With the rise of the Golden Dawn fascist group in Greece, and their attempts to build a base here in the U.S. (link) , anti-fascist strategies are becoming more and more crucial.
Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if the police continue to “out- source” political repression to private groups (fascists, gangs, white supremacist populists, private security forces, etc.) as budget crises deepen.
This weekend, after anti-colonial marchers were arrested, San Francisco papers published their photos and someone put up posters calling for violence against Bay Area anarchists. All of this could be part of a trend in this direction, and this blog post is an attempt to prompt a discussion about how to deal with these forms of repression and violence.
I’m not suggesting the posters themselves are a secret plot by the state, and I am not suggesting that they are produced by fascists or by gangs. It seems they represent some sort of political beef emerging out of Occupy Oakland that is related to racial and class divisions within Oakland and within Occupy Oakland. I am not there, and I don’t know the context, so I won’t hazard a guess. If anyone wants to clarify in the comments below what is really going on, I welcome any corrections.
I do know that the papers publishing photos of arrested activists opens up the possibility of vigilante attacks from various political tendencies, or private repression in the form of people being fired from jobs, blacklisted, tracked by private security agencies, etc. So we need to think about how to deal with this from a variety of angles. How can we get to the point where we are deeply connected with our neighbors, our coworkers, etc. where we support each other on a daily basis, so they will support us in situations like this? I do think that we are making progress toward this goal in Seattle, and the Who You Callin’ Illegal group emerging to support our comrade Dede against deportation is a good example. But we still have a long way to go. I also know I am not saying anything new here – most radicals want to build communities that are this strong; it is simply a question of how to do it.
When I was in the Philippines recently, I spoke with activists who face much more severe repression than we face here - from the state, from private security forces, and from vigilantes and gangs that serve corporate interests. They rely on fellow workers, fellow poor people, and fellow peasants to back them up. They are part of the communities they are organizing in, they are not separate- so people understand an attack on them to be an attack on the whole community. This is a result of decades of patient organizing where they have earned people’s respect and trust.
Recently, some revolutionaries have made criticisms of slow patient base-building work (what’s often called “community organizing” or “labor organizing”), pointing out that political developments might happen much faster in this time of crisis, and revolutionaries need to be flexible enough to put specific organizing work on hold temporarily in order to intervene in mass ruptures and upsurges like Occupy, ruptures which are impossible to predict ahead of time, no matter how good our theories are. I agree with this. However, if you aren’t doing any community building and day-to-day organizing, when you do intervene in a rupture, it’s easier for the state to isolate and crush you once that rupture subsides.
I think this debate between ruptures and base building is largely a function of our existing radical circles being so small that we don’t have time to do both. As we grow, this will become less of an issue – it is also a good argument to prioritize growing. I also want to highlight that this is not an anarchist vs. Marxist issue. At least in Seattle, both anarchists and Marixsts do community base buidling, and both intervened aggressively in the Decolonize/ Occupy movement, alongside lots of people who don’t identify with either philosophy.
In my view, our goal should be to build mass-based communities, networks, and organizations that can intervene together in ruptures, go through the experience together, and grow. Also, we should get to the point where we can consolidate mass communities, networks, and organizations out of ruptures – so that ruptures create communities that are not isolated and cliquish, that are open to the rest of the working class and oppressed people. Again, I know most radicals want to do something like this - only a handful of radicals are actually against being social. The question is how to do it better.
As we think about that, I’d also like to share some resources that might help us strategize about how to deal with privatized repression and rising vigilante threats. Not only is this crucial for building a revolution, but it may be necessary to make sure we can stay alive long enough to see the revolution.
1) on the privatization of repression, check out Barack, Badiou, and Bilal Al Hasan by Don Hamerquist. This article argues that the US is increasingly governing via gangs, vigilantes, and private mercenaries in the Middle East, developing forms of counter-insurgency that could spread to other zones of conflict around the world. While I don’t agree with all his points in this article, the core point relevant for this discussion is Don’s necessary focus on how state forms are changing in the current moment.
As anti-authoritarians, we tend to focus on the state apparatus as the biggest oppressor, partly to compensate for the statism of past communist movements. We do need to oppose the state. However, we need to recognize that state forms change over time, prompted by contradictions within the capitalist economy and clashes of class forces, and that the ruling class governs through a whole other set of apparatuses outside of their formal state institutions. As states become “hollowed out”, they might increasingly rely on private forms of repression. We need to oppose hierarchy and repression everywhere, not just in the state apparatus.
2) On that note, check out the website of John Robb, one of the ruling class’s most intelligent counter-insurgency experts. He advocates privatization of repression because he thinks the US military and police are unable to deal with “open source”, decentralized revolutionary movements that can outthink and outmaneuver slow state bureaucracies.
I’d highly recommend reading his book Brave New War which summarizes the most cutting edge theories of guerilla warfare from movements around the world and then makes a case to the US rulers for how they can defeat these through new forms of privatized repression that mirror them.
In other words, he acknowledges that decentralized movements can outpace, outsmart, and outmaneuver clunky and slow state bureaucracies, so he is trying to convince the capitalists to organize their counter insurgency efforts in similarly decentralized forms – guerilla cells for the global capitalists.
Robb argues that movements like Occupy represent “nonviolent” guerilla movements and open source protests.
Sometimes it’s unclear whether he’s cheering on these protests or calling for open source warfare against them in order to defeat them. In either case, this is some bizarre and brilliant ruling class strategizing that we need to pay attention to so we don’t get caught off guard by followers of Robb who want to co-opt and/or kill us.
3) Privatization of repression has already started to happen in parts of the US through the police dividing and conquering gangs against each other – because they can only kill a limited number of Black people without prompting uprisings, they rely on gangs to do the rest of their work for them. The police sometimes operate as the largest gang in the city, and they sometimes position themselves as a force to destabilize any peace efforts between gangs, in order to keep Black neighborhoods divided and conquered.
For example, when the Bloods and Crips tried to form an alliance in 1992 against the LA police, the police allegedly confiscated a Crip O.G.’s car and did a drive by out of his car in a Blood neighborhood to re-start the war. This sort of divide and conquer strategy, coupled with deindustrializing inner cities and the rapid expansion of public and private prisons, is partially how the state neutralized the Black Power movement over the past 40 years. This is documented in the movie “Bastards of the Party” by Athens Park Blood O.G. Cle ”Bone” Sloan
4) I am not a Trotskyist and disagree with Trotsky on many things, but I happen to think that some of his strategic thinking on how to oppose Nazism in the 30s is highly relevant to the situation in Greece today and possibly in the US in the future. Here is a summary of his work.
I haven’t read his original book yet, I just ordered a copy of it, so I’m just going off this piece because it is free online. But based on what I read here, if anarchists in Greece today were to apply his strategy, they would invite Syriza and the socialists to form a united front coalition against Golden Dawn, and to confront them directly in the streets, instead of through parliamentary maneuvers. The socialists are running for office through Syriza, thinking that the state apparatus will keep them safe, but it won’t – the police often side with the fascists. If the fascists grow, they will kill immigrants, anarchists, socialists, union members, LGBTQ people, an anyone else in their way. Perhaps the anarchists and anti-state communsits could try to convince the socialists that they need to think outside of the state in order to stay safe.
Together, Syriza and the anarchists might have the physical force necessary to stop the fascists, but alone they are weaker. If the anarchists try to go it alone without Syriza’s support they could all be murdered by the fascists and the cops. Trotsky would probably say that only together can they prevent the rise of fascism, but it needs to be an alliance on radical terms, not something that relies on petitioning the state for protection from the fascists.
My only caveat with this is that a lot of Trotskyists seem to push this toward a Popular front – telling the anarchists they need to tone down their message in order to reach out to working people who still support reformist groups, electoral politics, etc. This is reminiscent of the Communist Party’s Popular Front, where they said fascism is the bigger enemy than imperialism, and revolutionaries should stop being militant in order to unite with the liberals (Democrats, etc.) against the Nazis. The Communist Party even red-baited radicals who lead strikes during World War II . We need to oppose this Popular Front logic, because it led to opportunistic outcomes, like subordinating the Black liberation struggle in the US , telling Black people to wait to rise up against US white supremacy in order to secure American national unity in World War II vs. the Nazis. We need to argue firmly against anyone who wants to repeat this today.
Instead, what Trotsky is advocating is a united front – each group maintains its politics, the radicals don’t subordinate or hide ours, we simply enter into a tactical alliance of mutual protection that operates at the street level, not the electoral level. The goal would be to mobilize all workers and oppressed people to defend each other, even if they have reformist politics. Again, this is similar to what we are trying to do now with the anti-deportation organizing in Seattle.
I’m not sure what a united front against fascism would look like in the US context since there is no analogous large social democratic force, and no large anarchist/ communist force here. Luckily, fascism has also not grown as rapidly here as in Greece. All 3 could grow simultaneously in future movements, so we need to keep thinking about this.
My last reservation with applying Trotsky’s strategy is that we need to account for how some of the fascists are an insurgent right-wing movement from below. They are competing with the Left and the anarchists to express the anger that many people feel against the capitalist system. Any force that gets too close with electoral reformism could get discredited as this reformism leads to new rounds of austerity and capitalist crisis. This could happen to Syriza too. All the other socialist electoral parties have ended up imposing austerity and subordination to imperialism and global capital. If Leftists get too close to these parties and do not criticize them, the fascists can say “look, the Left failed to fight austerity, we are the only force left capable of doing it, so side with us”.
I don’t know what Trotsky’s answer would be to this – but I do think that any adaptation of his united front against fascism should be a loose tactical alliance in which the radicals can maintain our distance from the state and from statist parties, while pledging mutual defense of all working class, feminist, LGBTQ, and people of color grassroots institutions and communities against fascist attacks, even if we do not have the same politics.
In a Seattle context, we may disagree with groups like Freedom Socialist Party, the ISO, the NAACP, or the unions. But if their offices were attacked by fascists, I hope we’d rally to their aid, and I hope they’d rally in turn if our communities were attacked.
5) Building of my concern about right-wing insurgent fascism, I would also highly recommend the book Confronting Fascism by Don Hamerquist, J. Sakai, and folks from Anti Racist Action.
It explores possibilities of insurgent / revolutionary fascism and its relationship to the legacy of colonial settlerism, and the possibility of this settlerism breaking down in the current economic crisis, opening up right-wing and left-wing revolutionary potentials among white workers.
Excerpts are available here
This builds on anti-fascist strategies developed by the Sojourner Truth Organization in the 70s, archived here and summarized in the book Truth and Revolution that just came out.
I hope we can strategize how to deal with these new forms of fascism, anti-radical vigilantism, and privatized repression. We should keep all of this in mind when we debate things like the strengths and weaknesses of specific uses of the Black Block tactic by radicals. The privatization of repression, the rise of insurgent fascism in the wake of failed reformist strategies, and the need for broad-based united fronts of mutual security are all factors we should consider in these tactical debates.