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Tag: racism

LA ’92: The context of a proletarian uprising

by Aufheben (1992)

Distorted by the bourgeois press, reduced to a mere ‘race riot’ by many on the left, the L.A. rebellion was the most serious urban uprising this century. This article seeks to grasp the full significance of these events by relating them to their context of class re-composition and capitalist restructuring.


April 29th, 1992, Los Angeles exploded in the most serious urban uprising in America this century. It took the federal army, the national guard and police from throughout the country five days to restore order, by which time residents of L.A. had appropriated millions of dollars worth of goods and destroyed a billion dollars of capitalist property. Most readers will be familiar with many of the details of the rebellion. This article will attempt to make sense of the uprising by putting the events into the context of the present state of class relations in Los Angeles and America in order to see where this new militancy in the class struggle may lead.

Before the rebellion, there were two basic attitudes on the state of class struggle in America. The pessimistic view is that the American working class has been decisively defeated. This view has held that the U.S. is – in terms of the topography of the global class struggle – little more than a desert. The more optimistic view held, that despite the weakness of the traditional working class against the massive cuts in wages, what we see in the domination of the American left by single issue campaigns and “Politically Correct” discourse is actually evidence of the vitality of the autonomous struggles of sections of the working class. The explosion of class struggle in L.A. shows the need to go beyond these one-sided views.

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Privilege Theory’s Critique of Marxism

by Jehu 2014

1.    Privilege theory as a critique of Marxism from within Marxismsadwhiteguy

Privilege theory was custom made for post-war Marxism because, basically, with the just dawning realization that the class struggle appears to have all but disappeared in society in the post-war period, they don’t have much of anything else to discuss when it comes to politics.

Privilege theory has its roots in a self-critique within mid-60s Marxism that communists were neglecting the extent to which racism divided the working class. These critics argued the communists themselves marginalized or altogether ignored the surging black liberation movement and the movements of other oppressed strata within American society. However, the view of these critics of Marxism was, in large part, itself infected with many of the same naive conceptions of the working class in particular and class society as a whole as infected the thinking of the more “orthodox” Marxists.

The “white blindspot” critique assumed the working class was not  already divided by its material conditions of existence, but because the capitalist created and employed racism to divide it. As I will show, the false implication underlying the original argument was that absent racism, the working class would be united. The error is not unique to the “white blindspot” theorists: it pervades the Marxist praxis in the post-war period. This is the sort of argument that demonstrates Marxism’s complete lack of understanding of class society. The argument here is critical to both the critique of Marxism and of privilege theory because the assumption (implicit or explicit) made by Marxists on both sides is that the working class is capable of overcoming its divisions short of complete social emancipation.  On the other hand, the growing influence of privilege theory among activists demonstrates the working class is anything but united and likely cannot be united within its present material conditions.

The conflict over privilege theory can be summed up in two (admittedly simplistic) arguments:

1. With the overthrow of capitalism, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression will be done away with.

and

2. Racism, sexism and other forms of privilege cannot be ended simply by overthrowing capitalism.

At the outset, I am not going to say both sides are wrong in their characterization of the conflicts and divisions within the working class. I just want to assert that the notion of working class unity runs into some very thorny theoretical question based on a less naive grasp of how classes are constituted in bourgeois society. In historical materialism, all classes in bourgeois society have the same characteristics: First, their common material conditions of existence are independent of the members of the class. Second, absent a conflict with another class, the members of a class are on hostile terms with each other.

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The mystery of ‘populism’ finally unveiled

by G.M. Tamás

The philosopher of post-Fascism enters the populism fray with his own candidate for post-truth: Left betrayal.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Orban looking at the Bavarian and the Hungarian flag in front of the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, March 2016

There is nothing new in consecrated terms being used in an entirely novel sense without announcing the change, and thereby misleading readers. It happens every day. It is no surprise if, being unable to explain a new phenomenon, people give it a resounding name instead of a theory or at least a description. This is what is happening with ‘populism’ or ‘right populism’ – or even ‘left populism’ – words used to depict states of affairs old as the hills at the same time as surprisingly new ones. ‘Populism’ has become a synonym of ‘I don’t understand it, but I was asked to talk about it’.

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Workers of the World, Fight Amongst Yourselves!

Notes on the Refugee Crisis

by Friends of the Classless Society via Endnotes

The following text, by the Freundinnen und Freunden der klassenlosen Gesellschaft, was published in the October and November issues of the German leftist magazine Konkret. Translated here by Endnotes. 

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1.

Last fall it appeared as if we were witnessing a political turning point. A mass movement of migrants showed fortress Europe the limits of its reach. This was, however, only a movement in the literal sense of the word and certainly not the awakening of a “multitude” shaking the foundations of the prevailing order. Migrants had no demands beyond the right to remain in Europe, a right which they had already temporarily asserted. In Germany, as the state failed to mobilize adequate resources, the logistics involved with the arrival of refugees were mostly left to volunteers. Meanwhile, the radical left took to celebrating the collapse of the European border regime as an act of “self-empowerment” or as “autonomy of migration”.

Others spied a sinister capitalist master plan behind Angela Merkel’s temporary open border policy. According to this interpretation, the policy sought to use cheap, docile immigrants to restructure the European labour market. Some on the left viewed this as a threat and have therefore joined calls for the erection of walls around Europe. They were further emboldened by the mass sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, in which hundreds of women were groped, robbed, and, in a few cases, raped by a large group of men of “Arab or North African appearance”. In light of the EU’s deal with Turkey and the internment camps currently being planned for Libya, both of these interpretations look dubious. After being taken by surprise, the powers that be have regained control of the situation and their need for cheap labour seems rather limited. On the contrary, the events of the past year reflect an overwhelming surplus of labour power, both in the countries of origin and in Europe. This surplus intensifies competition within the working class, breeding nativism, division and fear of poverty. If we are to understand this situation, we need to do more than decry racism.

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Brexit means… what? Hapless ideology and practical consequences

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Auf­heben № 24
November 2016

A number of left groups and individuals campaigned for the UK to leave the European Union. Aufheben argue that the Brexit campaign, and the referendum itself, its results and its implementation, have been one with a victory of the ruling class against us. The implementation of Brexit will negatively affect solidarity among workers and radical protesters, setting back our strength and potentials to overturn capitalism. Many people in the radical left were blinded by the ideological forms of our capitalist relations, the reification of our human interactions, to the point of accepting a victory of the far right with acquiescence, or even collaborating with it.

The EU mi­grants’ or­deal and the lim­its of dir­ect ac­tion

We be­gin this art­icle with a case dealt with by Brighton Solfed (SF) and CASE Cent­ral so­cial center — the story of an EU mi­grant in Brighton.

At the end of 2015, L., a Span­ish hos­pit­al­ity work­er, sought help from SF. She had worked in a res­taur­ant for more than a year but, as soon as she fell ill, her em­ploy­er sacked her with a flimsy ex­cuse, in or­der to avoid pay­ing Stat­utory Sick Pay (SSP). Re­ceiv­ing SSP would have been this work­er’s right un­der both do­mest­ic and European Uni­on (EU) le­gis­la­tion. However, the em­ploy­er in­sisted that she left her job vol­un­tar­ily, and re­fused to re-em­ploy here.

One then claimed a sick­ness be­ne­fit, Em­ploy­ment and Sup­port Al­low­ance (ESA). As an EU work­er, she should have been en­titled to equal rights un­der EU le­gis­la­tion, and to ESA. However, the state re­fused the be­ne­fit: they said that, due [to] a “gap” between the end of her job and her claim, she was no longer a “work­er” when she claimed ESA. A be­ne­fits ad­vice group helped with an ap­peal, but the state re­fused to re­con­sider. L. was in a des­per­ate situ­ation, with no money and far from her fam­ily, and was temp­ted to move back to Spain. This would amount to eco­nom­ic de­port­a­tion — not im­posed through phys­ic­al force, but through ex­treme hard­ship.

Back in [the] 1970s the UK’s mem­ber­ship of the European Com­mon Mar­ket was op­posed by left-wing mil­it­ants, as the Com­mon Mar­ket was seen as a neo­lib­er­al club de­signed to pre­vent the ad­vance of so­cial­ism, or just the im­ple­ment­a­tion of Keyne­sian policies.

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Passing for Politics

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by Asad Haider

Today’s politics of identity — the epoch of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and privilege-checking — was already the subject of debate in a 1964 exchange between Amiri Baraka, then still known as LeRoi Jones, and Philip Roth. It began with Roth’s negative review of Jones’s The Dutchman, along with James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie, in The New York Review of Books. The Dutchman had presented a theatrical allegory of the failures of liberal integrationism, and the seductive treachery of the white world. Roth’s dismissive review displays no real understanding of the political critique at work in the play; nevertheless, the line that became the real point of contention contains a kernel of insight. This was Roth’s speculation that Baraka, then Jones, wrote The Dutchman for a white audience, “not so that they should be moved to pity or to fear, but to humiliation and self-hatred.” Jones retorted in a vicious letter that, “The main rot in the minds of ‘academic’ liberals like yourself, is that you take your own distortion of the world to be somehow more profound than the cracker’s.”

Roth’s The Human Stain, written during the reign of our first “first black president” (you have to wonder if Toni Morrison regrets saying that), illuminates the distance between 1964 and 2016. Here Roth presents a biography that moves from the personal costs of segregation to the contradictions of liberal multiculturalism. Coleman Silk, a light-skinned black professor of classics — like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which provoked the trigger warning debate at Columbia — spends a lifetime passing for white. Yet in ’90s America it is not the black identity which destroys his life and reputation, but the somehow ontologically irrefutable accusation of anti-black racism.

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Frantz Fanon, Philosopher of the Barricades

by Peter Hudis

A series of recent exchanges between activists in the Black Lives Matter movement and those turning out to hear Bernie Sanders’s populist critique of corporate power have brought to the fore a persistent contradiction of U.S. society —the relation between race and class. It is significant that around the country tens of thousands of largely white youth are coming out to hear Sanders’s attack on the plutocracy that has turned the U.S. into one of the most class-divided societies on earth. Clearly, some of the same sentiments that gave birth to the Occupy Movement are behind the surge of interest in Sanders’s candidacy. Yet it is no less significant that Black Lives Matter, and others, have challenged his campaign for largely overlooking issues of race and racism—at the very moment when a powerful movement has emerged from people of color who are besieged by persistent police abuse and a criminal justice system that has made it clear that, insofar as it is concerned, black lives do not matter.

What are we to make of this debate, and how will it play out? Will anti-racist activists and those seeking to counter corporate power through the electoral process proceed on separate paths? Will their differences be papered over for the sake of a superficial harmony, or will this debate become an opportunity to think through the very real contradictions facing U.S. social movements when it comes to grasping how race and racism play a central role in shaping the nature of class and social relations in the United States and elsewhere?

It may be too early to answer these questions, but it is timely to re-examine the work of Frantz Fanon in light of them. As one of the foremost theorists of race and racism of the past century, his ideas are returning to the forefront of discussion; in large part because of the way in which the increasingly class-polarized nature of contemporary capitalism is inseparable from an ongoing assault against people of color and immigrants, not only in the U.S. but in Europe as well.

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Marxism and White Skin Privilege

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By Chris Wright

I. Introduction

Marxism, in both the authoritarian (“Orthodox”) tradition and in the libertarian tradition, has had a few noticeable Achilles’ Heels, which have had drastic consequences. Gender and race top the list. Here, I mostly intend to focus on race, although at least passing comments on gender will be unavoidable.

In the United States, race has played a central role in the derailing of even a broadly ‘socialist’ class-consciousness, much less a revolutionary communist consciousness. On that, I am in full agreement with the editors of Race Traitor (RT). We agree that ‘racism’ is a term that has been de-clawed by a purely psychological understanding as ‘prejudice’, rather than as a category of oppression, and hence power and privilege. The main feature of racism in the U.S. is ‘white supremacy’ or white-skin privilege or what some call ‘whiteness’ (and I think the terms represent some political differences). We agree that race does not exist in any sense biologically, but is purely socially constructed1. We agree that race privilege entails more than a simple ‘social control formation’, a la Theodore Allen, foisted upon working class people from the outside, but that ‘white’ workers participate in the production and defense of whiteness/white-skin privilege. We agree that ‘anti-racism’ in the forms we know it has major problems, since it focuses on ‘racists’ or racist groups, rather than racism; also, anti-racism tends to reify race as biology. We agree that ‘whiteness studies’ (and its parents, multiculturalism and post-structuralism) has been predominantly liberal and little more than a new academic field for generating new career tracks. We do not seek to study, understand (and certainly not ‘validate’) the white race except in so far as we seek to destroy it, and as I hope every Marxist knows, the destruction of oppression requires the destruction of the power of the oppressor and the infrastructure and apparatus that sustain and systematically reproduce that power. In other words, we will not finish with race until we have finished off the white race. We agree that we can destroy the white race, in so far as the white race exists as nothing other than a social relation granting special privilege and engendering oppression (and in my opinion, a form of class collaboration.)

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On the anti-Islamophobia ideology

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(translated from the french)

The intention of this text is to reply to those among the anarcho-communists who are engaged in the fight against “Islamophobia” and who, for that reason, bar all criticism of Islam and endorse a theory of race as a social class, in an atmosphere of increasing tension, accusations of racism, and even actual physical attacks.

The term “Islamophobia,” which probably dates back to the early twentieth century, only recently came into widespread use to designate racism against “Arabs.” This corresponded to a shift from racism against North Africans to terror or horror aroused by the Muslims’ religion. Immigrants and their descendants, formerly rejected for “ethnic” reasons, are discriminated against today for their supposed adherence to an original culture identified with one of its dimensions—the Muslim religion—which many do not even practice, although some observe certain traditional customs.

Through this artifice, religion is assimilated to “race” as a cultural matrix in what amounts to a “cultural mystification (…) by which an entire cross-section of individuals is assigned, on the basis of their origin or physical appearance, to the category of ‘Muslims,’ silencing any criticism of Islam, which is perceived, not as a critique of religion, but directly as a manifestation of racism.”[1] While Claude Guillon sees “contempt” in this “antiracism of idiots,” [2] we mainly recognize the specter haunting the left—third-worldism. According to this ideology, which entails uncritical support of the “oppressed” against their “oppressor,” those who saw the “colonized” as the exploited people par excellence during the Algerian war unconditionally supported the NLF. Or take the Vietnam committees during the Vietnam war, for whom denunciation of the Americans meant supporting the Viet Minh and the politics of Ho Chi Minh, chanting his name and waving his picture at every demonstration. This scenario was repeated with the Iranian revolution in 1979 and with the pro-Palestinians. Today, taking the Kurds’ defense usually implies supporting the PKK and waving Oçalan’s picture. Such was the process by which, little by little, the third-worldist perspective abandoned the proletariat as revolutionary subject and replaced it with the colonized, then the immigrant, the descendant of immigrants… and finally the believer. While at first, third-worldism promoted cultural relativism, its successors adopted culturalism, which posits cultural differences to explain social relationships. SOS Racisme’s great manipulation in the 1980s made this shift a doctrine that ultimately engendered all the excesses we’re witnessing today, in particular the Muslim identity assigned to “Arab” immigrants and their descendants as a whole.

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Black Representation After Ferguson

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by John Clegg

Up until the crisis of 2008, racial inequality in the United States was showing signs of improvement. Poverty and unemployment among blacks had fallen sharply in the 1990s, and the wages of black and white workers had begun to converge. These improvements were stopped short by the recession of the early 2000s, but thereafter a boom in subprime lending led to a significant reduction in the wealth gap between black and white households. The popping of the housing bubble threw all these measures into reverse. While most Americans suffered, black Americans were particularly badly affected. In the eight years since the crisis, racial disparities in wealth, poverty, and unemployment returned to or exceeded their pre-1990s levels. It should thus come as no surprise that riots have also made a comeback in recent years.

The triggers were a series of police killings of young black men: Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray. Such events have not become more frequent. Rather, an already existing reign of police terror was the American state’s only means of managing a rapidly deteriorating set of conditions in poor black neighborhoods. Ferguson was a revolt not only against the police, but also against a society which has nothing but police to offer.1

When black proletarians riot, white Americans tend to cast around for an eloquent spokesperson who can either assuage their fear or indulge their guilt. The old Civil Rights leaders were too out of touch in this case, so journalists combed the twitter feeds of protesters for substitutes. Those willing to play the role of spokespersons have been fêted by the media, with cover stories in Ebony, Time and the New York Times Magazine. Some were even featured in Fortune’s 2016 “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” list. They have received regular invitations to the White House, and Democratic presidential candidates have coveted their endorsement. Yet journalists have also shown a prurient interest in the periodic clashes, both personal and political, among the newly celebrated activists.

All this media attention, however, both positive and negative, owes its existence not to the activists themselves, but to the fact that thousands took to the streets and attacked police and property in Ferguson and Baltimore. Though some activists began organizing prior to Ferguson—in response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Renisha McBride—their actions had met with the same lip-service that typically greets protests against police brutality in this country. Officer Wilson’s murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, following quickly on Eric Garner’s live-action death at the hands of the NYPD, was a watershed, sparking a week-long uprising in a suburban town far from the bi-coastal activist hubs. Baltimore, with protests closer in form to the “inner city riots” of the 1960s, consolidated this newfound vigor, demonstrating the willingness of poor blacks to rise up against a local black elite. The question partisans of this movement must ask is to what extent the new activists can help or hinder the black proletarian insurgency that threw them into the spotlight.

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Identity Politics: A Zero-Sum Game

by Walter Benn Michaels New Labor Forum (November 6, 2010).

The current hard times have been harder on some people than on others, harder on the poor—obviously—than on the rich; but harder also on blacks and Hispanics than on whites. As of this writing, the unemployment rate for blacks is at 15.6 percent, and for Hispanics it’s at 12.7 percent. For white people, it’s 9.3 percent. 1

Of course, the vast majority of the unemployed are white. But it’s the disparity in rates, not in absolute numbers, that tends to get foregrounded, since that disparity functions not only as a measure of suffering but also, in William A. Garity’s concise summary, as “an index of discrimination in our society.” 2

And it’s the ongoing fact of discrimination that motivates our ongoing interest in identity politics. As long as inequality is apportioned by identity, we will be concerned with identity.

This is obviously both inevitable and appropriate. But it is also—and almost as obviously—irrelevant to a left politics, or even to the goal of reducing unemployment, as we can see just by imagining what it would be like if we finally did manage to get rid of discrimination. Suppose, for example, that unemployment for whites and for Asian-Americans were to rise to 10 percent while for blacks and Hispanics it fell to 10 percent. Or suppose that unemployment for everyone went to 15 percent. In both cases, we would have eliminated the racial disparity in unemployment rates, but in neither case would we have eliminated any unemployment. And we don’t even need hypotheticals to make the point. About three quarters of the job losers in the current recession have been men, which means that the numbers of men and women in the workforce are now roughly equal. So, from the standpoint of gender equity, the recession has actually been a good thing. It’s as if, unable to create more jobs for women, we’d hit upon the strategy of eliminating lots of the jobs for men—another victory for feminism and for anti-discrimination since, from the standpoint of anti-discrimination, the question of how many people are unemployed is completely irrelevant. What matters is only that, however many there are, their unemployment is properly proportioned.

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The Other France

Fouad Ben Ahmed never paid much attention to Charlie Hebdo. He found the satirical magazine to be vulgar and not funny, and to him it seemed fixated on Islam, but he didn’t think that its contributors did real harm. One of its cartoonists, Stéphane Charbonnier, also drew for Le Petit Quotidien, a children’s paper to which Ben Ahmed subscribed for his two kids. On January 7th, upon hearing that two French brothers with Algerian names, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, had executed twelve people at the Charlie Hebdo offices—including Charbonnier—in revenge for covers caricaturing Muhammad, Ben Ahmed wrote on Facebook, “My French heart bleeds, my Muslim soul weeps. Nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, can justify these barbaric acts. Don’t talk to me about media or politicians who would play such-and-such a game, because there’s no excuse for barbarism. #JeSuisCharlie.”

That night, Ben Ahmed left his house, in the suburbs outside Paris, and went into the city to join tens of thousands of people at a vigil. He is of Algerian and Tunisian descent, with dark skin, and a few white extremists spat threats at him, but Ben Ahmed ignored them—France was his country, too. On January 11th, he joined the one and a half million citizens who marched in unity from the Place de la République.

Ben Ahmed’s Facebook page became a forum for others, mostly French Muslims, to discuss the attacks. Many expressed simple grief and outrage; a few aired conspiracy theories, suggesting a plot to stigmatize Muslims. “Let the investigators shed light on this massacre,” Ben Ahmed advised. One woman wrote, “I fear for the Muslims of France. The narrow-minded or frightened are going to dig in their heels and make an amalgame”—conflate terrorists with all Muslims. Ben Ahmed agreed: “Our country is going to be more divided.” He defended his use of #JeSuisCharlie, arguing that critiques of Charlie’s content, however legitimate before the attack, had no place afterward. “If we have a debate on the editorial line, it’s like saying, ‘Yes—but,’ ” he later told me. “In these conditions, that is unthinkable.”

Ben Ahmed, who is thirty-nine, works as a liaison between residents and the local government in Bondy—a suburb, northeast of Paris, in an area called Department 93. For decades a bastion of the old working class and the Communist Party, the 93 is now known for its residents of Arab and African origin. To many Parisians, the 93 signifies decayed housing projects, crime, unemployment, and Muslims. France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants. Inside the banlieues are the cités: colossal concrete housing projects built during the postwar decades, in the Brutalist style of Le Corbusier. Conceived as utopias for workers, they have become concentrations of poverty and social isolation. The cités and their occupants are the subject of anxious and angry discussion in France. Two recent books by the eminent political scientist Gilles Kepel, “Banlieue de la République” and “Quatre-vingt-treize” (“Ninety-three”), are studies in industrial decline and growing segregation by group identity. There’s a French pejorative for that, too: communautarisme.

After the Charlie massacre—and after a third terrorist, Amedy Coulibaly, gunned down a black policewoman outside a Jewish school and four Jews at a kosher supermarket—there was a widespread feeling, in France and elsewhere, that the killings were somehow related to the banlieues. But an exact connection is not easy to establish. Although these alienated communities are increasingly prone to anti-Semitism, the profiles of French jihadists don’t track closely with class; many have come from bourgeois families. The sense of exclusion in the banlieues is an acute problem that the republic has neglected for decades, but more jobs and better housing won’t put an end to French jihadism.

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Towards a materialist approach to the racial question

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a response to Indigènes de la République

The following text, a critique of the Parti des Indigènes de la République by three of its former members, originally appeared in the French journal Vacarme. A radical anti-colonial party, Parti des Indigènes came to wide attention among the English-speaking Left for their sharp critiques of secularism and racism on the French Left following the Charlie Hebdo attacks of 2015. While they seem to have attained great respect from certain sectors of the Left, the translator of this document believes such respect is mistaken; that PIR’s identitarian politics seeks an alliance with the identitarian far-right of Le Pen, Dieudonné, and Soral; and that such an approach to politics poses a great threat to the Left.

Secondarily, this document provides a much-needed insight into the problem of antisemitism. Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the media hysterically speculated that Europe was on the verge of a pogrom, to be carried out by its numerous Muslim immigrants; Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took up the hysteria, calling for French Jews to emigrate. The backlash among certain leftists, whom the present translator otherwise respects, was perhaps equally hysterical. Some questioned whether antisemitism was even extant in contemporary Europe; others seemed to blame antisemitic acts on crimes of the Israeli state, rather than the perpetrators. As this document’s analysis shows, antisemitism is not only a threat against Jews, but against any movement of the working class.

Towards a materialist approach to the racial question: a response to INDIGÈNES DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE

by Malika Amaouche, Yasmine Kateb & Léa Nicolas-Teboul

[translation by puyraveau]

Les Indigènes de la République have helped to shed light on racism within the Left, supported by the racism of French society at large. But are they also prisoners of racism? We propose a systematic analysis of the forces exercised upon the most precarious: a critique of the erasure of race and gender; while escaping the identitarian project of the extreme right; remaining anchored in critique of political economy.

From the dead refugees of the Mediterranean, to the Baltimore riots, to the events of everyday metropolitan life, we are constantly drawn back to the question of race. It seems necessary to propose an analysis of the foundations of racism, which will not be merely a shallow response to current events.

Today, we observe mounting Islamophobia and antisemitism. These two are a pair – in a context where social segregation is becoming stronger, and the logic of all-against-all becomes uncontrollable, we must work to think of these things in conjunction. That means to reject the logic of competition between different racial oppressions; but also to examine Islamophobia and antisemitism together in all their specificity. And in all this, the general context – growing social violence, a hardening of class segmentation, and effects of structural racism (in housing, work, and so on). It is harder and harder for the poor, and for those who are the most precarious (racial minorities and women).

With the [Charlie Hebdo] attacks in January, the left was hit with its own denial of the issue of racism. It made a specialty of denouncing the victimization, and of dismissing racism as a massive structural phenomenon. Institutional feminists’ obsession with the veil functioned as a spotlight on the racism of a Left clinging to an abstract and aggressive universalism.

This was why we were enthusiasts of the great work of exposing the racism of the Republican left – a project in which the Parti des Indigènes de la République has participated since 2004. There are many of us who worked to undermine this “respectable” racism, under which the indigènes were never truly equal. [1] If the Left was never explicitly against racialized people, its arguments were dismissive of the great values meant to emancipate them. An entire history of the condescension and paternalism of the French Left remains to be written. Such a history would note the way discourse of class was used to stratify the hierarchies of the workers’ movement itself.

Nevertheless, it seems to us that PIR is slipping. Riding the gathering wave of identitarianism, it proposes a systematic cultural, almost ethnocentric, reading of social phenomena. This leads to the adoption of dangerous positions on antisemitism, gender, and homosexuality. It essentializes the famous “Indigènes sociaux,” the subaltern it aims to represent. It is as if the racialized working class, who face the most violent racism, are being instrumentalized in a political strategy which basically plays in the arena of the White left and à la mode radical intellectuals.

For us, descendants of Muslim and Jewish Algerians, to lead the critique of the PIR, just as we led the critique of the Left, is a matter of self-defense. We believe we have nothing to win from a political operation which subsumes all questions under that of race. For us, not only the question of race, but also those of political economy, and the social relations of sex, are the order of the day.

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Fire to the Houseprojects!

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Fire to the Houseprojects! A Manifesto For Berlin

“In spite of its tremendous potential, struggles in Berlin seem everywhere to get stuck in dead-ends. At the risk of provoking indignation, we seek to identify some obstacles that block the self-overcoming of the present situation, and in this way to open up a genuinely strategic and tactical discussion about how we might begin to move again.

The biggest obstacle to such a discussion is the prevalence of a moralistic approach to power and resistance. The latter is most clearly visible in the discussions we’ve encountered around the refugee struggle, but it is by no means limited to them, and seems to affect anarchists and other autonomous folks as often as it does mainstream leftists. We will therefore begin by drawing critical attention to a two-pronged gesture that we routinely encounter in Berlin: a moralization of questions of strategy, and a strategization of morality. Though perhaps well-intentioned (for whatever that’s worth), this perspective too often generates only paralysis, isolation, and self-neutralization.

The critique of this political-strategic moralism raises fundamental questions about the relation between anti-racism, privilege-politics, and capitalist crisis. Specifically, it challenges conceptions of anti-racism based either on a pure negation of an outside enemy (antifascism) or else on a self-congratulatory ‘recognition’ of our lesser-privileged neighbors motivated ultimately by white guilt. In each case, we fail to extract ourselves from a leftist ‘posturing’ that never asks the question of what it would take to increase our collective power of acting, thinking, and living.”

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Hausprojeckte abfackeln! Ein Manifest Für Berlin

Trotz ihres gewaltigen Potenzials scheinen die Kämpfe in Berlin allerorts in Sackgassen fest zu sitzen. Auf das Risiko hin, Empörung hervorzurufen werden wir versuchen, einige Hindernisse zu identifizieren, die der Selbstüberwindung der gegenwärtigen Situation im Wege stehen, um so eine tatsächlich strategische und taktische Diskussion darüber zu eröffnen, wie wir wieder in Bewegung kommen können.

Das größte Hindernis einer solchen Diskussion ist die Dominanz eines moralistischen Zugangs zu Macht und Widerstand. Letzterer wird am deutlichsten in den Diskussionen sichtbar, die uns rund um den Kampf der Flüchtlinge begegneten, bleibt aber auf keinen Fall darauf beschränkt. Von daher möchten wir zu Beginn die kritische Aufmerksamkeit auf jene doppelte Geste lenken, der wir routinemäßig in Berlin begegnen: das Moralisieren von Fragen der Strategie und das Strategisieren der Moral. Wenn auch vielleicht in guter Absicht (was auch immer das bringen soll), erzeugt diese Perspektive allzu oft nur Lähmung, Isolation und Selbstneutralisierung.

Eine Kritik dieses politisch-strategischen Moralismus wirft grundlegende Fragen zum Verhältnis von Antirassismus, einer auf Privilegien fokussierenden Politik und kapitalistischer Krise auf. Genauer gesagt stellt sie antirassistische Konzepte in Frage, die entweder auf der reinen Ablehnung eines äußeren Feindes (Antifaschismus) oder der sich selbst beglückwünschenden ‚Anerkennung‘ unserer weniger privilegierten Nachbarn aufbauen, die letztlich von weißen Schuldgefühlen getrieben ist. In beiden Fällen gelingt es nicht, uns einer linken ‚Haltung‘ zu entziehen, die niemals die Frage stellt, was wir brauchen, um unsere Handlungsmacht zu vergrößern.”

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Organizing and Identity: Intersections, Eviscerations and Individuality

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This essay will annoy, piss-off, and bring denunciations from some of my friends and colleagues. That’s fine. One of the things that politically engaged people who are striving for substantial structural social change fail to do is to identify those things which make success difficult. And that starts by looking at ourselves.

I am a white, male, heterosexual, meat-eating, butter-slathering, well-off, whiskey-drinking, cigarette-smoking, elderly professional. Many people looking at that description would assume that I am either a racist insurance salesman thrill-riding with police as an auxiliary cop in Oklahoma, or a corporate shill tea-bagging at a Koch brother’s fundraiser and wreaking environmental carnage. More gentle and refined folks might give me the benefit of the doubt. They might picture me as someone wearing a tweed sport jacket, with the obligatory leather elbow patches, smoking a pipe, adjusting my suspenders and musing over some arcane text while ignoring the ravages of racism, sexism, imperialism and capitalism that grant me the privilege of a comfortable but relatively useless life. In fact, many people who know me marvel that I am not precisely that. After all it is my assigned role in life and only a psychopath would not protect the advantages and privileges bestowed on him.

The point is that my identity and my individual choices are irrelevant to advancing the cause of substantial structural social change, which incidentally I happen to support by any means necessary. Excessive attention to differences, individualism and lifestyle choices dilute any comprehensive approach to changing economic, political and social reality in the United States and the world. As Jock Young pointed out, in late modernity we all struggle with ontological insecurity. That’s not an accident. That very social structure many of us wish to change makes ontological insecurity inevitable. In fact, ontological insecurity is a valuable weapon in their fight to maintain power and control. If they can divide society by race, gender, food choice, sexual preference or any other “difference” they can slow down and impede organizational efforts to get rid of them.

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Intersections and race

Racism isn’t a disease. It isn’t a psychological disorder. It isn’t a cultural identity. Racism, simply put is a form of oppression. Racism is one of many forms of oppression which interact to create pervasive systems of discrimination and, more importantly, powerful systems of social control. Racism, sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, immigration status and other categories of social exclusion are not simply personal problems, although they have deeply personal ramifications. Racism is one of many very powerful weapons used in society to achieve three goals:

First, it is used to justify economic and political policies which protect and reinforce power. Demonizing, dehumanizing, objectifying and socially excluding people is an ideological weapon used by those in power to divide us, dominate us, and make structural conditions that would otherwise be recognized by any thinking person as cruel, barbaric and insane, seem normal and reasonable. Simply put, it is a weapon that rationalizes the horrific and the unacceptable.

Second, racism is used to create economic conditions where some people, particularly women and socially constructed racial groups, are easier to exploit. Social exclusion creates a situation where wages and salaries can be depressed and entire social groups can be forced to accept menial, servile and dehumanizing work.

Third, racism, sexism, homophobia and the rest are effective tools of division. Those most disadvantaged and oppressed in society can be manipulated into patterns of distrust, hatred and discrimination. They also can, and often do, give a sense of power to whites, men, heterosexuals, and “citizens” which prevents those most disadvantaged and exploited in society from working together to confront the real sources of their problems.

In the United States our socially constructed definitions of race and ethnicity are constantly changing and adapting to the needs of power. Racism in all its forms has been a remarkably adaptable device used throughout our history to justify the mistreatment and dehumanization of millions of people. Of course the obvious examples are slavery and genocide. The enslavement of African-Americans was absolutely vital to the growth of the American economy. It buttressed agricultural production in the South and industrial production in the North where the products of slavery were manufactured into commercial goods. It provided enormous revenues from foreign trade and tariffs and excised taxes to fund the state. “Manifest destiny” and the occupation of the North American continent was achieved by genocide and war directed at Native American peoples. The geographical expansion and subsequent resource extraction which fueled the American economy was dependent on barbarism and slaughter. We also sometimes forget the other omnipresent forms of racism and discrimination.

If you remember there was a time in this country when whites hated white people. The white puritans of the Plymouth Colony threw out other white puritans! A system of exploited labor requires that someone, even if they look just like us and think just like us, must be dehumanized and vilified to justify their lack of privilege. The Irish were brought to the new world in indentured servitude to work the fields and build the cities. They were vilified as Papist drunks and housed in the most horrifying ghettos. Italian immigrants necessary to the shrimp and fishing industries were denounced as criminals. East European Jewish immigrants were blamed for prostitution even though the sex trade was well established as long ago as the Plymouth colony. The Chinese were brought here to build the railroads and then denounced as drug fiends. Mexicans, both in the 1930s and today are imported by labor leasing companies and consigned to the most demeaning labor, particularly in agriculture, and then blamed for the horrors of marijuana.

From the first Puritan settlers who eviscerated the Pequot tribe and the import of African slaves to today’s disingenuous and phony “war on terrorism,” racism and social exclusion has been a powerful weapon to justify violent and repressive policies at home and abroad, to create a compliant and divided populace, and to offer privilege and advantage to some at the expense of others. The point of all of this has been to reinforce and protect the economic, political and social power of the ruling elite.

The question is, of course, what do we do about all of this? Liberal reformists tell us that the answer is to extend some privileges to others while making certain their own privileges are not in any way inconvenienced. “Equality” sounds good. But if society is to pursue equality someone has to give something up to get there. It is populism at its worst. “Equality” is, in fact, a highly desirable goal. Fighting for equality can bring people together. It can expose the structural inequities of the system. It is positive; it is progressive and offers the opportunity to bring people together. But, it’s not enough.

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