Building Anti-Imperialism from the Ground Up

And so it begins. Yet another American intervention to bring regime change and democracy to a poor, benighted people, suffering at the hands of a sociopathic dictator who is basically just Hitler. Or at least, that’s the story we hear every time the United States decided its imperial interests have been threatened. The media falls into lockstep, and whatever liberals who may have been tepidly against such intervention now celebrate our murderous aggression with pornographic glee. For those of us in the Left, this jingoistic insanity is profoundly depressing, and the constant stream of disinformation can be confusing and disheartening.

But beyond all the lies and propaganda, we know that the answer is simple: America never intervenes for humanitarian reasons. The sarin gas attack has in no way been conclusively linked to the Assad government, but that doesn’t matter—a pretext has been found. Photos of dead children are cynically invoked by the American empire to justify killing more children. A foreign government will be overthrown and replaced with one more genial to the interests of the Empire. Business as usual. This time, though, the State Department has decided to step up its game. Threatening one war was not enough: no, now we’re also threatening war with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The imperialist media treats the DPRK’s decision to acquire nuclear weapons as an existential threat to every American, with stories that resemble Tom Clancy novels more than any sort of factual reporting. Really, it’s no mystery why the DPRK would want to be better able to defend itself, especially against the one country in the world that has actually used nuclear weapons, the same country that conducted a genocidal bombing campaign against them that killed 20% of their people. Despite the laughable falsity of most of the claims being advanced against the Enemies of the Week, the center of the debate should never be about the particular characteristics of the government being overthrown, or the moral value of the leader we’ve decided to depose. Kim and Assad are far from the sociopathic monsters the media presents them as, but they’re also far from the leaders that we as communists believe the Syrian and North Korean people deserve. That question, however, should ultimately be up for the people of Syria and North Korea decide, free from the meddling of imperialists.

Within Richmond Struggle, there are a multitude of conflicting lines on the Kim and Assad governments. None of this debate will be reproduced here, as we are all united on the one thing that matters: imperialist intervention should be unconditionally opposed. That is not a complicated question. But what becomes complicated is the question of how. How do we as leftists stop an imperialist war? The short answer: in our current state, we can’t. While we support the counter-messaging and protests organized by UNAC and ANSWER, we can’t help but feel that such actions do not pose any significant threat to the functioning of the imperialist war machine. Millions of people marched worldwide in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War. February 15, 2003 marked the largest protest in world history. The overwhelming public opposition to the war was made clear to the Bush administration. The result? Less than a month later, shock and awe proceeded in Iraq, leaving hundreds of thousands dead.

These mobilizations were no doubt impressive, but ultimately based on a fundamentally flawed idea: that imperialism cares what people think of it. Imperialism is a system of organized violence and the only thing that has ever stopped it is greater violence. Nixon did not pull out of Vietnam because the peace movement made him feel guilty about the system he was serving. Nixon ended the war because of the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese people, who had faced imperialism on the only terrain it understands—organized violence—and defeated it.

Assata Shakur has noted that: “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” The Left should know this by now, but in our desperate situation, delusions flourish. In thinking that protests and public outrage will stop capital from pursuing its bottom line, we are essentially buying in to the liberal logic that we live in a “democracy.” In reality, of course, we live under the dictatorship of the wealthy, a dictatorship secure enough in its power to allow us marginal Left groups to organize all the protests and publish all the outraged literature we want. The Left in its current state can be safely ignored. We are not a threat.

The goal, of course, for all of us, should be to become a threat. To be the sort of force that makes the Empire think twice before starting another war, because the domestic opposition they may face will not simply be moral outrage, but physical resistance. Richmond Struggle is not saying—in the typical grandiose leftist fashion—that we are anywhere close to being such a force, nor are we saying that we would be the eventual vanguard of such a force. What we are saying is that it’s necessary for the Left to move away from moral outrage, and toward the building of militant, anti-imperialist workers’ movements.

How, concretely, do we build resistance to imperialism in America, in the belly of the beast? The task is enormous, and there is no magic formula for turning the average American into a staunch anti-imperialist. We must strive to build autonomous organizations that do not just focus on stopping the war, or, conversely, do not just focus on improving the lot of American workers. We must strive to show that there is one common enemy: imperialism, and that the struggle is global. These ideas are not ones that take hold through discussion groups or Facebook posts. You may pledge “critical support for the Lion of Damascus”, but how ready are you to sacrifice your life in the struggle against imperialism? How ready are any of us? A truly anti-imperialist consciousness can only develop through concrete struggle. The late revolutionary James Yaki Sayles writes, “Too many of us still fail to understand that the underlying aim of social revolution is to promote a change in people and to assist in the development of political and social consciousness. Everything else that we usually associate with “revolution” or “national liberation” comes through and after a change in people’s consciousness!”

Though we are weak now, we can already see a stirring of this anti-imperialist consciousness emerging. The Movement for Black Lives has included solidarity with the Palestinian resistance in its platform, a decision for which it has faced considerable opposition. But how could a principled movement against white supremacy take any other position? In the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore, BLM organizers faced a militarized police force deploying tear gas, pepper spray, and totally disproportionate violence. Is it any mystery that such militants would identify with Gazans facing the same repression? BLM has recognized that the Palestinian genocide and the Black genocide are both pursued by the same system, for the same reasons.

Here we see the beginnings of the anti-imperialist consciousness we must forge through concrete struggle. We must build it from the ground up, with grassroots, local struggles against specific class enemies with concrete material stakes. We must connect the everyday oppression of workers in America to the global system of imperialism it is part of. In every victory, and in every loss, we will better understand our role in the battle against imperialism. We must always emphasize that no matter how localized the fight, it has a global character. In the process of building an organization that poses a significant material threat, we will have created a militant consciousness that does not just understand, but feels, that any imperialist “intervention” is a direct attack on us. And we will respond accordingly, in the only language that imperialism understands.

January 20th statement

If Donald Trump has done one good thing, it’s that he’s brought us together today. Mobilizations like today’s are happening across the state and across the country–gatherings of people who terrified for themselves and their families, infuriated at the state of things, and determined to stand up and resist.

We all know it’s going to be a rough four years. It’s not clear how serious our future president is about his policies of exclusion and ethnic cleansing, but the fascist movement that has brought him to power certainly is. Trump’s base is composed of the most reactionary, backwards elements of the white middle and working classes. Some say we should feel empathy for them: their standard of living has been declining. They are suffering under neoliberalism. But does that absolve them of their votes, votes that they knew would harm people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community? Absolutely not.

It is important to remember that most of the white working class didn’t support Trump, because they didn’t support anyone. Even in a contentious election like this, voter turnout was at an all-time low. But for those who do support Trump, there will be no conciliation. We will not negotiate with them. We will not try to reason with them. Now is not a time for “understanding” or “coming together.” Now is a time for militant opposition.

But who will join us in this opposition? Certainly not the Democrats. Historically, they have been no friend to the oppressed. Under Bill Clinton, we saw the rise of mass incarceration and the evisceration of welfare. Under Obama, we’ve seen the consolidation of the mass surveillance state—a development Trump will certainly enjoy— a continuous state of war and the bombings of seven separate countries. While uprisings shook Baltimore and Ferguson, Obama stayed silent on issues of police violence and racial justice. The Democrats offer nothing essentially different from Trump: repression at home, imperial war and expansion abroad.

Even now, we see the Democrats circling the wagons around the CIA and fomenting xenophobic, anti-Russian hysteria. What we’re seeing here is a struggle between two segments of the ruling class. In the fight between liberal and conservative, or in this case liberal and fascist, we do not have a voice.

The liberal wants a kinder, more subtle form of oppression. Keep the massive prison population, but maybe give them some GED programs. Keep the white supremacist institution of the police, but maybe give them some body-cams. Keep the obscene divide between rich and poor, but maybe make the rich pay a little more to the government. The liberals and the Democrats simply want to make the system seem a little less nightmarish to the people it oppresses.

We, as radicals, reject that logic. We want no prisons, no pigs, and no poverty. We are not just opposed to Trump. We are opposed to the entire white supremacist, capitalist order that gave birth to him. No one in power represents our demands. The entire government is set up to oppose those demands. Appealing to power—whether to Hillary Clinton or Levar Stoney—gets us nothing.

The only solution is to build working-class power from the ground up. Mobilizations like the one today allow us to feel that power, if only for a day. Our goal is to sustain the energy of today’s mobilization, and to build a counter-culture that actually resists. In the coming years, we seek to do more than simply react to Trump’s provocation. We seek to challenge the entire white supremacist, patriarchal capitalist system that he represents.

What do we do?

These are going to be a rough four years. The question is, what do we do? We have no mass movement. Let’s face it: there is no credible Left alternative to the status quo. Instead, we have a proliferation of micro-sects and affinity groups that offer very little, and pose no threat to the powers that be. We include ourselves in this analysis: for years, we adhered dogmatically to a narrow Maoism that excluded most potential allies. We accomplished very little. Now, more than ever, is the time for Left groups to overcome the sectarianism that has plagued us for decades. It’s time to get over the quasi-theological disputes over doctrines and texts, and find what unites us in the present.

But the question of what unites us is not an easy one. Is opposition to Trump enough to forge a mass movement? It’s tempting to build a coalition of Hillary supporters, Stein supporters, Bernie supporters, “democratic socialists,” environmentalists, communists and anarchists. Such coalitions are certainly being built. A big tent politics like that, one that allows anyone nominally to the left of the Democratic party, is capable of some impressive mobilizations. If your goal is simply to get thousands of people in the streets opposing Trump, including absolutely everyone may be a wise idea. But where do you go from there? Another mobilization? Then another? Richmond Struggle is fully in support of such mobilizations, but as a means, not an end. Mobilizations—such as the one we and others put together in June, as well as the mostly spontaneous one in November—serve to radicalize people. Marching along with a thousand people allows a person to feel—if only for a moment—the power that we could hold. When you can ignore the commands of the pigs, stop traffic and shut down a city, you know that the status quo is not invincible. But that feeling is ephemeral—it’s not the reason we’re out there. The real goal is to take people’s newfound feelings of power and channel them into an organization.

Organization is vastly more difficult than mobilization. To build power that lasts beyond these sporadic mobilizations is what is necessary for a serious movement. It is here that we must draw a strict line of demarcation between enemies and friends. In organizing, we need to be sure that we are all working toward the same goal. Here, a principled unity is necessary, and it’s a unity that does not include liberals. Our Lines on the Left piece goes into more detail, but to put it simply, the liberal thinks the system can be reformed; the radical knows that it must be abolished. The liberal calls for civil discourse in politics; the radical knows that politics is inherently violent. The liberal wants a piece of the class power that dominates them; the radical wants to abolish this class power altogether. The liberal focuses on symptoms, the radical goes to the root of the problem. Plenty of groups call themselves “socialist,” “communist,” or “anarchist” but then dedicate themselves to working within the electoral system, boosting the Democratic party, and condemning the violence of the oppressed. These groups are not a part of the Left we need to build.

If we work with liberals, what happens when Trump is out of office? Will these liberals still want to fight the system if a Democrat is in the white house? If the anti-war movement after Bush is any indication, they will not. Any “big tent” organization we build will be co-opted into the establishment, weakened and de-radicalized. If we hope to build an alternative, we cannot work with anyone in the establishment, or anyone hoping to become part of the establishment. We cannot bother with the electoral system. We cannot work with cops, bosses, politicians, established unions, or NGOs. We must build our own power, from the ground up. We need to build a counter-culture that consists of more than just posturing—a counter-culture that does not just drop-out of but actively resists the status quo. If you hate the system, if you hate more than just Trump but the entire white supremacist, patriarchal capitalist system that gave rise to him, we want to work with you. If you are a communist, an anarchist, or any sort of radical, we want to work with you. And, above all, if you are one of the millions of working Americans abandoned by the Democratic party, we want to work with you. We don’t just want Trump out of office. We want the abolition of all existing social conditions, and we’re going to need some help with that.

What the hell happened?

How did this happen? How is it that we find ourselves in this bizarre alternate reality? The policy wonks were already celebrating the coronation of Hillary Clinton, but even as the champagne flowed, Trump was gaining in the polls. 2016 will be remembered as the year a white supremacist Internet meme was elected President of the United States. Who’s to blame for this turn of events? Liberals have taken to blaming the Russians. Even if we take them at their word and believe that the Russian state was behind the hacks—a theory for which the evidence is far from conclusive—we fail to see how a foreign provenance changes the truth of the information released. No one has denied that these emails are genuine, revealing genuine corruption and nepotism in the Democratic party. The Democrats are forming the Blame Russia First committee to distract you from the fact that they themselves are squarely to blame.

For many decades now, the Democrats have been fully on-board with the neoliberal agenda. It was Hillary’s sex-offender husband—a man universally beloved by liberals—who eviscerated welfare, throwing millions of families out on the street. The same man massively expanded the prison system and passed NAFTA, the free trade agreement that hurt workers on both sides of the Mexican border. Obama, despite promising “hope” and “change” has continued in the same proud neoliberal tradition. He gave full immunity to the bankers that destroyed the economy in 2008. He has not only continued, but expanded US wars in the Middle East, aggressively pushing for war in Syria. He has done nothing to combat poverty or wealth inequality. As Black Lives Matter continued to protest Black genocide, as uprisings shook Ferguson and Baltimore, Obama, our first Black president, stayed silent on racial justice. What we got with Bill Clinton and what we got with Obama was the continued expansion of neoliberalism, and the continued degradation of living standards for the poor and working class.

But Bill and Barack at least promised something different. The downward expectations in their campaigns and presidencies were only implicit. With Hillary Clinton, the Democrats believed they no longer even had to pay lip service to the poor and working class. Yes, there were some business-friendly plans to supposedly address income inequality, but it was in no way the focus of the campaign. Clinton made it clear that she would continue Obama’s legacy of pandering to the rich. Really, what she promised was the same downward slide working people have been experiencing for years, with a side-order of a more aggressive imperialism. Is it any surprise that working people, black and white, weren’t exactly excited about this candidate?

And the other candidate, of course, was Donald Trump. If you’re reading this article, I don’t think I need to explain to you why Donald Trump is so reviled. He does a good job of that himself. The Democrats were banking on that vileness. It seemed self-evident that Trump was unelectable, so all Clinton had to do was not be him. Bernie Sanders’ tepid social democracy was not necessary; no concessions to the poor were necessary. The Republicans were so bad that everyone had to vote Democrat, and there were plenty of liberals weaponizing identity politics and shaming anyone who disagreed. The plan was the height of cynicism and manipulation, and unfortunately for them (and for us) it didn’t pay off.

A “democratic” election in which both candidates are hated by the majority of the population: that is what we were handed this year. If democracy is majority rule, then we are not living in a democracy. Millions of Americans realized this in 2016, and contrary to the myriad thinkpieces about a “white working class” revolt, this loss of hope was what brought Trump to victory. It was not so much about the Republicans gaining votes, as it was about the Democrats losing them. The Clinton campaign had counted on Blacks, Latinos, and the working class to give her an easy victory. It didn’t quite go that way. Liberals were shocked to find that the people most affected by Bill Clinton’s welfare “reform” and prison expansion were not exactly enthused about voting for his wife, and many lashed out at these vulnerable populations after Trump’s victory. Though Trump got even fewer votes than Romney did in 2012, Clinton’s loss compared to Obama in 2012 was even greater.

Those who did vote for Trump did so not because they were stupid or misinformed. They did so because Trump represents their interests. The typical Trump voter is not so much the white person that is already impoverished, but the white person heading toward poverty . The Democrats’ neoliberal agenda promises a steady decline in living standards for all: a perverse sort of egalitarianism. Historically, this is not how the American empire has been run. Since the 17th century, European settlers and their descendants—white people today—have been entitled to the spoils of empire. After the near-total extermination of the Indigenous population, America became a land of opportunity for the white man. These opportunities, came, of course, at the expense of horrors of African slave labor, the genocide and dispossession of the Indigenous people, and the super-exploitation of immigrant laborers, the Irish and Southern and Eastern European peoples who were not considered white at the time. These European immigrant groups we now consider white became white by participating in the time honored white tradition of oppressing people of color.

Until very recently, joining up with whiteness meant a better way of life in exchange for helping to hold down the restive non-white population. And in fact, it still does. But as globalization proceeds, as national boundaries and identities fall the wayside, the ruling class is realizing that giving any class of people special privileges is no longer necessary. It all comes down to the bottom line. If you can build a factory anywhere, why would you pay a white factory worker in America $70,000 dollars a year, when you can pay a Third World woman less than one-tenth of that? Capitalism has no loyalty to America, and Americans, especially white Americans, are feeling the burn.

Voting for Trump is an attempt to turn the clock back. It is whites terrified of falling into the position in which they’ve historically kept people of color. If this means ethnically cleansing the Southwest, so be it. If this means building concentration camps, so be it. Trump at least offered hope and change to one segment of the American population: angry, declassed, downwardly mobile white men who are terrified of losing their position of privilege. Historically, this class segment is the mass base for fascism. Donald Trump is unlikely to achieve many of the white nationalist goals in his party platform. He probably doesn’t even believe in them himself. But what one man thinks or does is not particularly important. Real change comes from mass movements, and Donald Trump has certainly organized one. When Trump fails to build the concentration camps they so desire, they will take the task into their own hands. It is imperative that we organize to stop them.

Lines on the Left

The dominant conception of “politics” is of something civil, devoid of violence. We propose the opposite: real politics are inherently violent. This violence is required to either enforce social relations under capitalism or to destroy those relations. This fact is inseparable from the question of the state.

 

The Left is commonly understood as a homogeneous grouping that stands for ideas of “progress,” but there are crucial political and ideological divisions within it. These divisions emerge from the following questions:

1) What is “politics”?

2) What is the conception of the state and its agents (police, etc.)? And how does this question express the antagonistic opposition between our group— based in working class politics— and liberal groups—based in middle/ruling class politics, albeit sometimes with a “Marxist” or “anarchist” veneer?

The dominant conception of “politics” is of something civil, devoid of violence. We propose the opposite: real politics are inherently violent. This violence is required to either enforce social relations under capitalism or to destroy those relations. This fact is inseparable from the question of the state.

We recognize that the state is the instrument of organized violence by the ruling class, or the bourgeoisie, against the working class for the purpose of maintaining and reproducing capitalist social relations, meaning the continued realization of profit. The police serve to coerce poor and working class people into conforming to the capitalist system.

The liberal conception incorrectly views the state as an arbiter between social classes, and does not view class society as an inherently violent system. With this understanding of social relations under capitalist society, liberals view the police as a neutral organization which maintains peace and order. But we stand on the side of the working class, of the oppressed, of the imprisoned— and that is why we chant Fuck the Police.

Likewise, we have no basis for unity with “communists” or “anarchists” who work to reproduce the structures of capitalist domination over the workers and the poor. They are collaborators who get paid for their services to union and non-profit bureaucracies, which mollify the rage and rebellion of working people. To take a revolutionary position is not to utter meaningless rhetoric about socialism or revolution, but to build autonomous working class organization against the state through resistance and combat. Unions and non-profits are the primary obstacle to the formation of such organization in this country today. Working with and apologizing for such systems of pacification is serving counter- revolutionary purposes.

We have zero trust in any agent of the state— cops, social workers, union bureaucrats, or non-profit staffers. The working class, or proletariat, is the revolutionary class under capitalism. Its class interest is rooted in the elimination of class society. As a social class, it does not wish to be exploited. Its inherent drive is to struggle to end its own exploitation, which cannot be accomplished without the destruction of the state which enforces such exploitation.

Any group that doesn’t share our understanding poses a security risk to our members. Consciously or unconsciously, they are collaborating with the state and its agents. This sort of collaboration is a very real way in which these abstract ideological differences translate into concrete and specific practices.