Revolution or War n°16

(Biannual - October 2020)

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Protests and Electoral Campaign in America: The False Opposition Between Racism and Anti-Racism and the Threat it Poses for the International Proletariat

We are witnessing a dangerous dynamic developing in the events in the United States. State terror has not been interrupted, far from it. People continue to be killed and maimed by police in blatant instances of excessive force. A recent outrage was the shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin of a black man in front of his three children, which led to his paralysis from the waist down. Following the killing of G. Floyd by police in May, a widespread protest emerged whose geographic spread peaked in early June [1]. In Portland, Oregon protests have continued unabated since May. The Trump administration, after failing in its bid to deploy the US armed forces to repress the protests, has deployed federal agents to Portland, where these agents, apparently dressed in camouflage but bearing no insignia, have been arresting protesters without reading them their Miranda rights, in a clear intimidation exercise. These federal agents are supported by armed far right groups, which have basically received verbal support from Trump. People have been killed in clashes between protesters and right wing militiamen. A 17 year old Trump supporter and member of the far right militia Patriot Prayer shot and killed two protesters, wounding a third. More recently a member of Patriot Prayer was shot and killed.

These developments unfortunately give weight to the warning in our previous statement with the GCCF about the danger that combative sections of the working class could be drawn into a bloody confrontation in the false opposition between fascism and anti-fascism or racism and anti-racism, etc, which threatens to sabotage a proletarian response to the crisis of capitalism and the attacks on workers’ living conditions that go with it. The working class is faced with lay-offs, reduced wages, worsening working conditions, mass evictions, all exacerbated by the raging pandemic, which in the US alone threatens to kill 400,000 by January [2].

There has been the emergence of an “autonomous zone” free of police, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), in Seattle, Washington. In this autonomous zone, equal parts protest and cultural festival, an experiment in prefigurative politics was attempted with participants engaging in self-policing and community gardening, among other activities. Additionally, photos emerged of white protesters enforcing a racially segregated safe space for black people, in a striking example of progressive (sic) racial segregation. There is certainly a connecting thread between this racially segregated “safe zone” in the CHAZ, the farcical poster [3] put out (and later retracted after a backlash) by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture about a supposed “white culture”, and the mandatory racially segregated workplace sensitivity training sessions in the US; all three have the objective effect of undermining solidarity based on class and substituting it with class collaboration. The CHAZ ended tragically when an armed protester acting as security for the protest killed two black teenagers in a case of mistaken identity. After this, the occupied protest was disbanded and the participants were no doubt demoralized that a protest set up to denounce police violence against black Americans would end with two innocent black teenagers shot and killed.

It is highly instructive to consider the scale and composition of the protests. According a poll from a company that works with Democratic campaigns, Civis Analytics, 23 million people (9% of the total US population) participated in the protests until late June. The same poll found that the plurality of people participating were under the age of 35 and the most common income group were people earning more than $150,000 per year [4], roughly 2.5-fold greater than the median income in the US. This provides clues as to the target audience of Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility, which argues that “progressive” white Americans benefit from and actively participate in systemic racism, and which is #2 on the New York Times Best seller list in the paperback non-fiction category at the time of writing. So what are the implications of these protests for the working class in the US and worldwide?

In the time since the publication of our joint statement with the GCCF on the anti-police brutality protests in the United States, events have confirmed the active and reactionary role played by identitarianism and anarchism in the social struggles in North America. Despite being late in relation to the events on the ground – by the time we published our statement the co-option by the left of capital was already well underway – the statement had the merit of providing orientations that encouraged proletarians drawn to these protests to struggle on their own terrain and of warning that left identitarianism would be leveraged by the Democratic faction of the US ruling class. Below we will attempt to clarify our position on the ongoing events and respond to some criticisms we have received from comrades as well as from others who occupy what we refer to as the “swamp” between leftism and the revolutionary milieu.

Bourgeois ideology and ideological campaigns

Despite the confused and inter-classist character of the early protests, as well as the evidently sterile terrain on which they have ultimately settled, it is indisputable that they initially represented a spontaneous and popular revolt against decades of state terror. To argue, as some have in unpublished comments, that the events were entirely reducible to a bourgeois ideological campaign from the first day is to approach a truly conspiratorial view of the extent of ruling class control. On the other hand, we are aware that, despite the police being a repressive apparatus of the state whose role is to maintain a system of class domination, the terrain on which a response to police violence occurs matters. It is clear that the ruling class, particularly its left fractions, from the Democrat Party, to its hangers on such as Black Lives Matter and the radical leftists and anarchists, reacted rapidly and succeeded in imposing a bourgeois democratic terrain and a campaign focused on “defunding the police” and polarizing social antagonisms around the axis of race. Understanding that it would be impossible to abolish the police without abolishing the social relations that produce the necessity of its existence means that we can see through the mystified solutions offered by identitarianism, and we can see that only the proletariat can seriously challenge the state and its repressive apparatuses.

A development during the CHAZ that was consistent with the argument in our previous statement that police cannot be abolished within the horizon of capitalism, only rebranded, was the hiring of the private security firms such as Fortress Security by business owners in Seattle. According to a co-owner of one of these firms, the services of the company, whose employees largely have military and police backgrounds, were in high demand during the protest [5]. If the demand of the occupied protest that Seattle police funding be cut by 50% was granted presumably the market for these security firms would have expanded considerably in the city.

What has characterized many of the movements in recent days, in North America and elsewhere, has been the absence of the proletariat acting as an independent political subject. This would be expressed in its most mature form in the existence of a political vanguard of the working class actively intervening in working class struggles and able to effectively fight for an alternative through not only warning against the danger of letting the proletarians be dragged behind the bourgeois and leftist formations of the state, but also and above all calling on the proletarians to develop their own struggle as proletarians and not “Americans or black people”. A proletarian terrain alone can provide a clear and efficient response to the massive state repression and police killings. Neither has the proletariat been able to minimally defend its conditions of work and life except on a few occasions. It should not surprise us then that this vacuum, both in terms of proletarian political leadership by a political vanguard and the leadership of social struggles by the proletariat, has favoured the co-option of popular revolts against state repression by bourgeois factions and by leftism. Without the leadership of popular revolts by the proletariat, what is bound to occur is exactly what we have seen: symbolic protests by a minority of leftist iconoclasts, concerned above all with aesthetic, and either indifferent (if we are being charitable) or openly hostile to the working class as such. These iconoclasts’ activity consists in seeking to engage in street battles with armed proto-fascist militias and toppling statues, including of the leaders of the world’s second bourgeois revolution [6]. Nevertheless, we believe that there was a window of opportunity – early on in the protests when food service workers and bus drivers, for example, refused to comply with police – during which the proletarians drawn to the popular revolt could have been incited to move onto an explicitly proletarian terrain of strikes and class-wide demands, thereby favouring the generalization of the struggle on a massive scale. By now, the potential of such an evolution has been definitively exhausted.

The absence of any significant movement of the proletarian class as such and any effective political vanguard means that the “default ideas” under capitalism – bourgeois ideology – are bound to bubble up and become prominent. The status of bourgeois ideology in its various forms as the “common sense” of the epoch does not fundamentally depend on the waging of ideological campaigns. Rather, ideology is a consequence of the reification of capitalist relations, the appearance of relations between people as relations between things. Because of this character of ideology, to claim that the task of the revolutionary vanguard is simply to clear away the mystification that obscures our view of reality is to severely restrict the scope of activity of the revolutionary vanguard and to divert it from its primary task, which is to become the effective leadership of the working class in struggle by providing orientations that correspond both to the immediate objective requirements of the struggle and the historic interests of the class. In situations of explosive class struggle, the bearers of the revolutionary orientations, eventually Party militants, must assume leadership of the organs set up by the working class to coordinate its struggle and eventually to exercise its class power. The working class will not “spontaneously” supersede capitalism if only its illusions were shattered because its illusions are, to a great extent, a spontaneous product of reification.

It would be a mistake, however, to consider that bourgeois ideological campaigns do not occur or are not significant. Here it is important to note that the class struggle is not merely to be understood as the working class struggle, but as the struggle between the classes. The ruling class also wages class war against the proletariat. To this end it relies on the repressive apparatuses of the state, the police and judiciary for example, but its arsenal also includes more subtle weapons, notably the ideological apparatuses (e.g. the mass media, the educational system, etc) and the leftist political formations that lead the proletarians into various traps. That is exactly what the US ruling class and its state apparatus is developing today against the proletariat, squeezing it from the left, the anti-racist Democratic Party, and from the right behind Trump, who presents himself as the defender of law and order, serving as a useful tool due to his provocative language and actions.

The role and character of contemporary leftism in North America

The forms of leftism that we are confronted with today on this continent are anarchism and identitarianism. Maoism and Stalinism are simply not relevant anymore and even the political formations that formally adhere to the ML and MLM traditions have fully taken identitarianism (intersectionality, privilege theory) on board [7]. Therefore, we are disturbed to see the extent to which important groups of the Communist Left are adapting themselves to this new trend and flirting with anarchist and identitarian positions rather than clearly denouncing these formations and this identitarian trend as the concrete means by which the more combative section of the proletariat could be led into a dead-end or provoked into a bloody confrontation in the false dichotomy between fascism and anti-fascism, racism-antiracism, etc. We see, for example, the ICC reaffirming its previous distinction between “official” and “unofficial” anarchism, the latter being supposedly revolutionary [8], and we have also seen the ICT defend the position that there is no fundamental, that is to say class, distinction between anarchism and Marxism, both of these traditions supposedly having revolutionary and counterrevolutionary currents [9]. This latter position opens the door to the conception that radical liberalism (aka anarchism) is today part of the working class movement and that Stalinism is an evolution of Marxism rather than its complete negation and betrayal.

To see the adeptness with which the Democratic and left factions of the US bourgeoisie are adapting and nurturing this identitarian trend for their own ends, one can refer to Obama’s eulogy to the late John Lewis, former member of the US House of Representatives. Here he argued that “ordinary people without wealth (...) can come together and overcome injustice”, and he appealed to people to vote as one of the necessary conditions for nurturing democracy. There would be, according to him, an organic continuity between civil disobedience and elections. Recall that one of the stated objectives of the organization Black Lives Matter is to induce people of colour to vote. This leveraging of identitarianism is not a particularly new development either. During her 2016 election campaign, Hillary Clinton argued that systemic racism is at the very centre of the issues that combined to create the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The lack of running water suitable for human consumption in Flint would be due to systemic racism rather than the structural crisis that has been ravaging global capitalism since the 1970s and that has been accompanied by militarism as well as erosion of living standards and infrastructure. We should fully expect that the Biden-Harris campaign will draw from the same identitarian playbook.

Moreover, the degree of sincerity of leftist militants, and their apparent radicalism, is proportional to the extent to which they are able to derail the proletariat, because what ultimately counts is not the sincerity of the individual militants but the objective effects of their politics put into practice. One of the objective effects of these politics may just turn out to be increased racial sectarianism. We are seeing mandatory racially segregated workplace sensitivity training in the US and various corporations – including McDonald’s, Amazon, H&M, and Levis, to name the best known – marketing themselves as socially responsible and racially aware by promoting BLM [10]. In the hands of the Democratic Party establishment and the corporate elites however this campaign would have little traction if it were not for the radical liberal identitarians (Antifa and BLM) that have the necessary credibility, due largely to the doubtless sincerity of their militants, to effectively occupy the terrain of struggle.


Black militiamen of the NFAC (Not Fucking Around Coalition, sic!)…
(Source photo newsthud.com)

The danger some fail to see is left identitarians rallying proletarians onto a false terrain only to be smashed by the hammer of the federal intervention in conjunction with the right-wing militias. Later, perhaps under a Democratic administration, a series of laws ’seeking to remedy racial inequality’ is passed and a victory for progress is declared. A demoralizing defeat could have historical and international significance because of the fundamental importance of the proletariat in the US in opposing the drive to generalized imperialist war by the US bourgeoisie. If combative sections of the US working class, which could otherwise go on to form the ’factory vanguard’ for example, were to be crushed on a false terrain and divided along racial lines, this could render any subsequent opposition to US imperialism’s war drive inside the US itself, through strikes in sectors strategic for the war economy, far more difficult. It could impose a new balance of forces that would tend towards the resolution of the historical dilemma in favour of generalized imperialist war. To avoid this, the working class must mobilize on its own terrain because this way it can produce a mass struggle that directly threatens the fundamental basis of capitalist society, commodity production, and in the political domain ultimately poses the need for the exercise of state power by the proletarian dictatroship. In the struggles, the political vanguard of the working class must be clear in denouncing the insidious role of identitarianism and anarchism in derailing the proletariat and potentially leading it into impasses.


... and white people marching and facing each other in the streets of American cities. They are all armed with machine guns and provoke each other in front of and with the consent of the police and the state.
(Source photo stormfront.org)

Concluding remarks

The reproach that we spend too much time and effort demonstrating the reactionary character of leftism misses the crucial point that these are the ideologies with which the proletariat is confronted. The most significant false friend today is not Cold War era leftism, USSR defencism being obsolete, but precisely identitarianism and anarchism, the present bourgeois forms that aim to bring the proletariat behind the democratic mystification and the state, whatever the intentions of individual leftist militants. Today in the US this goes to the point of bringing the whole focus onto the Presidential campaign, the democratic terrain, for and against the “fascist Trump”, to encourage everyone to vote. The above criticism of us also misses the point that the struggles, whether more or less explicitly proletarian or inter-classist (“popular”), whether in the streets or in the workplaces, regardless of their different natures and dynamics, are politically contested spaces in which the communist organizations and the Party should intervene to defend the historical class perspectives.

As noted above, the terrain of class struggle is a decisive factor. The issue of the dynamic of class struggle cannot simply be reduced to a question of political leadership, even though this political leadership is ultimately a sine qua non of social revolution. The communist political organizations cannot change the class terrain of a mobilization by sheer force of will. We cannot change an identitarian mobilization into a proletarian one, in the same way that it would be impossible to transform a nationalist movement into a proletarian mobilization.

There is a dialectical relationship between the objective historical situation and the subjective factor that is expressed in the struggles of the proletariat and the activity of the revolutionary vanguards. The influence of the latter on the proletariat is not simply a function of their numerical strength, but also of the correctness of the orientations put forward, the terrain on which the workers are mobilizing, as well as the objective historical context in which they act. Depending on the dynamics of the class struggle, on whether the bourgeoisie is forced by the crisis of capitalism to intensify exploitation (as it is now) or if there is a relative period of prosperity, if there is unfolding a natural or man-made disaster that the ruling class is responding to in a criminally negligent, incompetent, or callous way (as is the case currently), and a slew of other factors, not least of which are initiatives taken by the ruling class, the intervention of revolutionaries will be more or less influential on the course of events.

The aggressive and provocative policy of the US ruling class – through the use of the violence and identitarianism – represents a crucial battle in the period of massive class confrontations in which we now are. Instead of waiting for the proletariat to respond on its own class terrain to the capitalist economic crisis that the pandemic has made so sudden and brutal, it has seized the opportunity of the recent police murders of black people to take the political and ideological initiative to bring the inescapable social revolts and unrest onto its terrain of democracy/authoritarianism, racism/anti-racism, white privilege/black oppression, etc. In this first battle, whose political stakes go far beyond the US situation, the role of revolutionary forces is already a crucial point for the future and for the outcome of the massive international class confrontations that are developing.

Before we can seriously contemplate becoming an effective vanguard, a vanguard recognized as such by the workers in struggle and that is able to exert a decisive influence on the course of events, we have to achieve a principled unity among revolutionaries that can only be accomplished through a process of clarification of the objective historical interests of the proletariat and through a concurrent decantation of the revolutionary elements, which will go on to form the class Party, from the leftist and idealist swamp.

Stavros, September 7th, 2020.

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Notes:

[4. Idem (NYT)

[6. According to a revision of history now in vogue among the identitarian left in the US, the American Revolution would have had no progressive character whatsoever.

[7. As for Trotskyism, WSWS for example, has been somewhat of an exception in regard to the identitarian campaigns waged by the bourgeoisie, in that it wrote extensively to denounce them. This does not change its counterrevolutionary character, however, as evidenced by its thinly veiled support for Russian imperialism.

[8. “Ten years ago we wrote about internationalist anarchism. And we defended the internationalist tendencies within anarchism as an expression of proletarian internationalism.” And later on they quote the text from ten years ago: “a part of [the anarchist] milieu has sincerely aspired to the revolution and socialism, expressing a real will to finish with capitalism and exploitation” (ICC, https://en.internationalism.org/content/16885/acg-rejects-identity-politics-accepts-democratic-secular-state-israel

[9. “The real divide is not so much between Marxism and Anarchism per se, but between those revolutionaries who see a future as a cooperative collective one without classes and without a state and those who claim the title of Marxist or Anarchist but either defend a distorted version of capitalism, or are quite happy to pursue a lifestyle within it without challenging the bases of the state or class rule” (ICT, Marxism and Anarchism, https://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2013-11-09/marxism-and-anarchism).