukraine, Spain, Perú and other examples. Anarchism must be a part of struggles from below, and wherever we have space to contribute with our proposals and build popular power. The agrarian, land (access to land and land concentration), peasant, indigenous, black, and quilombola questions are central in Latin america, in spite of the demographic concentration in big cities. In large part we are agricultural export countries, where natural resources are tremendously exploited by capital, who have a very strong base of people of indigenous, black, and peasant origin, with an extreme concentration of land in the hands of capitalists, latifundiários [large landowners], and foreigners. There are many conflicts in the rural areas, with assassinations of community leaders and militants, land grabs and evictions. Not to mention the issue of food sovereignty, of the production of food for the people in opposition to the agribusiness model that produces commodities for export. So the issue of land is very important in Brazil and throughout the continent, and from there we see the importance of us being inserted in those struggles as well. Understanding that while we have our own goals, the rural and urban struggles should be connected.
We also learn a lot in these mass movements, contributing to our political training as militants, particularly in base-building work. Be it in courses, materials and spaces for political training in movements, or in the day-to-day of grassroots work.
Currently, in the context of COVID-19, rural movements have a great importance for producing healthy foods for the population, and for leading on issues of environment, energy, and food sovereignty. There are analyses that point out a “pandemic” of a lack of food for the population. Many favelas already have people who are experiencing hunger. In response, there are many campaigns of solidarity and of distributing food boxes to residents of favelas and packed lunches for people living in the street. Unions and people are making donations for the purchase of these foods from rural movements and urban agriculture movements in the city of Rio. That is, the acts of solidarity have multiplied and are organized by the population and by social movements.
BRRN: What has been your experience as an anarchist participating in/collaborating with these movements? How do you push within these movements for more anti-authoritarian/anarchistic practices?
FARJ: We believe that the experience, here in Rio de Janeiro, provides an opportunity for us to have an influence. One aspect of the practical political training too, through participating in mass movements like these, is contributing to the organization of collective processes. There is contact with the people, with concrete realities and problems, and the need to think of ways to solve problems through organizing and base-building. There are also formal political training processes, such as national and local courses, visits to experiences in other states, and state and national encounters. Specific political trainings on certain issues or just in daily life, in contact with other militants and comrades.
A FARJ flag tied together with the flag of MST.
For example, because of the tasks and trainings of the social movements, I was able to learn about communication, and agroecological management and cooperatives, in addition to the debates around agrarian and food issues. We also bring these accumulated skills and knowledge to the political organization, in the sense that they characterize and contribute to the accumulation of political training that we have for our entire militancy. In other words, it is a two-way street, a dialectical process, adapting to the formation and interest of our organization. So it is important that it is not just an individual accumulation, but that it helps in some way in the formation of the entire militancy of the specific [anarchist] organization.
Here in the state of Rio, I believe that most of the common challenges to social movements, both in the rural areas and in the city, are due to the difficulty of base-building, often the need for more militants, the difficulty in obtaining resources and structure–organizational difficulties. There are also difficulties in achieving a more consolidated articulation between the various social movements, which end up being more sporadic or a part of campaigns. In the face of a reality of advancing ultraliberalism and the systematic extinction of social rights and policies, it is a permanent challenge to build processes that are able to self-manage and mobilize the people in communities and base-building locations. But in general, we seek to help organize what is disorganized, acting as yeast in mass struggles.
Members of FARJ and MOB in a mass demonstration.
BRRN: In the interview that FARJ did with Zabalaza, the Association of Autonomous Producers of the Countryside and the City (APAC) was mentioned. I’m very curious to know more about that organization, what they do, and how that association builds urban and rural solidarity around questions for food sovereignty and land?
FARJ: APAC played an important role in producing agricultural implements for small producers. Its origin came from CADTS, the Center for Learning and Technical and Social Development, a group linked to Social Pastorals who worked with the education of urban workers, politically training electricians, seamstresses, machinists, printers and other professions. This work strengthened their performance in the union and community fields. In order to strengthen solidarity between rural and urban workers, CADTS initiated a project to develop agricultural implements with technology built together with “tillers of the land”, an expression used at the time. In their visits to rural workers to gather information and design the implements, the CADTS students decided to structure this work to meet this demand that they had already met for several groups of farmers all over Brazil. Thus, APAC was born on the 1st of May, bringing together not only “metallurgists”, but also farmers, homemakers, unemployed people, popular educators, etc. with the organicity, inspired by self-management, of an association composed of several autonomous work groups that articulate themselves collectively in a general assembly. Over more than 30 years since its foundation, APAC has welcomed many groups of workers. We will mention just a few to illustrate its diversity:
Our arrival at APAC was parallel to the founding of FARJ, and we have some militants who’ve had and have closer relations with them, either through collaborating on projects or some being part of the management of APAC. We’ve come to do a screen printing workshop there, political meetings, community work groups, political training lectures and popular language courses. We will highlight one of the most structured initiatives of our militancy, which was to organize the Floreal Cooperative of Workers in Agroecology, where we had great interaction with the internal groups of APAC, bringing agendas discussed with our work with the Forum of Popular Cooperativism, the Articulation of Agroecology of Rio de Janeiro and the Technical Assistance and Extension sectors. It was a period that encouraged APAC to contribute to issues of agrarian conjuncture, agroecology, urban agriculture, school gardens, popular herbalism groups, social ecology, rural/urban solidarity and food sovereignty and agrarian reform. This factor strengthened the relationship of our militants with the social movements in the countryside, such as the MST, CPT, and MPA, as well as for the use of space as a warehouse or for the manufacture of agricultural implements. But our experience with popular cooperatives opened doors for us to contribute to the construction of cooperatives and associations in the movements.
BRRN: Are you involved with the Territorial Solidarity Committees, organized by the MPA as a response to the current social crisis? Can you share a bit about this project?
FARJ: In this context of COVID-19, rural movements, such as MPA and MST, the CPT and urban agriculture groups such as the Carioca Urban Agriculture Network, and the Agroecology Articulation, have developed solidarity actions in the countryside and in the city.
MPA is with the Territorial Solidarity Committees. With the distribution of agroecological foods, creating spaces for dialogue and political debates, strengthening the organizational processes between the social and territorial movements of the countryside and the city. The actions can happen in different ways depending on the local reality and demands. The movement has continued providing material support in the city with weekly deliveries of peasant food boxes, and the donation of meals for homeless people.
The logo of MPA.
The MST has Marmita Solidária, which receives donations from unions and supporters to buy food to prepare meals for the homeless. And the Nós por Nós (“Us for Us”) Campaign, which is part of the Periferia Viva (“Alive Periphery”) Campaign, and which MPA and other movements also participate in. The campaign raises funds to buy agroecological produce from settlements and small farmers to donate to favelas, and together do support work, such as legal aid for those who do not have identity documents, or other actions in addition to just donating food.
For CAB (Brazilian Anarchist Coordination) we are organizing the Vida Digna (“Dignified Life”) national campaign, against the increase in the cost of living. There are state and local committees, and we managed to arrange a food donation from the MST for two occupations of the Internationalist Front of the Homeless. CPT also articulated a possibility of resourcing landless settlements and quilombola communities, among others, in the northern region of the state of Rio, together with MPA.
But across the country, several similar actions are taking place with our CAB militants involved, seeking to articulate solidarity actions between the countryside and the city, between small farmers and indigenous communities. Actions that bring supporters of the city that want to help. We hope that all this helps to bring the movements of the countryside and the city closer, in a more organic way, between the bases of these movements as well. Actions that make movements think together forms of everyday solidarity, without needing projects, politicians or public policies.
This pandemic meant that movements and collectives had to create other forms of distribution, other forms of logistics to continue with production and distribution of their products. And all of this may be important in the future, if the movements manage to define the right strategic policies, as we will have less and less public policies for the countryside by the State. On the contrary, attacks on indigenous people, peasants and land grabbing are only increasing.
BRRN: The MST is probably the most well-known of Brazil’s social movements globally; the organization and its impressive accomplishments in terms of seizing and redistributing land to thousands of families, promoting agroecology and food sovereignty, and its contribution to global peasant movements, has been a source of inspiration for revolutionaries around the world, including many anarchists. From afar, it seems like there are many aspects of the organization’s practices and tactics that align with anarchist principles. At the same time, there are characteristics of the MST, such as their Marxism-Leninism, and relationship to the PT, which might present challenges for anarchists who wish to support/participate/collaborate with the MST. I’d love to know what FARJ’s assessment is of the MST, the positive aspects of the movement, any critiques you have, and how you navigate working with the MST.
FARJ: In Brazil, the land issue, the concentration of land, is central. Today, we are a country that is still a peripheral agrarian-exporter of commodities, despite being seen by other world powers as a contender, a world player, due to the size and natural assets it has, such as water, oil, mineral resources, etc. Which is why we have attacks and coups, which are present throughout the history of Latin American countries. So Brazil has always had strong agrarian and land conflicts, several historical revolts, not to mention the quilombos, the rural workers, the indigenous people.
MST members on demonstration.
The MST, like other movements in the countryside, comes from this accumulation of struggles, conflicts and revolts. Before, one of the main movements was the Peasant Leagues (1954-1964). Over time, unions in the countryside that worked on these labor issues and for wage workers, employed on farms, etc., also appeared. With the coup and the business-military dictatorship (1964) the militants of the countryside also suffered a lot of repression, with more than a thousand dead and disappeared, and persecuting and repressing the Peasant Leagues.
Then there was the opening and conciliatory transition from dictatorship to democracy. Unlike countries like Argentina, the military in Brazil was not punished for the crimes of the dictatorship. At that time, several armed leftist resistance groups sought to resist the dictatorship. So the process that followed, in the 70-80s, also has the development and involvement of labor organizations, culminating in CUT (Unified Workers Central) (1983), progressive sectors of the church (CEBs (Eclesiastical Base Communities), Pastoral Land Commission and Liberation Theology), rural movements and the PT (Worker’s Party).
In the CUT there was the Rural Department, which brought together rural workers, with an agenda more related to labor rights. And the MST (and later MPA) also appeared to deal with agendas of rural demands from the countryside that were not only about labor conditions, but access to land, credit and public policies to produce and to continue reproducing their rural livelihoods. In other words, the CUT and the unions in the countryside did not cover all the peasant agendas.
The clergy and Liberation Theology had an important role together with the movements of the countryside, doing groundwork in the communities, mobilizing the people and contributing to the social movements that came to occupy the land.
This was the big political “broth” with a social base, which we address here in a very general way. And all this broth and struggles were being accumulated in the so-called Popular Democratic Project, with the PT as its political party expression. In other words, some of these major mass movements in Brazil have a very strong historical relationship with the PT. With the arrival of the PT in the government, the movements were also incorporating a political culture of being part of the state, of bureaucratizing themselves as well. This had as a consequence a great weakening of the movements, mainly today, with difficulties to mobilize the masses and to face the attacks of the fascist-oriented Bolsonaro government.
In addition, the main organizational reference of these movements is Marxism-Leninism and democratic centralism, even though sometimes the movements themselves recognize the need to seek other elements that better deal with the reality of the peasantry and the subjects of the countryside. So if the mechanisms of political participation are worked on, there are risks of falling into distant relations between the bases and the leadership of these movements. That is, the need for spaces that enable qualitative political participation from the grassroots, reflecting on the work in which they are inserted, forming themselves, leading the processes and contributing, from their reality, with the direction of the movement. It also avoids the risks of falling into pragmatism, or the so-called “putting out fires” daily, which accumulates little politically and socially, even if a lot is being done.
In our anarchist conception, we believe that the subject of social transformation is not given, but is formed in everyday work and struggle, and popular power is built with the subjects’ political participation, assuming responsibilities and protagonism in the struggles. Therefore, the organizational form needs to be aligned with a transformative ideological concept, so that it allows the advance of non-alienating organizational forms.
Therefore, we also seek to bring and project other historical experiences of struggle and organization of the working class, of the peasantry, of the originary communities. We have examples like the Mexican Revolution (1910), and the later Zapatista movement in Mexico. The struggle of the Makhnovist army in Ukraine, in the process of the Russian Revolution, processes with indigenous and peasant protagonism in the expropriation of land and social organization. The collectivization and organization of production and social processes in the Spanish Civil War, in the countryside and in the city, with the example of the CNT. Like Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan, with the organization, self-defense, territorial and labor and production management in a collective and direct way. Current community experiences in Colombia with the concept of land as a common good, and demanding the permanence and reproduction of forms of community life in the territories. In short, there are various experiences, some known to the movements, in addition to other references that they also seek, and that we examine to study and identify elements that can contribute to our processes here.
Therefore, anarchism also needs to develop concrete tools for intervention in reality, for mobilizing and managing life in its different aspects, social, cultural, productive, economic. In other words, we also need to develop proposals to organize the countryside and to address these issues.
BRRN: Struggles for food sovereignty, agroecology, and agrarian reform raise some really critical questions for anarchists, particularly because many of the movements and academics that dominate the discourse don’t share our critiques of the state, electoralism, etc., and often see nation-state as the vehicle for achieving food sovereignty, agrarian reform, etc. I haven’t come across many contemporary anarchist perspectives on food sovereignty, agroecology, and agrarian reform, and I’m very curious to know about your reflections as an anarchist participating in these movements in Brazil, and how yourself and other FARJ militants in the Frente de Luta Camponesa think about food sovereignty and agrarian reform from an anarchist perspective—can we articulate a particular anarchist perspective on how to achieve and sustain food sovereignty and agrarian reform that is distinct from the perspectives of Marxist-Leninist, social democratic and liberal currents within social movements?
FARJ: We are starting to have this debate currently at CAB, in the Agrarian Working Group, among militants who work with rural movements, with indigenous, non-urban communities. With other movements like the MAM (Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mining) and it has a little to do with the previous question. In other words, what are the concrete proposals of anarchism for reality? What is our anarchist program of struggle?
So we are beginning to discuss which concepts are important and central to us. Such as Food Sovereignty, agrarian reform or revolution, natural and energy resources. Bem viver (“living well”), as opposed to the logic of development, among others.
For us, these issues need to be related to popular demands, to popular reality. For us, agroecology must be a tool and principle to strengthen the struggle and organization of rural peoples and communities. In other words, we will also seek to apply these concepts and questions as references, within our anarchist conception, based on popular reality, to strengthen our work of base-building and building popular power.
Some of these concepts are also worked on by the rural social movements such as food sovereignty, agroecology, feminism. But it is clear that we need to develop our conceptions about them as well. But we can say, in general, that the left often has a reading of reality that is very urban, valuing questions around trade unions and urban issues more, reproducing this centrality in the urban. And anarchism is not free from reproducing some of that, too.
BRRN: Needless to say, the historical processes of colonialism and capitalist development around the world have left a mess of contradictions for different oppressed classes and communities to navigate when it comes to the questions of land. Here in the US, because social movements are so weak, the discourse and struggles around land and land reform don’t seem to be as advanced when compared to the Brazilian context. One critical question here in the US & Canada—two european settler colonial projects situated on stolen indigenous territories—is how different oppressed populations in struggle around questions of land—indigenous peoples, people of African descent, small farmers, migrant farm workers, etc. can be in solidarity with one another as opposed to being pitted against one another by the contradictions created by the systems of settler colonialism and capitalism. I’m very curious to know where the discourse around these complicated questions are among the social movements you work with, and what your perspectives are on them, as anarchists? In Rio de Janeiro, are there promising signs of solidarity between indigenous people, quilombola communities, peasant farmers and farm workers? Can you recommend some good sources for folks who would like to learn more about these questions and struggles?
FARJ: Similar territorial issues also occur here, I believe also to be the consequences of the historical processes of colonialism, structural slavery and patriarchy and the other oppressions enhanced by capitalism.
Brazil, being a country of continental dimensions, poses several challenges. For example, there is a reality, a relationship with the land and culture of settlers in the south of the country, and there is another one of the indigenous communities and other subjects in the north of the country. This already poses several questions for the fight and the movements as well. For example, the issue of working with the idea of the peasant subject, in the face of these diversities. It also involves knowing and knowing how to understand other organizational forms, which may be different from the organizational forms that the traditional left reproduces.
On the other hand, Brazil has this great potential for struggle and for people and subjects in the countryside. Almost 40% of the land in the country is land reform settlements, indigenous lands (recognized or not), quilombos, peasant communities. The powerful know of this potential and are afraid. That is why they invest in repression and the dismantling of social rights, land grabbing, paramilitary violence, etc.
It is a social diversity that is a reality in Latin America. The strength of the indigenous people in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia. The Mapuche in Argentina and Chile. Colombia is also a very rich and interesting country, with Afro-Colombian communities, various indigenous ethnicities, peasants. There is the CNA (National Agrarian Coordinator), a significant peasant movement in the country, there is a very interesting debate on “agri-food territory”, for example.
In Rio the MPA has been making contacts and working with some quilombola communities, and now indigenous communities. In the capital there is the struggle of Aldeia Maracanã, which mobilized enough supporters against the speculation and gentrification that the Olympics mega-event blew open. There are many possibilities for dialogue between quilombos, indigenous villages, favelas, rural and city movements and we can go further. Actions such as community gardens, urban agriculture, are also interesting possibilities for the food sovereignty of favela dwellers, and possibilities for dialogue with rural movements. The organization of consumer collectives in cities, organizing themselves for access to and distribution of healthy food in the countryside. Collective investment groups of supporters, enabling rural production. Supportive relationships between different sectors of the working class, deliverers, education workers, students. The possibilities of organizing from below are many.
A few websites for reference and more information:
Virtual Library of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) – www.reformaagrariaemdados.org.br/biblioteca
Movement of Small Farmers (MPA) – www.mpabrasil.org.br
Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mining (MAM) – http://mamnacional.org.br/
National Agrarian Coordinator (Colombia) – www.cna-colombia.org
Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) – cptnacional.org.br
Rio Grande do Sul Quilombola Front – www.facebook.com/FrenteQuilombolaRs
Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon – www.facebook.com/coiabamazoniaoficial
Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) – www.facebook.com/apiboficial
Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Southern Region – www.facebook.com/ARPINSULBRASIL
Mídia India – www.facebook.com/VozDosPovos
Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR) – www.facebook.com/conselhoindigena.cir
Articulation of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of the Northeast, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo (APOINME) – www.facebook.com/apoinme.brasil
People’s Web (Teia dos Povos) – www.facebook.com/TeiadosPovosoficial
BRRN: Anything else you’d like to share?
FARJ: We would like to thank the space and the opportunity to share the experiences and work here. There are other comrades organized at CAB who can also contribute with their experiences from their states and our work also has contributions from them. We hope to have contributed to Black Rose, and to help more people know a little more about the struggles in Brazil and on our continent. We also hope to have more opportunities for exchanges like this one with our comrades from BR, who also inspire us. Spaces like this are essential. Arriba lxs que luchan!!!
1. There is no direct translation of the term formação, as it is used by the social movements, in English. In this interview I’ve translated it as “political training”, though it can be more accurately understood as the collective processes within social movements that include “consciousness-raising work, political education, and leadership development.” For more discussion of the concept and practice of formação, see “Leadership development and Formação in Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST)” by Dawn Plummer
This interview was conducted by a member of Black Rose Anarchist Federation’s New York City Local.
Joe Biden has won the 2020 US Presidential Election after narrowly defeating the sitting president Donald Trump. This victory comes at a tremendous cost: the defeat of an incipient counter-hegemonic movement which embryonically expressed demands for an alternative future to capitalism.
Even after the collective utterance of anger against police brutality and the nascent realization of the structural violence of capitalism, the electoral mechanisms of the American bourgeoisie state have been successful in thwarting the full-blown development of a distinctively socialist campaign.
Following the ideological mutilation of massive protests against an inherently exploitative system, Americans have been rewarded with Biden – a dyed-in-the-wool bourgeoisie politician who once opposed de-segregation, called on police to shoot Black Lives Matter demonstrators in the leg, rejected the smallest of concessions to the working class, vehemently supported imperialist wars and refused to commit to even the minimal reforms of the Green New Deal.
The overwhelming de-activation of revolutionary militancy in USA can be traced to certain theoretico-practical problems relating to the formation of socialist strategy. These issues and impediments have been historically constituted as a result of continual errors regarding political premises and form a consistent backdrop against which progressive projects in America have taken place.
Among the multiple components which form the foundations for such an incorrect political paradigm, reformism is perhaps the most dominant, subordinating social struggles to its own theoretical dictates. At the most general level, reformism consists in a defeatist politics of uncritical surrender to the contingencies of existing conditions.
Instead of acting as a driving force of history and impinging centrally upon the processes of social change, reformism crafts a type of politics which is wholly driven by historical forces.
The concrete content and specificity of reformism comprises of the erasure of the strategic goal of socialism and the corresponding initiation of efforts to slightly tweak capitalism’s internal mechanisms.
These attempts at gradually re-calibrating capitalism are made through the adoption of a crass electoral politics which is theoretically uninformed and fails to learn from actual experience.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had formulated the problem of reformism as that of “parliamentary cretinism”, a destructive form of political organization antithetical to the aims of a socialist revolution.
Engels defined parliamentary cretinism as “a disorder which penetrates its unfortunate victims with the solemn conviction that the whole world, its history and future, are governed and determined by a majority of votes in that particular representative body which has the honor to count them among its members, and that all and everything going on outside the walls of their house…is nothing compared to the incommensurable events hinging upon the important question, whatever it may be, just at that moment occupying the attention of their honorable House”. Similarly, Marx held that parliamentary cretinism was “that peculiar epidemic…which holds its victims spellbound in an imaginary world and robs them of all sense, all memory, and all understanding of the rough external world”.
Thus, the actuality of revolution organically integrates the ultimate goal of socialism into the planning of concrete action.
Reformism, therefore, is the fetishization of the institutions of bourgeoisie democracy, the dissociation of political practices from the changing correlation of forces in a specific conjuncture and the concomitant belief in a succession of gradual reforms, each posed as an end in itself.
The 2020 US Presidential Election can be regarded as a logical result of such a reformist policy which contributes directly to the electoral defanging of explosive class struggle. One of the maneuvers used to legitimize the flattening of class struggle into vacuous support for Biden has been the principle of “lesser of two evils”.
According to this principle, any vote for a non-Biden candidate will mean an automatic victory for Trump, portrayed as a true fascist capable of destroying America’s already hollow democracy. Correspondingly, every progressive American has to vote for Biden if he/she does not want the specter of Trump to return and halt the social development of the nation.
Considering the fact that an effervescent multi-racial rebellion took place in America just a few months before the election, it seems difficult to absorb the fact that progressives continued to preach the principle of the lesser of two evils.
One can locate the source of this continued support for a largely ineffective political view in the panorama of entrenched reformism in the US which failed to utilize the latent energy of extremely important protests and allowed them to peter out.
Before the protests occurred, reformist organizations in USA unconditionally espoused an explicitly reformist orientation which – instead of enfolding present-day politics in the wider goal of revolution – chose to adapt to the existing situation, thus abjuring socialist ideals and counter-productively allying with mainstream ideologies.
When protests broke out, these reformist organizations were at a loss to understand the socio-historic dynamics of a newly emergent revolutionary agency which foregrounded radical demands and took care of the interests of the future within the movement of the present.
Unable to successfully interact with the revolutionary potentialities of the massive rebellion, reformists reverted back to their trivial tactical objectives by peddling the lesser of two evils principle.
Through this “pragmatic” principle, reformists presented the election of Joe Biden as an unavoidable, all-powerful compulsion and tinged the revolutionary subjectivity of the working class with diluted reformist demands, each considered independently of the ultimate aim of socialism.
When political organizations failed to transform the experiences from the struggle into political tactics, the germinal class consciousness of the proletariat soon settled within the discursive region delimited by reformists. In this way, Biden’s path to victory was paved by the reformists who de-mobilized a rebellion to advance changes by appealing to the benevolence of a Biden presidency.
From the 2020 US Election, it is evident that the Left need to construct a re-vitalized project of socialist hegemony which does not succumb to the blunders of reformism.
In contradistinction to reformism, the equally unacceptable and unfruitful position of abstract and maximalist revolutionism has been presented, creating an impasse for the further advancement of revolutionary struggle.
While these maximalist calls for revolution define themselves as “Marxist”, they falter when the need arrives to skillfully interweave theory with politico-practical contexts. Rather than concretizing, modifying and applying Marxism’s theoretical matrix to ever new and changing conjunctures of class struggle, abstract revolutionism dogmatizes and distorts its principles, subsequently conceiving socialism as an ideal form against which attempts to transcend capitalist society are to be measured.
Like reformism, it also avoids a direct contact with material conditions, rigidly overpowering the contextual specifities of shifting conditions with the universalism of theory. In other words, it can be termed as “mechanical idealism” which prioritizes theoretical principles over the concrete struggle for revolution.
To chart the future course of revolutionary politics, we need to revisit what Vladimir Lenin said when he talked about the nature of Marxism: “Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack…Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at a given moment only, recognising as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation changes.
In this respect Marxism learns, if we may so express it, from mass practice…To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon Marxism.”
Taking into account what Lenin said, the Left has to construct a politics of praxis which learns from the masses i.e. a kind of politics which recognizes the fact that practice cannot proceed without theory and vice versa.
The two are constitutive of one another in a dialectical relationship: practice guided by a theory that will necessarily be rethought in light of the outcomes of this practice.
If we try to assimilate the lessons of present-day class struggle in the US and reciprocally influence the dynamics of that struggle, the relevance of Georg Lukács’ concept of the “actuality of revolution” will certainly stand out. With the help of this conceptual tool, the absence of socialism as a strategic goal can be filled with the presence of a strong and supple theoretical architecture.
As per Lukacs, “The theory of historical materialism…presupposes the universal actuality of the proletarian revolution. In this sense, as both the objective basis of the whole epoch and the key to an understanding of it, the proletarian revolution constitutes the living core of Marxism.” Thus, the actuality of revolution organically integrates the ultimate goal of socialism into the planning of concrete action. Lukacs derived the skeletal framework of his notion of the actuality of revolution from Lenin who had written in one of his articles: “only by constantly having the ‘ultimate aim’ in view, only by appraising every step of the ‘movement’ and every reform from the point of view of the general revolutionary struggle, is it possible to guard the movement against false steps and shameful mistakes”.
Elaborating on Lenin’s brief description of the significance of the “ultimate aim”, Lukacs stated in his book “Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought”: “The actuality of the revolution provides the key-note of a whole epoch. Individual actions can only be considered revolutionary or counter-revolutionary when related to the central issue of revolution, which is only to be discovered by an accurate analysis of the socio-historic whole. The actuality of the revolution therefore implies study of each individual daily problem in concrete association with the socio-historic whole, as moments in the liberation of the proletariat. The development which Marxism thus underwent through Lenin consists merely – merely! – in its increasing grasp of the intimate, visible, and momentous connection between individual actions and general destiny – the revolutionary destiny of the whole working class. It merely means that every question of the day – precisely as a question of the day – at the same time became a fundamental problem of the revolution.”
Unlike the static process of historical change conceptualized by reformism which is decoupled from concrete conditions, the actuality of revolution frames historical processes as an undulating series of politico-economic situations which is pregnant with revolution and crisscrossed by the complex, uneven and contradictory logic of the class struggle. When different conjunctures are conceived like in this dynamic way, the proletarian party converts itself into a collective process of learning; works to increase the speed of the subaltern classes’ spontaneous gravitation towards socialism; weeds out the ideological influence of bourgeoisie institutions; and constantly learns from and crystallizes the practical experience of the oppressed people.
Since the perspective of the actuality of revolution dissolves revolution as a distant horizon and immerses it in the interstices of contemporary conditions, it is fully cognizant of the inevitable patchiness of social transformation and starts from the here-and-now of the proletariat’s consciousness. This means that transformational changes are realized through a set of intertwined intermediate objectives which make evident the necessity for the transition to socialism, prefigure it in certain concrete aspects, dislocate capitalist society through the political percolation of socialist ideals and themselves constitute an apprenticeship and experience of workers’ power. To put it in other words, the specific aspirations of the subaltern classes is articulated within the perspective of a common goal which contains them all and at the same time transcends them: the goal of a socialist society.
The concretization of some of the theoretical underpinnings of the actuality of revolution may be listed as follows: socialists must (a) work within the existing system to reveal its inherent limitations while winning such short-term concessions as may be possible and (b) develop a counter-hegemonic project that intrinsically connects short-term specific interests to the pursuit of a socialist system and justifies necessary short-term sacrifices in terms of the strategic goal. These programmatic objectives can serve to avoid the pitfalls of reformism, avoid super-imposing the abstract exigencies of a hermetically sealed theory on the terrain of concrete struggle and navigate through the rippled territories of revolutionary politics.
With the election of Biden as the President of America, the predominantly negative role played by reformism has been starkly shown. In the foreseeable future, the ideological role of reformism in moderating the content of spontaneous outbursts of anger will continue increasing as the economic base of capitalism assumes ever more grotesque forms.
Under the regime of monopoly-finance capitalism, income inequality has exponentially increased and humans have been increasingly reduced to the status of mere commodities, dispensable and endlessly exploitable.
As living conditions continue to deteriorate, the Left needs to adopt a new form of politico-organizational modality which is able to move the working class in the direction of socialism and allow its smoldering rage against capitalism to be realized in the form of a revolution.
BLM National Leadership Focused on Money and Careers
Mon, 11/16/2020 – 23:40
Breya Johnson, co-chair of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) in Washington, DC, said her organization enjoys a “working relationship” with the local Black Lives Matter chapter, but views BLM’s national leadership as “more about career interests” and raising money “than it is about Black liberation.” BYP100 sees mutual aid as crucial during the Covid-19-induced economic crisis, “because the government failed us.” “How we keep us safe is critical,” said Johnson, a masters student at George Washington University.
Black Is Back Coalition: “Black Power Matters”
Mon, 11/16/2020 – 23:46
“The struggle has to be more than simply a declaration of our significance as human beings, as in the term ‘Black Lives Matter,’” said Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations. That’s why, for the 12th consecutive year, the Coalition last week marched on the White House under the banners of “Black Power Matters,” “Down With Colonialism,” and “Black Community Control of the Police.” Said Yeshitela: “The masses of people need and want leadership.”
The Left Must Hit the Streets Again—Right Now
Thu, 11/12/2020 – 22:15
Venezuelan communard Iran Aguilera examines the advances of popular power in Anzoátegui State.
Donald Trump was a test run. Worse than him is coming down the road within the decade. Get busy building.
Movement activists who supported Biden emphasized that his presidency would give the movement breathing room. Okay. We have maybe two years, tops, to prepare for an even more vicious, popular wave of reaction. The next backlash is going to make the Tea Party look like a teddy bear’s picnic.
A Biden administration will enter into government with an even more tenuous majority in the House, a loaded right-wing judiciary, and an intransigent opposition securely ensconced within the “The House of the Undying” i.e. the Senate. This means any hope for progress on the movement’s priorities is dead in the water. Legislative failure will breed resentment (as it did under Obama). And because the left has, during the Trump years especially, become even more structurally, politically, and demographically wedded to the Democratic Party, we will (fairly or unfairly) have to answer for every mistake and insufficiency on behalf of our senior coalition partners.
The lesson the GOP is going to take from this election is that Trumpite politics can garner support from a near-majority of the electorate. Republicans can win larger margins with a fascist program than they will by running a moderate conservative (compare Trump’s narrow loss to those of McCain and Romney). They have every reason to dive deeper into a morass of conspiracy theories, escalate the culture war, and encourage popular violence against the left. Further steps will be to try to consolidate and expand demographic inroads among communities of color, as well as doubling down on voter suppression tactics.
The goal of moving the Democratic Party to the left is a mirage conjured up from the fevered mind of those dying of thirst. There’s absolutely no incentive for the Democrats to embrace a progressive agenda after this election. Why would they? They were barely able to squeak through with a moderate at the top of the ticket. Electorally, the left is a liability for them. There’s no substantial evidence on behalf of the claim that Bernie would have won: it is a fervent wish offered up to the universe, substituting itself for a dispassionate assessment of the balance of forces. The Democrats have perfected the act of housebreaking their internal opposition in a way the Republicans never could. Worse, due to the razor-thin margins likely to be involved going forward, liberal pressure against “spoilers” and dissidents to the neoliberal line will only be ratcheted up from here on out. Don’t vote for the neolib? You’re a traitor.
The left, for its part, has signaled that we are all talk, mere bluster. Our actions indicate that socialists, as well as the entire movement left (unions and Dem-aligned NGOs) are prepared to accept whatever table scraps we’re thrown. 2020 has proven definitively that there’s no chance we will walk away from a bad deal. “Bernie or bust” was a pretense to cover over a disastrous retreat, a rout. The so-called “dirty break” was a huckster’s doodad that fell apart in our hands before we could even complete the purchase.
Until there’s an appetite to accept the social and political consequences of sticking to our guns, the Democrats will continue to drag the left along by the nose. It doesn’t matter if “our ideas are getting an audience” if increased airtime doesn’t result in any significant policy victories. We’re talking about having a decade left to avoid climate catastrophe, and we just kicked the can down the road another four years. If we hold any expectations beyond “changing the discourse,” left electoralism is just as much a dead end as Occupy Wall Street was.
Fascism will not be defeated electorally. Opportunists nod along to this and talk about organizing in the labor movement or mobilizing in the streets. But the meaning of this phrase is much more than just an affirmation of diversity of tactics: it means our current electoral strategies will deliver us into the jaws of fascism.
By propping up the corpse of the Democratic Party, our generation has failed in its historic task. And yet, contradictions that can’t be resolved under a given mode of production have a way of creating new political openings. The institutions of capitalist democracy are utterly resistant to any attempts to reform them, which will mean any successful transformation can be the result of revolution alone. This year has vividly confirmed that the spirit of rebellion among the dispossessed is alive and well.
Revolutionaries, even if few in number, must resolve “to go down lower and deeper, to the real masses” (Lenin). We will be at great pains to avoid the easy path of allowing socialism to be absorbed into bourgeois politics and converted into just another “pressure group” among others, but we must also also take care not to become completely aloof from the class, always remembering that we “have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole” (Marx & Engels).
We must take reality as our starting point, even if it is a reality that is anathema to us. The reality is that with every election, the working class becomes more deeply ensnared in a trap whose cables draw around us tighter with our every struggle. But we are not yet ready to cut loose; we are not yet fit to rule. A longer period of patient education is necessary.
In order to prepare the working class to govern, the ultimate goal (communism) and the most effective means (revolutionary strategy) must not be dispensed with on account of their momentary discomfiture. A vigorous rejection of class collaboration, and an insistence that the proletariat can only exercise power through the political form of the commune — these are indispensable points. We cannot lie to the people about the road ahead, nor its difficulties.
If we were to truly grasp these ideas, our enthusiasm to go among the masses, to organize, and to propagate socialism will be unmatched. And we must. Because it is only when the working class and the oppressed have taken up socialism as the ideological expression of their own emancipation will there be any hope of turning rebellion into revolution, and revolution into victory.
“To accomplish universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed proletarian class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific Socialism.”
— Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian & Scientific (1880)
The recent rebellion in Philly against the police murder of Walter Wallace Jr. is rooted in struggles of the past and reflects the uprisings of the future.
The past weeks in Philly we have seen pretty significant rebellions around the police murder of Walter Wallace, about five blocks west of where I join you from. It’s important to understand that Philadelphia saw some of the most militant reactions nationwide to the killing of George Floyd. There was mass rebellion in Philadelphia that lasted several days and in June the National Guard was here.
This all takes place in the backdrop of a much longer shift in radical politics in the city, which goes back to around 2015, though it’s also bound up with much longer trajectory. We’re talking about a small group of organizers who were out there trying to raise hell around the police killing of Brandon Tate-Brown in late 2014 and 2015. As Ferguson and Baltimore were popping off we in Philly were struggling over this one particular case.
The militancy of those struggles, even if they were relatively small scale, really broke open the city, which has been a city of long-term resistance, a city in which Black struggles have been crucial, in which brutality and mass murder by the police, like in the case of the MOVE bombing, have been essential to understanding the political context.
In a way, Philly was primed to respond to the killing of George Floyd, and it did. I’ve never seen anything like what we saw in Philly on May 30th and into June. Not even during the Oscar Grant rebellions in Oakland—which was where I cut my teeth politically—did I see that scale of rebellion, looting, and mass resistance.
Now what’s happening today is interesting because it’s obviously more localized. We’re seeing a city and a population that’s really just had enough, that has a level of clarity around what the police do, that knows perfectly well that we don’t need to even entertain the lies about “Did he have a knife?” or that the police were just trying to do their job and keep people safe. We know that’s not true.
We know that police are trained cowards, who are taught from day one to put their life above anyone else’s life. This is why they shot and killed Walter Wallace. He was on a block full of people—neighbors, family members, none of them were trying to kill him because they didn’t think he was that big of a risk to their well-being. It was the police who decided to kill him, to fire fourteen shots.
We know that police are trained cowards.
You are seeing in the city that people just don’t buy the bullshit anymore, and they’re buying it less and less by the day. While the first night of protest we saw that the police were restrained by the police commissioner, who took a political beating back in June over the use of force, the use of teargas, rubber bullets, and extreme levels of brutality, they weren’t going be held back forever. They came back on the second night and really just beat the piss out of people for fun, because this is what the pigs do.
They thought they would get away with it like they always get away with it. But, as you probably have seen, there’s now a viral video of them smashing the windows out of a car, beating the passengers, and tearing a two-year-old child out of the arms of his mother. They then tried to take credit for rescuing him, saying that he was found wandering barefoot, which is an absolute lie. And then everyone saw the truth revealed, which is further confirmation of the embarrassment that the police represent, and that they are really just lying thugs who are out to protect themselves and no one else.
This, as a lot of other people have pointed out, is a deeply white supremacist and colonial idea that says: “The people that I’m brutalizing, I’m actually rescuing them. This baby whose windows I smashed out, who I stole away from his mother, I’m actually here to protect him.”
This is the veneer that policing has always had. No matter how bad the violence that is inflicted by the police on communities, they’re told they just need more police, and the police are really there to protect them. Policing is a form of psychological and physical abuse. And people really are just not buying it anymore.
The first thing is that we live in a moment of global revolt and rebellion. This has been going on for well over a decade in the United States. I think the uprisings in Oakland in 2009 really helped kick things off, the Occupy movement followed just a couple years later, Black Lives Matter a couple years after that. You have this escalating spiral of struggles across the country, pin-balling around, and people are becoming more radical and they’re developing a better understanding of theory and seeing more of the way that theory plays out in practice.
They’re seeing that they have power in the streets, they’re seeing that struggles lead to actual change and transformation. This is all the context of what we now see occurring amid a devastating economic crisis and the continued impoverishment of not only poor communities of color, but also the indebtedness of students and the absence of a horizon of how to get out of this situation. This is the generation leading the George Floyd revolts, who are nineteen, twenty, twenty-one years old. They have grown up with nothing but Black death at the hands of police, economic crisis, no options, and no future. The fact that they are rebelling should not surprise us.
These spirals of struggle move across the country, radicalize here and there, and bring us up to the level that we’ve reached. You can see this in the words of Kandace Montgomery, an abolitionist organizer with the Black Visions Collective in Minneapolis who said: “In 2015 [when Jamar Clarke was killed] . . . we were clear about the problem. Now we are clear about the solution.” This is why you have this really astounding uniformity of calls to abolish, or at the very least defund, the police. These calls are not brand new—they’ve been emerging over the past few years, but the fact that this is what people are reaching for in this moment of struggle says a lot about the level of consciousness that’s developed over the past ten years.
When Gramsci talks about a time of monsters, this is what he’s talking about. While I’m not even a Bernie stan, it’s clear that we could have had a Bernie. Instead, who do we get in the context of mass, nationwide anti-police rebellion? A segregationist and a cop. This was the Democratic ticket.
This is a time of monsters because it’s a moment in which we know which way history is pointing, but on some level that path is blocked. Now, while it’s blocked on the level of formal politics, it’s not blocked in the streets. In the streets, things are moving forward by leaps and bounds, and I think that’s precisely what matters.
These struggles will explode no matter who is in power. There are ways that having Trump in power sets off struggles by drawing more left-liberals into struggle and radicalizing them to play a crucial role in a growing coalition of resistance. But there are ways that when Obama was in power, for example, we had the eruption of Black Lives Matter because of the dashed hopes and the crushed expectations. Nothing is going to change under Joe Biden; nothing would really change under Donald Trump. So that collision with reality has a shocking and radicalizing effect on people who realize that there’s nothing left but the streets.
We know that in 2021, police murder is going to be the story, and we know that because it is an old story. If you look at the history of mass resistance in this country, that resistance is almost always driven by Black and brown people, almost always against the police, almost always sparked by police murder. Why? Because the police are founded on that great betrayal of the Black struggle by poor whites at the end of slavery, those who chose the Klan instead of multiracial equality. Instead of abolition-democracy, they opted for white terror.
So we should not be surprised that now, more than 150 years later, we’re looking at the same forces playing out in the same way, because these are historical questions that we haven’t yet dealt with.
The MOVE struggle and the struggle around Mumia, not to mention other struggles like the struggle for freedom for Russell Maroon Shoatz, are essential to understanding the political landscape in Philadelphia. They’ve provided it with a radical backbone that leans toward two opposing poles. One is a level of kind of mass fear. It was just in 1985 when the City of Philadelphia dropped a bomb on West Philly, killed scores of people, and burned down the city block. That’s not that long ago; everyone remembers it. Even when I moved to Philly a decade ago and started organizing, people were like, “Thank you for doing this, this is amazing. But you’re all gonna get yourselves killed.” That fear is deeply embedded in the psyche. At the same time the recognition of what the police in the city actually stand for is undeniable.
And so you have a situation that gives rise to a willingness to engage in mass resistance. There are lots of material dynamics that play into this: who’s in charge, how it’s played out, and the way that these struggles are able to coalesce. You can see an escalating spiral beginning with struggles around Brandon Tate-Brown, in which small groups of people were constantly in the streets, constantly confronting the police commissioner. Bear in mind that this was Charles Ramsey, Obama’s top cop, the person in charge of the twenty-first-century policing reform report, who advocated civilian oversight and transparency but wouldn’t even tell us who killed Brandon Tate-Brown, who wouldn’t even give us that basic level information, wouldn’t release the video until we fought in the streets to get that, and until we frankly embarrassed him.
These are the cycles, the spirals of struggle. Around the same time, we had a solidarity rally with the Baltimore rebellion. That was the biggest thing Philly had seen in a decade. Thousands of people showed up, took over the streets, blocked the highway, and fought the police. They realized that what’s happening in Baltimore was exactly the same thing, essentially it is Philly’s twin city, and so we see it happen here, we see it happen there.
There were Black cops in 1890 and it didn’t make a difference.
The years since have seen just a consistency to this struggle, not just for demands for a better way of living and for equality, but a struggle against this consistency of police brutality. Philly, we should bear in mind, is a place that had an integrated police force in the 1890s. Du Bois wrote about this. There were Black cops in 1890 and it didn’t make a difference. There was so-called community policing in the 1940s and 1950s, and it didn’t make a difference.
I feel the realization that radical change is necessary is deeply embedded in the psyche of the city of Philadelphia.
Absolutely nothing. Dead silence. I think it’s not hard to figure out why Larry Krasner won’t say anything about this until after the election. And even then, I’m not sure what he will say. He’s been very willing in recent weeks to assume a radical anti-Trump stance and to say he’ll prosecute people who show up at the polls to intimidate voters, and that’s fine. But there’s been dead silence on Walter Wallace. I say this as someone who’s pretty balanced in the sense that I think it’s good thing that Larry Krasner is in the DA’s office. We’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of people not sitting in jail as a result of that election, and we’ve seen important experiments in diversion and other strategies for keeping people out of prison, for not arresting people for certain crimes, and for decriminalization. These things are hugely important.
On the material level of movements, it’s been crucially important that, for example, when Occupy ICE was happening, all the people who were arrested were released within two hours with only citations. This is materially important for our movements and has made a huge difference. So I don’t think it’s about denouncing the district attorney. Though Krasner is also someone who’s sending people to jail and who’s not taking a strong enough position when it comes to people like Mumia. What we need to be thinking about is how to operate in a context in which things are getting easier in a certain way, but when it comes to the George Floyd rebellions, for example, the district attorney’s office is insisting on drawing a hard line between protestors and looters and prosecuting looters and releasing protestors. This is a division that, especially if we care about class unity and the unity of this class struggle, we have to refuse 100 percent.
But I think the question is less do we like or dislike Larry Krasner than it is: what does his presence in the DA’s office mean for people? Moving forward we need to push to have all charges dropped from May and June, and there may be some leverage for that after the presidential election.
I think a lot is at stake. The first thing I’ll say is the same thing I would say around debates around property destruction and violence in general as a tactic. There are certain people who approach social movements on the assumption that if they don’t want these tactics and they win the argument about them they’ll go away.
The reality is people are going to loot. In moments of mass uprising people are going to take things. We are obligated to start from an understanding that that’s going to happen regardless. It’s not like we can make it go away. And yet there are those people who say, “Well, looting makes us look really bad.” Well no, once we start from the understanding that it’s inevitable, a force of nature, you realize that what makes you look bad is not looting. What makes it look bad is losing an argument about whether or not this is something that should happen.
What makes it look bad is when people within the movement are denouncing other people for looting. This is what makes us lose these debates. However, if people stood together and said, “You know what? We’re not going to criticize people who are engaged in certain tactics during these moments of mass uprising in which our concern is the murder of this Black man.” And at that point, the debate goes away. The media of course will still run with it, and they’ll try to discredit people and the movement, but it doesn’t have the same effect.
People are managing the narrative pretty well in the movements now where people are correctly pointing out that Walmart doesn’t belong to us, Best Buy doesn’t belong to us. These big box stores are part of an oppressive capitalist system, and we know that they are stealing from us and stealing people’s labor every day. We shouldn’t give a shit about whether or not they’re looted and could even say that the direct redistribution of goods from them is probably a good thing in this context, under a pandemic, when people are not working and can’t access those things.
The debate does get a little more complex on 52nd Street, two blocks away from here, where some small stores were looted. If you ask people on the block, you hear very different opinions. On one hand, that’s a neighborhood store, it’s owned by this or that person. On the other hand, people will say, “I don’t know who that person is. I know that they racially profile me when I go in there.” And people will ask if those resources are really being dedicated to the community? These are complicated debates.
But the idea that there’s a uniform response to those debates within poor communities of color is just not true. What needs to happen and what does happen are people negotiating these questions in the streets and within movements, when people, for example, try to alert people to locations that should be left alone.
You know, there was an Indigenous youth center in Minneapolis that got smashed up during the rebellions. That didn’t lead people to denounce the looters, but it did lead to them to say, “No, let’s not do this. We’ll have a fundraiser,” and the America Indian Movement engaged in community patrols to help keep an eye on people’s safety.
Dealing with these things within movements is possible and necessary. But the main danger of course—that’s being actively stoked by the police, by the state, and its spokespeople—is that it is used to divide the movement. This has been incredibly dangerous, and in some cases, very effective.
These struggles have been, as everyone knows, popping off everywhere. One of the defining features of the George Floyd rebellions was their contagious ability to spread to the point where we see statues of colonizers being torn down in England as a result. One thing that is undeniably true about the history of Black struggles against the police in the United States is that you don’t know what’s going to set it off. There are all these structural reasons why this was a tinderbox ready to explode. But you never know when the explosion’s going to happen.
It’s going to be an incredibly dangerous time as the old world dies.
We do know that the powder and the spark are even more available today. In January when Joe Biden is in office he’s not going to do a fucking thing to change this deep-seated reality. We know that the history of police reform is the history of reforming the image of the police, not what they actually do. And we know that there is no way to reform away the actual function of the police, which is a repressive, brutal function. That is inevitable, and under this system it’s going to continue.
This continuity is the backdrop to a situation in which people’s lives aren’t getting better, in which there’s a continuing pandemic, and the economic crisis is deepening. People are ready to go at the drop of a hat. We’re going to see an escalation of these struggles, and that’s a good thing.
We also know that the far right is going to be engaging in organized and sporadic violence. It’s going to be an incredibly dangerous time as the old world dies.