Capitalism, anarchism and Black liberation

by Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin

The Capitalist bourgeoisie creates inequality as a way to divide and rule over the entire working class, but it is deeper than that. White skin privilege is a form of domination by Capital over White labor as well as oppressed nationality labor, not just providing material incentives to “buy off” White workers and set them against Black and other oppressed workers. This explains the obedience by White labor to Capitalism and the State.

The White working class does not see their better off condition as part of the system of exploitation. After centuries of political and social indoctrination, they feel their privileged position is both just and proper and what is more, has been “earned.” They feel threatened by the social gains of non-White workers, which is why they so vehemently opposed affirmative action plans to benefit minorities in jobs and hiring and to redress years of discrimination against them in employment settings. It is also why White workers have opposed most civil rights legislation for democratic rights.

Yet, it is the day-to-day workings of White supremacy that we must fight most vigorously. We cannot remain ignorant or indifferent to the workings of race and class under this system, so that oppressed workers remain victimized. For years, Black people have been “last hired, first fired” by Capitalist industry. Further, seniority systems have engaged in open racial discrimination, and are little more than White job trusts. Blacks have even been driven out of whole industries, such as coal mining. White labor bosses have never objected or intervened for their class brothers, nor will they if not pressed up against the wall by White workers.

There are material incentives to this White worker opportunism: better jobs, higher pay, improved living conditions in White communities, etc., in short what has come to be known as the “White middle class lifestyle.” This is what labor and the left have always fought to maintain, not class solidarity, which would require a struggle against White supremacy. This lifestyle is based on the super-exploitation of the non-White sector of the domestic working class as well as countries exploited by imperialism around the world.

In America, class antagonism had always included racial hatred as an essential component, but it is structural rather than just ideological. The culture and the socioeconomic system of U.S. Capitalism are based on White supremacy; how then is it possible to truly fight the rule of Capital without being forced to defeat White supremacy?

The dual-tier economy of Whites on top and Blacks on the bottom (even with all the class differences among Whites) has successfully resisted every attempt by radical social movements. These reluctant reformers have danced around the issue however. While winning reforms, in many cases primarily for White workers only, these White radicals have yet to topple the system and open the road to social revolution.

Anarchist theory and practice

This section lists the major elements of Anarchist thought to give examples of what some Anarchists think about them. Unlike other streams of political thought, Anarchists do not elevate certain texts or individuals above others. There are different types of Anarchists with many points of disagreement. The primary areas of debate among Anarchists relate to what form of organisation should be struggled for and what tactics we should use. For instance, some of their most significant differences concern the economic organisation of future society. Some Anarchists reject money, and substitute a system of trade in which work is exchanged for goods and services. Others reject all forms of trade or barter or private ownership as Capitalism, and feel that all major property should be owned in common.

There are Anarchists who believe in guerrilla warfare — including assassination, bombings, bank expropriations, etc. — as one means of revolutionary attacks on the State. But there also are Anarchists who believe almost exclusively in organisational, labour or community work. There is no single type, nor do they all agree on strategy and tactics. Some are opposed to violence; some accept it only in self-defence or during a revolutionary insurrection.

Anarchists and Anarchism have historically been misrepresented to the world. The popular impression of an Anarchist as an uncontrollably emotional, violent person who is only interested in destruction for its own sake, and who is opposed to all forms of organisation, still persists to this day. Further, the mistaken belief that Anarchy is chaos and confusion, a reign of rape, murder and mindless, total disorder and insanity is widely believed by the general public.

This false impression primarily is still widely believed because people from across the political spectrum have consciously been promoting this lie for years. All who strive to oppress and exploit the working class, and gain power for themselves, whether they come from the right or the left, will always be threatened by Anarchism. This is because Anarchists hold that all authority and coercion must be struggled against. In fact, Anarchists want to get rid of the greatest perpetrator of violence throughout history: governments. To Anarchists, a Capitalist “democratic” government is no better than a fascist or Communist regime, because the ruling class only differs in the amount of violence they authorise their police and army to use and the degree of rights they will allow, if any. Through war, police repression, social neglect, and political suppression, governments have killed millions of people, whether trying to defend themselves or overthrow another government. Anarchists want to end this slaughter, and build a society based on peace and freedom.

What is Anarchism? Anarchism is free or Libertarian Socialism. Anarchists are opposed to government, the state and Capitalism. Therefore, simply speaking, Anarchism is a non-governmental form of Socialism.

In common with all Socialists, the Anarchists hold that the private ownership of land, capital and machinery has had its time; that it is condemned to disappear, and that all requisites for production must and will, become the common property of society, and be managed in common by the producers of wealth (Peter Kropotkin, in his Anarchist-Communism: Its Basis and Principles).

Though there are several different “schools” of Anarchist though, revolutionary Anarchist or Anarchist-Communism is based upon the class struggle, but it does not take a mechanist view of the class struggle taken by the Marxist-Leninists. For instance, it does not take the view that only the industrial proletariat can achieve Socialism, and that the victory of this class, led by a “communist working class party” represents the final victory over Capitalism. Nor do we accept the idea of a “workers’ state”. Anarchists believe that only the peasants, workers and farmers can liberate themselves and that they should manage industrial and economic production through workers’ councils, factory committees, and farm cooperatives, rather than with the interference of a party or government.

Anarchists are social revolutionaries, and feel that the Social revolution is the process through which a free society will be created. Self-management will be established in all areas of social life, including the right of all oppressed races of people to self-determination. As I have stated, self-determination is the right to self-government. By their own initiative, individuals will implement their own management of social life through voluntary associations. They will refuse to surrender their self-direction to the State, political parties or vanguard sects since each of these merely aid in establishing or re-establishing domination. Anarchists believe the state and capitalist authority will be abolished by the means of direct action: wildcat strikes, slowdowns, boycotts, sabotage, and armed insurrection. We recognise our goals cannot be separated from the means used to achieve them. Hence our practice and the associations we create will reflect the society we seek.

Crucial attention will necessarily be paid to the area of economic organisation, since it is here that the interests of everyone converge. Under Capitalism we all have to sell our labour to survive and to feed our families and ourselves. But after an Anarchist social revolution, the wage system and the institution of private and state property will be abolished and replaced with the production and distribution of goods according to the communist principle of: “From each according to ability, to each according to need.” Voluntary associations of producers and consumers will take common possession of the means of production and allow the free use of all resources to any voluntary group, provided that such use does not deprive others or does not entail the use of wage labour. These associations could be food and housing cooperatives, cooperative factories, community-run schools, hospitals, recreation facilities, and other important social services. These associations will federate with each other to facilitate their common goals on both a territorial and functional basis.

This federalism as a concept is a form of social organisation in which self-determining groups freely agree to coordinate their activities. The only social system that can possibly meet the diverse needs of society, while still promoting solidarity on the widest scale, is one that allows people to freely associate on the basis of common needs and interests. Federalism emphasises autonomy and decentralisation, fosters solidarity and complements groups’ efforts to be as self-sufficient as possible. Groups can then be expected to cooperate as long as they derive mutual benefit. Contrary to the Capitalist legal system and its contracts, if such benefits are not felt to be mutual in an Anarchist society, any group will have the freedom to dissociate. In this manner a flexible and self-regulating social organism will be created, always ready to meet new needs by new organisations and adjustments. Federalism is not a type of Anarchism, but it is an essential part of Anarchism. It is the joining of groups and peoples for political and economic survival and livelihood.

Anarchists have an enormous job ahead of them, and they must be able to work together for the benefit of the idea which the Italian Anarchist Errico Malatesta described best:

Our task is that of pushing the “people ” to demand and to seize all the freedom they can to make themselves responsible for their own needs without waiting for orders from any kind of authority. Out task is that of demonstrating the uselessness and harmfulness of the government, or provoking and encouraging by propaganda and action all kinds of individual and collective initiatives… After the revolution, Anarchists will have a special mission of being the vigilant custodians of freedom, against the aspirants to power and possible tyranny of the majority…  (Quoted in Malatesta: his Life and Times, edited by Vernon Richards)

So, this is the job of the federation, but it does not end with the success of the revolution. There is much reconstruction work to be done, and the revolution must be defended to fulfill our tasks, so Anarchists must have their own organisations. They must organise the post-revolutionary society, and this is why Anarchists federate themselves.

In a modern independent society, the process of federation must be extended to all humanity. The network of voluntary associations — the Commune — will know no borders. It could be the size of the city, state, or nation or a society much larger than the nation-state under Capitalism. It could be a mass commune that would encompass all the world’s peoples in a number of continental Anarchist federations, say North America, Africa, or the Caribbean. Truly this would be a new world! Not a United Nations or “One World government” but a united humanity.

But our opposition is formidable — each of us has been taught to believe in the need for government, in the absolute necessity of experts, in taking orders, in authority — for some of us it is all new. But when we believe in ourselves and decide we can make a society based on free, caring individuals that tendency within us will become the conscious choice of freedom-loving people. Anarchists see their job as strengthening that tendency, and show that there is no democracy or freedom under government — whether in the United States, China or Russia. Anarchists believe in direct democracy by the people as the only kind of freedom and self-rule.

Anarchists and revolutionary organisation

Another lie about Anarchism is that they are nihilistic and don’t believe in any organisational structure. Anarchists are not opposed to organisation. In fact, Anarchism is primarily concerned about analyzing the way in which society is presently organised, i.e., government.

Anarchism is all about organisation, but it is about alternative forms of organisation to what now exists. Anarchism’s opposition to authority leads to the view that organisation should be non-hierarchical and that membership would be voluntary. Anarchist revolution is a process of organisation building and rebuilding. This does not mean the same thing as the Marxist-Leninist concept of “party building”, which is just about strengthening the role of party leaders and driving out those members who have an independent position. These purges are methods of domination that the Marxist-Leninists use to beat all democracy out of their movements, yet they facetiously call this “democratic centralism”.

What organisation means within Anarchism is to organise the needs of the people into non-authoritarian social organisations so that they can take care of their own business on an equal basis. It also means the coming together of like-minded people for the purpose of coordinating the work that both groups and individuals feel necessary for their survival, well being, and livelihood. So because Anarchism involves people who would come together on the basis of mutual needs and interests cooperation is a key element. A primary aim is that the individuals should speak for themselves, and that all in the group be equally responsible for the group’s decisions; no leaders or bosses here!

Many Anarchists would even envisage large scale organisational needs in terms of small local groups organised in the workplace, collectives, neighbourhoods, and other areas, which would send delegates to larger committees who would make decisions on matters of wider concern. The job of delegate would not be full-time; it would be rotated. Although their out-of-pocket expenses would be paid, the delegate would be unpaid, recallable and would only voice the group’s decisions. The various schools of Anarchism differ in emphasis concerning organisation. For example, Anarcho-Syndicalists stress the revolutionary labour union and other workplace formations as the basic unit of organisation, while the Anarchist-Communists recognise the commune as the highest form of social organisation. Others may recognise other formations as most important, but they all recognise and support free, independent organisations of the people as the way forward.

The nucleus of Anarchist-Communist organisation is the Affinity Group. The affinity group is a revolutionary circle or “cell” of friends and comrades who are in tune with each other both in ideology and as individuals. The affinity group exists to coordinate the needs of the group, as expressed by individuals and by the cell as a body. The group becomes an extended family; the well being of all becomes the responsibility of all.

Autonomous, communal, and directly democratic, the group combines revolutionary theory with revolutionary lifestyle in its everyday behaviour. It creates a free space in which revolutionaries can remake themselves individually, and also as social beings.
— Murray Bookchin, in Post Scarcity Anarchism

We could also refer to these affinity formations as “groups for living revolution” because they live the revolution now, even though only in seed form. Because the groups are small — from three to fifteen — they can start from a stronger basis of solidarity than mere political strategy alone. The groups would be the number one means of political activity of each member. There are four areas of involvement where affinity groups work:

  • Mutual Aid: this means giving support and solidarity between members, as well as collective work and responsibility.
  • Education: in addition to educating the society at-large to Anarchist ideals, this includes study by members to advance the ideology of the group, as well as to increase their political, economic, scientific and technical knowledge.
  • Action: this means the actual organising, and political work of the group outside the collective, where all members are expected to contribute.
  • Unity: the group is a form of family, a gathering of friends and comrades, people who care for the well-being of one another, who love and support each other, who strive to live in the spirit of cooperation and freedom; void of distrust, jealousy, hate, competition and other forms of negative social ideas and behaviour. In short, affinity groups allow a collective to live a revolutionary lifestyle.

A big advantage of affinity groups is that they are highly resistant to police infiltration. Because the group members are so intimate, the groups are very difficult to infiltrate agents into, and even if a group is penetrated, there is no “central office” which would give an agent information about the movement as a whole. Each cell has its own politics, agenda, and objectives. Therefore they would have to infiltrate hundreds, maybe thousands, of similar groups. Further, since the members all know each other, they could not lead disruptions without risk of immediate exposure, which would blunt an operation like the COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) used by the FBI against the Black and progressive movements ring the 1960s. Further, because there are no leaders in the movement, there is no one to target so as to destroy the group.

Because they can grow as biological cells do, by division, they can proliferate rapidly. There could be hundreds in one large city or region. They prepare for the emergence of a mass movement; they will organise large numbers of people in order to coordinate activities as their needs become apparent and as social conditions dictate. Affinity groups function as a catalyst within the mass movement, pushing it to higher and higher levels of resistance to the authorities. But they are ready-made for underground work in the event of open political repression or mass insurrection.

This leads us to the next level of Anarchist organisations, the area and regional federation. Federations are the networks of affinity groups who come together out of common needs, which include mutual aid education, action, and any other work deemed to be needed for the transformation of current society from the authoritarian state to Anarchist-Communism. The following is an example of how Anarchist-Communist federations could be structured. First, then is the area organisation, which could cover a large city or county. All like-minded affinity groups in the area would associate themselves in a local federation. Agreements on ideology, mutual aid, and action to be undertaken would be made at meetings in which all can come and have equal voice.

When the local area organisation reaches a size where it is deemed to be too big, the area federation would initiate a Coordinating Consensus Council. The purpose of the Council is to coordinate the needs and actions defined by all the groups, including the possibility of splitting and creating another federation. Each local area’s affinity group would be invited to send representatives to the council with all the viewpoints of their group, and as a delegate they could vote and join in making policy on behalf of the group at the council.

Our next federation would be on a regional basis, say the entire South or Midwest. This organisation would take care of the whole region with the same principles of consensus and representation. Next would come a national federation to cover the U.S.A, and the continental federation, the latter of which would cover the continent of North America. Last would be the global organisations, which would be the networking of all federations worldwide. As for the latter because Anarchists do not recognise national borders and wish to replace the nation-state, they thus federate with all other like-minded people wherever they are living on the planet earth.

But for Anarchism to really work, the needs of the people must be fulfilled. So the first priority of Anarchists is the well being of all; thus we must organise the means to fully and equally fulfill the needs of the people. First, the means of production, transportation, and distribution must be organised into revolutionary organisations that the workers and the community run and control themselves. The second priority of the Anarchists is to deal with community need organisations, in addition to industrial organising. Whatever the community needs are, they must be dealt with. This means organisation. It includes cooperative groups to fulfill such needs as health, energy, jobs, childcare, housing, alternative schools, food, entertainment, and other social areas. These community groups would form a cooperative community, which would be a network of community need organisations and serve as an Anarchistic socio-political infrastructure. These groups should network with those in other areas for mutual aid, education, and action, and become a federation on a regional scale.

Third, Anarchists would have to deal with social illness. Not only do we organise for the physical needs of the people, but we must also work and propagandise to cure the ills sprouted by the State, which has warped the human personality under Capitalism. For instance, the oppression of women must be addressed. No one can be free if 51 percent of society is oppressed, dominated and abused. Not only must we form an organisation to deal with the harmful effects of sexism, but work to ensure patriarchy is dead by educating society about its harmful effects. The same must be done with racism, but in addition to re-education of society, we work to alleviate the social and economic oppression of Black and other non-White peoples, and empower them for self-determination to lead free lives. Anarchists need to form groups to expose and combat racial prejudice and Capitalist exploitation, and extend full support and solidarity to the Black liberation movement.

Finally, Anarchism would deal with a number of areas too numerous to mention here — science, technology, ecology, disarmament, human rights and so on. We must harness the social sciences and make them serve the people, while we coexist with nature. Authoritarians foolishly believe that it is possible to “conquer” nature, but that is not the issue. We are just one of a number of species which inhabit this planet even if we are the most intelligent. But then other species have not created nuclear weapons, started wars where millions have been killed, or engaged in discrimination against the races of their sub-species, all of which humankind has done. So who is to say which one is the most “intelligent?”

What I Believe

All anarchists do not believe in the same things. There are differences and the field is broad enough that those differences can coexist and be respected. So I don’t know what others believe, I just know what I believe in and I will spell it out simply, but thoroughly.

I believe in Black liberation, so I am a Black revolutionary. I believe that Black people are oppressed both as workers and a distinct nationality, and will only be freed by a Black revolution, which is an intrinsic part of a Social revolution. I believe that Blacks and other oppressed nationalities must have their own agenda, distinct world-view, and organisations of struggle, even though they may decide to work with White workers.

I believe in the destruction of the world Capitalist System, so I am an anti-imperialist. As long as Capitalism is alive on the planet, there will be exploitation, oppression and nation-states. Capitalism is responsible for the major world wars, numerous brush wars, and millions of people starving for the profit motive of the rich countries in the West.

I believe in racial justice, so I am an anti-racist. The Capitalist system was and is maintained by enslavement and colonial oppression of the African people, and before there can be a social revolution White supremacy must be defeated. I also believe that Africans in America are colonised and exist as an internal colony of the U.S, White mother country. I believe that White workers must give up their privileged status, their “White identity”, and must support racially oppressed workers in their fights for equality and national liberation. Freedom cannot be bought by enslaving and exploiting others.

I believe in social justice and economic equality, so I am a Libertarian Socialist. I believe that society and all parties responsible for its production should share the economic products of labour. I do not believe in Capitalism or the state, and believe they both should be overthrown and abolished; I accept the economic critique of Marxism, but not its model for political organising. I accept the anti-authoritarian critique of Anarchism, but not its rejection of the class struggle.

I believe in workers control of society and industry, so I am an Anarcho-Syndicalist. Anarchist Syndicalism is revolutionary labour unionism, where direct action tactics are used to fight Capitalism and take over industry; I believe that the factory committees, workers’ councils and other labour organisations should be the workplaces, and should take control from the Capitalists after a direct action campaign of sabotage, strikes, sit-downs, factory occupations and other actions.

I do not believe in government, and so I am an Anarchist. I believe that government is one of the worst forms of modern oppression, the source of war and economic oppression, and must be overthrown. Anarchism means that we will have more democracy, social equality, and economic prosperity. I oppose all forms of oppression found in modern society: patriarchy, White supremacy, Capitalism, State Communism, religious dictates, gay discrimination, etc.

Note: This essay is based on an extract from a contribution by Lorenzo entitled “Plantation politics and the White Left” (which is part of an e-book that has been published as The progressive plantation), and excerpts from his Anarchism and the Black revolution (the text from which the excerpts are made can be found here: link). An updated and revised version of Anarchism and the Black revolution will be released by October 2012).

[Thank you Lorenzo for this contribution and permission to post this here]

The writer is an activist, anarchist and former member of the Black Panther Party.

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