Revolutionary Strategy or Stagism
by Wayne Price, Open City Anarchist Collective (NEFAC-NYC)
Wooden, crude, workerists (of the mechanical Marxist or anarcho-syndicalist varieties) have advocated a two-stage theory: First a working class revolution is won, and then, second, racial issues are solved. BTR proposes a similarly wooden two-stage approach (the same thing upside down): First white supremacy is overthrown, and then, second, there is class unity which leads to a socialist revolution. Both of these stagist approaches are mechanical and unreal. In real life, issues are too intertwined and overlapping to be so split up into stages. Racism supports class exploitation and class exploitation creates racism - and both are supported by the oppression of women, and by other issues such as the destruction of the ecology.
That white workers have relative privileges compared to workers of color is true. But it is only half the truth. An analysis based only on this fact is completely misleading. It implies an inaccurate South African apartheid model for North America. In South Africa, a minority of the working class is white. Under legal apartheid, its main role was to support the white capitalists against the majority of African workers, whom it could be said to "police". In return, it got specific privileges, such as virtually full employment.
Statistically speaking, in North America - and even just in the U.S. - the majority of the industrial working class happens to be European-American. White workers produce most of the surplus value pumped out of the North American working class. They include most of the very poor, most of the homeless, and most of those on welfare. They suffer most of the industrial accidents. None of which denies that African-American and Hispanic people are disproportionately among the most exploited sections of the working class.
To imply that the main role of the white workers is "to police the rest of the population" is completely wrong. The main role of the white workers, just like non-white workers, is to be exploited by the capitalist class. The so-called privileges of the white workers amount to being relatively less exploited, and less oppressed, than Black or Hispanic workers. But they remain exploited and oppressed.
The bloc between the white workers and the capitalist class has been a major obstacle to the creation of an independent working class movement - as has been pointed out by many theorists. Due to its origins as a settler society, the U.S. in particular has been deeply affected by racism, extreme individualism, unconcern for the environment, and macho sexism. All these lead to a lack of class identification - unlike, to a large degree, the workers of Western Europe - and to a willingness to identify with its rulers.
The key question is whether this has been good or bad for the white workers. The political tendency which produced BTR has held that this white unity has been good for the white workers -- at least within the limits of capitalism (obviously it has been bad in that it has prevented us from reaching the delights of socialism). This position is implied in BTR by only mentioning the so-called privileges of the white workers. Of course, each privilege in itself is a benefit. But the gains must be balanced by the losses. A racially-divided working class has been unable to force larger gains from the ruling class, gains which are taken for granted in Western Europe. The U.S. working class has been unable to win nationalized health care, public child care, month-long vacations, guaranteed pensions, real rights to form unions, job security, and other benefits taken for granted in Europe and, to some extent, in Canada. The U.S. has the lowest rate of unionization of any industrialized capitalist democracy -now less than 9 % in private industry. All this is directly connected to racial division within the working class.
Empirically, the worst-off white workers in the U.S. are in the South, the most racist part of the country. U.S. white workers are worse off than Canadian workers. North American workers are worse off than Western European workers. So to focus only on the relative privileges of the white workers is to miss the most important effect of white supremacy.
Our analysis of the effects of white supremacy affects our strategy to overcome it. The fight against racism would be very difficult if the main effect of racism is to make life easier for the white workers. How are we to persuade the white workers to give up those privileges? The only possible appeal is a moral one, appealing to their sense of guilt (if any) and to the values of democracy and religion. This is a tough row to hoe. The implications are authoritarian - that the white workers may have to be forced to give up their privileges. Otherwise, how will they be gotten to give up the benefits they provide for their families? Those who invented this theory (Noel Ignatiev and the Sojourner Truth Organization) were Maoists at the time (that is, a variety of Stalinist). They had no problem in advocating a revolutionary dictatorship over the white majority of North America. However, this strategy does not fit in with anarchism.
An anti-racist appeal is easier (if still hard) if it is in the self-interest of the white workers. Morality always goes further when it is merged with self-interest. A libertarian-democratic society is possible today because there is a working class in whose interest it is to overthrow all forms of oppression and to create a free, humanistic, and cooperative world.
The possibility of a more holistic approach is suggested in the BTR's section on feminism. Logically, feminism does not fit in with a sole focus on overthrowing racism. But, for reasons which can be guessed at, the document calls for "feminist political work...that connect[s] struggles against sexism with struggles against white supremacy". Why not union work which connects struggles against sexism with struggles against white supremacy and against capitalism? Why not struggles against white supremacy which connect with struggles against sexism? A holistic class struggle approach would attempt to integrate all struggles against oppression with the overall struggle against racist-patriarchal capitalism and its state.
Differences Of Strategy and Organization
by Nicolas Phebus, La Nuit (NEFAC-Quebec City)
In the beginning, I was happy to see the Bring On The Ruckus (BTR) position paper, as it seemed to be a solid proposal and there are many political similarities I personally share with them. However, in the course of a debate that a few NEFAC members had with them on a list aimed to build a North American Revolutionary Anarchist Federation (NARAF), I realized that we disagree on a number of key points (plus, their approach seems to be one of "all or nothing" so it's hard to debate with them).
So, I have several problems with the Ruckus proposal and I think there are several important differences between NEFAC and the BTR project.
THERE IS A THEORETICAL AND PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE ON THE LEVEL OF ORGANIZATION
The Ruckus Collective wants to build a continental (or US national) federation while we want to build regional federations first. That's a problem, but only a minor one. Of course, as their politics are really US-centered, I don't think a continental federation will ever work. However, that is not the main problem; rather, it is BTR arguments for a cadre organization that is much more problematic in my opinion.
For those who don't know, "the cadre, as a political idea, gained currency and eventually institutional standing in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), during the ascendancy of Lenin at the beginning of this century. It was originally a military term used in the bourgeois armies of the day. It denoted an officer rank with professional and permanent status around which an effective army could be built. Lenin in his characteristically imaginative way borrowed it for use in the "class war". The aim of the cadre in political change does not differ substantially from its military origins. Essentially that aim is to solidify and expedite organizational growth around a given set of ideas. The cadre is then, by definition, an organizational framework or tool. Secondly, by definition, the cadre always pre-supposes a non-cadre level or, more generously, a cadre-elect." [Kevin Doyle, WSM]
The problem I see with the idea of the cadre (and to a lesser extent with the idea of the "organizer" put forward by our American comrades) is that it is not libertarian. It might build an efficient organization but it cannot build a libertarian revolution. A libertarian revolution would require an autonomous mass movement able to debate, self-manage itself and develop it's own politics. This is not what happens with cadre-style organizing.
BTR claims that "the purpose of a revolutionary organization is to act as a cadre group that develops politics and strategies that contribute to mass movements toward a free society". So, as you see the idea is not to try to develop the autonomy necessary within social movements so that the movements themselves develop their own politics and strategies. There's a contradiction in the BTR proposal because at the same time they say they don't want to control the movements and that they want members to be "dedicated to developing its [the movements] autonomous revolutionary potential". But then, if that's the case, why say that a "cadre group should debate those politics and strategies that best imagine and lead to a free society and then fight to enact them in mass-oriented organizations and movements".
My problem is that implicit in this theory is that mass organizations do not have political autonomy and that the average worker is too dumb to develop politics. I say, and it is also the majority position in NEFAC, that the role of the revolutionary organization is to develop autonomy of social movements rather than think in their place. Of course, we must agitate for our idea and lead the battle of ideas, but as members of the class not as outside agitators. We want people to think for themselves, not to force down their throat our oh-so perfect ideas.
BTR claims that we "need to forge a path between the Leninist vanguard party favored by traditional Marxist parties and the loose "network" model of organizing favored by many anarchists and activists today". I think we all agree on this. However, while NEFAC has chosen a platformist federation model, BTR has chosen a cadre; they are not the same thing, whether we like it or not.
While both BTR and NEFAC agree we need a strategy in order to win, the two groups obviously have different revolutionary strategy.
For BTR, "the glue that has kept the American state together has been white supremacy; melting that glue creates revolutionary possibilities" and so "the proposed organization's priority should be to destroy white supremacy". To do this, Ruckus argue that "the central task of a new organization should be to break up this unholy alliance between the ruling class and the white working class by attacking the system of white privilege and the subordination of people of color".
On the other hand, NEFAC believes that the central feature of Canada and the United States is not so much that they are racist or settler societies (which they are), but that they are class societies. We also think that the only ones who have the power to change society and build a libertarian society are the workers. The central aim of our strategy is to build a class force. While we agree that white supremacy is one of the central obstacles to building such a class force, we don't think it is the only one (not even the main one in the case of Quebec). We think we must confront all of the obstacles head-on and build a class alliance on the basis of the needs and interests of the most exploited sectors (which obviously includes people of color in the US). Instead of focusing on racism or sexism (or any other 'ism') we would argue that the struggles with the most subversive potential are those where oppression meet and where people coming from different backgrounds end up having the same interests. That's why we focus on housing, gentrification, poverty and workplace struggles.
We already had this debate with BTR, those that want to see the end result on our side can read "Where Do We Go Now? Towards a Fresh Revolutionary Strategy."