Listen to the Episode — 71 min
Alanis: The Ex-worker;
Clara: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Alanis: A podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Alanis: Hey, everyone! Welcome back to the Ex-Worker.
Clara: This week marked the one-year anniversary of the murder of Mike Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Throughout the past year, we’ve seen a shift in how people respond to police killings, but for all the attention police violence is receiving, police haven’t slowed down. In this episode we’ll pick back up the discussion we began back in episode 32 – namely, attempting to answer the question “how come police can kill with impunity?” – by situating these discussions within the deeply racist historical context of the United States.
Alanis: We’ll also share some material from a recent CrimethInc. feature titled “Next Time It Explodes,” which puts the Ferguson uprisings in a broader economic and racial context, and assesses what’s at stake as the tensions around racism and police violence continue to rise.
Clara: And, of course, international news updates, listener feedback, and more. I’m Clara…
Alanis: And I’m Alanis, and we’ll be your guides through these murky waters.
Clara: If you want to hear past episodes, access a transcript of today’s episode, or get more information about anything we’ve covered, visit our website at crimethinc dot com slash podcast.
Alanis: And, if you need to get in touch with questions or to request a topic for a future episode, you can email us at podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Clara: I guess that’s it, so let’s get started.
THE HOT WIRE
Clara: First, it’s the Hot Wire, our look at resistance and revolt happening around the globe. Alanis?
Alanis: As you might imagine, protests took place in cities across the U.S. on and around the anniversary of Mike Brown’s murder by former Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson. In today’s theme segment, we’ll be examining some of the broader questions we’ve been faced with in the year since the murder, but to start things off here’s a rundown of what’s been going on in the last few weeks:
Clara: A state of emergency was declared in Ferguson following armed clashes that broke out on the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder. Police arrested over 100 people, and also shot and critically wounded 19-year-old Tyrone Harris, Jr., who is a high-school friend of Mike Brown.
Alanis: New York City’s #BlackLivesMatter movement shut it down on August 9 with three different actions in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including a rally at the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, a march that began in Harlem and made its way to the Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, and a third rally in Union Square, where families affected by police murder gave moving speeches.
Clara: Marchers also took the streets in Denver, Memphis, St. Petersburg, Milwaukee, Chicago, Baltimore, Toronto, and Arlington, Texas.
Alanis: In the wake of this protesting, sales of LRAD military weapons are going well, with orders rolling in from not only Chinese government agencies and the U.S. navy, but increasingly from American law enforcement. LRAD manufactures an acoustic cannon that can be used either as a mounted loudspeaker or as a weapon to fire deafening noises at crowds of people. Over the last year, following a wave of protests over officer-involved killings of black Americans, LRAD has seen an uptick in inquiries from police departments around the country.
Police use of facial recognition technology is also following a similar trajectory.
Clara: I hate to be this guy but… I’ve been wondering when the more drawn-out repression from black lives matter and anti-police protests was going to begin. Case in point, Denver ABC recently released a statement about the systematic targeting and harassment of those actively involved in anti-police organizing there. It has ramped up in the last few weeks, with organizers being visited at their homes, taken into custody, and subject to interviews by the Gang Unit.
Alanis: Their press release also includes tips for dealing with police harassment.
Anything you say will be held against you. Do not answer questions. Do not talk to the police.
If police come to your door, you do not have to let them into your house if they do not have a search warrant. You do not have to answer any questions. You can exercise your right to remain silent and to speak to an attorney. Videotape them from inside your home.
If you are stopped on the street ask if you are being detained. If the answer is no, ask if you are free to leave. If the answer is yes that you are free to leave, leave immediately. Get as far away as you can, call friends and comrades who you trust.
If the police are searching your belongings or home, say out loud “I do not consent to this search.” Keep repeating “I do not consent to a search without a warrant.” It will not stop them from searching necessarily but it may impact what is admissible in court.
If they do have a warrant, ask to see it (they can show it through the screen or glass, or slide it under the door) verify that it has been signed by a judge. Make note of the items listed on the warrant of what they are allowed to search. If they attempt to search or take any additional items say out loud that you do not consent to items being searched that are not on the warrant.
Clara: I’m glad we read these, as I think they’re always worth a reminder, but– as we’ve said before and we’ll say again in this episode, the cops pretty much do what they want. And it’s not always useful to wield the state’s laws in dealing with the state, especially when often we ARE involved in illegal activities, AND especially when we don’t want to use the state’s framework of innocence versus guilt to legitimize ourselves in their eyes…
Alanis: Well of course that framework is problematic, but when dealing with police harassment, there are certain helpful things to keep in mind, because cops can and will lie to you in pursuit of information. Taking small measures when dealing with police won’t necessarily get you out of dodge in the moment, but it can be helpful if you happen to end up in court later.
Clara: Right, sure, but I think when thinking about anti-repressive strategy it’s equally important to remember the old adage – “the best defense is a good offense.”
Alanis: Ugh, please, no more sports references.
Clara: No, I’m serious! And it doesn’t just have to be about sports– it’s been referenced in military theory, and board games, and Kung Fu, and…
Alanis: Great, sure, whatever. Can you remind me how this applies to counter-repression?
Clara: I guess my meaning is that when we stop speaking out, organizing and fighting, our retreat emboldens the authorities and opens up space for repression. Even when we feel battered by the full arsenal of police tactics, from arrests to psychological harassment, it’s best not to tuck our tail between our legs, fold our hands in our laps and hope they notice the golden halos shining above our heads.
Alanis: In tandem, continuing to acting together AND developing a culture of non-collaboration with police can be a one-two punch for helping to keep each other safe.
Clara: Oh, here’s a good one. Cops in Shadwell got GOT by some rabblerousers while they were performing an immigration raid in the east london neighborhood. The officers returned to their vans to find the tires slashed and the paint scratched. They were then pelted with eggs launched from the high-rises. To add insult to injury, the local tire shop refused to sell them new tires.
Alanis: In the Philippines, protesters clashed with riot police during a torrential downpour as they tried to breach a barricade of barbed wire and shipping containers near the House of Representatives before president Benigno Aquino III’s final state of the nation address. For good measure, they also burned a giant effigy of the president. There are some amazing high-res photos; we’ll post a link to them on our website.
Clara: Imprisoned comrades in Mexico have been on hunger strike for over 30 days now. A bank was bombed in D.F. in solidarity with their struggle.
Alanis: Another small fire broke out at a prison near Melbourne, Australia, where a month ago prisoners rioted in reaction to a recently imposed smoking ban at prisons across the state. Several hundreds of inmates were involved in the clashes, which were under control in a matter of hours.
Clara: Prisoners in Ireland also wilded out, 60 of them refusing to leave an exercise yard, demolishing soccer goals and using the posts and pieces of razorwire as improvised weapons against guards. Two prisoners made it to the roof, refusing to come down for quite some time.
Alanis: Solidarity actions directed our attention onto rebellious prisoners in Greece and elsewhere throughout the early weeks of August. A demonstration took place at the Greek embassy in Washington, D.C., and cars were torched in both Paris and Berlin belonging to the corporations Vinci, Deutch Telecom, Seimens, and WISAG, all of which are involved in prison construction, security and surveillance. A banner about the prisoners was dropped in Kielce, Poland, while rebels in Argentina sabotaged a train line servicing a major soccer event and waged an incendiary attack against the Hellenic Association.
Clara: There’s an inspiring and detailed article in the latest issue of Avalanche about the hunger strike undertaken in June of this year by 4,500 hundred prisoners in Greece, against the restructuring of the Greek prison system to include high-security or “C-type” prisons. We’ll link to it in the notes for this episode.
Alanis: Activists from the Michigan Coalitions Against Tar Sands followed up their action camp with an action in Detroit, in which they expropriated water from the mansion of Detroit Mayor Duggan and distributed it to families facing water shutoffs.
Clara: The FBI arrested two animal rights activists in Oakland just before the start of the Animal Rights National Conference…
Alanis: Wait, didn’t they do that last year?
Clara: Yep, sure did. Once again, in a clumsy effort to intimidate activists, they’ve charged these folks with domestic terrorism for allegedly freeing some mink from fur farms.
Alanis: This coming just a couple of weeks after the FBI director announces that Dylan Roof, the white supremacist mass murderer who massacred black folks in a church in an effort to start a race war, is not a terrorist.
Clara: Uh, yep.
Alanis: Well, I guess that goes to show how the word terrorism is an utterly meaningless propaganda term.
Clara: No, I think it has a quite specific meaning - terrorism is non-state activity that threatens the power relations that prop up the state. Whether it’s direct action that undermines capitalism and animal exploitation or religiously motivated violence against corporate and military targets, what those targeted with terrorism charges share is a value system that rejects the absolute authority of the state and shows a willingness to act on it. That’s why Dylan Roof isn’t a terrorist, nor abortion clinic bombers, nor right-wing paramilitaries in Latin America, nor US drones in Pakistan or Yemen. Those forms of violence, while obviously intended to compel obedience to hierarchies through violence, don’t challenge the values that the US state is based upon. It’s not a difference of tactics or intent; it’s a difference of ideology and interests.
Alanis: Speaking so-called terrorism, the Tarnac 9 are slated to finally face trial soon, but without their previous terrorism charges. The 9, who were arrested in rural France in 2008 on suspicion of sabotaging high-speed trains, are accused of being the authors of the 2007 book “The Coming Insurrection.”
Clara: The FBI is investigating a rash of unclaimed sabotages of fiber optic cable lines in California; twelve separate incidents have been reported in which cable lines have been cut, disrupting cell phone and internet service.
Alanis: During the morning of August 1st, 2015, 20 year old anarchist comrade Ignacio Munoz Delgado was arrested in Santiago. Plainclothes police officers performing preventive controls in the community of Lo Prado saw a suspicious person dressed in black riding a bike and decided to arrest them. Police say they found an improvised explosive device in Ignacio’s possession that consisted of a canister filled with about a kilo of black powder with a fuse attached to it. They also say they found pamphlets expressing solidarity with the comrades who were arrested for the arson attack against the PDI (Homicide Investigation Brigade). The pamphlets contained the following text: “As long as the cops keep hostages and think that they are immune from attack the attacks will keep getting closer to the filthy city life. This is just a small taste of what is to come." He is being held in preventative detention, charged with carrying an explosive device. It is not yet clear whether he will be charged under the anti-terrorism law.
Alanis: The last barricade in the Hambacher Forest Occupation was evicted by German police. Four people were arrested in the eviction, and one is still being held in pretrial detention. We just released a full-length story about the Hambacher Forest occupation in episode 2x, so we’re very sad to hear about this development.
Clara: And some more sad news: On Wednesday, August 12th, imprisoned revolutionary Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell was murdered, in unclear circumstances in the midst of a prison riot. From the NYC ABC writeup about his death:
Alanis: "We have no faith that the state will do anything to determine how or why Yogi Bear was murdered and presume cops and corrections officers are relishing his death. We do not doubt the possibility that he was specifically targeted and those in authority did nothing to protect him.
In the early 1970s, while imprisoned in San Quentin State Prison, Hugo Pinell made contact with revolutionary prisoners such as George Jackson, one of the Soledad Brothers, and W.L. Nolen. On August 21, 1971, there was a prisoner uprising in Pinell’s housing unit at San Quentin, led by George Jackson. On that date, Jackson used a pistol to take over his tier in the Adjustment Center. At the end of the roughly 30 minute rebellion, guards had killed Jackson, and two other prisoners and three guards were dead. Of the remaining prisoners in the unit, six of them, including Pinell, were put on trial for murder and conspiracy. Together, they were known as The San Quentin Six. Three of them were acquitted of all charges, and three were found guilty of various charges. Pinell was convicted of assault on a guard. During his astounding 50 years of imprisonment, Pinell was primarily held in solitary confinement. Though not as active in his political organizing as in his youth, Pinell was part of the historic hunger strikes that spread throughout the California prison system in 2013 to protest the treatment of prisoners held in solitary confinement.
In this month of Black August, we raise a fist for Yogi Bear and all prison rebels—you will have neither lived nor died in vain."
KOREA REPORT AND CALL TO ACTION
Alanis: And now we have a report and call to action from anarchist comrades in South Korea.
Manse: Starting this spring, the anarchist appeal To Change Everything was adapted into Korean and distributed in paper and online in South Korea. Many welcomed it; the first printing ran out quickly.
It also provoked a strong reaction when the country’s major corporate news agency reported on it and on a project appearing on the appeal’s blog to gather and distribute songs against the National Security Law. The journalist even reported to the prosecutor’s office, inquiring whether these activities constituted “aid to the enemy” (in other words, treason), which is what the National Security Law targets. The official’s response was that the answer [read this quote in a stuffy exaggerated bureaucrat voice]“depends on an eventual analysis of whether this is part of an intention to threaten the national order.”* In the corporate media, the numerous comments posted online with the article expressed a unanimous condemnation of these “pro-North Koreans” (i.e., anarchists), demanding even severer laws and repression. For example, [read in an indignant aggressive nationalist tone]“These pro-North Koreans should be sent to the good old ‘re-education camp’ to be reminded the fact that this country is still at war.”
Alanis: But we already made it clear in Episode 24 that anarchists do not support North Korea!
Clara: Well, maybe right-wing South Korean nationalist online commenters don’t listen to the Ex-Worker.
Alanis: Huh. Well, what’s that about?
Clara: Hush, listen. Our correspondent continues:
Manse: This stir in the corporate media and the right-wing movement it fuels coincided with another one: a little witch-hunt following the arrest, investigation, and prosecution of someone on charges of having burned a Korean flag. On May Day 2015, diverse social movements converged in downtown Seoul, including a movement in response to the authorities’ cover-up of a ferry disaster last year. During the demonstration, an exasperated youngster, provoked by journalists, picked up a paper national flag left on the ground and lit it on fire, making headlines in corporate media. Based on “CCTV and other evidence,” the police arrested him the next day in another city. Using a warrant for search and seizure to discover his “affiliations,” the police raided his housing collective—which happens to be a center for autonomous social movements including some recent anarchist activities, though the arrestee is not connected to them.
Though this kind of police repression combined with corporate and right-wing fervor is nothing new in this state of suspended civil war, this is a sign of what many feel to be a worsening of the political climate. Some Korean anarchists feel that we are isolated in a tightly controlled small island, a prison. Nevertheless, by all means necessary, we must show that we are not so isolated.
Alanis: Absolutely! So what can we do?
Clara: Well, they’ve sent a Call to Action for our listeners. They write…[ahem]
Manse: This wave of quasi-fascist nationalism provides an opportunity for inter-national and anti-national solidarity actions to strategically provoke and subvert it. Here is a proposition for a simple action that, though it doesn’t entail much risk for participants outside Korea, could take advantage of that opportunity. It might even be fun.
Alanis: Ooh, goody.
Manse: Together, let’s defy the Korean National Security Law. Show solidarity with Korean people while expressing hostility to the Korean states and the order they incarnate. Through the image of “non-Koreans” attacking the symbols of the Korean state in solidarity with “Koreans,” let’s break down national divisions and the link between ethnicity and the state. Let’s take “outsider agitation” to a new level.
Alanis: I love this!!
Manse: Any format would do—but, because some images don’t need translation, accomplishing this visually by burning flags could be the simplest way. Don’t be misunderstood, for example, for a pro-North Korean (burn the northern flag too), a xenophobic nationalist (burn the flag of your own country too), or an ideologue (burn an anarchist black flag too if you want).
Manse: If you want to take your action to a relevant public space, don’t limit yourself to the Korean embassies. The major conglomerates Samsung, Hyundai, and LG together represent well over half of the South Korean economy, and their overseas offices can be considered places of state affairs. Korean cultural products are also considered a spearhead of the economy, because they are linked to IT products, and the media pays great attention to overseas reactions to them.
Make your actions known directly or send us a report about them. You could also send us creative material such as songs, pictures, drawings, or video, to email@example.com. We will compile and distribute these ourselves.
Long live anarchy! (Manse)
Alanis: This is brilliant. We expect everyone listening to this to get creative and show some support for Korean anarchists facing repression. We’ll keep you updated on our website or through the CrimethInc. blog with updates and suggestions and things develop. Don’t miss this opportunity for easy, fun, and potentially high-impact international…
Clara: and anti-national…
Clara: All right, Alanis, let’s see if we’ve got any listener feedback.
Alanis: We did hear from one listener who responded to our half-hearted defense of the YPG/YPJ as likely at least less hierarchical than standard military units, and our contention that anarchists must confront a certain amount of contradiction in any situation of armed conflict. The listener writes:
Clara: To say that militias and armed forces are usually militaristic is true, buy I think that that the comrade…
Alanis: Meaning to the listener to whose original comment we were responding.
Clara: …was referring to militarism, and just accepting hierarchical militarism as a fact of life is undesirable and leads to the same bullshit we see in all hierarchy. The boss is just as much a problem in armed struggle as it is in the everyday. This is not to say one shouldn’t listen to those who know what their talking about, but we should heed the warnings of a member of an Iron Column (an anarchist militia formed of lumpen, proles, peasants, and ex-prisoners that fought the Francoist Falange and their friends during the Spanish Civil War) who decried militarization in the piece “A Day Mournful and Overcast.” Although the militarization of the Republic allied militias during the Spanish Civil War was certainly different from the organization of the revolutionaries in the Rojava cantons today, militarization can come quicker than one thinks, and command is never the friend of anarchists. Militarization alienated a comrade from the armed project they were engaged in. I wouldn’t want to cry wolf, but critique and refusing to forgo our more anarchistic desires are very important to me, and I find that compromise and settling often lead to defeat.
Hurrah for anarchy.
Alanis: The text mentioned by the listener, “A Day Mournful and Overcast” was written by an “uncontrollable” of the Iron Column, an anarchist fighting unit formed in Spain in 1936. (We’ve got a link to it on our website if you want to read it, which we’d highly recommend.) The author was a prisoner who was set free by anarchists, with whom he joined, going through the countryside of Catalonia killing fascists and bosses and expropriating their property towards communal benefit. As the introduction states, the anarchist militias like the Iron Column weren’t fighting “because they were ‘loyal to the Republic’ or because they opposed fascism. They were fighting to overthrow the state and capitalism no matter which face - ‘democratic’ or fascist - they wore.”
The mournful and overcast day described by the militia fighter is the day when the column receives notice of its impending “militarization” - that is, its formal absorption into the hierarchical structures of the Republican army, restoring state control over the previously decentralized and self-determined expansion of the social revolution.
Clara: So what lessons can we draw from this example for the militias in Rojava? Well, again, it’s difficult to say, as we have limited information to draw on about what it’s actually like and how the chain of command actually works. We just don’t know if, for example, the United Freedom Forces are organized more like the Iron Column, with significant autonomy and no internal hierarchies beyond self-chosen commanders, or if they’re really directed from above by the PKK or PYD. As the listener last time pointed out, the real litmus test of whether the PKK and its affiliates are a vanguard or not will come when different or non-party revolutionaries assert their own revolutionary goals, even if the progress of the revolution comes at the expense of power of the formal organizations. We know that the militas have liberated villages from ISIS control that were outside of historically Kurdish areas; it’s possible to imagine that this shows an intention to spread the revolution beyond the geographic, ethnic and ideological confines of Kurdish nationalism. But we can’t say much for certain without projecting our own desires onto the conflict.
Alanis: It sounds like the distinction is between commanders as authorities versus commanders as equals with a different role where a division of labor benefits everyone. That may sound like semantics, but as the text makes clear, for the “uncontrollable,” it’s actually the difference between freedom and slavery, between dignity and humiliation, between authority and anarchy. The member of Social Insurrection whose interview we shared in Episode 39 seemed to feel comfortable with the dynamics of command and the division of labor within the units. The YPG and YPJ may be different; we don’t know. There are many specifics the author from the Iron Column mentions as separating the “uncontrollable” anarchist militia from the formally incorporated units after “militarization”: whether officers are appointed from above or chosen by those they lead; if they enforce arbitrary discipline and blind obedience versus leading by common consent and with mutual respect; if they’re paid several times what the common soldier receives versus equal pay, and so forth. But most important is whether their movements and operations as a unit are determined by higher-ups and political officials, to further military objectives and state control, versus determined collectively by the fighters themselves, to further the spread of the social revolution and to tear down the infrastructure of the old order. “Militarization” could mean assumption of direct control over the militias by the PKK, PYD, or other top-down political structures and the imposition of a more formal military framework with hierarchical command and discipline. This would be a grievous blow to the revolutionary possibility of the militia struggles to defeat ISIS and expand social revolution. We urgently want to know where the militias in and around Rojava fit along these lines; we remain skeptical, but hopeful.
Clara: So in response to our listener, we definitely want to affirm the crucial importance of remaining true to our uncontrollable and anarchistic desires, in our action and solidarity work as well as our analysis and critique. We certainly don’t want to offer any excuse for militarism, insofar as that means blind obedience, internal hierarchies, glorification of war, abstract patriotism, and anything else authoritarian. But we want to honor the accounts of anarchists who’ve seen or participated in the militias, whose experiences seem to at least raise the possibility that the militias could be compatible with our dreams of “uncontrollables” roaming the Syrian mountains and deserts, chasing off ISIS fascists and paving the way for social revolution.
Alanis: Probably the greatest threat to the independent militias today is the Turkish state’s war against Kurdish forces with US backing (and corresponding US efforts to draw any non-PKK Kurdish and allied forces in Syria into an alliance with imperialist powers). So if we want to affirm our solidarity with the anti-authoritarian elements within the Rojava struggle, we should do whatever we can to pressure the US state to end its complicity with the Turkish state’s brutal attacks on Kurdish armed groups and social movements. Then the militias can concentrate on expelling ISIS and any other meddling state forces and defending the self-determination of the region’s people against any interventions that would threaten it.
Clara: On a related note of relevance for the contemporary US context, Tom Nomad’s book “The Master’s Tools: Warfare and Insurgent Possibility” is an interesting place to start for thinking about anarchist strategy around responding to police tactics through a military framework of insurgent warfare. It’s reviewed in the latest Rolling Thunder.
Alanis: Did we mention that Rolling Thunder #12 is out?
Clara: I think we did.
Alanis: In any case - it’s terrific. There’s thorough coverage of the Ferguson uprisings, including a timeline of events and a group interview with anarchists active on the streets there, narratives about destroying surveillance cameras, a critique of making demands in social struggles, anarchist analyses of sex work, Kobane coverage, and lots and lots more. Clara: Anything else? Alanis: Oh, yes - last episode we recommended an article describing how the animal rights group PETA outed a corporate infiltrator into an anti-SeaWorld activist group. Listener Jon pointed out that the link we posted to the article didn’t work. Sorry, everyone! We corrected that link, and will add it again in our show notes for this episode for good measure. Thanks for pointing that out. Clara: Another listener wanted to know when we were going to follow up on our promise in Episode 32 to continue engaging with the question of why American police can kill people of color with impunity today.
Alanis: Well, I’m glad to report that that’s exactly what we plan to do now. So thanks for your patience, and without any futher ado, let’s get right to it.
STRUGGLES AGAINST WHITE SUPREMACY AND POLICE SINCE FERGUSON: INTRODUCTION
Clara: We began our coverage of the Ferguson uprisings a year ago in Episode 27, sharing accounts from participants and an analysis of the “outside agitator” discourse, plus a review of texts by anarchists in Oakland and in Durham, North Carolina analyzing rebellions that appeared after police killings in those cities.
Alanis: That was a good start for thinking through some of the strategic questions for anarchists around our participation in anti-racist and anti-police uprisings. But weeks went by, the unrest expanded across the US, and intensified after grand juries refused to bring charges against the killers of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. And despite hundreds of protests, thousands of arrests, National Guard deployment, and international condemnation, police were still killing young black and brown men across the country and getting away with it. How could this be happening? It was becoming clear that we had to frame both the murders and the movements in some kind of historical context to make sense of what we were seeing.
Clara: But if you really want to look at the root causes of racist police violence, instead of blaming the victims or just writing it off as a few bad apple cops, you have to go pretty far back, basically to the beginnings of European settlement on this continent. So that’s what we did. In Episode 32 last December, we posed the question of why the authorities let these murderous cops off without charges, despite knowing that a nationwide uprising would almost certainly ensue. To put the rebellions in a contemporary global context, we shared an excerpt from a CrimethInc. analysis of the significance of anti-police anger in catalyzing revolt around the world since the Arab Spring. And for a historical perspective, we went all the way back to 1492 and Columbus sailing the ocean blue to kick off over 500 years of conquest, colonialism and genocide, and in the process kick-start capitalism and set the conditions for the emergence of white supremacy as a global system.
Alanis: It was a lot to try to synthesize, and we’re by no means experts or historians. We tried to focus on explaining our understanding of how the concept of whiteness emerged and the centrality of slavery and anti-black racism in tandem with indigenous dispossession and genocide to the project that would later become the United States. But there was so much ground to cover that we didn’t even make it up to the founding of the country. We promised to pick up the thread in the next episode, but, well, then a lot of other stuff happened and we haven’t been able to get back to it yet.
Clara: But even the events keep right on coming, it still is important to pan back and put what we’re experiencing today in the streets in a historical context with an anarchist analysis. One of the big themes we emphasized in Episode 32 was that the past doesn’t pass, meaning that the core dynamics in the events we’re experiencing today in 2015 have been recurring with different actors on different stages for many hundreds of years. If we’re ever going to have any hoping of shifting them, we’ll need to understand them as best as we can. We decided to put out this episode to commemorate the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder by white cop Darren Wilson and the first stirrings of rebellion in Ferguson, because we’re still trying to understand how police murders of black and brown men are continuing with impunity.
Alanis: Yeah, that same question we started with last time still has me stumped - how can they keep doing it and getting away with it? Especially now, a year after Michael Brown was killed, I feel like the question’s looming larger than ever. Given that there were rebellions in dozens of cities across the US in the last weeks of 2014, another huge explosion in Baltimore this spring, and ongoing mobilization across US society, all specifically demonstrating outrage against racist police violence, one might expect that the police would, I dunno, maybe stop killing people, or at least slow down a little.
Clara: Buuuuuut no.
Alanis: Nope, not at all. Just in the first six months of 2015, at least 547 people have been killed by US law enforcement, according a project by the Guardian called The Counted, which uses crowdsourced research to track police killings in the US. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database#
Clara: Which is necessary because the the US government doesn’t bother to actually gather data on how many people cops kill and who they’re killing, nor are police departments required to keep records themselves on it.
Alanis: And those stats discussed by the Guardian only went through the end of June; the first week of July was the deadliest week of the year, with thirty one people killed by police across the country, a new record. More recently, in early August, Vice News reported that in the one year since Michael Brown’s death, US cops have killed at least 1,083 people. http://www.maskmagazine.com/the-fling-issue/struggle/deadliest-week-ever https://news.vice.com/article/police-have-killed-at-least–1083-americans-since-michael-browns-death
Clara: Holy hell! That’s like three people killed by police per day for the entire year! And this is coming during a period in which there’s been more attention and scrutiny on police violence than perhaps ever before in the history of the US!
Alanis: And that’s just the ones that one media outlet managed to confirm. The biggest states for police murder were California, Florida, and Texas - not coincidentally, the three states with the largest prison populations in the US - and the most murderous cities were LA, Phoenix, Houston, Oklahoma City, and New York.
Clara: And in how many cases have the killer cops been indicted on criminal charges for killing people?
Alanis: Uh… four.
Clara: Four, out of one thousand and eighty three?
Alanis: Uh, yah. And I don’t know if any have actually been convicted of anything.
Clara: Well, there you go. Not that prosecuting or imprisoning anyone is going to solve anything, but it goes to show the truly staggering level of impunity that exists here. Incidentally, speaking of incarceration, it’s also worth acknowledging that hundreds and perhaps thousands more uncounted people are killed by the so-called justice system once they’re locked up, whether directly - legally via the death penalty, or semi-legally by guards - or indirectly via abuse and neglect, most often denial of adequate medical care. So even within the murderous arms of the law, police murders are just one dimension.
Alanis: That’s certainly true. Actually, though, coming back to stats about police killing people, there’s another interesting thing that these figures show that I wanted to mention.
Clara: What’s that?
Alanis: Of course popular attention and media focus has been on police murders of people of color, especially young black men. But it surprised me to see that about half the people killed by police over the last year have been white; in fact, according to the Vice stats, cops have killed nearly twice as many white folks as black folks.
Clara: Wait, hold on - are you trying to make a case that police violence isn’t racist because it targets white people, too?
Alanis: Nooooo, no no no no no. Not at all. When the Guardian study broke down the figures based on population demographics, here’s what it found:
The Guardian: “When adjusted to accurately reflect the US population, the totals indicate that black people are being killed by police at more than twice the rate of white and Hispanic or Latino people. Black people killed by police were also significantly more likely to have been unarmed.”
Alanis: The Vice News study found basically the same thing, calculating that when adjusted proportionally to the population, black folks were more than three times more likely to be killed than white folks.
Clara: And of course being killed by police is just the most violent tip of the massive iceberg of policing, surveillance, court processes, sentencing, incarceration, probation, and all the other features of the criminal justice system, which studies like The New Jim Crow have pretty convincingly demonstrated are structurally racist through and through.
Alanis: Right. So it’s clear that white supremacy is at the foundation of the legal system, even if a plurality or slight majority of those killed by police are actually white folks. But the point I mean to make is that the racist structure of state violence has an immense amount of collateral damage. No system of violence and domination is going to provide safety and security forever, not even for a racial or economic elite. As the inequalities of our society become more and more pronounced, the violence it takes to hold the system in place against instability and resistance becomes more extreme. Even as racist police violence targets black folks and other people of color disproportionately, it’s obviously not keeping anyone safe.
Clara: Actually, I think that’s a pretty concrete example of how allegiance to white supremacy is a catastrophe even for most white folks, although obviously it is disproportionately harmful to people of color. All those idiotic racists donating money to Darren Wilson or holding pro-cop demonstrations may think their white privilege will insulate them from capitalist crisis and the breakdown of state control. But that will only work if they manage to convince large numbers of white people that the real fault lines of conflict in this society are racial. It’s up to anarchists and others who reject this narrative to show otherwise. It’s not just a matter of white folks being allies to others; capitalist exploitation and state violence are inescapably bound up with white supremacy, and getting free from any of it means getting free from all of it. And that’s true for all of us.
Alanis: Of course, no one should use that recognition as an excuse to appropriate the struggles of others. In particular, diverting attention away from the specific harm of anti-black racism in this country will make our resistance weaker. Our goal is to show concrete solidarity and build relationships of struggle across the lines intended to divide us, without erasing our differences.
Clara: For sure. To explore these themes in more depth, next we’ll share some material from a recent CrimethInc. feature titled “Next Time It Explodes.” It puts the Ferguson uprisings in a broader economic and racial context, traces developments through this year’s riots in Baltimore and conflicts in South Carolina, reflects on the role of autonomous or non-state white supremacist violence, and assesses what’s at stake as the tensions around racism and police violence continue to rise.
NEXT TIME IT EXPLODES: REVOLT, REPRESSION AND BACKLASH SINCE THE FERGUSON UPRISING
Alanis: A year has passed since the murder of Michael Brown, one of over 1100 people, disproportionately black and brown, killed by US law enforcement in 2014. The movement against institutionalized white supremacy and police violence has spread and escalated, gaining leverage on the authorities and the public imagination despite repeated efforts to co-opt it. At the same time, we are seeing non-state white supremacist violence re-emerge as a force in the US, as it always does when state strategies for imposing white supremacy reach their limits.
Clara: The illusion of social peace is evaporating. Over the past year, the National Guard has been called out three times to quell anti-police rioting. White racists have retaliated with church burnings and murders, while raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to support murderers in uniform. The lines that are being drawn may determine the geography of racialized conflict in the US for a long time to come. How did we arrive here from the first demonstrations in Ferguson? And how should we position ourselves in these struggles?
THE BACKSTORY: CRISIS AND REPRESSION, CO-OPTATION AND REVOLT
Alanis: The racialized poverty enforced by police violence that forms the landscape of Ferguson and so many other black areas of the United States is not just a consequence of a contemporary “economic crisis.” Capitalism has always been a crisis, expanding at the expense of black lives from the time of slavery through Jim Crow up to the prison industrial complex of today. And from the beginning, it has met with black resistance, from slave rebellions to today’s anti-police uprisings.
Fifty years ago, white America faced a powder keg of civil rights movements, militant black organizing, and urban riots. Because the 1960s were a time of comparative abundance and economic growth, the United States government could afford to stabilize society by integrating some black people and other people of color into more aspects of political and economic life. But even those concessions took place at a price: while a minority of black people were offered conditional access to the middle class, more militant organizers and the majority of black communities were ruthlessly repressed. Today, some of the leaders of the black civil rights movement have become successful politicians, while Black Panthers remain behind bars along with a million other black people. This is the dual operation of repression: kill or imprison those who won’t or can’t compromise, while integrating the more tractable into the power structure.
Today, in an age of global austerity with increasing numbers of people, especially of color, relegated to “surplus humanity” with no place in the economy, even these concessions cease to be feasible. No one in power has any idea how to resolve the racial and economic inequalities of this society, leaving politicians and pundits scrambling to either co-opt or condemn unrest when it breaks out. Their rhetoric is intended to make it possible for the authorities to deploy even more force without blowback, since they have no compromises left to offer. For the people of Ferguson, trapped in an economy that has no place for them, with leaders who have no solution but to apply more force to keep them in line, all it took was enough popular determination to overcome repression for the fuse to be lit. This is why Ferguson exploded.
FROM FERGUSON TO BALTIMORE: THE LIMITS OF CO-OPTATION
Clara: In recent years, the post–1960s strategy of integrating certain black leaders into structures of state power has also reached its limits. We saw hints of this in the 2009 uprising following the murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, a city whose political elite includes civil rights veterans who now oversee a police force that treats the black and poor as violently as ever. Although Ferguson was a classic example of a black majority terrorized by a violent white elite, the power structure in Baltimore, by contrast, includes a number of black authority figures. Of course, putting black people in positions of state power hasn’t done away with poverty, police killings, or other forms of structural racism in Baltimore; in fact, three of the six officers arrested for the murder of Freddie Gray are black. People of any background can maintain white supremacist institutions. Despite media handwringing about Ferguson’s disproportionately white police force, we don’t just need affirmative action among those who impose structural oppression; we need to make it impossible for these institutions to dominate people in the first place.
After the initial explosion in Baltimore, chief prosecutor Marilyn Mosby succeeded in averting further confrontations by announcing the filing of charges against Freddie Gray’s murderers immediately ahead of the demonstrations scheduled for May Day weekend. Her decision to press charges was exceptional and courageous, but most of those charges would never have been filed if not for clashes like the ones she was trying to forestall. It is a mistake to turn people from means of protest that interrupt the status quo back to ineffective strategies that rely on the institutional channels for change. Even if the officers responsible for Freddie Gray’s death are found guilty, that will not prove that the system can police itself, but rather that it takes a full-scale uprising to impose any consequences on those who maintain it. Rather than setting out to reform the court system one riot at a time, it would make more sense to ask how these uprisings can become steps towards revolutionary change.
From Ferguson to Baltimore, the cycle of revolt accelerated and intensified. The arc of events that took a week and a half to unfold in Ferguson played out much more rapidly in Baltimore. Large parts of the city were in flames within two days of the first confrontations, and the National Guard was deployed almost immediately; Mosby filed the charges that effectively concluded the uprising just four days later. Despite the speedy quelling of the riots, it seems possible that the state had nearly reached the limit of what it could do to impose white supremacist inequality by main force: with the prisons packed, once the National Guard is deployed, escalating to a higher level of repression would mean declaring open war on the population.
If multiple uprisings were to occur simultaneously in the same region, control might break down completely. Hence the authorities’ scrambling to placate people they had been ignoring for years.
FROM BALTIMORE TO SOUTH CAROLINA: THE THREAT OF AUTONOMOUS WHITE SUPREMACY
Alanis: A week before the murder of Freddie Gray, a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina had murdered Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, shooting him in the back as he fled. The killing was caught on video, and within three days the officer was charged with murder. Even in the birthplace of the Confederacy, the specter of uprising forced the authorities to impose consequences on the police.
Yet whenever governmental enforcement of white supremacy reaches its limits in the United States, independent white supremacist activity picks up. After the abolition of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations stepped in to fill the role terrorizing the black population that official slave patrols had played before the Civil War. In many cases, the same sheriffs, judges, and legislators who enforced racist laws on the books donned robes and hoods to pick up where the laws left off.
In recent months, we’ve seen a resurgence of autonomous white supremacist activity, including a spate of church burnings that began in Ferguson immediately after the decision not try Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown. But these might be only the tip of the iceberg.
Clara: In response to the uprisings of the past few years, we’ve seen police—and a subset of middle-class America from which many of them are drawn—beginning to conceive of their interests as distinct from the rest of the state structures. For example, during the peak of Occupy Oakland in 2011, Mayor Jean Quan wrestled with the Oakland Police Department, which repeatedly asserted a contrary agenda. Something similar occurred between the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York City last winter, when New York City police carried out an unofficial strike demanding more unconditional support from the government—in effect, demanding the freedom to employ violence with impunity. After the Baltimore uprising, there was a lot of grumbling among Maryland police who blamed their superiors for not permitting them to use more violence against demonstrators.
This could give rise to new racist movements that will understand themselves as needing to take the law into their own hands in order to maintain law and order and defend private property. Something similar has occurred in Greece with the emergence of the fascist party Golden Dawn, which now counts a great part of the country’s police officers in its ranks. That makes it especially ominous that the Oath Keepers, a paramilitary organization of former policemen and soldiers, have made repeated appearances at demonstrations in Ferguson.
Alanis: Autonomous movements of all stripes have an advantage today, when government is widely discredited. Like anarchists in contrast to liberals, autonomous white supremacists are more effective than garden-variety racists because they are prepared to use direct action to achieve their goals. What is at stake here is what autonomy will mean in the public imagination: freedom and resistance to oppression, or unchecked racist violence. The discourse of autonomy is strategically precious territory; whoever is able to occupy it will be able to determine the frame within which people conceptualize social change.
For the state, the intensification of extra-governmental white supremacist activity is an opportunity to change the subject. Such activity enables the government to present itself as protecting people from racist violence, directing attention away from all the normalized ways that the state imposes such violence. The image of the National Guard holding back white vigilantes during integration in the South gave the federal government decades of credibility, even though the same National Guard put down the riots of the late 1960s. If anything like Golden Dawn or the KKK of the 1920s gets off the ground in the US today, many people currently involved in movements against police and prisons will line up behind the government again, legitimizing those institutions as necessary tools against white supremacists even though in the long run they will always be used chiefly against the black, brown, and poor.
Clara: So far, we have yet to see a surge in organized group violence from fascists or rogue police officers. Autonomous white supremacist violence has remained the province of lone wolves like Dylann Roof, who carried out a racist massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015, reportedly with the intention of catalyzing a race war. Photographs showed him brandishing a Confederate flag and other racist insignia.
In response, activists renewed their appeal to the state legislature to remove the Confederate flag from its official place on the grounds of the state capitol. In 1961, Democratic Governor Ernest Hollings had initiated legislation to raise the Confederate flag on the capitol grounds as a symbol of resistance to the civil rights movement. Despite the end of legal segregation, the flag stood, defying an NAACP tourism boycott since 2000.
On June 21, days after the Emanuel Church massacre, “Black Lives Matter” graffiti appeared on Confederate monuments in Charleston and elsewhere. On June 27, Black Lives Matter activist Brittany Ann Byuarim Newsome was arrested and charged with “defacing a monument” after climbing up the flagpole at the state capitol and removing the Confederate flag. Less than two weeks later, lawmakers voted to remove it from the State Capitol.
Alanis: This demonstrates the power of direct action. The tourism boycott had been ineffective; so long as the state perceived no internal threat to order, it could afford to shrug off a few lost tourist dollars and the indignation of activists. But when uprisings elsewhere around the US dovetailed with local outrage, the willingness of a few individuals to break the law hastened a process that otherwise could have dragged on decades longer. The spectacle of a state claiming to oppose racism arresting an activist for removing an officially sanctioned symbol of racism from the headquarters of the state left the lawmakers no choice—especially after the Ku Klux Klan scheduled a rally at the capitol for July 18, threatening to create an additional spectacle of explicit racists outside the legislature allied with filibustering Republicans within. On July 9, the legislators voted to take down the Confederate flag, rebranding themselves as anti-racists. As in Ferguson and Baltimore, direct action had shifted the terrain, compelling officials to scramble to catch up.
Yet by focusing attention on removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol, activists had displaced rage against the racist murders in South Carolina onto a symbolic issue that legislators could address. The role of the Ku Klux Klan here aptly illustrates how extra-governmental white supremacist activity can be advantageous for the state.
Clara: This was the context in which Klan supporters, police, and protesters attending a black-organized counter-demonstration converged upon the state capitol grounds of Columbia, South Carolina on July 18, 2015. The Klan hoped to attract the attention of angry whites who felt victimized by recent victories against white supremacy; if they could present themselves as the sole remaining defenders of a flag and a tradition abandoned by the authorities, they could win new adherents for extra-governmental white supremacist organizing. The authorities hoped to preserve order, showing that they could control opponents of the state on both sides, in order to keep the state itself central for all seeking social change. The protesters, as usual, were divided between a variety of goals and methodologies; they ran the gamut from religious pacifists to black separatists to predominantly white anarchists.
The day ended in a rout for the Klan, with a multi-ethnic crowd including anarchists chasing them back to their cars and pelting them with projectiles as the overextended police struggled to protect them. More Klan members went to the hospital than protesters went to jail. The demonstrators had prevented the Klan from asserting an image of strength, hopefully discouraging dissatisfied white people from joining them. At the same time, compared to the events in Ferguson and Baltimore, the police had ceased to be the chief subject of the demonstrations; Dylann Roof, the controversy about the Confederate flag, and the Klan rally had shifted the subject away from policing and other normalized and fundamental aspects of the white supremacist power structure, towards exceptional and symbolic expressions of white supremacy. As social conflicts polarize and more and more people on both sides break off from state-based strategies, it will be especially important to continue confronting the institutionalized white supremacy of the state.
NEXT TIME IT EXPLODES
Alanis: The police in the St. Louis area have continued their pattern of killing someone every month or so since the protests there last August and November. Police in Baltimore and South Carolina will surely continue killing, as well, even if they are more anxious about the consequences; apparently, it requires this level of perpetual violence to preserve the current social order. It will take more than reforms, more than individual uprisings, to put a stop to police murder.
Clara: Over the past seven years, we have seen a slow, steady escalation in the tactics that protesters in the United States feel entitled to employ. In 2008 and 2009, only the most radical student groups went so far as to occupy universities; in 2011, Occupy became the watchword of an entire mass movement. During the Occupy movement, only the most radical groups went so far as to blockade anything; during the Black Lives Matter protests of November and December 2014, people around the United States employed highway blockades on a regular basis. During the protests that spread from Ferguson in 2014, only the most enraged participants engaged in vandalism, arson, and looting; yet protesters in Baltimore escalated to vandalism, arson, and looting as soon as their demonstrations escaped police control. All this illustrates the value of pushing the envelope: demonstrating new tactics, however unpopular they may be at the time, so that they enter the public imagination for future use.
Alanis: This escalation has been matched by a shift in popular discourse. During the flashpoints in Ferguson and Baltimore, some media outlets published daring editorials explaining the riots as acts of desperation, or making arguments for why people had given up on nonviolence. We have not seen such a public validation of militant tactics in the US for decades.
Yet there is a big difference between validating and participating. Many of these editorials are concerned only with explaining and legitimizing what they essentially treat as exotic phenomena; the implication is that the rest of us might accept what the rioters are doing from a distance, but certainly not participate in it ourselves. Other aspiring allies arrive at the same conclusion from a different direction, being so careful not to usurp the agency of the most affected communities that they end up standing aside entirely or putting their weight behind lower-risk initiatives.
Clara: But it is dangerous and unethical to leave the greatest risks to the most vulnerable people. If it makes sense for the most marginalized and targeted to risk their lives to interrupt the functioning of the system that is killing them, it makes even more sense for the rest of us to do so. It’s just not a question of understanding or explaining the uprisings, but of joining and extending them in order to render them unnecessary. That doesn’t necessarily mean invading others’ neighborhoods: the next time a Ferguson or a West Baltimore erupts, it might be most effective for those who wish to show solidarity to initiate actions elsewhere, in order to overextend the authorities. Nor should it mean centralizing ourselves in the narrative: solidarity means taking on the same risks that others are exposed to—nothing more, nothing less.
Alanis: It’s not clear how much further the state can go to maintain the current order by means of pure force. If uprisings occurred in multiple cities in the same region at the same time, or if a much broader range of people got involved, all bets would be off.
But the next demographic to enter the space of conflict might well be a reactionary force. The Dylann Roofs of the world and their equivalents within the halls of power want nothing better than to see society split into warring racial factions. As tensions in our society increase, it is up to us to make it possible to imagine other lines of conflict, producing a narrative of multi-ethnic struggle against white supremacy and capitalism by participating directly in the clashes that are occurring right now. Our liberation depends on it - and we may have less time than we know.
CONCLUSION: WHITE SUPREMACY AND AUTONOMOUS ORGANIZING
Alanis: OK, Clara, so in the context of this analysis and recent events, I’m seeing how the combination of state-based or institutional white supremacy…
Clara: You mean stuff like police murders, the prison industrial complex, etcetera…
Alanis: …right, how all that works in tandem with what you could call autonomous white supremacist violence, like the Emanuel Church massacre, church burnings, KKK rallies, and so forth.
Clara: By “autonomous” here you just mean “not conducted by the state or its agents,” right?
Alanis: Yeah, exactly. That violence seems like an extreme fringe, and the state often explicitly condemns or represses it. Yet it still serves the function of strengthening the state, and thus the impunity of white supremacist institutions like police and prisons, by enabling the state to position itself as the only force that can defend civil society against chaos.
Clara: Right. It’s not a coincidence that during the Civil Rights era, National Guard troops were used both to defend black schoolchildren in Little Rock trying to integrate public schools and to repress urban riots in black neighborhoods. The former was the price paid in exchange for the long-term stability of a capitalist order in which most black people are exploited or excluded, which then requires the latter when people get fed up and are just not having it anymore.
Alanis: That’s not to say it was a conspiracy or intentionally planned as such by some cabal of white leaders. But when white supremacy is entrenched in the very institutions that are supposed to keep us safe, even well-intentioned efforts may prove harmful in the long run. Of course, you can’t blame folks for wanting soldiers to protect them when they’re being assaulted by white mobs for trying to go to school. But the same National Guard would be shooting black folks by the dozen in Watts and Detroit and all over the country just a few years later. The combination of state and autonomous white supremacy creates this double bind for communities of color, trapping people between the rock of the KKK or Dylann Roof and the hard place of the National Guard, police and prison industrial complex. It’s no surprise then that these same communities of color have been the origin of some of the most creative and radical non-state alternatives for self-defense and conflict resolution, as we discussed some back in Episodes 6 and 8.
Alanis: These days, on the opposite side of the spectrum, we have peace police at demonstrations and the Oath Keepers in Ferguson, who are self-organized and outside of the state, but are attempting to do the job of police - that is, both enacting the social relations of policing as well as achieving police objectives of preserving law and order and property. The Oath Keepers are carrying on the legacy of the Minutemen on the US/Mexico border - remember them?
Clara: Oh, yeah - that gang of white supremacists and wingnuts who started armed patrols along the border because they complained that the Border Patrol wasn’t doing their job of imprisoning or killing potential migrants well enough.
Alanis: Exactly. That’s a textbook case of autonomous racists supporting the state’s white supremacist objectives, even when the state is nominally against them or represses them. The prospect of militias full of neo-Nazis roving the desert with assault rifles hunting migrants is maybe the only thing that could make the Border Patrol not look quite so bad.
Clara: Now here’s a creepy thought: what about anti-Muslim bigots who go abroad to fight ISIS, because they think that “the West isn’t doing enough” to fight Islamic terrorism? Is this one of the new front lines of autonomous white supremacy?
Alanis: We mentioned that prospect briefly in Episode 39, with the presence of former US and Israeli soldiers and Dutch biker gang members fighting alongside Kurds against ISIS in Rojava. While racism or anti-Muslim prejudice may be a driving force for a tiny minority of the autonomous anti-ISIS fighters, it’s more important to look at the structural role these types of interventions play. The Minutemen in Arizona or the Oath Keepers in Ferguson uphold borders and private property, two of the keystones of white supremacy in the US; and many of those who oppose them risk re-legitimizing the regular state forces that are doing the same job. The situation in and around Rojava is a lot more complex, but there’s neither a state nor a system of racial or ethnic domination that emerges as a clear winner as a result of the successful struggle of the militias against ISIS. The important thing isn’t the personal convictions of a given participant in any of these initiatives; the important thing is which systems and regimes these autonomous initiatives either uphold or challenge.
Clara: Well, that may be true, but here’s another take on it. Perhaps the really significant struggle in Rojava isn’t just between the militias and ISIS, but within the militias over what it means to fight against ISIS. On the one hand you have US airstrikes, collaborationist leaders, anti-Muslim volunteers, and various others who have a stake in aligning the militias with other powerful forces. You also have Kurds for whom it is a national liberation struggle to defend territory against non-Kurdish state forces. Then there are anarchists, communists, and other radicals who have their own visions for what autonomous territories in northern Syria might mean for the prospects of global revolution. It’s not a question of which one of these the struggle “really is” - it seems like an open question, at least at this point. There are a lot of parallels again here with the Spanish Civil War. In that struggle, anarchists lost the internal fight to determine the meaning of fighting Franco when the militias ceased to be about extending social revolution and instead focused on upholding the Popular Front government and army. In Rojava, it’s still possible that anarchists, democratic confederalists, and others with a horizontal vision of stateless freedom in the region could determine the narrative of what this conflict means. So in that sense, the personal convictions of the fighters, and their ability to position those convictions within the narrative of what’s happening there, might actually be crucially important to the new social order that will arise in Rojava in the aftermath of the war against ISIS. And that’s a strong argument for anarchists to participate in and support the anti-authoritarian elements of that struggle as much as we can.
Alanis: OK, I see what you mean. In the context of Rojava, that makes sense, for sure. But in terms of non-state groups defending borders, cops, and property in the US, I think personal convictions are less significant. It’s conceivable (though unlikely) that an Oath Keeper or even a Minuteman could legitimately believe themselves to be opposed to racist views. They might just see themselves as motivated by patriotism, desire for border security, respect for private property, or other ideologies that are functionally but not explicitly white supremacist. But in the context of institutional white supremacy in the US, all sorts of well-intentioned actions serve to reinforce racist realities. The threat of these autonomous groups is that they divert militant energy away from organizing against institutional white supremacy, while channeling opposition into formats that may re-legitimize the state, as we saw with the South Carolina Confederate flag controversy.
Clara: Right. That speaks to something from this analysis that I think is a super important conceptual shift for anarchists in this era: autonomous organizing is necessary, but not sufficient. It is definitely not enough to just be against the state or trying to operate outside of it, when everyone from anarcho-capitalist entrepreneurs to Oath Keepers to so-called “National Anarchist” racists are doing the same thing. And when being at the reins of formal state power can actually be a risk rather than an asset, as in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, this trend of non-anarchist formations trying to wield power through non-state means will likely keep expanding. Yet as more and more shitty projects that defend oppression are organizing outside of the state, people who want to oppose oppression will be increasingly driven back into the arms of the state.
Alanis: Which is not a good place to be, for anyone who cares about freedom.
Clara: Right. So the task for us as anarchists is twofold. On the one hand, to challenge projects that are non-state or autonomous but hierarchical - whether that’s crushing Nazis and the Klan in the streets, or challenging Oath Keeper- or Minuteman-style defenders of borders and property, or refuting the fantasies of so-called libertarians that equate freedom with an unregulated capitalist market. But on the other hand, to challenge liberals and reformers who see the state as the last refuge of protection against white supremacist violence, the cruelties of the free market, and other social problems.
Alanis: Sigh… sure sounds daunting when you say it like that!
Clara: Well, OK, let me say it another way. As anarchists, we can connect with people who are already organizing autonomously, while offering an analysis of hierarchy to show how we’re more likely to realize our shared desires for stateless freedom through mutual aid rather than markets, and rooted in solidarity rather than a race or a nation. And we can connect with people who are committed to racial and economic justice, while offering an analysis of the state to show that we’re more likely to realize our shared desires for freedom and equality through self-organization than the empty promises of politicians.
Alanis: I like that!
Clara: So what now?
Alanis: Well, next we want to revisit the history of capitalism and white supremacy we started in Episode 32. But this episode is already long enough, so we’re going to save that for next time. Stay tuned for an exploration of 18th century America, the Revolutionary War, and how capitalism and white supremacy were woven into the very foundation of the United States.
Clara: And perhaps with that context, we’ll get a little bit closer to understanding the question of why racist police violence continues to be a fundamental feature of the US landscape today.
Alanis: And what we can do to resist it. Clara: And that concludes this episode of the ex-worker. Thanks to Underground Reverie for the music.
Alanis: This has been a production of the Crimethinc Ex-Worker’s Collective.
Clara: Until next time…
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
We based our discussion of US struggles against white supremacy over the last year on the CrimethInc. blog feature “Next Time It Explodes”, which includes a timeline of the Baltimore uprising and other links and info.
For background on our discussions of white supremacy, police violence and resistance in this episode: we began our coverage of the Ferguson uprisings a year ago in Episode 27, sharing accounts from participants and an analysis of the “outside agitator” discourse, plus a review of texts by anarchists in Oakland and in Durham, North Carolina analyzing rebellions that appeared after police killings in those cities. Then in Episode 32 last December, we posed the question of why the authorities let these murderous cops off without charges, despite knowing that a nationwide uprising would almost certainly ensue. To put the rebellions in a contemporary global context, we shared an excerpt from a CrimethInc. analysis of the significance of anti-police anger in catalyzing revolt around the world since the Arab Spring, then looked at the historical roots of capitalism and white supremacy in the origins of European conquest and colonization in the Americas.
Don’t miss the exciting call to action from comrades in Korea in this episode! From their call: “Make your actions known directly or send us a report about them. You could also send us creative material such as songs, pictures, drawings, or video, to 3.1manse[at]riseup[dot]net. We will compile and distribute these ourselves.”
In our listener feedback section, we discussed “A Day Mournful and Overcast” by an “uncontrollable” of the Iron Column during the Spanish Civil War. You can also listen to the text in audiobook form here, from Resonance Audio Distro. We also mentioned “The Master’s Tools: Warfare and Insurgent Possibility” by Tom Nomad, which was reviewed in the recently released Rolling Thunder #12.
We mentioned the article on a corporate infiltrator into an animal rights group in a California anti-SeaWorld campaign in our last episode, but the link was broken. There’s the proper link – sorry! It’s a useful read for activists interested in understanding how to research and out potential infiltrators.
We sourced our coverage of goings on around the one year anniversary of the Ferguson rebellions from “It’s Going Down,” a newer anarchist news website. Check it out!
Here’s a link to the latest Avalanche where you can find the article which chronicles the hunger strike in the Greek prisons that took place earlier this summer, which a huge response of solidarity from all over the world. The article begins on page 28.