This piece, written in July 2011 at the height of the first Pelican Bay hunger strike, analyzes the strategic importance of prison struggles in the context of contemporary capitalism.
Update: Dan Meltzer, a comrade in DC, designed a PDF version of this article, which is available for download here. If you know someone currently incarcerated in the U.S. who would like to receive a copy, please contact us at ruckus[at]bringtheruckus.org.
Every Crook Can Govern:
Prison Rebellions as a Window to the New World
By George Ciccariello-Maher and Jeff St. Andrews
As we write this, thousands of inmates across California--spearheaded by an organized bloc in the Pelican Bay secure housing unit (SHU)--are refusing meals and risking their bodies and lives in the struggle to reform the atrocious conditions prevalent across the state penitentiary system. But this struggle is about more than reforming incarceration and improving conditions: the hunger strike speaks to the struggle for revolutionary change across society as a whole an offers a preliminary glimpse of the new world gestating in the hellish bowels of the old.
Lumpenization and Unemployability
In Black Reconstruction, W.E.B. Du Bois emphasized the “strategic” position of the Black slave, one which made possible the “general strike” of deserting slaves that would both transform the Civil War into a war for abolition and ensure a Northern victory. Black workers, “the ultimate exploited,” represented the “founding stone of a new economic system”: on them it stood and by their autonomous action it would come crashing down.
A century later, this picture had changed, and Black Panther founder Huey Newton took the seemingly contradictory position that Blacks were both central to and increasingly unnecessary for economic production in the United States. In 1967, he had written of Black Americans as both the “oil” without which the U.S. war machine “cannot function” and as the “driving shaft” of that same machinery: “we are in such a strategic position in this machinery that, once we become dislocated, the functioning of the remainder of the machinery breaks down,” he insisted. Black Americans, in short, “can, because of their intimacy with the mechanism, destroy the engine that is enslaving the world.” But just four years later, Newton would document a growing distance between these former slaves and the “machinery” of the U.S. economy: “blacks and third world people,” he argued, had become displaced from their central economic function, and were increasingly rendered what he called “the unemployables.”
But for Newton, this declining economic position of the Black population did not correspond to a declining political importance. Instead, these “unemployables”--which he used as synonymous with the controversial concept of the lumpen--would become, by virtue of sheer numbers, a new revolutionary agent capably of overthrowing U.S. capitalism:
The [revolutionary] thrust will come from the growing number of what we call the “unemployables” in this society…The proletarian will become the lumpen proletariat. It is this future change--the increase of the lumpen proletariat and the decrease of the proletariat--which makes us say that the lumpen proletariat is the majority and carries the revolutionary banner (“Intercommunalism”).
Were these two arguments in contradiction with one another, or was this shift simply a reflection of momentous economic transformation and the increasing “unemployability” of many poor Americans, specifically people of color and even more specifically the Black population? Have communities of color been increasingly “lumpenized” as Huey predicted?
The following piece examines the implications and context of the murder of Kenneth Harding by police in the Bayview district of San Francisco. It was originally published on CounterPunch.
A Life Worth Less Than Train Fare
The Ongoing Struggle Against Police Violence
By Mike King
Another young, unarmed black man, Kenneth Harding, has been gunned down, shot numerous times in the back as he fled, his empty hands in the air in broad daylight. His crime had been a simple train fare evasion for which San Francisco police executed him in the street. Dozens of witnesses saw a sight that has become commonplace in US cities, capturing images with cell phones of police surrounding the man and watching him struggle and writhe from a distance, in a swelling pool of his own blood. Without either offering the severely wounded man assistance, searching him, or otherwise looking for the supposed weapon, the police, most of whom had their backs turned to the suspect, would later try and say that he had fired at the them and randomly into the crowd that had assembled. No one in the crowd said anything about him having or firing a gun. Police would later say one had mysteriously appeared, via an informant. The police publicly named Harding as a "person of interest" in a Seattle killing, a day after he had been shot dead by police. They are using a criminal conviction to attempt to further devalue his life. This piece is not about previous convictions, or the "official story" which the police are constructing as I write, about post-mortem murder suspicions and mystery guns. One thing is clear, as far as police knew he was a simple fare evader. As far as multiple witnesses could see, Harding had no gun and the shots all went one way.
Whether BART police, Oakland PD, or SFPD, the stories have been very similar. Suspects are gunned down in the street, no weapon, usually shot in the back as they ran, almost all men of color, a homeless or mentally-ill white man here or there. We get a similar story each time. One that is weak, lacks probable cause for lethal force, and is based on the opinion of the offending officers whose word is unquestioned by superiors, city officials, or the corporate press. Unless there is a video. Mehserle, the cop who shot Oscar Grant, thought his glock was a lighter and larger and fluorescent tazer, though it had a completely different grip. An exception to the rule, Mehserle did time for his crime – a few paltry months. He was recently released. The OPD shot Derrick Jones in the back, he was carrying a scale. No charges were filed. Several killings of unarmed men of color in Oakland have yielded temporary suspensions, followed by reinstatements with back pay. Some acting, individual OPD officers have killed more than one unarmed man on separate occasions and still patrol the street, guns loaded, and ready to go.
The root causes of these murders by the police are multiple and far too complex to be fully discussed here: insulated and unaccountable police power committed to upholding a particular racial and economic order; psychological fear-turned-violence or plain hostility among the police; white supremacy at several levels of society from the motivations of suburban law-and-order voters to the historical legacies of the police in this country; to geographies of segregation, of which the Bayview is a prime example.
The result is a system of violence that is specifically targeted, on one level, and completely indiscriminant on another. Targeted in the sense that concentrated police presence, aggressive police tactics (profiling, checkpoints, not so random Muni train inspections for tickets, etc.), and police self-conceptions as occupiers of hostile territory are all almost entirely exclusive to poor, urban communities of color. The nature, logic, tactics and history of the police in communities of color is not a few bad apples, related to violent crime rates that have fallen, or a new phenomena. Within these targeted communities the violence of the police is often completely indiscriminate. A simple traffic stop, a response to a domestic argument, a skipped train fare. Case, after case, after case. Candlelight vigil, after community mural, after RIP rap, it is the same over and over. No gun. Hands up. Running away. Shot in the back. No accountability.
A response to "Off the Nazis!...But How?" was recently published in the anti-racist journal Turning The Tide, and reposted on the ThreeWayFight blog. The response, written by Jerry Bellows, furthers debates about the tactics and organizational forms employed in ARA organizing, but also erroneously attributes the original "Off the Nazis!...But How?" piece to Bring the Ruckus. Bellows' piece, and a response from Bring the Ruckus, are included below.
A response to Bring the Ruckus
by Jerry Bellow
I read with interest the recent article from Bring the Ruckus (or The Brigade, presumably some subset of BTR, which is itself a multi-tendency organization) concerning the recent Anti-Fascist events in and around Trenton NJ. It is clear that the author(s) or their informants were intimately in the actual actions, as I was.
They seek to bring a critical perspective to what happened that weekend, and in some cases they are mostly dead on. With other conclusions, I feel as though they head in a direction that is dangerous to both the aboveground and underground portions of the movement.
BTR points out serious flaws in ARA’s organizing leading up the public mobilization in Trenton. I agree that much more time and energy should have been spent out in the community, meeting people, explaining who we are, what we do, why we are there, and why it would be fun to join in.
In the organizing for ARA I have done in the past in the Midwest (mostly Ohio), a lot of time was spent on this sort of activity, both in big cities and in very small towns. The small towns were harder to do this in, because you are organizing among poor rural white folks, and there was always that fear that someone you met might be the enemy or one of their sympathizers. But, We Go Where They Go even if it’s a space and place where their comfort level is much greater than our own.
Hub City ARA, which is the ARA Network chapter local to Trenton, didn’t do enough of this base-building type work in a place where one could be 100% certain that the fascists had no sympathizers one might encounter unknowingly by chance.
But each ARA chapter is autonomous, each has to organize permanently in its own community, and each has to deal with the political repercussions of its actions in the long term. How Hub City chose to turn a Neo-Nazi mobilization to its own local advantage is Hub City’s choice, not the choice of the network as a whole.
To Hub City’s credit, their local organizing leading up to the event centered on exposing the locations and (sex) crimes of local NSM members. Despite the overall lack of base building, the NSM now has zero chance of gaining a foothold or building a base in Trenton. We Go Where They Go, and Hub City ARA rooted them out and exposed them.
The following is an account and analysis of a recent confrontation between Neo-Nazis and militant antifascists in Trenton, New Jersey.
Off the Nazis! ...but how?
Potential and Limitations of Militant Anti-Fascism
We begin with the observation of a rising tide of radical right-wing populism and its concomitant militant white nationalism in the United States. Are the existing, traditional forms of resistance growing and evolving to contend with this new threat? Are our plans and machinations matching, outpacing, or falling behind the enemy's forces?
In Trenton, New Jersey, we had a showdown.
Between April 15th and 16th, the National Socialist Movement (NSM) organized a public demonstration on the New Jersey State Capitol building steps in Trenton, New Jersey. The NSM is one of the largest neo-Nazi hate groups in the nation - a group that has been picking up members in recent years. You might remember seeing them playing a major role in anti-immigrant work in Arizona.
While many attended the permitted counter-demonstration on the 16th, not everyone was content to allow the Nazis (or the cops) that kind of peace. Anti-Racist Action (ARA) responded aggressively both days. As participants in these events, and as fellow comrades operating in the spirit of always learning from our mistakes and successes, we'd like to offer our account and analysis of events.
Timeline of Events
On April 15th 2011 at about 7 p.m. sixty neo-Nazis from the NSM held a conference at the 449 Club at 6 Pemberton Ave in Pemberton, NJ. The conference was interrupted by a nearby mob of thirty people from ARA dressed mostly in black and in masks who proceeded to fight the Nazis with pipes, baseball bats and stones. After the police arrived at the scene of the violent rumble the anti-fascists quickly left the area while the Nazis were left with bashed skulls and damaged property. According to infiltrators, four of the fascists were hospitalized while others checked into different hotels out of fear of more attacks. Only one person from ARA was injured while two others were arrested, charged with third-degree inciting a riot and held at $50,000 bail each.1 The ranks of those involved in the melee against the Nazis were made up of “people of color, working class, immigrants, women, queer, transgendered, and/or people on parole” who had mobilized from all over the country.2
The following timely piece was written by a comrade of ours in Durham, North Carolina.
Here’s to a man most still don’t know.
Happy 86th and many many more!
by Lamont Lilly
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1964
Brief, yet exhaustive, the following passage best represents the Malcolm X America doesn’t want you and I to know—the more complete post-Mecca Malcolm who could certainly once again ignite an entire nation if only he were properly revisited. It seems like just yesterday, as a young adolescent, that the life and times of Malcolm Little were resurrected through Spike Lee’s 1992 cinematic production, Malcolm X. Bold, vivid and vulgar, Spike’s production wasn’t only a history book for the hood; it was the artistic catalyst of a new cool: the infamous black “X” hat. How unfortunate though that such a revival was short lived among a generation of budding hip hoppers who were never lucky enough to meet George Wallace or Lincoln Rockwell—who were never exposed to the White Citizens’ Council. What Spike’s X did impress upon me however, was a martyr of resistance Mr. Charlie somehow failed to mention when I was in school. Not one time was I really taught of Malcolm X. And once I discovered him I clearly understood why. Could you imagine all the Black men America has incarcerated converting into disciples of Malcolm X, all the political prisoners? Why, the oppressed would have their own nation by now!
Malcolm’s teachings were simple: Black is beautiful, love your roots, family and community, feed the mind and atone within—know thyself and the rest will follow. Though quite the humble type and gentle giant you might say, Malcolm was The Hate That Hate Produced; he did possess an unwavering commitment to Black liberation. And what’s wrong with that? Was it true that Malcolm openly declared war against imperialism, colonialism and white supremacy? Damn right!! But understand that Brother Malcolm wasn’t just a Negro leader, he was a global figure for the entire African Diaspora, for the working, for the poor and oppressed worldwide—an NOI (Nation of Islam) apostle turned international Pan-Africanist and Human Rights advocate. Malcolm wasn’t a racist, not even a “reverse racist,” as often depicted, but he did love The People—his people and all people. And as for any institution, organization or government that wasn’t for The People, yes, Malcolm called them out! To Brother Malcolm, one was either [for] the oppressed or [against] the oppressed, regardless of race or social class. He would tell you in a minute, “We got some Black devils running around here, too!” This from a man so complex, that at times, he would even check himself. To Malcolm, NO ONE was exempt from being accountable to the masses. No one was exempt from being accountable to the truth. Malcolm Little was the story of true redemption, a man who hated, learned to love, and then learned to re-love. That was Malcolm, a mercenary for justice unadulterated.
We just read that Glenn Beck is losing his TV show, and we feel that we need to respond. Mobilize, that is. We need to call for millions of people to protest to keep his TV show on the air.
After all, Glenn Beck has done more to publicize Bring the Ruckus to a wider audience than anyone! His attacks on our members, and his recent explanation of our founding statement, have catapulted the notion of a revolutionary cadre organization into the popular consciousness.
What would we be without him? His goofy grin, while disguising an underlying batshit craziness, has given us a legitimacy that almost nothing we've written or done could ever achieve. So as we're writing up a call to action, here's a eulogy to the whitest guy we know.
Below you will find all of our mentions on Beck's show in the past, as well as a succulent mashup of our latest feature in the Beckspiracy. Enjoy.
The following is a piece by Noel Ignatiev, from his blog at PM Press.
Keep a sharp eye out!
In a speech delivered in Boston on April 12, 1852, Wendell Phillips declared, “I do not believe that, if we should live to the longest period Providence ever allots to the life of a human being, we shall see the total abolition of slavery, unless it comes in some critical conjuncture of national affairs, when the slave, taking advantage of a crisis in the fate of his masters, shall dictate his own terms.”
History followed the course predicted by Phillips, when during the crisis precipitated by the contest between the lords of the lash and the lords of the loom over who would be dominant in the American Republic, one side was forced to enlist the aid of the slaves to defeat its rivals, and the slaves, seizing their opportunity, withdrew their labor-power from the plantation and transferred it to the Union, thus delivering the decisive blow that toppled the Confederacy. Without the division among the propertied classes, the slaves could not have won their freedom, as the experience of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey and Gabriel Prosser among others had shown; given that division, all things became possible. Phillips’s career illustrates the point: Urged in 1861 to go into hiding from the Boston mob that blamed him for the breakup of the Union, barely one year later he was welcomed to the Senate chamber by the Vice President of the United States, invited to dinner by the Speaker of the House, and received by the President as a guest at the White House. It was not the Abolitionists, dedicated and courageous though they were, that won the northern population to abolition, but the change in circumstances that compelled millions to take seriously a measure—immediate, unconditional, uncompensated emancipation on the soil—which they had previously dismissed as the wildest radicalism, and transformed the Abolitionists from an isolated sect into the vanguard of the nation, hailed for having pointed the way the country would have to follow.
Youth and the Two Futures of Arizona
By Joel Olson
As spring heats into summer in the desert, two Arizonas fight for supremacy. One, lodged in power in the Arizona State Capitol, drafts anti-immigrant and “fiscally responsible” bills with glee. It is old, it is white, it is dour and narrow. The other protests these bills from outside the capitol walls. It is young, it is largely brown, it is hopeful but it is angry, and it aims to clash with the old Arizona. On Thursday it earned its first victory.
On Wednesday, one hundred youth from six weeks old to drinking age marched on the Capitol to protest a rash of anti-immigrant bills that, if passed, would have made Arizona’s notorious SB 1070 look like an act of charity. These five bills challenged the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship and would have required every member of official society—from nurses to teachers to school secretaries to doctors to employers—to check a person’s immigration status before healing or educating or hiring them.
The youngest walked in front, dressed up in costumes that represented what they want to be when they grow up. High school and college students followed them. And so the next generation of doctors, baseball players, construction workers, and firefighters descended on the capitol. They chanted “Our Freedom! Our Future!” and sang the civil rights standard, “This Little Light of Mine.” One 30-foot banner had hundreds of kids’ handprints on it along with written messages to the legislature. Another, carried by middle school students, read “Russell Pearce: Why Do You Hate AZ Youth?”
Our FreeATL comrade Aimee wrote this, the analysis and anger are dead-on. She is the first person to publicly make these critiques, and will probably be feeling some heat. For context on BLOCS and the Red Dog police unit, see this article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and on CW see this article.
Why RedDog disband and Copwatch APD settlement are NO victory for Blacks
Why RedDog disband and Copwatch APD settlement are NO victory for Blacks
I have recently found my email revealing lists of white leftists and their liberal POC counterparts celebrating two “victories” that I find to be not only insulting but a show of the overt complacency that rules white progressive politics in Atlanta.
The first is the disbanding of the Red Dog unit about a week ago for which BLOCS took credit. There has still been no open dialogue about the real reason that Red Dog was dissolved at this particular time.The victory was claimed in a way that did not challenge the Atlanta Police Dept or draw attention to the white-supremacist power structure that forced the end of Red Dog. When the Red Dog unit murdered 92 yr old Kathryn Johnston, the community responded strongly in anger and pain and no action was taken; when they raided our neighbors home in the West End, broke a Black man's nose and drug him down a long driveway as his children watched, neighbors reacted and still no action was taken on the part of the Atlanta Police Department. However, the raid on the Eagle bar in 2009 proved what I and all Black and Brown folks know all too well, that white people are a protected class to which the city had to award reparations at the first sign of mistreatment.As a queer woman I must press that despite the bar's role as a space for gay and leather culture to thrive, the “we are not the criminals” rhetoric used by the LGBT folks in defense of the Eagle raid victims, not only isolated queer people of color, but made it clear that the white identities of those raided felt challenged by the police's actions against them, and that the lawsuit that followed was in part a way to once more reaffirm their whiteness in the political and social sphere. In the end Red Dog made the error of treating the elite, white patrons of that bar the same way Black folks are treated daily in Atlanta, and for that it had to be disbanded, not because of Kathryn Johnston or the millions of other Black folks that the taskforce has brutalized and murdered in the past couple of decades.
We welcome the democratic uprising in Egypt.
Saying this becomes important as various governments in the U.S. and Europe attempt to negotiate a transition whereby the policies of the old regime in Egypt are kept while the current head, Mubarak, is eased out. Those who have come out in complete opposition to the uprisings, whether it is al-Gaddafi in Libya or Sarah Palin in some alternate reality, will have little weight in the coming weeks. It has become a race to see which force can absorb or co-opt the uprising, not oppose it.
These EU and U.S. governments understand, as the rulers of large nations must, that the current situation, where large popular gatherings have in the last two weeks already broken the barriers placed on them by both official curfews and resisted both police and unofficial physical attacks, cannot continue. Dual power in a modern society of almost 100 million cannot exist indefinitely.