“For me, there is a social disease that, I do not know if it is identified by science as “official” but, I usually call URBANCENTRISM. It prevents people from seeing beyond the structure of large cities, as if there was a huge dome around the metropolis that prevents access to other places, or that transforms other places into utopias disconnected from reality which can be accessed only from time to time in dreams”
Pra quem nasceu e cresceu na metrópole é bem comum a convivência com uma gigantesca diversidade e interatividade entre culturas e com uma vasta disponibilidade de informação circulando das mais diversas formas, assim como a rápida transformação dos costumes, das tecnologias, das ruas…
Pra quem nasceu e cresceu, e que veio ou vive nos interiores em que a urbanização não é tão latente, tudo isso é muito mais difícil de ser acessado, conquistado e assimilado. É por isso que damos tanto valor à coisas que pra muitas pessoas parecem ser minúsculas ou ridículas e que pra nós são grandiosas. Para os meus antepassados, a contemplação é algo fundamental e a fugacidade, a velocidade com a qual as coisas se desmancham na metrópole, muitas vezes é aterrorizadora. A valorização do que é construído de forma lenta, mas “bem feita”, observando os mínimos detalhes é muito mais importante do que se entupir de mil tarefas e informações e não conseguir dar conta de tudo. O que inclusive é fonte de diversas doenças modernas.
Para as migrantes e para os migrantes que vêm de uma realidade pobre do interior, a discriminação contra seus costumes, sotaque, cor, vestimenta, pensamentos e práticas é uma ameaça constante. Mas como a maioria se arrisca na Babilônia sem ter respaldo de alguém que pode fortalecer quando o bicho pega, acabam aprendendo à gingar, à dissimular, à jogar com essas discriminações, se adaptando ao que a nova realidade pede. Muitas e muitos acabam abandonando seus costumes com o passar do tempo e recarregam suas antigas práticas ao se reencontrarem com outras e outros migrantes. Outras e outros carregam consigo a melancolia somada com a sensação de derrota por não conseguir retornar pra casa com a missão cumprida e com a conquista nas mãos. Muitas e muitos acabam indo morar nas ruas, por falta de assistência. Muitas e muitos morrem, assassinados por uma violência urbana ao qual não estão acostumadxs. Algumas e alguns conseguem alcançar lugares de prestígio e experimentar e compartilhar privilégios já com a meia idade chegando, depois de terem doado toda uma vida de sangue e suor e comprometido todas as suas economias em parcelamentos extensos que lá na frente se tornam as dívidas que, se não houver cuidado, levam à falência.
Sinceramente, eu não conheço nenhuma família que veio de onde eu vim e de outros interiores que conheci que não tenham um histórico de batalha e sobrevivência em condições extremas e mantenho um pensamento de revolta e combate contra a discriminação direcionada à essas pessoas que são invisibilizadas no cotidiano da metrópole.
Pra mim, existe uma doença social que eu não sei se é identificada pela ciência tida como “oficial”, mas que eu costumo chamar de URBANOCENTRISMO, que impede as pessoas de conseguirem enxergar para além da estrutura das grandes cidades, como se houvesse uma enorme redoma ao redor da metrópole que impedisse o acesso a outros lugares ou que transformasse os outros lugares em utopias desconectadas da realidade e que só podem ser acessadas de vez em quando nos sonhos. Sonhos estes que dão origem às máfias turísticas que fazem das paisagens dos interiores um produto de consumo acessível para quem tem muita grana. Sonhos estes que transformam as nascentes dos rios em poços de veneno e chorume despejado pelo agronegócio que abastece a metrópole. Sonhos estes que escravizam a mão de obra de meus manos que tão disputando uma diária de pouco mais de 30 conto no monopólio da banana que abastece a metrópole, fazendo serviço triplo: batendo veneno, cortando cachos maduros e transportando até os caminhões.
Eu sou migrante e também sofro com as sequelas causadas pelo urbanocentrismo. Uma vez um mano me disse que “o conhecimento é extremamente importante, mas nós precisamos ter cuidado pra não viajar demais nas idéias e esquecer de nossas raízes”. Infelizmente, de alguma forma, também sou infectado por esta doença. Mas não posso deixar que ela tome meu corpo e minha mente por completo. Pra isso preciso manter meus pés no chão, próximos às minhas raízes. Sempre em contato com quem também é migrante, com quem veio e com quem vive na mesma realidade da qual eu vim. E mais do que isso, observar, estudar e tentar compreender a estrutura de dominação que força minhas conterrâneas e conterrâneos à abandonarem seu local de origem. Observar, estudar e tentar compreender a história e a ancestralidade dos lugares e das pessoas que me ensinaram à caminhar e a lutar por minha vida.
Editora/produtora independente e selo de divulgação/distribuição de material subterrâneo e libertário.
For those born and raised in the metropolis, it is very common to live with huge diversity and interaction between cultures, with vast availability of information circulating in the most diverse ways, as well as the rapid transformation of behaviors, technologies, streets…
For those born and raised, and who came or live in the inland where urbanization is not so latent, all of this is much more difficult to be accessed, conquered, and assimilated. That’s why we give so much value to things that to many people seem to be tiny or ridiculous; for us they are great. For my ancestors, contemplation is fundamental, and fugacity, the speed with which things break down in the metropolis, is often terrifying. Valuing what is built slowly but “well,” observing the smallest details is far more important than clogging up a thousand tasks and information and failing to account for everything. This is also the source of several modern diseases.
For migrants who come from poor conditions inland [into the city], discrimination against their customs, accent, color, dress, thoughts, and practices is a constant threat. But as most take a chance in Babylon without having the backing of someone for support when things get rough, they learn to dribble, to dissemble, to play with these discriminations, adapting to what the new reality demands. Many end up abandoning their customs over time and recharging their old practices by rejoining other migrants.
Others carry with them melancholy of defeat for not being able to return home with the mission accomplished, and the conquest in hand. Many end up living on the streets for lack of assistance. Many die, killed by urban violence to which they are not accustomed.
Some manage to reach places of prestige and experience, and share privileges with middle age already arriving, after having donated a whole life of blood and sweat, and having compromised all their earnings in extensive installments, that in the end become the debts, that, if not careful, lead to bankruptcy.
Honestly, I don’t know of any family that came from where I came from, or other cities inland, that do not have a history of battle and survival in extreme conditions, and I maintain a revolt and anti-discrimination thought directed at those people who are invisible in the metropolis.
For me, there is a social disease that, I do not know if it is identified by science as “official” but, I usually call Urbancentrism. It prevents people from seeing beyond the structure of large cities, as if there was a huge dome around the metropolis that prevents access to other places, or that transforms other places into utopias disconnected from reality which can be accessed only from time to time in dreams. These dreams give rise to the tourist mafias that make the landscapes of the inland an affordable product for those who have a lot of money. These dreams turn the rivers’ springs into poison and sludge wells dumped by the agribusiness that supplies the metropolis. These dreams enslave the workmanship of my hands, that compete for a little more than 10 bucks (30 reais) daily in the Banana Monopoly that supplies the metropolis, doing triple service: surviving poison, cutting ripe chunks, and transporting to the trucks.
I’m a migrant and I also suffer from the consequences caused by Urbancentrism. Once a buddy told me that “knowledge is extremely important, but we must be careful not to travel too much in ideas and forget our roots.” Unfortunately, somehow, I am also infected by this disease. But I can not let her take my body and my mind completely. For this I need to keep my feet on the ground, close to my roots. Always in contact with who is also a migrant, with whom they came and with whom they live in the same reality from which I came. And more than that, to observe, to study, and to try to understand the structure of domination that forces my countrymen and women to leave their place of origin. Observe, study and try to understand the history and ancestry of places and people who taught me to walk and fight for my life.
“The fight against Eurocentrism, a thing which does not allow for a life with dignity, is a struggle against the naturalization of racial oppression in the social condition of the worker. For this reason, Pan-Africanism is a necessary understanding of class struggle.”
In the second to last week of August, the Faculty of Law of the Federal University of Bahia, in Salvador, hosted the first cycle of a course on Marxism and Pan-Africanism. This course will be a recurring initiative to discuss concepts and disseminate knowledge not only for law students in the university. From the 20th to the 23rd, the doors of the main auditorium were open to everyone with an interest in the event, free of charge. It was not just a lecture on the perspective of black women, on the history of white supremacy and capitalism, or on the meaning of Pan-Africanism. It was a meeting of exchange that brought together speakers, teachers, poets, students, writers, artists and more, many of whom were not always welcome in that space. Due value must be given to the initiative to address anti-capitalist and anti-racist issues and practices in the academic environment where Brazilian Law is researched and enforced.
On the first day of the course, before the lecture of Dr. Lindinalva de Paula, there was a warm welcome from the table and exciting performances of theater and poetry. The topic of the lecture, the perspective of black women on Pan-Africanism, was fully expressed in everyone’s chest when Sophia Araujo stepped on stage and presented her poetry- in the presence of her daughter named Dandara (also the name of a notorious enslaved woman of the 17th century). The bridge between the reality of the streets today, and the theoretical debate of centenary ideologies, has materialized in an environment that has been historically hostile against both.
One of the participants at the beginning of the event stated not only the relevance of us being there, but the obligation we have to occupy that space. She reports that in that same room she has been booed for defending affirmative action, and many have been booed for trying to address anti-racism. Combating institutional racism needs the production of anti-racist knowledge, bringing other non-European rationalities to the academic environment. This means not only studying, but transforming.
“Until the lions have their own historians, hunting stories will continue to glorify the hunter.” (Eduardo Galeano)
Leno Sacramento, from the Olodum Theater, presented a shocking performance on police oppression, addressing the psychological and physical violence that compose our incessant denunciations against the genocide of black people. Nor can we forget the invisibilisation and ideological silencing of black and indigenous peoples, reinforced by epistemic-genocide, which brings us the famous phrase “death begins before the shot” (Pedro Borges).
The event was not restricted to the urban context, a link between the rural area and the urban area was also forged. There was a representative affirmation of Union power in contrast to the corporate one. And the presence of members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) brought to the table the struggle of black peasants. Therefore the symbiosis of land, class, and race was demonstrated in theoretical and practical ways.
“I am landless / I am poor / I am black / I am a revolution” (Raumi Souza, musician and MST member)
Dr. Lindinalva de Paula’s talk had a simple and indispensable message: Together, black women go further. Alone they may walk fast, but even with all their titles, it is a trap. “Our steps come from afar,” she said, referring to all the black women who came before us, and made our way possible today. They were part of a feminism that was not Eurocentric, that burned no bras, and was not ignorant of Africa. They had different guidelines; for example, daycare, which was not a white feminist agenda because they had access to basic health, and when they got pregnant they could hire a black woman to help. In the periphery, and before, black women were already feminists.
“We did not become feminists, we did not know we were doing feminism all along.” (Dr. Lindinalva de Paula)
The following day, the lecture by Dr. Muniz Gonçalves Ferreira also addressed the issue of the black movement’s dialogue with whiteness, only from a more Marxist perspective. In contrast to the previous speaker, who at no point demonstrated any value in the political collaboration between black women and white feminists, he argued that despite the position of undeniable whiteness from which Marx and Engels spoke, they did not reproduce the racism of their time. At least not after a certain point in their careers. Therefore, for him, there is no contradiction in adopting the philosophies of these thinkers in the anti-racist or Pan-Africanist struggle.
Before the course began, attendees received an email with a video of a debate that clearly shows the tense divergence within the Pan-africanist movement between Afrocentric and Marxist thinkers. Eurocentrism, as a worldview where racism is put into practice, has no place in Pan-africanist doctrine. While Afrocentrics believe that adopting Marxism means giving space to a Eurocentric doctrine, Marxists such as Dr. Muniz Gonçalves Ferreira believe that Marx and Engels overcame their inherited Eurocentrism and fought against racism.
“Were Marx and Engels racist?” To the lecturer, no. They undoubtedly studied the texts of people contaminated by ‘ethnocentrism’, such as Hegel, who believed that world history was an evolutionary process from the East to the West, concluding that Africa, having a stateless people, had no history. They were not only European intellectuals, but they were German, in a colonial and enslaver period that oppressed even the peripheries of their own continent (the Slavs), but eventually they joined the struggle against slavery and against colonialism.
If Marx and Engels’ struggle against slavery and colonialism was indeed an anti-racist act, it remained open. They stood in favor of anti-colonial revolts in India and China, defending them as strategies proportional to the violence of capitalism and colonialism. They also defended the North in the U.S. civil war, denouncing biased journalism in Britain that had economic interests in cotton production in the South. Marx even “let” his daughter marry a Haitian of Afro-descent. That is what it means to be anti-racist in the 19th century, even if these are no longer our standards for determining whether someone is racist or not today. Unfortunately, the lecturer hinted that racism was once more palpable back then, and that our criteria for categorizing racism today is subjective; it is enough to say that African paganism is “of the devil”.
This reading does not work for everyone. A member of the audience questioned whether these arguments are enough to determine whether or not someone was racist. Being abolitionist, at that time, was a position held by many who had interests far from being the destruction of white supremacy. Having a black relative also means nothing, since even Bolsonaro tried to use this argument to reassure that he is not racist. Others have brought the question of how racism persisted after socialist revolutions in Cuba and Russia. And the Afrocentric Pan-africanist organization React or Die asked to have their flag removed from the event, but maintaining cordial relations and organizers of the course demonstrating full support for their VI International March Against the Genocide of the Black People that happened 4 days later, August 25th, and to the “Don’t Vote, React!” campaign.
Since the 19th century, racism has not ceased to be palpable and real. From medical genocide, necropolitics, mass incarceration, to police violence, our criteria for denouncing racism still holds immense weight on the bodies of black people in Brazil. A Marxism that is not anti-racist is possible, but for the speaker, being a Marxist without being anti-racist is an appropriation of the term. An anti-racism that is not Marxist is unquestionably embraced, since our goal is human emancipation and we fight against all forms of oppression. We do not have to be Marxist to be anti-capitalist. Other anti-capitalist guidelines are more than welcome.
Dr. Silvio Luiz de Almeida, the speaker the following 3 days of the course, presented a different perspective on the relationship between Eurocentrism and Marxism. What Marxism and Pan-Africanism have in common is that they are effective ideologies in dealing with historical moments of conflict. It’s not possible to essentialize the two ideologies. There is no homogeneity, there is history. The movement of history is one of transformation and conflict.
Some say they don’t want to read white writers, but those who kill us have only what to gain from that. “They are horrible indeed,” he said, but it is not consistent to read Fanon without reading Hegel, for example. Even though Hegel had extremely ethno / Eurocentric rhetoric, and undeniably racist stances, he also introduced us to the dialectic between the master and the enslaved.
W.e.b. Du Bois was the first black man with a Harvard doctorate. Without theory, practice submits itself to the immediate. But Marxism has nothing to teach the worker. “Theory of the Strike?” Uniting theory and practice, intellectuals and politicians, means joining the agenda of thought with political practice, since the transformation of the world depends on us understanding the world.
At the same time, the act of transformation transforms the practitioner: Praxis. The future must be built and can be transformed. In the midst of many fantastic examples and analyzes, perhaps the most striking example of the union of theory and practice, praxis, and transformation, was the presentation of the concept of naturalization of the condition of exploitation.
Naturalizing the social condition of the worker happens through the Capitalist ideology. Their condition is naturalized within the system by the social division of labor, which depends on race and gender. These social relations are concrete. They are social relations that give meaning to things. Therefore, the relationship between Africa, race, slavery, and blackness is a socialization. Race itself is a historical creation. Racism created the black, and created its antithesis, the white. The fight against Eurocentrism, a thing which does not allow for a life with dignity, is a struggle against the naturalization of racial oppression in the social condition of the worker. For this reason, Pan-Africanism is a necessary understanding of class struggle.
Jal Souza, one of the attendees, explains this phenomenon wonderfully from his personal perspective:
“While the children of the elite study to develop critical thinking, young working-class people are committed to increasing the small profit of the family, and thus are not allowed intellectual development. I remember a youth, poor financially, where to open a book was seen as an act of pure entertainment and laziness, for there is no value recognized in those words but rather contempt. Time spent reading should be employed in paid work. The irrelevance of the study and relevance of basic manual labor makes it difficult for boys and girls from the peripheries to see themselves in educational institutions. Therefore, they occupy the positions of worse remuneration and greater physical effort, without representation in political organizations, and without knowing how to claim and conquer rights. Rich and white men, those who are most interested in keeping the mechanisms of the system in place, decide the future of all.” (Jal Souza)
While Marxism makes contact with reality by piercing to ideology, structural racism is the social fabric that sustains institutions. We can advance in isolated institutional contexts, without even beginning to change this structure. Racism consists not only of conscious actions, but also of the unconscious ones, those in the economic, political, and subjective level. In fact, the “demonization” of African cultures leads black people to lose identity and to accept the structure as natural and immutable.
The last day of the lecture took place in the Brazilian Bar Association, the institution where the abolition of slavery was discussed in Brazil. Dr. Silvio Luiz de Almeida again shared a moving and inspiring speech, this time on the legacy of the thinker, artist, and now officially lawyer, Luiz Gama.
Slavery has different moments, and Luis Gama lived during the most brutal of them. He was a lawyer for enslaved people, and accused the public power, the empire, putting it in the press and using public opinion in his favor. In 1881 there was a lynching of 4 enslaved whom he considered heroes. Those people were lynched because they killed their “lord.” Luis Gama boldly stated publicly that it is important to be radical against an evil that is even more radical, and that these enslaved men killed in self-defense. Killing the master is self-defense. This led him to be persecuted. His story is active resistance.
Luiz Gama is an idea. An idea that materialized there at that moment, in that room in the Brazilian Bar Association. “His story is in each one of us.” (Dr. Silvio Luiz de Almeida)
is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.
Para Além dos Muros: A Academia e o Debate Antirracista
Na penúltima semana de Agosto, a Faculdade de Direito da UFBA hospedou o primeiro ciclo de formação do curso de Marxismo e Pan-Africanismo. Esse curso será uma iniciativa recorrente de debater e disseminar conhecimento, não só para alunos(as) de direito na universidade. Do dia 20 a 23, as portas do principal auditório estavam abertas para todos e todas com interesse no evento, gratuitamente. Não foi apenas uma palestra sobre a perspectiva de mulheres negras, sobre a historia da supremacia branca e do capitalismo, ou sobre o significado de Pan-africanismo. Foi um encontro de aprendizado e troca que reuniu palestrantes, professores(as), poetas, alunos(as), escritores(as), artistas e mais, muitos dos quais nem sempre foram bem-vindos naquele espaço. Devido valor deve ser dado à iniciativa de abordar os temas e práticas anti-capitalistas e antirracistas no ambiente acadêmico onde pesquisa-se e aplica-se a Lei.
No primeiro dia de curso, antes da palestra da Dr. Lindinalva de Paula, houve um caloroso bem vindo da mesa e apresentações emocionantes de teatro e poesia. O tópico da palestra, a perspectiva das mulheres negras sobre o Pan-africanismo, foi expresso em completo no peito de todos e todas quando Sophia Araújo subiu no palco e apresentou suas poesias- na presença de sua filha chamada Dandara. A ponte entre a realidade das ruas hoje, e o debate teórico de ideologias centenárias, se concretizou em um ambiente que foi historicamente hostil contra os dois.
Uma das participantes da mesa no inicio do evento afirmou não só a relevância de estarmos ali, mas a obrigação que temos de ocupar aquele espaço. Ela relata que naquela mesma sala ela ja foi vaiada por falar de cotas, e muitos já foram vaiados por tentar abordar o tema de antirracismo. Combater o racismo institucional demanda a produção de conhecimento antirracista, trazendo outras racionalidades não européias pra conjuntura acadêmica. Isso significa não só estudar, mas transformar.
“Até que os leões tenham seus próprios historiadores, as histórias de caçadas continuarão glorificando o caçador.” (Eduardo Galeano)
Leno Sacramento, do Teatro do Olodum, apresentou uma peça impactante sobre opressão policial, abordando a violência psicológica e física que compõe nossas incessantes denúncias contra o genocídio do povo negro. Também não podemos esquecer da invisibilisação e silenciamento ideológico de povos negros e indígenas, reforçado pelo epistemicídio, que nos traz a famosa frase “a morte começa antes do tiro” (Pedro Borges).
O evento não se restringiu ao contexto urbano, um vinculo entre a zona rural e a zona urbana também foi forjado. Houve afirmação representativa do poder sindical em contraste ao corporativo. E a presença de membros do MST trouxe à mesa a luta de camponeses e camponesas negras. Portanto a simbiose de terra, classe e raça foi demonstrada de forma teórica e prática.
“Sou sem terra / sou pobre / sou negão / sou revolução” (Raumi Souza, músico e membro do MST)
A palestra da Dr. Lindinalva de Paula teve uma simples e indispensável mensagem: Juntas, as mulheres negras andam mais longe. Sozinhas talvez andam rápido, mas mesmo com todos os seus títulos, é cilada. “Seus passos vem de longe”, ela falou, referindo-se a todas as mulheres negras que vieram antes de nós, e possibilitaram esse caminho hoje. Winnie Mandela, Amy Jacques Garvey, Lélia Gonzalez, Assata Shakur, Anna Júlia cooper são algumas delas. Unir mulher e raça significa reconhecer que existem feminismos (em plural). Existe um feminismo que não era branco eurocentrado e que queimava sutiã, já que haviam mulheres que nem usavam sutiã. Esse feminismo completamente desconhece a África, e não tem as mesmas pautas. Creche, por exemplo, não é pauta da feminista branca porque que ela tem acesso à saude básica, e quando engravidava tinha como contratar uma negra pra ajudar. Na periferia e antes, as mulheres negras já eram feministas.
“Não nos tornamos feministas, não sabíamos que estávamos fazendo feminismo o tempo todo”. (Dr. Lindinalva de Paula)
No dia seguinte, a palestra do Dr. Muniz Gonçalves Ferreira também abordou a questão do diálogo do movimento negro com a branquitude, só que de uma perspectiva mais propriamente Marxista. Em contraste com a palestrante anterior, que em momento algum demonstrou valor na colaboração politica entre mulheres negras e feministas brancas, ele argumentou que apesar da posição de inegável branquidade da qual Marx e Engels falavam, eles não reproduziam o racismo de seu tempo. Pelo menos não depois de um certo período de suas carreiras. Portanto, pra ele, não ha contradição alguma em adotar as filosofias desses pensadores na luta antirracista, ou Pan-Africanista.
Antes do curso começar, inscritos e inscritas receberam um email com o video de um debate que mostra claramente a tensa divergência dentro do movimento Pan-africanista entre Afrocêntricos e Marxistas. O Eurocentrismo, como uma visão do mundo onde o racismo é colocado em prática, não tem espaço na doutrina pan-africanista. Enquanto Afrocêntricos acreditam que se reivindicar Marxista significa dar esse espaço para uma doutrina Eurocentrica, Marxistas como Dr. Muniz Gonçalves Ferreira acreditam que Marx e Engels superaram seu Eurocentrismo herdado, e lutaram contra o racismo.
“Marx e Engels eram racistas?”, pra o Dr. não. Sem duvida eles estudavam textos de pessoas contaminadas pelo “etnocentrismo”; como Hegel, que acreditada que a história mundial era um processo evolutivo do oriente em direção ao ocidente, concluindo que a Africa, por ter um povo sem estado/civilização, não tinha historia. Eles eram dois intelectuais não só europeus, mas alemães, em um período colonial e escravagista que oprimia até as periferias de seu próprio continente (os eslavos). Mas eventualmente eles se uniram à luta contra a escravidão, e contra o colonialismo.
Se a luta de Marx e Engels contra a escravidão e o colonialismo foi de fato um ato antirracista ficou em aberto. Eles se posicionaram a favor de revoltas anti-coloniais na India e na China, as defendendo como estratégias proporcionais a violência do capitalismo e do colonialismo. Também defenderam o Norte na guerra civil Norte Americana, denunciando o jornalismo tendencioso na Inglaterra que tinham interesses econômicos na produção de algodão no Sul. Marx até “deixou” sua filha casar com um afro-descendente haitiano. Isso é o que significa ser antirracista no século 19, mesmo que esses não sejam mais nossos padrões para determinar se alguém é racista ou não hoje. Infelizmente, ele insinuou que o racismo antigamente era mais palpável, e que nosso critério pra categorizar racismo hoje em dia é subjetivo; basta falar que “o Candomblé é do diabo”.
Essa leitura não funciona pra todos. Um membro da audiência questionou no bloco de perguntas se esses argumentos são o suficiente pra determinar se alguém era ou não era racista. Ser abolicionista, naquela época, era um posicionamento mantido por muitos que tinham interesses longe de ser a destruição da supremacia branca. Ter um familiar negro também não significa nada, já que até Bolsonaro tentou usar esse argumento pra afirmar que não é racista. Outros trouxeram a questão do racismo que persistiu após revoluções socialistas em Cuba e na Russia. E a organização Pan-africanista Afrocêntrica Reaja ou será Mortx pediu para ter sua bandeira removida do evento, mas mantendo relações cordiais e organizadores do curso demonstrando completo apoio à VI Marcha Internacional Contra o Genocídio do Povo Negro que aconteceu 4 dias depois, dia 25 de Agosto, e à campanha “Não Vote, Reaja!”.
Dês do século 19, o racismo não deixou de ser palpável. Do genocídio hospitalar, necropolítica, encarceramento em massa, à violência policial, nossos critérios para denunciar racismo ainda segura um peso imenso nos corpos de negros e negras no nosso país. Um Marxismo que não seja antirracista é possível, mas para o palestrante, ser marxista sem ser antirracista é uma apropriação do termo. Um antirracismo que não seja Marxista é inquestionavelmente abraçado, já que o nosso objetivo é a emancipação humana e lutar contra todas as formas de opressão. Não precisamos ser Marxistas pra ser anti-capitalistas. Outras pautas anti-capitalistas são bem vindas.
Dr. Silvio Luiz de Almeida, o palestrante não só do dia seguinte mas dos 3 dias seguintes do curso, apresentou uma perspectiva diferenciada sobre a relação do Eurocentrismo com o Marxismo. O que o Marxismo e o Pan-africanismo tem em comum é que são ideologias eficazes ao lidar com momentos históricos de conflito. Não é possível essencializar as duas ideologias. Não existe homogeneidade, existe história. O movimento da História é de transformação e conflito.
Alguns falam que não querem ler autores brancos, mas “quem nos mata só tem a ganhar com isso”. “Eles são horrorosos mesmo”, ele disse, mas não é coerente ler Fanon sem ler Hegel, por exemplo. Mesmo Hegel tendo seus posicionamentos extremamente etno/euro-cêntricos e inegavelmente racistas, foi ele também que nos apresentou a dialética entre mestre e escravizado.
W.e.b. Du Bois foi o primeiro negro com doutorado de Harvard. Sem a teoria, a prática se submete ao imediato. Mas o Marxismo não tem nada a ensinar ao trabalhador. “Teoria da Greve?” Unir teoria e prática, intelectuais e políticos, significa unir a pauta de compreensão com a prática política, já que a transformação do mundo depende de nós entendermos o mundo.
Ao mesmo tempo, a ação transformadora transforma o praticante: Praxis. O futuro deve ser construído e pode ser transformado. Em meio de muitos fantásticos exemplos e analises, talvez o mais impactante exemplo de união de teoria e pratica, práxis, e transformação, foi a apresentação do conceito de naturalização da condição de explorado.
Naturalizar a condição social do trabalhador acontece pela ideologia Capitalista. Naturaliza-se sua condição dentro do sistema pela divisão social do trabalho, que depende da raça e do gênero. Essas relações sociais são concretas. São relações sociais que dão sentido para as coisas. A relação entre África, raça, escravidão, e negro, portanto, é uma socialização. Raça em si é uma criação histórica. O racismo criou o negro, e criou sua antítese, o branco. A luta contra o Eurocentrismo, uma coisa que não viabiliza uma vida com dignidade, é uma luta contra a naturalização da opressão racial na condição social do trabalhador. Por isso, o Pan-africanismo é uma compreensão necessária da luta de classe.
Jal Souza, um dos ouvintes da palestra, explica esse fenômeno maravilhosamente a partir de sua perspectiva pessoal:
“Enquanto os filhos da elite e dos pequenos burgueses estudam para elevar o pensamento crítico, os jovens da classe trabalhadora estão empenhados em aumentar o pequeno lucro da família, e portanto, não se permitem ao desenvolvimento intelectual. Recordo de uma juventude, pobre financeiramente, onde abrir um livro era visto como um ato de puro entretenimento e preguiça, pois, não ha valor reconhecido naquelas palavras, mas sim desprezo. Aquele tempo gasto com leitura deveria ser empregado em um trabalho remunerado. A medição da sabedoria é medida pela capacidade de ganhar dinheiro, não pelo conhecimento. A irrelevância do estudo e valorização do trabalho básico e braçal faz com que os meninos e meninas das periferias não se enxerguem em instituições de ensino. Portanto, ocupam os postos de trabalhos de pior remuneração e maior esforço físico, sem representação nas organizações políticas, e sem saber reivindicar e conquistar direitos. Permitindo assim, que os homens brancos e ricos, os maiores interessados em manter os mecanismos do sistema vigente, decidam o futuro de todos.” (Jal Souza)
Dia 23 de Agosto foi o lançamento do livro O Que é Racismo Estrutural? do Dr. Silvio Luiz de Almeida, na Senzala do Barro Preto.
O espaço cultural Senzala do Barro Preto é sede do bloco afro Ilê Ayiê, “uma entidade carnavalesca que funciona como centro cultural no bairro do Curuzú, ensinando e difundindo entre os moradores da localidade e regiões próximas à identidade africana, mostrando com orgulho o poder da ancestralidade, religiosidade e construção dos negros no Brasil e internacionalmente.” (Jal Souza)
Enquanto o Marxismo faz contato com a realidade furando a ideologia, o racismo estrutural é o tecido social que sustenta instituições. Podemos avançar em contextos isolados institucionais, sem nem começar a mudar essa estrutura. O racismo não constitui apenas de ações conscientes, mas também das inconscientes, as do nível econômico, político e subjetivo. Aliás, a “demonizaçāo” das culturas africanas leva o negro perder sua identidade e a aceitar a estrutura como natural e imutável.
A performance do grupo indígena Ybytu Emi trouxe a pauta artística, musical, e teatral como expressão das raizes entrelaçadas da comunidade indígena e negra brasileira. Nítido ficou o entrelaço dos índios na vanguarda da proteção da cultura africana no Brasil, no passado, e das religiões afros preservando a cultura indígena, no presente.
E por fim, o ultimo dia de palestra aconteceu na Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil, uma instituição onde discutia-se a abolição da escravatura no Brasil. Dr. Silvio Luiz de Almeida novamente compartilhou um discurso comovente e inspirador, dessa vez sobre o legado do pensador, artista, e agora oficialmente advogado, Luiz Gama.
A escravidão tem momentos diferentes, e Luis Gama viveu durante o mais brutal deles. Ele era advogado pra pessoas escravizadas, e acusava o poder público, o império, colocando na imprensa e usando a opinião pública no seu interesse. Em 1881 houve um linchamento de 4 escravizados que ele considerava heróis. Aquelas pessoas foram linchadas porque mataram o “senhor”. Luis Gama corajosamente afirmou publicamente que é importante ser radical contra um mal que é mais radical ainda, e que esses escravizados mataram em legítima defesa. Matar senhor de engenho é legítima defesa. Isso o levou a ser perseguido. Sua historia é uma resistência ativa.
Luiz Gama é uma idéia. Uma idéia que se materializou ali naquele momento, naquela mesa na AOB. “A história dele esta em cada um e uma de nós.” (Dr. Silvio Luiz de Almeida)
é militante anti-fascista/decolonial, e feminista interseccional. Ela edita o site Gods and Radicals.
“[W]hite supremacy exists not external to the class, but as a perversion of its own interests.”
From Shane Burley
Based on a speech delivered at The Potter’s House in Washington D.C. on June 19th, 2017.
The days that followed Donald Trump’s unlikely election were a red-carpet moment for Twitter nationalists.
Richard Spencer made his fame in the wake of Trump’s run, as the Alt Right rose in public recognition as the new leadership for a fascist movement made visible. Spencer was the President of the National Policy Institute; a white nationalist think tank that built up an intellectual underpinning to a self-conscious fascist movement. It knew what it was, and it didn’t lie.
He had been holding posh conferences in the heart of Washington D.C. for years, and he planned his November 2016 conference just after the election. It was going to be a celebration or a recommital to accelerationism, whatever worked. In front of a crowd of suits and MAGA hats Spencer berated the press and gave a raucous speech, going fully explicit with the language with which he saw his movement.
“To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer, and a conqueror. We build, we produce, we go upward. And we recognize the central lie of American race relations. We don’t exploit other groups. We don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around. Whiteness, or rather identity, is being forced on the deracinated, consumerist “last man” that is European America. No one is going to be permitted to escape this process. Great historical changes are imminent when people are forced into a binary choice, fight or flee, join or die, resist or cuck. That is the position of white people right now.”
That speech finished with an explosion from the crowd when Spencer yelled “Hail Trump! Hail Our People! Hail Victory.” The Roman Salutes that dotted the audience made sense, and the liberal media loved it.
One year later, at the November 2017 NPI conference, things had changed. The infighting in the Alt Right began almost immediately, with the revolutionary white nationalists separating from the Trump Republicans. Antifascist mass actions began to disrupt any functioning event the Alt Right had, from Spencer’s campus appearances to Identity Evropa’s brief attempts at anti-immigrant rallies. Then there was Charlottesville, a window into the reality of what the white nationalist movement is capable of, and the mass media platform denial that came as a result. Social media, podcast hosting, YouTube, and almost all venues for their expression were halted; their message, and money, began to flounder in the wake.
This year, they were no longer allowed the Ronald Reagan building in D.C.’s City Center, but instead had to rent an unheated barn in rural Pennsylvania. They could not secure another venue, no one would rent to them: it simply wasn’t worth it. During the event Spencer did an interview with author Angela Nagle for a documentary on the Alt Right, discussing the state of their movement and Spencer’s vision for a great white empire.
When Nagle asked what he would do with the American whites who did not want the vision he promised, he had a binary choice. “Then we will force them to be free.”
Fascism is not just a system of obtuse and indecipherable totalitarianism. It is not simply the decisive rule from the top. It is populist: meaning, in a sense, it is popular. It is a movement that has to be rooted in the people. Fascism was not popular in an era before mass politics, when aristocratic elites ruled by decry without the charade of mass democracy. Fascism rises and rules by the mass participation of segments of the working class, a point which many have tried to ignore. It is the flaws in democracy it hopes to exploit, to expose the lies of extra-judicial violence and control that allow the system to continue.
As a revolutionary movement which seeks to undermine some of the basic assumptions of Western liberalism, fascism rises from the same conditions that the radical left does: economic strife, dehumanizing living conditions, racial conflict, state repression, and the range of violence marked by modern capitalist society. This creates the turmoil, a revolutionary spirit that can tip over into a number of directions. The rage of the marginalized classes is always sincere and valid, yet its purity guarantees nothing about outcomes.
One element that can pivot and distort class rebellion is the meager benefits that a privileged class of workers have. This is to say, the more white, male, or otherwise marginally-benefited workers have, the more advantages they see above their counterparts. A reactionary privileged class, desperate to hold on to those privileges in a world of uncertainty and competition, have the longest tradition of patented self-destruction. The inability of white workers to see the benefits of anti-racist solidarity, the strength that comes from class unity only possible through a revolutionary refusal of white supremacy, has been the bargain made for decades in an attempt to grasp at that privilege.
This choice has been the Achilles Heel of the worker’s movement, and largely all left mass movements, and enacts arson on liberation. The push in the labor movement to bait out immigrants, including demonizing immigrant labor, was a bid to raise wages for domestic workers. However, it ignored the fact that those meager wage gains were nothing compared to what could have been achieved if a true internationalism was embedded. The benefits of male social caste came at the cost of crushing patriarchy, the kind of rigid gender roles that have cost men the ability to hold relationships and live with themselves as they are. The exchange has been made, and for pennies now they lost thousands.
The mass politics of fascism is built on the white working class, it cannot exist without it. They are what gives it strength, people, anger. They are the enforcers, even the vanguards, even if they are not the beneficiaries. This reality has to be confronted: white supremacy exists not external to the class, but as a perversion of its own interests. But whose fault is it? As the left recedes into urban college campuses, internalize jargon, and failed liberal movements, where is the white working class? Is it organizing?
No one needs to tell us to organize, to survive. We do it every day, and we do it without the organized left. There is no reason to believe, however, that this is always in a direction we could celebrate, or even accept. The old IWW slogan of “if you aren’t talking to your co-worker, someone else is” with the silhouette of a Klansman rings true, and the anger of the white worker class has nowhere to go but down. Their energy, built on de-industrialization, falling real wages, and the true reality of working life rises; it has been effectively turned upon itself and on immigrants, women, queers, and people of color.
This is not eternal, it has not always been this way. While the shift has taken place, the left has always been there, a step away to mock, criticize, and remain insular, losing popularity as it loses the class.
This is a call to engage all members of the working class in fundamental change, but it is not a declaration to ignore the reality of violent white supremacy coming from people with similar paychecks to our own. We have to prioritize defense in times of repression and supremacist insurrection, including building networks of community protection against white nationalist attacks and the growing infrastructure of genocide in the state. While white workers have not largely sided with movements like the project to Abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcment (ICE) system, we push ahead without apology.
Regardless, white workers benefit from a deeply revolutionary antiracist movement, one that drives out divisions in the working class. Such a movement can do so only by uprooting actual inequality and destroying racism, both interpersonal and institutional. When white workers give up privilege by undoing the system of institutionalized white supremacy, they will get solidarity in return. This provides real power, not just the illusion of freedom so many cling to.
A movement like that can destroy all borders, wages, bosses, and states. And to do that we need everyone together, with foundations that were built consciously. A working class movement does not abandon the work at road blocks, or offense, or even trauma; instead, it sees the reclamation of the class as inherent to a revolutionary process. This doesn’t stop the work: there are two projects ahead, revolution against the top and the rebuilding of the class. This is a permanent work in progress, a permanent revolution.
This doesn’t mean every white worker will read your pamphlet, hear your speech, and join your movement. And why would they? Organizing rests on more than that: the legitimacy of shared class identification and matching of idealism with material conditions. It won’t work universally, and the “false consciousness,” or even parallel consciousness, lingers in huge swaths of people whose mythology of self is cemented in the whiteness offered as a consolation prize. That doesn’t matter, though: they benefit from the destruction of whiteness just the same.
So that means going forward. And if they tell you they don’t want it, then we will give them a binary choice. We will force them to be free.
Shane Burley is a writer and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How We Stop It (Forthcoming 2017, AK Press). His work has been featured in places like In These Times, ThinkProgress, Roar Magazine, Labor Notes, Make/Shift, Upping the Ante, and Waging Nonviolence. He can be found at ShaneBurley.net, and on Twitter @Shane_Burley1
Why shouldn’t they? Contemporary activism descends directly from the youth and student movements of the 60s, so anything that recalls the glory days inspires activists. It gives them a sense that the US’s long rightward drift might be reversed.
No wonder so many of them cheered for March’s pro-gun-control “March for Our Lives” rallies. In the wake of a school shooting, what could be more uplifting than high schoolers coming together, launching a protest movement, and responding to their experience of violence with political organization? How could any leftist not support that?
Antonio Balmer argues that base-building is just empty populism. He compares it to the Narodnik movement of 19th-century Russia, which saw middle-class anti-monarchists “go to the people” by moving to peasant villages and occasionally assassinating aristocrats. Balmer contrasts them with the Bolsheviks, who built an organized political party capable of leading a revolution, and suggests that base-builders pay too little attention to Marxist theory and revolutionary leadership.
Shamus Cooke takes a different angle. He quotes Lenin’s pamphlet “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder to claim that I reject class struggle in favor of a depoliticized mutualism. (Mutualism is a flavor of anarchism that calls for worker-owned co-ops to peacefully replace capitalism by out-competing traditional firms in the marketplace.) According to Cooke:
Burns’ gradualist approach ignores the fact that revolutionary situations are often brief, requiring a battle for power at all levels of society. Nearly all revolutions begin as massive, mostly-spontaneous mobilizations, so it would behoove a revolutionary to understand the abc’s of organizing mobilizations. Mass mobilization, however, barely registers as an activity that Burns believes a revolutionary should engage in.
The term class war implies there is an open struggle between the classes. Burns wants us to only engage in guerrilla tactics that don’t attract the attention of the establishment. But if ever such tactics actually succeed in challenging power, the ruling class would aggressively respond, since their economic and political power would actually be threatened, at which point Burns’ approach would be rendered useless, requiring a completely different strategy.
The “completely different strategy” he advocates involves combining base-building methods, electoral work, and conventional activism to shift “the balance of forces” against “the establishment.” What does that look like concretely? Cooke repeatedly cites the city-level electoral and lobbying efforts of his own organization, Portland Tenants United.
Balmer and Cooke agree: revolutionary base-builders are anti-theory, anti-political, don’t believe in party-building, don’t believe in class confrontation, and don’t have a vision for socialism or revolution. Base-building means mutual aid, and mutual aid is another word for depoliticized charity work. Base-builders say they want socialism, but don’t have the stomach to fight for it.
Now, if you reduce revolutionary base-building to mutual aid, you’re misrepresenting it. Workplace and tenant organizing (along with community self-defense) account for much more of what base-builders actually do than mutual aid. But, it’s true that “base-building” is itself not a political strategy; it’s a set of techniques.
So, what defines revolutionary base-building? Is it just methods? Are Balmer and Cooke right – do base-builders really expect to win socialism without a strategy, without the bother of class struggle?
Means and Ends
Anyone can base-build.
How does any organization develop a base of support? It organizes previously-unorganized people. It campaigns against their enemies while offering mutual-aid, cultural, and social activities. It puts its own work above networking with the already-converted. Churches, businesses, political parties, and fan clubs all use some variant of the formula. Base-building methods, in that sense, are just how you build an effective organization.
Since revolutionary base-builders use those techniques and most of the activist Left doesn’t, they provide the tendency’s form. They don’t provide its content. Base-building is a tool, nothing more. A hammer can help you make a table; it can also smash a flowerpot. “Youth organizing” can mean the March for Our Lives. It can also mean the Black Panther Party. Without the methodology of base-building, you can’t organize a constituency capable of exercising social power. But who are you organizing? What is that social power for?
That won’t happen by winning elections or voting for socialism. It won’t happen through one-cooperative-at-a-time mutualism, either. Rather, it means building up revolutionary capacity by cultivating a mass base within the working class. When the conditions are right, it will mean launching a revolutionary uprising to establish a monopoly on the legitimate use of force by participatory-democratic organs of the working class. It will mean restructuring the economy according to a democratic, ecological, and scientific plan based on production for human use, not private profit.
Our ideas don’t make us revolutionary. Ideology runs deeper than the things you think. What’s the long-term trajectory implied by what you’re actually doing? That’s your ideology. We build institutions of class confrontation and mutual aid outside of the state, against the state, and in order displace the state. That trajectory makes us revolutionary – what we are, not what we say. Electioneering, lobbying, and waving signs may well involve revolutionary slogans, taking the form of radical politics. But, they lack the content. What happens when activist leftists have a mass movement? They tie it institutionally to the state, cutting off its ability to exercise social power directly, on its own terms. That road doesn’t lead to collective power – just brokerage within the existing order.
We don’t base-build for the sake of base-building. Our practice flows from and, in turn, shapes our revolutionary agenda. We are not cultivating an electorate for “movement” politicians. Revolutionary base-building is a process of preparation for collective self-government, for the seizure of power by the working class. Sure, delivering here-and-now gains does matter, but it’s never the point. Socialism means more than “a chicken in every pot.”
Government socialism can’t end capitalism. Structurally speaking, the capitalist state can’t be separated from its function; it serves the ruling class, bottom to top. Expanding it doesn’t advance socialism. At best, it just rearranges exploitation (while institutionally tying the Left to the survival and success of the state). The impulse to deliver real gains, even if they’re small, make sense, but government socialists squeeze the revolutionary essence, the political content, out of socialism.
Government socialists want tangible benefits and ignore or defer revolutionary ideas. Protest militants treat their ideas as a substitute for mass organization. Revolutionary base-builders, though, synthesize organizing for tangible gains with the long-game commitment to literal revolution. That synthesis doesn’t mean talking like protest militants and behaving like government socialists, though. Rather, it’s built into the process of organizing the unorganized to change their own conditions and confront their enemies themselves, rather than mediating it through the nonprofits or the state. (Indeed, the Marxist Center network takes its name from the course between those two possible distortions.)
Base-building methods aren’t conventional activism. That matters, if only because “base-building” is another word for “organizational techniques that actually work” – but revolutionary base-builders are after more than just a social base. No matter what Bernie Sanders says, political revolution means replacing the government, not reforming it.
The point is to create organizational structures through which power can be transferred from the few to the many, from the ownership class to the dispossessed. That transfer doesn’t happen piecemeal. It isn’t a gradual process where reforms (or mutualist co-ops!) stack on top of each other until one morning, you wake up to find that capitalism is gone. The capitalist state can’t not uphold the rule of the capitalist class. Base-building just to create another electoral or activist constituency, without that revolutionary goal and opposition to the state, has nothing to do with socialism. It doesn’t weaken capitalism. It just creates another avenue for capitalist politics, even if you call it “socialism,” even if it takes the form of base-building.
And for revolutionary base-builders, that will never be enough.
I worked in assisted living. My co-workers would complain about residents who blew up if they got breakfast at 8:10 instead of 8 – never mind that each of us had 8 or 9 other residents also demanding breakfast at 8. Sometimes, they did worse than chew us out. For most people, getting hit by clients from time to time isn’t “just part of the job.” For CNAs, it is.
However, the residents who lashed out had cause to feel isolated and powerless. Social programming for long-term care residents is inadequate in many facilities (if it’s offered at all). Facility life is profoundly lonely; worse, facilities rarely treat their clients as adults with a right to dignity and bodily autonomy. And, of course, plenty of them don’t even meet their residents’ bare physical needs.
Was that the CNAs’ fault? We did the best we could under conditions not of our making. But, frustrated residents still took out their grievances on us, the only representatives of the facility with whom they had any regular contact. It made sense for them to blame us for their situation, just as it made sense for us to blame them for mistreating us.
But management decided how the place was run. They created a situation in which mutual scapegoating was a logical decision for both CNAs and residents. Meanwhile, the company could cut costs and accumulate profit, at the expense of clients and workers both.
Residents and their families were rarely the ones who paid. Assisted living costs thousands of dollars per month; few can afford it out-of-pocket. So, most residents at most facilities are there only because their health insurance covers it. If insurance doesn’t pay, the resident doesn’t stay.
That gives management an incentive to keep residents healthy enough to live for a long time, but never so healthy that they need a less intensive level of care (since that would mean less billable treatment). From a patient’s point of view, the best-case outcome is to recover enough to require less intensive care. But for the facility, the best case is that the resident never stops having more health problems to treat, so insurance never runs out.
In other words, a single-payer program is not the goal. Single-payer on its own cannot be the goal. Single-payer does not solve the biggest sin of commodified health care: that taking care of sick people isn’t profitable, and any profit-driven insurance system thus disregards the most vulnerable.
Single-payer alone does not solve these problems. But it gives us a fighting chance to square up against them.
Further, given that Bernie Sanders made it a key campaign promise, many leftists view M4A as the ideal “winning issue.” What could be better than a “universal public good” that enjoys majority support in the polls and already gets significant media coverage?
So, is there a leftist critique of M4A to be made? What socialist would oppose universal healthcare?
M4A, though, isn’t universal healthcare access in the abstract. Medicare is a specific program. M4A calls for it to be expanded in specific ways. M4A is not the general principle of a right to healthcare. It’s a concrete policy proposal and should be evaluated as such, just as criticizing a particular play doesn’t mean condemning the theatre in general. In critiquing M4A, I am not attacking the principle of universal healthcare. Rather, I am arguing that this particular reform campaign is flawed to the point that socialists shouldn’t take part in it.
Neither lack of access nor commodification is US healthcare’s deepest problem.
It’s more than how it’s paid for or to whom it belongs. The issue is in its bones: how people get diagnosed, how treatments get prescribed, and how care gets delivered. US healthcare serves two primary purposes: it keeps workers healthy enough to go to work, and it warehouses disabled people as cheaply and expeditiously as possible. Those imperatives aren’t simply imposed by individual corporations. After all, the process of diagnosis, prescription, and treatment works no differently in a state-owned or nonprofit clinic than in a private one. When the process itself artificially pits patients and workers against each other, neither more comprehensive insurance nor nationalization deals with the root cause. It’s not about who gets healthcare. It’s not even about who owns healthcare. It’s about what healthcare is for.
Why else is long-term eldercare is so often institutionalized neglect (or worse), even if it’s state-run – especially if it’s state-run? Why else is inpatient psychiatric care rife with organized physical, emotional, and chemical violence? M4A demands greater access to something that, in certain situations, is actively harmful. For instance, a former EMT in Washington recently told me:
Many of the psychiatric facilities our ambulance visited were understaffed, filthy, and frequently spared little regard for patients’ wellbeing. Staff members often referred to patients with contempt and disgust (sometimes within their hearing). I observed that patients’ medical needs were often neglected for days at a time, which was frequently the reason for our visits. On multiple occasions I had reason to suspect that facilities were manipulating their documentation in order to maintain patients’ involuntary commitment status. (I only had limited interactions in my capacity as an EMT because we were only there when they called us.)
In those cases, the only way out of institutional abuse is for someone’s insurance to run out. What happens when M4A guarantees it never will?
Now, DSA’s fifth M4A demand – “job training/placement assistance for people currently employed by the private health insurance industry” – already looks beyond simply expanding insurance access. However, nothing in the campaign even implicitly critiques the process of healthcare provision itself.
Shouldn’t M4A call for healthcare workers and patients to exercise control over their facilities, rather than bureaucratic managers (either private or state-sector)?
Instead, M4A demands universal healthcare without those reforms. Sure, some individual supporters of M4A support them as well. But, M4A the campaign does not make reference to them. Neither DSA nor any other M4A organization is pushing for them, even in a non-M4A context. They aren’t part of the M4A package. Even if M4A is the first step on the road to a national healthcare system, that doesn’t address the issue – every one of these problems is embedded in government-run and nonprofit healthcare facilities, not just for-profit ones.
Is a “winning issue” so worth pursuing that there’s no need to address the key contradictions it contains (except with a jobs guarantee)? Socialism depends on leadership across differences, not lowest-common-denominator single-issue coalitions.
Every state belongs to a class. In medieval Europe, the state belonged to aristocratic landowners. In ancient Rome, it belonged to slave-owning patricians.
The US government belongs to the capitalists – that is, the owners of the physical and organizational machinery that workers use to create goods and services.
It doesn’t belong to them because politicians are corrupt. This isn’t a matter of “money in politics” – it’s the way the state itself is set up. No matter who holds office, the structure of the state means that it can’t help but enforce capitalist class rule. From the day-to-day activities of municipal civil servants to the highest levels of the Executive Branch, everything the government does in some way contributes to that task. It makes sure that contracts are enforced, infrastructure carries goods and services, markets operate smoothly, threats to private property are neutralized, and – above all – that workers keep going to work every day. The state uses force to defend the “public order” of capitalism; in practice, that also means white supremacy, empire, and patriarchy. It regulates businesses to protect the business class’s long-term stability. It runs social services to keep the working class healthy enough to be exploited. It allows radicals to participate in elections to pre-empt their inclination to build revolutionary institutions of their own. It grants concessions to movement demands to de-fang their revolutionary potential and coax them into patronage politics.
This is an inherently capitalist state. Changing that would mean completely redesigning and restructuring it, bottom to top, from the Constitution to common law to the bureaucracy. In other words, it would have to be smashed. A new system would have to be built in its place.
Revolutionary socialism, both Marxist and anarchist, begins by recognizing that. Government socialism begins by denying it. Government socialists, like conservatives and liberals, treat the government as a “public sphere.” Supposedly, it does (or at least could) belong to “the people” in general, not just the ruling class. It can act in the “general interest.” Socialism, therefore, just means more government! State universities are socialist. Roads and sewers are socialist. Parks are socialist. According to a few government socialists, the NSA, the NYPD, and the United States Marines are, too. And “universal public good” redistributive programs – like an expanded Medicare – are the most socialist things of all.
The problem, of course, is that the institutional machinery of the US government can’t be divorced from its role in defending white supremacy, imperialism, and the ruling class. To expand that machinery, even if it does some good in some people’s lives, necessarily strengthens those things.
It is one thing to set up a day care centre the way we want it, and demand that the State pay for it. It is quite another thing to deliver our children to the State and ask the State to control them, discipline them, teach them to honour the American flag not for five hours, but for fifteen or twenty-four hours. It is one thing to organise communally the way we want to eat (by ourselves, in groups, etc.) and then ask the State to pay for it, and it is the opposite thing to ask the State to organise our meals. In one case we regain some control over our lives, in the other we extend the State’s control over us.
Until the government disbanded it in 1954, the Communist Party ran a group called the International Workers Order. The IWO provided its nearly 200,000 members with health, dental, and life insurance, and its 19,000 branches ran clinics and summer camps of their own (all in addition to a wealth of cultural and educational activities). The Communists built it all during the Great Depression, when working-class people had far fewer resources than they do now. A generation later, the Black Panther Party and its allies followed the IWO’s lead, establishing clinics and social services of their own.
The state didn’t establish the IWO. It didn’t run the Panthers’ clinics. Revolutionaries created those services themselves. They operated them on their own terms, under their own control.
The point of socialism is mass power, in every sphere of life. It’s not a bigger federal government.
Therefore, we repeat, state ownership and control is not necessarily Socialism – if it were, then the Army, the Navy, the Police, the Judges, the Gaolers, the Informers, and the Hangmen, all would all be Socialist functionaries, as they are State officials – but the ownership by the State of all the land and materials for labour, combined with the co-operative control by the workers of such land and materials, would be Socialism.
Schemes of state and municipal ownership, if unaccompanied by this co-operative principle, are but schemes for the perfectioning of the mechanism of capitalist government-schemes to make the capitalist regime respectable and efficient for the purposes of the capitalist …
Address healthcare like any other issue: organize the workers in that industry. Use mutual-aid programs to grow revolutionary capacity. Government socialists claim that for something on the scale of healthcare, mutual aid just isn’t a workable approach. But even setting aside the IWO and other counter-examples, mutual aid is still more workable than M4A.
DSA has the numbers (if not the will) to launch an IWO-style mutual-aid health program. But do they think they’ll be able to win over the federal leadership of the Democratic Party – the same people who made sure that the most popular politician in the country lost his primary fight to one of the least popular, who couldn’t even stomach Keith Ellison as DNC chair, and who just spent eight years in office administering war and neoliberalism? What do they think the Democratic Party is?
Demonstrators flooded streets across the globe in public protests on Saturday, calling for action against gun violence. Hundreds of thousands of marchers turned out, in the most ambitious show of force yet from a student-driven movement that emerged after the recent massacre at a South Florida high school.
The student activists emphasized that they would soon have access to the ballot box as they hope to build support for candidates who support universal background checks and bans on assault-style weapons.
Any time a protest event receives significant media coverage, radical groups put out similar statements. Where does that impulse to endorse come from? Does responding in the same way every time obscure deeper differences between one self-declared “movement” and another?
What place should this “support” have in revolutionary strategy?
A political group employing an activist-networking approach is looking for a new campaign. They read the news to find “hot issues” that are being reported on in the media. Once they’ve determined the issue they want to agitate around, they look for an NGO they can “partner” with, providing warm bodies to show up at the NGO’s events and to help actuate the already-existing strategy of the NGO. Often this looks like showing up to City Hall or the state capitol, as part of a coalition of “the usual suspects,” to lobby legislators to support or oppose a particular bill, or showing up at a rally put on by the NGO in command of the campaign. Usually the passage of a law is the primary goal of these campaigns.
Maybe the group might try to recruit one or two participants from the action, but since most of these people are already organized and are members of one of the larger groups, only a handful of people are brought into the organization. As enthusiasm inevitably drains from the campaign in the face of setbacks, participation bleeds away, so the group ends up back at square one, or worse, end up with fewer people involved than they started with. At this point, groups usually cut their losses and look for the new “hot issue” of the day, thus repeating the cycle.
While their desire to support popular movements is well-meaning, activist leftists are basically ambulance chasers. When they see the media cover something politically exciting, their instinct is to show up offering “leadership” and “the socialist perspective.” Generally, no one takes them particularly seriously when they do. Why should they? The radicals have no pre-existing relationship with them and haven’t shown why they deserve anyone’s attention. So, the socialists’ efforts go nowhere. They lose a few people, pick up a few more, rinse, and repeat. They come to exist for the sake of existing rather than serving a particularly useful role. If an organization’s practice boils down to providing “boots on the ground” for “movement” nonprofits’ campaigns and rallies, why bother with the organization at all? Isn’t it easier to just work with the nonprofits directly? That’s why so few people in a given movement join any of the socialist organizations that try to involve themselves. When a group has made itself superfluous, people can tell. So, leftists continue to exist on the margins of the activist subculture, never realizing that they’ve no one but themselves to blame for their irrelevance.
You are always promoting your ideology to the people around you. That doesn’t mean you’re telling them your opinions. Ideology isn’t made of opinions. Rather, you’re teaching them through example what you actually consider important – and that’s what will determine their perception of radical politics. Ambulance chasing teaches that leftists are basically flaky: they make promises they can’t keep and don’t stick around after the news cycle moves on. People learn that socialism offers them nothing because your actions have taught them that it means talking big and not following through.
The March for Our Lives and the West Virginia teachers’ strike were fundamentally different phenomena.
Conversely, the teachers’ strike was collective action, not media spectacle. West Virginia’s unionized teachers, not Democratic fronts or politicians, organized it themselves. It was a non-symbolic, illegal strike. The point was not media coverage or Democratic voter turnout. The teachers wanted better pay and benefits, so they withheld their labor until they got it. They used their access to meaningful social and economic power to improve their lives. They didn’t have to trust Democratic candidates to keep their campaign promises. Collective action works because class struggle defines class society. But high-profile Democratic Party rallies, like the March for Our Lives and the Women’s March, ultimately only benefit the Party itself.
However, leftist conversations about the strike and the march mirrored each other closely. Are their demands sufficiently radical? How much criticism is too much? How can leftists help? In both cases, the Left offered its support reflexively because “organizing is good.” But there was a category difference between the events. Where was the corresponding category difference between left-wing responses to them?
Well, when you’re an ambulance chaser, you lack a meaningful social base. You act as a club for hobbyists within the protest scene who happen to prefer a socialist or anarchist brand to a liberal one. So, whether it’s a Democratic media event or an actual instance of class struggle, you find yourself on the outside looking in. In either case, your “support” consists of waving placards at demonstrations and publishing official statements until the news cycle moves on. Ideology is practice and for you, there is no practical difference. So, your ideology considers them equivalent. Anything that feels like mass politics is equally attractive, whether that feeling is just PR (as with the March for Our Lives or the Women’s March) or has a basis in something real (as with the West Virginia strike).
A crisis will only catalyze a well-formed communications network. If such networks are embryonically developed or only partially co-optable, the potentially active individuals in them must be linked together by someone . . . In other words, people must be organized. Social movements do not simply occur.
When a constituency mobilizes (whether it’s for a strike, a march, or a show at a nightclub), it’s not because all of the individuals involved just happened to show up at the same time. Just as a venue, sound equipment, etc have to be acquired and set up beforehand, attendance and participation have to be deliberately organized. When the West Virginia teachers struck, they did so through preexisting organizing networks: their union and a private Facebook group. When people attended the March for Our Lives, that was also done through preexisting networks: activist, religious, and campus-based groups went together as groups, and the march’s sponsors hired publicists to reach out to the unaffiliated. Similarly, the crowd at a show mobilizes through friendship networks of clubgoers, performers’ fan bases, and promoters’ advertising efforts.
The importance of organizing networks doesn’t mean that a constituency can’t act for itself on its own initiative, “from below.” Rather, an infrastructure of organizing networks is the means by which it’s able to do so. Leadership doesn’t impose itself from outside. It happens when people within those networks persuade others to act collectively. Distinct from leadership, organizing means constructing those networks in the first place.
Leftists often want to be leaders. They should instead prioritize being organizers. After all, by the time a strike or a rally is on TV, the participants don’t need radicals. They already have their organizing networks and their leadership within them. At that point, revolutionaries can express support in words, but from the point of view of the people mobilizing, they’re unnecessary. It makes perfect sense to ignore them. Then, when the leftists realize their efforts are getting no traction, why wouldn’t they move on to something else? So, radicals are always moving on. They never develop long-term political relationships or a stable base. That keeps them extraneous, marginal, and ineffective.
That’s the ambulance-chasing cycle. It needs to be broken.
Do you want to spread revolutionary ideas?
Remember what ideology is. It isn’t words – it’s a living, physical thing. It’s practice and what practice teaches. Don’t take words at face value, not even your own. The ideology you spread is the ideology you practice (whether you realize you’re practicing it or not).
Is a teachers’ strike important and exciting? Sure. Does that mean most leftists can participate in a meaningful way? By and large, no. They aren’t needed, so why should the strikers care what they have to say? Trying to piggyback on someone else’s organizing and leadership is opportunistic, and people can tell. So, they quite reasonably conclude that radicals are opportunists, not long-haul organizers. The same goes for events like the March for Our Lives (although the weakness of socialists at Democratic media spectacles is probably a good thing on balance. Leftists have no business supporting reactionary goals in the first place).
Being a revolutionary should mean, before anything else, building a revolutionary base. That means identifying a constituency in a neighborhood or industry and making a long-term commitment. Do you have even a small group of friends or fellow radicals interested in doing political work together? That’s enough to start! Go out and talk to people in your target constituency. Find out what their lives are like. What are their needs and aspirations? Then, come up with ideas for programs that tangibly address their lives, have a low barrier to entry (so that as many people as possible can participate), and that can grow your group’s membership and organizational capacity. Reach out – canvass, hold cookouts and potlucks, have public meetings for people to express their needs and views. Build organizing networks. Make promises and follow through. Win credibility. Then, in five or ten years, you’ll have a base of your own. You’ll have created the networks and you’ll have earned enough respect to provide leadership within them. You’ll be the ones putting together exciting mobilizations, and other groups will be the opportunists trying to tag along.
Working and unemployed people don’t need to be told they’re oppressed. They live it out every day – those from specially-oppressed demographics, even more so. But that doesn’t mean revolutionaries don’t have a central role to play! As feminist writer Jo Freeman says, “[P]eople must be organized. Social movements do not simply occur.”
No constituency automatically becomes a revolutionary base. Because liberalism and conservatism enjoy cultural hegemony – they’re so widely accepted that most people don’t realize there are alternatives – social movements tend to become conservative or liberal by default. But, if socialists, communists, and anarchists create the organizing networks through which a constituency can act collectively, then provide effective leadership within them, a movement can be revolutionary instead. Revolutionaries are just as capable of proving, through practice, the value of their ideology as conservatives and liberals. If that’s what your actions teach, that’s what people will learn.
But that means being more than “boots on the ground.” It means taking on the slow, patient work of knitting together a base, year by year, project by project. It means earning the ability to lead, not claiming to have it already.
And no amount of external “support” for the teachers’ strike, the March for Our Lives, or anything else can replace that.
When my partner and I walk down the sidewalk, we know people will sometimes shout that we’re “fuckin’ dykes.” When a straight couple goes out in public, they know they won’t get called “fuckin’ breeders” – they have that privilege.
Mainline social justice acknowledges that. It doesn’t pretend that straight and lesbian couples get treated equally, and it condemns the position of privilege enjoyed by heterosexuals relative to LGBT people. However, recognizing the need to end something is only half of a political position – you also need a way to make that change happen.
Social justice promises just that. Its strategy against not just straight privilege, but privilege in general has two prongs: anti-discrimination legislation on the one hand, and individuals changing their conduct on the other. People need to own up to their privilege; then, they must relinquish it.
Now, that implies more than it says. This analysis begins with the experiences of individuals: this couple faces street harassment, that one doesn’t. Then, it generalizes those experiences to larger social groups (Black people, men, bisexuals, and so on). However, it never lets go of its initial individualistic assumptions – the experiences of a group are the experiences believed to be shared by its members.
From there, “opting out” follows logically. Is oppression about individuals being treated unequally because of their demographic position? If so, anti-oppression means working towards equal treatment. Is privilege is the sum of many individual acts of oppression (stacked, like the hierarchy of needs, from microaggressions all the way up to genocide)? Then ending those acts ends privilege. Some can be outlawed (hate violence, for instance). For others, though, you have to convince people to change their behavior. You couldn’t feasibly have a law against not taking women’s opinions seriously, for instance.
So, those with privilege must give it up. Not making use of it seems a reasonable starting point. The article quoted above, for instance, gives as an example not attending a conference that refuses to accommodate wheelchair users. You “opt out” of the benefits, and privilege weakens. To stop privilege, stop participating in it.
In practice, though, that doesn’t work.
But doesn’t fewer people taking advantage of privilege mean fewer people reinforcing it? Even if “opting out” isn’t sufficient by itself, isn’t it a necessary tool?
On the ground, “opting out” fails for two reasons:
“Opting out” is undesirable. When anti-oppression types say “privilege,” what concrete things are they talking about? Sometimes, they mean getting away with things no one should do – committing sexual assault with impunity, for instance. At least as often, though, they mean less-privileged people not getting to do neutral or positive things that the privileged take for granted – not acts of violence, but things that everyone should be able to do. My partner and I risk homophobic harassment when we go outside. Straight couples don’t. Should they “opt out” of leaving the house? After all, they can do so without being bothered by homophobes – that’s privilege. “Opting out” would mean never stepping out of their front door.
“Opting out” is impossible. My partner and I don’t choose to be harassed. Straight people don’t choose not to be. When some people get treated better than others, is it because they somehow control how strangers behave towards them? Should a straight couple say to everyone who walks by, “I know we’re heterosexual, but please treat us no differently than you’d treat lesbians”? If they did, would a homophobe answer, “Oh, happy to oblige! You damn dykes”? If individuals could just will these structures out of their lives (as “opting out” implies), this whole system would have died a long time ago. But that’s not how it works. The social order precedes and transcends the individuals within it.
But if “opting out” is impossible, why does the idea persist?
Well, social justice’s individualism allows for no other conclusion. If privilege boils down to individual actions and individual experiences, then individual choices must be both the problem and the answer. Sure, social justice pays lip service to “structural issues” and “systemic oppression.” But the nitty-gritty of what it means by that always falls back on individual complicity. How “systemic” can a critique be when it doesn’t acknowledge that social organization is more than the sum of the individuals inside it? If “structural” oppression just means that every member of a better-off group is individually complicit in their privilege, doesn’t that reduce oppression to “bad apples?” The bad apples may number in the tens or hundreds of millions, but the essence is still there – the problem is rotten people making rotten choices. It’s still about each person’s individual moral failure. However, there is no mechanism by which you can stop being complicit. So, for social justice, there is no solution. There’s only condemnation without end.
Luckily, though, this framework doesn’t line up with reality. Oppression isn’t the sum of millions of immoral decisions. Liberation is possible. But, it takes something that social justice hates even more than privilege.
Only when men see our work as work-our love as work-and most important our determination to refuse both, will they change their attitude towards us. When hundreds and thousands of women are in the streets saying that endless cleaning, being always emotionally available, fucking at command for fear of losing our jobs is hard, hated work which wastes our lives, then they will be scared and feel undermined as men.
But this is the best thing that can happen from their own point of view, because by exposing the way capital has kept us divided (capital has disciplined them through us and us through them-each other, against each other), we – their crutches, their slaves, their chains – open the process of their liberation.
Privilege leads to unequal treatment, but that’s not where it comes from.
Capitalism involves more than fast-food chains and stock exchanges. It’s an all-encompassing division of labor. Every single task through which humanity continues to exist gets parceled out to one group or another. That’s the material basis of social categories that, at first glance, look either natural or merely cultural.
Social justice will never realize that. Why should it? The activist subculture is mostly middle-class, not working-class. So, it reflects middle-class ideas and middle-class interests.
Do middle-class and ruling-class men and whites have a long-term stake in abolishing their own privilege? No – it gives them an unambiguous competitive advantage in the professions, management, and business. Why else do middle-class people from less-privileged demographics frame their politics in terms of unjust disparities and ethical imperatives? Without a shared material stake in ending privilege, moral self-sacrifice is all that’s left.
Middle-class and ruling-class reformers, though, find themselves in a contradictory position. On the one hand, lacking privilege makes their lives tangibly worse. But on the other, their class position depends on the continued existence of privilege, because the capitalist division of labor depends on it and they depend on capitalism.
So, they end up with equally-contradictory politics. Social justice has no way out.
On more than one occasion, Black workers have forced the employer to open a new job area to them, only to run up against the rigid opposition of white workers.
White revolutionaries must understand, and help the masses of white workers to understand, that the interests of the entire working class can only be served by standing firmly with the Black workers in such cases.
Does that mean that privilege will never go away? If social justice can’t overcome oppression, what can?
Internal divisions notwithstanding, the working class as a whole carries out all of the tasks of human existence. Without workers, there is nothing. But, the working class doesn’t decide the way in which it does that labor. The ruling class of capitalists does – the investors, executives, and business owners who control the physical and social infrastructure through which all work happens (the “means of production“).
Capitalists dictate the social order and exploit the working class, accumulating wealth at workers’ expense. The working class has the ability to overthrow capitalism (since capitalists need workers, but workers don’t need capitalists). It also has an interest in doing so – replacing it with a system in which workers (paid and unpaid) control everything. Obviously, capitalists have good reason to oppose that. So, whenever workers try to collectively pursue their interests, the ruling class opposes them however it can. That ranges from shaping “common sense” to relying on state violence.
The division of labor within the working class both creates and relies on privilege. In doing so, it makes it harder for the working class to effectively struggle against its oppressors. Privileged workers are less likely to side with the rest of their class because, due to privilege, they’re comparatively better off. But, that’s only a short-term interest. In the long term, their interests are the same as other workers’.
So, there’s a material basis for workers to come together and organize against the ruling class – and when they do so, specifically fighting against privilege is ultimately good for them all, even if some are benefitting from privilege at the moment. But, to make that happen, working-class politics has to focus on the long-term goal of ending capitalism and exploitation. It needs the analysis that your privilege here and now is the enemy of your liberation in the future. In other words, if it sticks to “achievable” short-term reforms, it can’t effectively do that because it’s dropped the long-term aim. After all, you can’t focus on long-term interests if you don’t acknowledge them. Moderate socialism isn’t any more useful against privilege than social justice.
What can end privilege?
Individuals can’t “opt out” of privilege because privilege isn’t individual. It’s built into the class system itself. To get rid of it, get rid of class.
But social justice is scared of that conclusion. Its social base is upper-class and middle-class – they’re either at the top of the pyramid or close enough to imagine themselves getting there. They need the class system, but the class system needs privilege.
Fortunately, abolishing privilege doesn’t depend on them. The working class can do it. No one else can. So, if you really want to see the end of privilege, don’t listen to social justice. Build institutions of working-class power.
Back in the 70s, radical feminists had a saying:
There are no individual solutions to social problems.
Privilege is a social problem. You can’t “opt out” of it. So, stop looking for individual solutions.
A statement written by friends and endorsed by people in Tunisia.
Below is a letter written by freedom of information activists which aims to broaden our network of resistance against class oppression and State violence. Tunisia has been seen by the West as an Arab Spring success-story, after the 2011 revolution that brought an end to the country’s dictatorial regime. Since then, the country has been on a road towards ‘Democracy’ that has exposed a whole new breed of brutality, one which lies beneath this so-called new-found ‘freedom’. Unemployment, sky-rocketing price of food, police brutality, concentrated wealth and power are some examples of the obstacles Tunisian people have faced in the past 7 years. [TW: violence] Poverty has literally lead people in Tunisia to set themselves on fire. All of this after even winning a Nobel Peace Prize for Democracy-building efforts. What kind of “peace” is this? Perhaps a Western capitalist neoliberal perspective of it. The systems of oppression that cause these atrocities engulf all of us, all over the world. Far reaching solidarity is crucial, and this is why we want to share this with you. Alerta!
Friends from all over the world stand in solidarity with the People of Tunisia. We demand that the Tunisian security services immediately release any remaining political prisoners and drop all criminal charges against demonstrators. The Government of Tunisia must respect the People’s right to free expression. The Government of Tunisia must immediately reverse all austerity measures. We, friends from all over the world, will accept nothing less.
Due to pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Government of Tunisia has passed tax increases and austerity measures on January 1, 2018. The People of Tunisia have taken to the streets to demand their dignity and to protest this oppression. In response, the Tunisian security services have beaten and tear-gassed the people wishing to exercise their right to free expression. The Tunisian security services have arrested and brought criminal charges against more than 700 people.
On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself in petrol and lit a match. Bouazizi later died from his injuries. Earlier in the morning, a local government official harassed Bouazizi for a bribe. The local government official claimed that selling fruit and vegetables required a permit, which was a lie. Unable to pay the bribe, the local government official had Bouazizi assaulted and had his produce cart confiscated. The people took to the streets to protest the corrupt government and to demand their dignity. On January 14, 2011, the dictator of Tunisia, Ben Ali, fled to the country. In Tunisia, this is known as the Dignity Revolution.
The People of Tunisia continue their struggle for dignity, and it is our duty to stand with them in solidarity!
We pledge love, mutual aid, and solidarity with the People of Tunisia. More people are needed to translate statements and videos from Tunisian Arabic into other languages used around the world. Please share and republish this statement of solidarity.
Last month, a town near me saw its first May Day rally in decades. Because “working class” means more than “blue-collar white men,” the organizers invited me to talk about disability and other speakers to address white supremacy, climate justice, and patriarchy.
My speech observed that the paid work of formally-employed workers and the unpaid work of unemployed workers (housework, childcare, social and emotional support, etc) depend on each other. Society can’t run with just one of them. They’re like a nail and a hammer: without both, you can’t build a thing. Disabled and abled workers are both part of that reciprocal process, including disabled people who will never have access to paid work. But under capitalism, the ruling business-ownership class controls the economy, government, and culture. So, no one but them has meaningful social power, even though society only exists because of our collective labor (paid and unpaid). Therefore, we share an interest in doing away with the current system. Sticking up for each of us is in the enlightened self-interest of all of us. We don’t need moralistic notions of allyship – we need to fight for each other, together, because otherwise only the ruling class wins.
Before May 1, the organizers needed a speaker bio. I didn’t hesitate to talk about my political work, but I agonized about whether to mention that I’m autistic. I didn’t believe that simply being disabled qualified me to speak. I thought that my knowledge of the issues and on-the-ground political practice did. However, I intended to say that disabled and abled workers ultimately have exactly the same interests and that neither has meaningful social power. So, I finally did disclose my disability. After all, I was criticizing the basic assumption of most social justice disability politics: that all abled people benefit from the oppression of disabled people and, therefore, are complicit in it. If I hadn’t announced my autism, I could have exposed the event to accusations of booking an abled Marxist to “ablesplain.”
As it happened, my speech was well-received. The crowd wasn’t the typical activist scene; nearly everyone there was from either the AFL-CIO, the Industrial Workers of the World, or a local, independent farmworkers union. However, based on past experience, a less unusual “anti-oppression” crowd (say, college student activists) would likely not have been so receptive. In situations like that, I’ve noticed three typical responses:
The audience ignores the content and responds as though it had been the standard social justice position.
The audience reflexively defers to the critique on the basis of the speaker’s identity – and instead of actually engaging with the substance, confesses their own privilege while changing neither their ideas nor their practice.
You may notice a pattern there. While those committed to allyship-model politics may talk about taking marginalized voices seriously, in practice there’s not much room for anyone, regardless of identity, to dispute their basic political assumptions.
The credibility they grant ostensibly on the basis of identity actually depends on political agreement. They might say “disabled people are telling us to check our privilege and understand our complicity in ableism,” but disabled people who don’t say that tend to get brushed over or called out.
Now, that in itself isn’t necessarily a problem. Defending opinions one agrees with and attacking other views is just part of what it means to take ideas seriously – it’s legitimate and necessary for any sort of politics. But why, then, frame it in terms of who is talking rather than what they’re saying? It’s empirically untrue that all members of a given identity group have basically the same politics. Why does social justice talk as though they do?
Disclosing my autism gave some cover to the rally’s organizers. But, I could have gone further.
Broadly speaking, social justice says that being disabled should be the main qualification to talk about disability. Even so, I could have boosted my credibility further by claiming additional marginalized identities. For instance, “autistic person” carries less intersectional weight than “autistic nonbinary trans woman.” For the subculture, more marginality means more right to speak – at least on the surface.
But for social justice, there’s more to identity than just the identities people have. “Autistic nonbinary trans woman” might give my words more intersectional force than “autistic,” but “autistic nonbinary trans woman who has survived rape and abuse” carries me substantially further. That ought to sound pretty strange – after all, having been raped isn’t an identity. Every identity group has some members who have been raped. It’s an experience, not an attribute.
Identity and privilege, though, tend to get framed almost exclusively in terms of “lived experience.” For instance, non-men are often assumed to understand patriarchy in ways men simply can’t because of their fundamentally different lived experiences. The line between what you are and what you’ve been through starts to melt away. But why should that be? What puts “being a woman,” or “being disabled,” in the same category as “having been abused by a partner?” What’s the common thread between a specific act of violence and an identity that’s there throughout your entire social existence?
Perhaps the social justice subculture doesn’t actually care about identity. It cares about suffering.
“Oh, baby, don’t you have a story? Of abjection, ruin, despair? Did you lose a child? A lover? Were you not raped? Beaten? Oppressed? How could you possibly go through all that and not confess, confess, confess? How can we possibly think of you as real if you don’t confess? No tragic dramas? Make them up! But, always: Confess and Reveal.”
In the US, like the rest of the world, most people are in the (paid and unpaid) working class. The social justice subculture, though, is different.
It’s rooted in cultural studies classrooms, student clubs, Facebook cliques, Democrat-in-practice “non-partisan” nonprofits, and the recent graduates that fill out the scene. While working-class people can be found as individual participants, it’s the professional-managerial class that holds (sub)cultural hegemony: its ideas, interests, and preferences dictate the entire community’s priorities and beliefs. And like the rest of the professional-managerial class, the “anti-oppression community” is richer, whiter, and more privileged in general than the working class.
When marginalized people suffer in public for a social justice audience, not everyone watching is very privileged. However, as a rule the allies far outnumber the self-advocates (hence the preoccupation with allyship and privilege over liberation and strategy in the first place). So, when the subculture proclaims the pain of the oppressed, the point isn’t to “amplify and normalize marginalized voices.” It’s a performance with a very particular purpose. The social justice subculture exploits oppressed people’s pain to prove to its members that their politics are moral.
On May Day, why did I resent having to foreground my disability? I wasn’t ashamed of being autistic. I just hated the thought of being a prop. I don’t want the subculture to use my suffering as Exhibit A to prove how right their beliefs are (especially since I think many of their beliefs aren’t right at all).
“We do not advocate exhorting white workers on an individual basis to give up their privileged status. What we do advocate is promoting vigorous struggle with the ruling class with equality at the forefront and to articulate the lessons of these struggles.”
There’s another agenda in play. The professional-managerial class doesn’t want to lose control of progressive politics. We will have to force it to, because otherwise the working class will keep losing. Working-class power is the soul of any Left worth the name. But the social justice subculture doesn’t want revolution – it wants self-congratulation. Paradoxically, that goal is served by its fixation on suffering, privilege, and personal complicity in larger social systems. When “anti-oppression” activists self-flagellate, they create a nearly Protestant sense of collective morality. You want grace? Admit your sin. You want validation? Admit your complicity, your privilege.
Thankfully, their underlying beliefs aren’t true. The ability to change society comes from the latent power of the people who create society (and everything in it): the working class, paid and unpaid. We can only free ourselves by getting rid of the ruling class. Now, for anyone who wants working-class unity, privilege isn’t a useless idea. In fact, it’s vital. Male, white, abled, and otherwise-privileged members of our class are materially less exploited than other workers. They receive tangible and intangible benefits that set them apart from the rest of the class. Working-class unity doesn’t just drop out of nowhere. It has to be knit together, thread by thread, struggle by struggle. Unless fighting privilege and class-based organizing happen through and alongside each other, we will defeat neither capitalism nor privilege. Privilege is part of the class system. It doesn’t float around somewhere in the ether; nothing under capitalism is outside capitalism. Revolutionaries who ignore it can only fail. In a white supremacist and deeply patriarchal society like the US, cultural and material privilege does more to destroy working-class unity than anything else, and avoiding the issue doesn’t make class-based organizing easier. It makes it impossible.
However, the social justice subculture has no useful role in that work. It doesn’t actually break down privilege within the working class. That would mean helping privileged workers understand that opposing their privilege is not self-sacrifice but enlightened self-interest, and proving it through the experience of class struggle. But the subculture prefers to dismiss (or even attack) the working class, while acting as though privilege is a law of nature instead of something we can abolish. The trope that “working class” is a euphemism for “white men who think they’re not privileged” is not honest analysis. It’s psychological projection – the social justice milieu is irredeemably by and for the professional-managerial class, which is disproportionately white and male. We should reject it as such.