Submitted to It’s Going Down
As we deal with the reality of the Trump presidency and the reactionary forces that are gathering, let’s keep in mind the lessons of generations of revolutionaries before us–their victories and successes, but also their defeats and failures. Let us not try to simply repeat their efforts, but build on them and adapt their ideas and methods for our time and place. We need to go into this moment with open minds but firm convictions, limitless patience but uncompromising militancy, and a practical vision but not a rigid blueprint for the future.
It’s possible Trump’s presidency represents a partial defeat of neoliberalism by reactionary forces, as proven by Clinton and Obama’s immediate capitulation and collaboration. But it’s also possible that the neoliberal establishment will neutralize Trump, which could lead to disillusionment amongst his base. Such disillusionment could result in the increased autonomy and militancy from the potentially insurgent grassroots right, and an embrace of much more overtly fascist politics. This will defeat the left if we keep our fight within the limits of “mainstream” respectability and appeal solely to the moral aspects of anti-racism.
However, the right does not have a monopoly on opposition to neoliberalism–historically that opposition has been from the left. Clinton’s defeat speaks primarily to the Democratic party’s refusal or inability to read the writing on the walls–in a moment when millions of people are willing to break with the neoliberal status quo, Clinton was running a status quo campaign to continue Obama’s legacy of austerity, deportations, and war. Her insistence that “America is already great” fell flat because material conditions have been deteriorating for the entire working class and Black and Brown workers particularly. The popularity of the Bernie campaign points to an opportunity for the left: if Trump fails to deliver on his promises to defeat neoliberalism, a significant portion of his base could break to the left, but only if the left is able to present real alternatives that speak to their reality.
The task for the revolutionary left in this time is to take the skills and organizations we have built during the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements and double down on organizing. We must move past “calling out” racism, sexism, etc., and build the projects, organizations, and movements that can defeat them. Yes, we must absolutely go out into the streets, but our protests need to be more than generalized expressions of collective rage and grief; they must target the very functioning of the system that seeks to destroy us. Crucially, we should also be laying the groundwork for concrete organizing projects designed to move past protest and start building power from the bottom up. Protest alone–even militant, focused, and strategic protest–is a dead end if we don’t build an infrastructure of resistance to sustain our movements and communities in the long term.
These projects must be based on defense from the coming right-wing attacks and building and sustaining a force capable of winning. We need to think about how these projects:
- Prefigure a new society and new ways of relating to one another
- Attack white supremacy
- Build a feminist praxis
- Push the boundaries of revolutionary political organizing.
This means we have to ask ourselves if our political work creates a space where people engage with each other outside of capitalist social relations (i.e. wages; property relations; buying/selling transactions; competing for power or scarce resources) as much as possible? Does it help meet the daily material needs of the people doing the work and the people around them? Does it allow free expression of their collective, creative energy?
Does our work subvert the image of the cross-class unity that is whiteness? The example of the Underground Railroad comes to mind – Black and white revolutionaries working together to materially undermine the racial order of the day. Today that might look like multiracial resistance to ICE deportations, or movements to aid and liberate prisoners struggling on the inside, such as the Free Alabama Movement (FAM). In addition to recognizing the leadership of women and queer comrades, how are we helping produce new feminist social relations and rooting out patriarchy and machismo in our organizing? Is our work developing new tactics and strategies that can be replicated and that open up new opportunities for others to also organize and act?
Organizing to destroy white supremacy requires a few different angles of attack. One is to help build to the strength and autonomy of Black led revolutionary organizations and campaigns. However, respecting the leadership of Black organizations does not mean being uncritical, or that whites must only organize whites to be anti-racist. To do so would be dishonest and condescending, and proselytizing to whites is unlikely to win their meaningful allegiance from a system they materially benefit under. Instead, revolutionary organizations should focus their attacks on institutions that are the main pillars of white supremacy: police, ICE, and prisons are obvious targets. The work of groups like the IWW’s Incarcerated Workers’ Organizing Committee (IWOC), Pennsylvania’s Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration, and Durham, NC’s Inside-Outside Alliance stand out for building coalitions both inside and outside prison walls to resist the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration.
As for the police, it is time to move beyond copwatching. Copwatch is too passive of a strategy, and the past two and a half years has shown Black people are willing to go further than just filming the police. The idea has also become so popularized and accessible due to smart phones that it would be nostalgic and out of touch to create a specific organization to do what everyone already does. A Rapid Response Network designed to mobilize a community against police repression and bring it together to solve its own problems has the potential to surpass both Copwatch and “Black community control of the police” as a strategy to not just combat police brutality, but also to build creative counter institutions to the police. It can fulfill the need for community safety and conflict resolution without resort to armed occupiers. Such a network applies the model of more traditional “solidarity networks” to anti-police struggles. Other solidarity networks, like the Seattle Solidarity Network, that organize around tenant and wage-theft struggles–often seen as race-neutral–must prioritize the racialized aspects of their work in the spirit of uniting participants against the particular oppression that Black and other people of color workers face. Small examples of this Rapid Response strategy exist in the #LetUsBreathe Collective and Take Back the Bronx creating temporary police-free zones in Chicago and New York City respectively. A useful resource for those interested in this type of work is the website aworldwithoutpolice.org.
In addition to attacking the physical institutions that maintain white supremacy, we must break down the political basis of white unity. The “Hard Crackers” journal wrote that “the alliance between a real-estate tycoon and people who live in shacks and trailer parks is unstable and cannot endure.” It will not be broken by winning converts through well written think pieces but by consistently mobilizing revolutionary organizations and working people against systems and institutions that attack people of color. This means simply that our actions will speak louder than our words. Instead of trying first to convert masses of working class whites to the idea of anti-racism, we should focus our efforts on attacking the institutions that make racism beneficial to them, or at the very least hampering the ability of those institutions to function effectively. We must change the actual conditions of people before winning their hearts and minds.
A major obstacle is the non-profit industrial complex. A phenomenon we saw in the Black Lives Matter movement (and even before) is the professionalization of activism in the form of non-profits. Using the language of struggle but funded by the foundations of the rich, comfortable, and conservative, these groups have nearly monopolized activist scenes in some major cities. Many of these non-profits are staffed by committed, principled organizers but the model is a major handicap to the self-organization of the Black working class. The non-profits become unwitting agents of neoliberalism as they take on more of the functions of the old welfare state as it succumbs to austerity. They effectively recuperate explosions of self-activity into established and often bureaucratic forms of struggle. Due to their funding and ability to recruit some of the best organizers, it will not be easy to out-organize them. A large part of defeating non-profits will be providing a solid ideological alternative that can actually achieve better results.
The long and short of it is get to work. Find a group that is doing work that builds grassroots revolutionary power and join them. Insist that all work is done from the point of view of attacking white supremacy. If you can’t find one, build one. Make concrete activity (not just protests, marches, meetings, etc) the priority, but don’t completely ignore political education either. Organizations already in struggle should establish direct communication and principled collaboration. It will be messy work and we will sometimes fail, but the risks of not trying are even greater.
Know your history. Dream the future. Organize your people. Fight to win.